R5 Greta: To Ravenshold, part 2 of 3

Fae came up with Vedix the hunter—Greta’s former prison guard—and Cecil of the Eagles.  Vilam led them quickly out the back door and straight to the river.

As they shoved off, Greta heard the shouting.  Chobar and his followers were going to lock them up until the council decided what to do with them.  Gowan, though having a slight majority, still did not have enough solid support to stop them.

Once on the raft, Greta felt they were safe, but when they were still only part way across, Chobar and his followers came to the bank.  Someone even fired an arrow.  It fell short, but it felt symbolic, and there were other rafts along the shore.

“Lady?”  Fae looked at Greta.  They all looked at her except Hans, who could not tear his eyes away from Berry.  Greta felt that was hardly fair.

“Ugh!”  She voiced her protest but stood up at the back of the raft.  She called to her armor and weapons simply for the feeling of confidence they would give her, and they came without fail, and fit her perfectly.  She should have warned the others.  Cecil nearly dropped his pole and Vedix nearly jumped from the raft, but Greta simply lifted her arms in a kind of invocation.  There were little spirits everywhere in the world. Most of the spirits of the water, the air, the fires, and even of the earth rarely manifested, if ever, in the natural world of matter and energy.  She liked these, because she so rarely had to worry about them.  Even so, these pure spirits could sometimes be invited into the solid world.  Greta knew that in this case, the little Sylvan River was full of water sprites. She called to them, and they responded.

“Water babies.” Berry shouted and clapped her hands in delight.

The river began to foam while they received a gentle push toward the shore.  Across the way, the rafts that had started after them got tipped, tumbled and torn to fragments of wood.  Greta asked that none of the men be drowned, and she felt sure that none were, but it would be a while, now, before they could follow.

“Thank you,” Greta said.  There came a discernable wave in the river which rose up and vanished around the river bend.  Vilam held out his hand and helped Greta to shore.

“They will build new rafts and be after us soon enough.” he said.

“Count on it.” Fae agreed.

“Berry.” Greta did not hesitate.  “I know there are short cuts through the woods, real short cuts that Vilam and Vedix know nothing about.  Who can guide us in the way to go?”

“Grandfather?” she asked.

Both Fae and Greta shook their heads.  “He already has a job,” Fae reminded her sister.

“Oh, yes.  I must think,” Berry said, and she scrunched up her face and tapped her finger against her temple.  “Think, think,” she said, and Greta watched Hans melt, poor boy. “Oh, I know.”  Berry jumped.  “Hobknot. He knows everything.”

Greta stepped over and placed her hand in front of Vedix’ eyes which made Vilam and Cecil snicker. “Hobknot,” she called with just the right compulsion in her voice and a little, three-foot tall man appeared before her.

“Hey! What?  Who?”  The man protested until he caught sight of Berry.  “Silly girl.  Where’s the goddess?”  Berry pointed and he turned on Greta.  “What do you mean getting a gob up out of his tree at all hours of the morning?”

“I need you to guide us by the shortest and most secret way to the forest’s edge at Ravenshold,” she said.  “If you would be so kind.”

“What?” Hobknot cocked his eyebrow.  “If I would be so kind, then I would be the first creature on this green earth to be that way.”  He looked around the group and Vedix stood his ground.  “So, who is the mature woman?  She looks like the only one with a brain and ought to know better than to get mixed up with a bunch of clods and minibrains, er, no offense Traveler.”

“That’s my twin sister.”  Berry jumped up which confused poor Hans to no end.

“Fae,” Fae said. “And I’ll thank you to speak more graciously to Lady Greta.  And Berry is not a minibrain.  She is actually quite bright and will surprise you if you give her a chance.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Hobknot said.  “Must be all that human blood in her.  Makes her think in straight lines instead of circles the way a good flyer should.”  He turned again to Greta.  “By the way, Traveler Lady, that was a very nice thing you did for Thissle and Thornbottom, but, you see, it is this way.  If I take you all the way to Ravenshold these old feet of mine and these old hands of mine won’t have enough strength left to fetch my means.  I might starve before long.”

A complete lie.  Hobknot was certainly in no danger of starving, but he seemed determined to bargain in the old fashioned way, and Greta felt willing.  She even grinned a little.  “I will pay you one cup of milk and a handful of grain for your services.”

“Lady!” Berry objected, and made it sound as if Greta was giving away the store.

“What did he mean human blood?”  Hans just caught up in the conversation.

“That would be good.”  Hobknot said, and rubbed his chin.

“Lady Greta.” Vilam interrupted.  “They’ve done some quick work across the way.  They will have two rafts in a minute out of the pieces they collected.  They will probably fall apart when they get here, but that won’t help us any.”

“No need for milk, though,” Hobknot said, ignoring the human.  “Got no little ones.  Never met a female who could think her way out from under an oak leaf.”

“Probably no female would have you, you old goat,” Fae said, and Greta cast a glance at Berry, but Berry had her own problems.

“I like you, too, Miss Fae,” Hobknot said.  “Tell you what, Traveler.  I’ll do it for two handfuls of grain and not a smidgen less.”

“Lady.”  Cecil spoke.  Vedix and Vilam had their bows out and ready.  “They are almost within bowshot.  It must be now or never.”

“Done,” Greta said with a smile

“This way,” Hobknot said, and they started out immediately, going between two trees, over one bush and beneath a log, though Greta was not sure how the humans fit beneath the log.  The river fell completely out of sight and the shouts of the pursuing men also ended. Each mile after that fell away in a matter of minutes, but it remained a long way to Ravenshold.

Early on, Hans asked so kindly and Berry pleaded so earnestly, Greta finally relented and let Berry get little to ride on Hans’ shoulder.  He started doing better by then and could move at least as fast as Fae. Hans held his breath as Berry alighted, but she hardly weighed anything at all.

“But when we get to Ravenshold you will have to get big again and stay that way,” Greta said. Berry seemed agreeable.  Greta could not tell what Hans thought.

R5 Greta: To Ravenshold, part 1 of 3

Oh, bother! Greta sat up.  The sun would be up soon enough and the bed she had was not the best.  She found her way to the kitchen and found Mayann already up and cooking.  The woman handed her a bowl of some kind of mush in milk. Yesterday’s bread, she thought, but it went down well.

“Thank you,” Greta said.  “I would help, but my Mama says all I do in the kitchen is make a mess.”  Greta wondered what Darius would think of that.

“Quite all right,” Mayann said.  She seemed perfectly at home in the kitchen.

“I thought maybe you went home.”  Greta had not realized Mayann stayed in the village.

“I stay with Vilam when I can,” Mayann said.  “He is a good man and a good father.”  Greta noticed she did not call him a good husband.

“Are you happy?” Greta asked.

Mayann stopped cooking.  “I suppose.  Well enough. I don’t ask for much so I don’t get disappointed.  Vilam cares for me and he has never beaten me.  I suppose that is more than some women can claim.”  She tried to smile.  She handed Greta a second bowl of mush.  “Here.  You need to get some nourishment into that brother of yours.  He has slept long enough.  That girl made sure of that.”

“What do you mean?” Greta asked, and tried to sound casual about it all.

“Well.” Mayann was not fooled, but spoke freely anyway.  “Vilam got him here and to bed all right, and got on to the meeting.  That girl, though, curled right up on top of the boy and said she would be his blanket.  I said she was being shameless, but she threatened me if I dared wake him, even by accident, she was going to feed me to the ogres.”  Mayann shook her head and smiled.  “Ogres.”  She laughed. It did not seem to Greta that Mayann believed in ogres and she felt it wise that it was not the time to correct her. Instead, Greta took the mush into Hans’ room

Hans lay in bed, alone, with no sign of Berry.  “Time to eat.”  Greta said, as Hans roused a bit.  She began to spoon feed him.

“Greta,” Hans said, as he started to wake up.  “I had the strangest dream last night.”

“Oh?” Greta wondered.

“Yes.  I dreamt we went into the forest and pushed Grandma into the oven.  Then I saw these lovely bright lights and I followed them to a place where I heard the strangest music.  I danced all night with beautiful women.  I suppose I’m not making any sense.”

“That’s the way dreams are,” Greta said.  “Go on.”

“Well, then you showed up, and we went over to a table where they had a feast.  And then Papa carried me to bed like when I was a child, except we didn’t go to bed.  The next thing I knew; we sailed to the land of talking animals.  I remember an eagle and a bear, and we headed to the village of the bears.  Grandma was there, too.  I guess she got out of the oven.  And she had the most awesome young girl with her who was the most gorgeous creature I have ever seen.”  He stopped. He looked a little like he was not sure if he wanted to tell the rest.

“Go on,” Greta said, feigning no interest in anything but the mush and the spoon.

“Okay, but just remember, it was only a dream because it is kind of embarrassing.”

“I’ll remember,” Greta said, and fed him a spoonful.

“Okay,” Hans said. “I was still trying to go to sleep and this bear and this dream girl took me away from you and brought me to bed, and I was so happy because I was so very tired.  But then, before I could lie down, the girl hugged me and snuggled right up to me and kissed me.  You’re not going to believe this.  She kissed me right on the lips, and, I don’t know, but it did not seem like a friendly “How do you do” sort of a kiss.

“Oh?  What was it like.”  Greta could not resist teasing a little at that point.  Hans began to change color.  “That good, huh?”

Hans slid down a bit under his covers.  “Gods, it was wonderful.”  He said to his sister what he would have never admitted to any other human being in the world.

Right on cue, and the little ones do that sort of thing naturally, Berry came breezing in. “Good morning,” she said.  “My Hans.  It is going to be a beautiful day.  You must come and see it with me.”  She bent over and kissed Hans on the cheek.  “Do you see the flower I found?  Doesn’t it look lovely in my hair?”

“Go on.” Greta brushed Berry back out the door.

“Who was that? That was her.”  Hans sat up and looked around as if for the first time. “Where are we?”

“We are in the village of the Bear Clan,” Greta answered.  “And they are people, not bears.  You were missing for three days, but now I found you and you are safe.” She hugged him.  “And that was your dream girl, Berry.  And if you are very good, and for once in your life do what I ask, maybe she will stay with us for a while.”

Hans became utterly transparent for a minute, stared at nothing in particular, and put his hand softly to his lips.  Greta laughed even as Vilam burst into the room.

“We have to go,” he said.  “Can you move?”  He asked Hans, but Hans had no idea what the Celt was saying.

“I think so.” Greta responded for him.

“I hope so. Hurry up.”  Vilam picked up a couple of things and left.

Greta wondered what was up.  She felt afraid to imagine, but fortunately, she had to help Hans to his feet first. He seemed shaky, but he could walk with help and she knew he would get stronger as he walked off his stiffness. They stepped out of the room and out of the house without pause, and Berry pushed Greta out of the way.  “Let me help,” she insisted.  She put her arm around Han’s waist and pulled his arm over her shoulder.  “Ungh.” She said in a very fetching way. “You’re a heavy one.”

“I can’t help that,” Hans said.  “But you feel light as air.”  Greta saw his smile.

“I am,” Berry said, with all seriousness.  “You don’t know, but I am.”  She looked at Greta but Greta shook her head, no.  At least not yet, Greta thought, though she knew it was already too late.  In time, staying big, Berry would begin to behave more like a real thirteen-year-old girl, but as a little flyer, her mind and heart were set on Hans forever and ever. There was not room in the fairy world for the kind of complicated relationships and multiple choices and possibilities that humans got into.  Greta envied her.  Berry belonged utterly to Hans and since Hans had eaten fairy food, Greta imagined he belonged to her as well.  She sighed. Why couldn’t her life be so easy?

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 3 of 3

Her own thoughts turned to Gerraint and all the struggles around York.  She saw too much blood and killing, and she willingly worked her fingers off, but it felt like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. Festuscato would be facing the same soon enough.  Greta wondered what was wrong with the human race.  So much blood would be spilled, and she thought of Darius and Marcus and Ravenshold.  She dreaded what was to come.

Greta proved right.  They arrived at the river crossing after only a short walk.  Vilam stayed there, waiting as agreed.  He quickly got to his feet and doffed his hat as he saw them coming. Finbear was not there, however. In his place stood an older man named Cecil, a member of the Eagle Clan.  The first thing Cecil did was draw his sword and take two steps back. Thunderhead ignored the man since even that sharp steel could barely scratch his hide.  Greta understood why ogre hunting never became the great sport that dragon and giant hunting once became.  Thunderhead set Hans down gently as instructed and Greta let go of the tension she had not even realized she held.  She felt ever so glad that Hans did not wake up in the ogre’s arms.

“Now, maybe you could help Bogus with his job,” she suggested and gave a few scratches on his itchy spots.  Clearly, it felt more natural and came much easier for her having spent some time now among her little ones.  This time, Thunderhead appreciated of her gift.  He really was not a bad fellow for an ogre.

“I will. And I’ll do a good job.  You’ll see.”

“There now.” She finished.  “You better get along before this poor man falls over.”

Thunderhead did not even look at the man.  He moved off through the forest a little happy and a little less itchy.

Vilam introduced his friend and Cecil came straight to the point.  “If I had not seen it myself, I would have called any man a liar.”

“Well you saw.” Greta did not mean to sound uppity, but Hans remained too heavy for her.  “Now, would you put that sharp thing away and help my brother to the raft.” She stilled herself.  “Please,” she added, coming down from the heady experience of the last few hours.  She might be the Woman of the Ways, but a mere mortal, human after all.

“I’ll help,” Berry said, but Greta let Cecil and Vilam carry the boy, and they managed to get him to the raft without waking him.  In the end, he woke up all the same as the raft moved low in the water and his backside became soaked.

“Where are we going?” Hans asked.

“To the village of the Bear Clan.”  Greta answered.  “They are going to help us finish our journey to Ravenshold, but we have to pick up Drakka, Rolfus and Koren first.”

“Are they here?” Hans asked.   He wanted to get excited, but the best he could manage was groggy.  Greta pointed ahead as if to say they were in the village, but Hans looked back.  Berry had her face hidden in Fae’s shoulder, and Greta thought she had to help Berry get over being so shy.  It would be too irresistible for a boy like Hans.

When they came to the far bank, the men held the raft steady.  Greta helped Hans and Berry helped Fae.  When they came up to the gate, they found a bonfire out front. The other Clans were coming.  Many were already present.

“Vilam.” Greta had a quick thought.  “Is there another way into the village where we might not be seen?  I need to get Hans into a real bed, and I don’t like the idea of Berry being surrounded by all of these men.”  Of course, Vilam knew who Berry was, but at that moment Cecil stood in the gate shouting.

“They’re here! They’re here!”  Vilam looked at Greta and shrugged, but Greta would not give up.

“Vilam, take Hans,” she said.  “Berry, you go with them and stay with Hans.  See that he gets to bed and gets a good night’s sleep.  Look.  He is falling asleep standing here.”

“Yes, Lady,” Berry curtsied and Greta reminded herself again that these were not her little ones.  Human interactions were far more complicated.

“Do you mind?” she asked Vilam

“Not at all,” he answered.  “Three days and three nights under fairy charms and it is a wonder he is still on his feet at all.  No offence to the present company.”

“Does he mean me?” Berry had to ask, innocently, though she knew full well who he spoke of and who he stared at.

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.

“Oh, no offense.” Berry replied.  “Bogus the Skin would take that as a great compliment.  I must tell Bogus, I mean, Grandfather the next time I see him.”

Vilam smiled, sort of, and they scooted along the stockade wall until they became lost in the dark.  Fae and Greta staggered to where they were met by a group of men, escorted to the center square, sat in chairs in the most prominent place, and promptly ignored. Fae fell asleep almost as soon as they sat down.  Greta felt unable to sleep as the men argued for hours, and sometimes it became rather heated.

It all sounded typically human as far as it went.  Some believed none of the talk of gods and the Vee Villy.  Some did not want to believe for the usual variety of personal reasons.  Some, on the other hand, were true believers, and some, while they did not believe, they thought making peace with the Yellow Hairs and Romans was the right thing to do.

In the end, it came down to two sides.  Chobar of the Dog Clan argued against change.  He wanted to kill the outsiders, including Greta.  Gowan of the Eagle Clan argued for change.  He wanted to let them go and seek peace so they could join in the defense of the land, because while his village and many of the others were technically outside and west of the Roman province, they had the Lazyges thundering across the plains at their backs and they would likely ride right over the Celts to get at the gold and silver being mined out of the mountains under Roman control.

Baran finally called the meeting ended for the night.  They needed to wait for all of the Clans to arrive and be represented before making a decision.  Greta had to wake Fae, though she felt reluctant to wake her, only to be escorted to a place where they could sleep.

Greta found Berry and Hans fast asleep, entwined in each other’s arms.  They were innocent, being fully clothed.  Greta doubted if Hans even woke up.  He lay face down in bed, and Berry’s face lay beside him and with her mouth a little bit open.  She saw Berry swallow without waking, and saw Berry’s hand go up to rest in Han’s hair.  She caught a glimpse of them when they were very much older, and she decided to leave them alone.

Then she could not sleep.

Drakka and the boys had left town almost as quickly as she had gone in search of Hans. They had taken Finbear to guide them which was why he had not been at the river.  Finbear also made a rather dull knife, but she hoped he had enough sense not to trust the boys.  That thought made her turn.

Drakka did not really care about her.  He had not even left word for her.  It finally penetrated her thick head, and now it seemed painfully obvious.  He would never be with her.  At least Darius would have left word, but that just meant he was polite.  True, her view of the Romans had changed considerably in the last couple of weeks, but still!  He had his tart waiting for him in Rome.  Greta could not even be sure if Darius liked her, and here, they were going to end up stuck with each other, unless one of them got killed.  She did not want to think about it.  She turned again.

She wondered if Darius would look for her in the morning.  She would probably be a day late.  He probably would not even notice.  She turned again and finally fell into a tense and not very restful sleep.

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

MONDAY

Greta and Hans, with a few extra passengers, finish the journey to Ravenshold.  Greta fears what may be transpiring, since she became unavoidably delayed. She fears they may be fighting already.  She fears for Marcus… and maybe Darius.

Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 2 of 3

Ragwart cried, Gorse blew his nose, and Bogus hit them with his hat.  “You see, I told you,” he said, and he finished with a knock on Gorse’s noggin.

“Go on,” Greta said.  “Have lots of prickly babies.”

“That was lovely,” Fae said.  Berry got teary eyed.  She had her arms around Hans and started kissing the back of his head.  He stayed face down, asleep on the table, a half-eaten baked potato by his mouth.

It started getting late.

“Thunderhead!” Greta called.  “How are the itchies?”  She asked when he appeared.

“Better.” Thunderhead admitted in his gravel, deep voice.  He swallowed hard and added, “My lady.”  He must have figured it out and Greta knew that meant he had a tremendous headache.

“Ahem.” Bogus the Skin, still hat in hand wanted Greta’s attention once more.

“What!”  She shot him a look which on retrospect might have been harsher than it needed to be.  Bogus winced like he had been hit with a hammer.  Gorse stiffened and Ragwart hid his face in Gorse’s shirt. “You mated with a human woman which is strictly forbidden.”  Greta said. “And the child, your son, you let him run off to be lost in the wilds of the Dragon Mountains.  Now, your granddaughters have been kept apart all of these years, and that was unkind, too.  I tell you, if you like humans that much, how would you like to be one?” This was the worst of all threats for a little one, and Bogus understood.

“Oh, please.” Bogus fell to his knees and almost worried his hat to death.  “Not that. Anything but that.  I loved the lady fair and square as long as she lived. She took up with that human herself, but I never deserted her. I was faithful.  And I begged our son not to go away.  You don’t know how hard I begged him.  But I could not stop him because a young man of that age needs to make his own way in the world.   And my granddaughters, as precious to me as my own skin, I wanted them with me, but by great and noble sacrifice I let them stay with the humans, theirs being only one quarter spirit.  But when the humans gave one back to me, how I rejoiced.  And we made great magic, and all the best of us joined together so we could release the spirit within Berry so she could truly live among us as one of us. And I loved her.  And I always took best care of her.  And I’ve never been so honest in my life, but please, you must believe me.”

Greta knew he did more or less speak the truth.

“He does not lie.” Berry said, and she and Fae looked at each other with startled expressions.  Berry put her hand to her mouth as if she had said something very strange.

“But you know since the dissolution, the days for separate places is over,” Greta said.

“Yes, Lady. But I thought in this sparsely populated corner of the world we might yet have a little place for freedom, even if only for a short time.  I meant no harm.”  His voice trailed off.  His hat finally stilled, and he knelt like a condemned man waiting judgment.

“There is one thing you could do for me,” Greta said.  “You and your cohorts.”

“Anything,” Bogus said sincerely.  “Anything.”

“Make sure no guns escape,” she said, thinking fast.  “No guns, no bullets, powder or nothing else from the future must escape, either by the North road or by the South, or by any other way.  Can you do this?”

Bogus looked at her for a minute and some of his sly self began to bubble up again to the surface.  “How far can I go?” he asked.

“I prefer no one die,” Greta said plainly.  “But by hook or by crook, you must be sure none escape.  You must hide them for me, to be taken to Usgard above Midgard.”

“I think we can deal,” Bogus said.

“No deals,” Greta shot at him and his whole countenance sank.  “I am asking yes or no.”  She said it, and it was a genuine choice.  He knew he could say no with no ill effect, but he also knew he could not haggle over the job.  At last he decided.

“Yes,” he said.

“Thank you,” Greta smiled.  “Now, your granddaughters will be with me for a while, and maybe, just maybe I will let them come visit you one day.”

Bogus understood that, too, but he nodded his head.  “We will do what you ask.”  Before he could move, Greta bent over and kissed his grubby bald spot.  His face lit up like the fourth of July and he spun around with great gusto and a big smile.

“Come on, dimwits,” he said to Gorse and Ragwart.  “We got a job to do.”

“Did you mean it?” Berry asked about staying with her for a while, but Greta did not answer right off.

“Thunderhead.” Greta regained the ogre’s attention from whatever planet it had wandered to.  Actually, Thunderhead thought of nothing in particular, and likely nothing at all.  “Please pick up my brother very carefully and carry him as you would the Fairy Queen’s own baby.  I do not want him damaged, but you will have to carry him to the river.”

“Yes, Lady,” the ogre said, and with a gentleness that could hardly be believed in the rock hard, dim witted brute, he picked up Hans and they started back to the river. Thunderhead knew the way, and he was not inclined to lead them in circles.

“Did you mean that?”  Berry asked again as soon as she could.

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.  “You must stay with me for a while, but you must stay big.  I hope that won’t be a hardship for you.”

“That’s Okay,” Berry said.  “I’m big a lot.  It doesn’t bother me.  Thissle said she was never comfortable being big and did not get big very often, but it doesn’t bother me.”

“Hush,” Fae said. “You’re going on like a teenager.”

“But I’m seventy just like you,” Berry said.

“Actually.” Greta interrupted.  “In human terms, she is about thirteen.  I know it hardly seems fair, but it is true.”

“And my twin sister,” Fae said.  “And I know that is true, too, with all my heart.”

“Me too,” Berry said, and she gave her sister a little kiss and squeeze.  “Tell me more about mother,” she said, and Greta tuned them out to give them their privacy.

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 1 of 3

Greta and Berry helped Hans to the table, and then Fae and Berry worked on waking him enough to feed him while Greta had her fill.  The food tasted very good, full of cold fruit, steaming vegetables and plenty of sweets, not unlike the hag’s table, but this was substantial and would fill the body to satisfaction.  Then, something else came up about the food of the little ones which Greta did not remember at first because she felt much too hungry to think.  Besides, Bogus distracted her by mumbling again.

“I was trying to bump her off,” he said.  “I sent her to the hag, pushed the wolf in her direction, and drew her into the wyvern swamp so they could suck the life out of her.  When all that failed, and it makes sense now, I put her into the hands of the clunker humans.  Those brutes like to kill everything they can get their hands on, but even they failed to do her in.  Bee stings and locust plagues!  Then when she comes for the boy, I figure if I can’t get her killed, at least maybe I can scare her away, but no!  She scolds the ogre, sends the disembodied home and gets her boy, and all on the same day. I can’t even make time fly by!  But no wonder.  I’ve been trying to kill my own goddess and scare the beeswax out of my own granddaughter.  Why, I’ll be the laughingest spirit in forever plus two!”

“Excuse me.”  Gorse spoke up.  Greta felt nearly full by the time he approached, temporarily sating her ravenous appetite.  “Excuse me.” He repeated and touched her sleeve.

“Yes Gorse,” she said, and she took the liberty to smile and stroke his red beard which made him turn crimson.  With his hat in his hand he did look rather like Snow White’s Bashful with a red beard.

“It was me and Ragwart who convinced Bogus to save your brother.  She’s a woman who ought to know better, we said, um, if you follow me, but he is just a boy child and ought not to get killed yet.”

“Ragwart?” Greta looked up.

“That’s mostly true.”  Ragwart confirmed.  “But then Bogus thought he ought to dance for months, or maybe as much as a week and think it no more than a few minutes.  Why, he would have been no more than an old bag of bones by the time he got done if Bogus had his way.”

“Say!” Gorse just thought of something. “How did you get Bogus to change his mind?  That is powerful hard to do, you know.”

“But since you have been eating our food, I guess it really does not matter.”  Ragwart said, and he and Gorse began an excited little dance of their own, as if they had played a great trick on the humans and were very proud of themselves.

“That’s it,” Greta said out loud.  “Once you eat the food of life, the food of the little spirits of the earth, you are their captive forever, or until they tire of you.”  Gorse and Ragwart looked delighted, but Greta merely looked at the others.  “I guess that means Hans will just have to stay with me, is all.”

The imps stopped dancing and Bogus stopped mumbling long enough to come over and begin whispering to them.  Fae spoke up while she and Berry, big sized, helped Hans.

“I don’t mind,” she said.

“Don’t mind what?” Berry asked before she realized Fae was not talking to her.

“I don’t mind being captive to the Vee Villy,” Fae said.  “If I can spend whatever precious time I have left with them, well, I always wanted to know and that part of me always felt empty.”

“But you are one quarter Fee.”  Greta said. “I don’t know if the food will affect you like that, though it may fill some of the empty part.”

Fae looked sad for a moment.  “But what about you and Hans.” she asked.

“Me?”  Greta laughed.  “I am about as captive to the little ones as anyone can get, and I have been for about forty-six hundred years.”

“Yes, of course.” Fae understood.

“As for Hans,” Greta started, but Berry interrupted.

“Oh, can I keep him?” she asked.  “I like him much, a lot, and he is very handsome, too.”

Fae and Greta looked at each other.  “We’ll see,” Greta said.  “Only right now we need to get back to the village.  It will be dark soon enough.”  Fae nodded in agreement.

At that moment, there came a sudden flash of light and a real fairy appeared by the table. The difference between her and Berry, when Berry got small, was striking.  This fairy had the veritable glow of life about her, shining in gold and silver sparkles which danced free of her wings, hair and finger tips.  Her every feature looked sharply distinguished, and yet she remained hard to see in some sense.  Every time Hans focused on her she seemed to move. She actually stayed quite still.  The human eyes had the problem, and even Fae had to squint to keep the fairy in focus

“My Lady.” The fairy curtsied in mid-air. Greta, of course, could see her perfectly.

“Please get big, Thissle.”  She knew the fairy’s name without thinking about it, and indeed, when she thought about it, she found she knew all about this lovely fee.  Thissle got big, but Bogus and the boys removed their hats and took a step back.  She appeared a beautiful woman of twenty-nine, so to speak.  “Where is your troop?”  Greta asked, knowing the answer full well.

“They have moved on, a hundred mortal years ago, to green the snows of the North.”  Thissle explained softly in her full-grown woman’s voice.  “Oh, my Lady.”  Thissle tried hard not to cry and everyone felt it.  Gorse had to blow his nose, twice.

“I don’t know if I can give you what you want.”  Greta said, but her own heart started breaking and she knew she had to try. “Thornbottom!”  She called, and the little sprite appeared because he had to. He looked smaller than Bogus, though not nearly as small as Thissle in her normal size.  Bogus and his boys obviously thought little of the sprite, but Thissle clearly loved him with all her heart, and he loved her with equal fervor. He appeared very cute.  Greta wanted to invite him to sit on her knee, but Thornbottom thought to speak first.

“That would be a great honor,” he said.  “But my name is not accidental.”  And indeed, he looked covered with thorns and prickles, much like a porcuipine.

“And that little thing has kept you apart all of these years?” Greta asked.

“Not so little, Lady,” Thornbottom said.  “But I won’t horrify you with the details.”

“Do you love him?” Greta asked and Thissle said, absolutely, and no one needed Fae to tell them that she was speaking the truth. “And will you be a good wife for him.”

“Yes, I will do my very best,” Thissle said.

“And do you love her?”  She asked Thonbottom.

“More than all my life,” he answered.

“And will you be a good husband?”  Greta asked.

“I will be the best I can,” Thonbottom answered plainly and as true as anyone ever spoke.

“Hold hands.” Greta told them.  “I will try.  I cannot promise.”

“We understand,” Thornbottom said.  “The gods never make promises.”

Thissle got on her knees and Greta saw that even holding hands could be hard.  She got pricked by one little spike on the back of Thornbottom’s hand and a small drop of precious fairy blood formed there, but she looked brave.

Greta, meanwhile heard advice that came on the time wind.  “Imagine ordering the colors of the rainbow.”  The voice said.  “Show the bats how to see without seeing and teach the waters to make sculptures in lime. Paint the sky at sunset and sing to the moon to raise the tide.”  Greta understood and stilled her mind.  She did not strain or stress or try to do anything at all.  She simply understood or perhaps decided how things needed to be, and she decided that was how they were, and when she opened her eyes, she saw Thornbottom and Thissle exactly as she decided.

Thornbottom got a little bigger, and Thissle got very much smaller, though again, not nearly as small as she used to be in her normal fairy size.  They had qull-like hair, still prickly, but not nearly the deadly spikes of before, and the backs of their hands and tops of their feet were more like rounded knobs and not at all sharp to the touch.  Both were richly dressed as if for a wedding, which it was, and Thornbottom looked as cute as ever, while Thissle looked no less beautiful.

Thissle and Thornbottom let out squeals of delight and began to dance, hand in hand and arm in arm.  Fae became full of tears and Berry spoke.  “I hope I am that beautiful when I marry Hans,” she said.

R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 3 of 3

Greta did not answer.  She got busy helping Fae up the little hill.  Berry also got preoccupied, back on Greta’s shoulder, sticking her head out behind and sticking her tongue out at the receding ogre.

“Fascinating,” Fae said.  “Such a big and frightening brute.”

“Yes, I know,” Greta said.  “I’m sorry.” As if she was personally responsible.

“And yet, very child-like in a way,” Fae concluded.

“In a way,” Greta agreed.  “After a fashion.  Oh, let’s face it, most ogres are not even the sharpest spoon in the drawer.”

“Fascinating,” Fae said again.  “And I know what you say is true.”

When they reached more level ground, Greta ventured a question.

“Bogus, you are Berry’s uncle?”

“Yes, I am,” Bogus said.

“He lies.” Fae got right on him.  Greta, Berry and Bogus all looked at her.

“Well, no.” Bogus took a side step.  “Actually, I am more like her great uncle.”

“He lies.” Fae said, and Bogus looked very uncomfortable.  He looked inclined to say no more, but Greta felt curious.  They all were.

“What, exactly is your relationship to Berry?”  Greta asked.

“Yes, what?” Berry wanted to know.

“It is kind of complicated,” Bogus hedged.

“He—” That was all Fae could get out before Bogus yelled.

“All right! I’m her grandfather.  Got it?”

Greta could tell this came as news to Berry.  “You are her grandfather,” Greta confirmed.

“Yes, look. We need to stop here a minute.” Bogus quickly changed the subject. “You can rest and I will be back in a minute, I promise,” he said, and looked at Fae, pleading.

“He does not lie,” Fae said, so Greta nodded.  She would not mind a minute’s rest.  She felt sure Fae would not mind.  Berry quickly jumped to Fae’s lap.  She knew Greta had questions.

“So, who was the flyer in your family?”  Greta asked.

Berry shook her head, and then perked up.  “Bogus has wings, but he never uses them.  I don’t think they work right,” she said.  She thought some more.  “Bogus said his mother was a flyer.”  She looked proud to have remembered that.

Greta nodded. It did not make sense to look at them, but it made perfect sense in the folded, convoluted universe of the little ones. She got ready to say something when Fae spoke.

“There is a chill in the air.”  Greta felt the same, and it caused her to look around.

“It’s a bodiless.”  Berry named it, and Greta shrieked as the ghost came out of the tree right beside her. She had to stand and scoot back to keep the ghost from walking right through her.  It looked like a Roman, and an officer at that.  They all saw him well enough, but oddly, he did not seem to see them.

“Roman,” Berry said.  “I should have remembered this was his place.  Roman!”  She called to the ghost and the ghost stopped.  At first the ghost looked around as if something did not quite penetrate. “Roman.  Why are you here?  You frightened us.”

“Little mistress?” The Roman communicated after a fashion.

“Where are you going, Roman?”  Berry asked.

“Round and round. I do not know.  I cannot find my way.  It is so dark.”  The ghost seemed to look at Greta, and then more nearly looked through Greta.  “Do you know the way out?” he asked.

Greta let go of her little prayer and spoke.  “The rebellion is over.  Rome has won. The emperor says to come home, now. You are ordered to come home.”

The Roman took off his helmet and appeared to put his hand through his hair.  It appeared as only a slight wind.  Berry flew back beside Fae.  This seemed new to her.

The ghost smiled for a minute and they all caught the sense of home.  Then the ghost vanished altogether.

“What did you do?” Berry asked, and leapt for the protection of Fae’s hair.  “Where did he go?”

“She sent him home,” Fae answered, even as Bogus showed up.

“Back like I promised.”  Bogus said, but he eyed Greta harder than ever.  “You must be made of stronger stuff than most humans.”

“No,” Greta said. “Same stuff, just a little more experienced is all.”

“So, who are you?” he asked.

“A sister who wants her brother,” she answered.  “You know the instructions of the goddess.  Now, no more tricks.”

“Oh sure.” Bogus almost sneered as the sarcasm crept into his voice.  “And I suppose you always do what your god tells you.”

Greta could not fairly answer that with Fae around.  “All the same,” she said.  “I want my brother back and the day is drawing on.”

“Little do you know,” Bogus chuckled and rubbed his hands.

“Bogus,” Greta got through fooling around.  “You must take me to my brother, right now.”  She compelled him.

“Well, if I must I must,” he said, and he started to walk.  “Though my better nature asks why?”  He mumbled again.  “If I were in my right mind I wouldn’t do it.  Not in a million years.  So that’s it, then.  I’ve gone completely bonkers.  Lock me up and throw away the key.  See, my feet are moving, and in the right direction, too.  I must be mad.  Well, here we are.”

Greta stepped up and saw Hans dancing with a woodwife while two little imps made wild music on a pipe and a drum.  Several woodwives stood around, clapping and waiting to take their turn at the dance. Hans had been dancing for nearly three days and three nights.

“Greta.” Hans saw her.  “I’m sorry I left the camp, but isn’t this wonderful?”

“Stop.  Stop the music,” Greta insisted, and the music stopped.  “And how long have you been dancing?”

“Not more than a few minutes,” Hans said.  “I was about to come back.”  He collapsed. Greta rushed up to put his head in her lap, but he had already fallen asleep.

“Hey Bogus.” Greta heard one of the imps. “What happened?  It’s still today.”

“What?  Not possible,” Bogus said.  “I’ve been walking them in circles for days.  It must be the day after tomorrow at least.”

“No, it’s still today, I tell you.”

“Ragwart.” Bogus called for a second opinion. “How many days since we left the river?”

“Same day,” Ragwart said.  “Just like Gorse told you.”  Gorse nodded and Bogus turned to face Greta but Greta spoke first.

“We need food,” she said.  “Hans must be absolutely starving.  And then I want to go straight back to the river without tricks.  I want to be back in the village before dark.”  She did not want to spend another night in the haunted woods.  Gorse and Ragwart volunteered to fetch the food while Bogus tried one last time.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am the Traveler, Greta,” she finally told him.

“The Kairos, the goddess,” Bogus said.  “Pots and kranky bits!”  He started to swear, though he had actually figured it out, but he stopped as Greta held up her hand, having more to say.

“More important,” she said.  “Fae and Berry are both your granddaughters.”

“What?” Bogus jumped about four feet straight up.

“Not possible,” Fae said.  “I am seventy years old and Berry can’t be more than thirteen.”

Greta shook her head while Berry spoke up.  “I’m seventy,” Berry said.

“It’s true,” Greta said.  “The little ones age much more slowly, but twins were born and Fae stayed with the humans while Berry was given to the fee.”

“Honkin beans!” Bogus yelled.  “Great horned butt headed goblins and ogre snot!  I’ll be the laughing stock of every spirit between here and Davy Jones.”  His language got rather colorful after that as Ragwart returned.

“Eats is ready,” Ragwart said, having missed everything up to that point.

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

MONDAY

Playing with the sprites is all fine and well, but at some point, Greta has to return to reality.  he has guns to deal with, and a rebellion getting out of hand in Ravenshold.  Next week, Back to the World.  Until then…

*

R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 2 of 3

“You must be Bogus,” Greta said, while a quick image flashed through her mind. Basically, she thought if he took her home to where there were six others that looked just like him, she would hit him.

“And just who are you?”  Bogus asked. Danna had hidden the truth from him so he honestly did not know.

“Greta,” she said. “Plain old Greta.”  And she thought real hard at Berry to keep her big little mouth shut.

“Oh, no,” Berry said.  “I’m no tale teller.  No I’m not.”

“So, what exactly do you want?”  Bogus asked.

“I want you to take me to my brother, Hans.  I appreciate you looking after him, but it is time that he and I finish our journey.”

“I don’t know any Hans.”  Bogus sounded very sincere.

“Just take me to him,” Greta insisted before Fae could say a thing.

“All right,” Bogus said, as if he suddenly changed his mind.  He turned, but stopped in mid-step.  “Why am I doing this?”

“Just…” Greta started.

“Oh, I’ll do it,” Bogus said, and started to walk again.  “I just don’t know why, that’s all.”

They walked slowly because Fae could not walk very fast, and all the while, Bogus mumbled. “I protect my people.  I work out a fair deal, a fair deal, mind you.  And we take the wyvern, the bogie and all of the other not so nice on our side.  And then all we get is squeezed between the river and the road, but that’s all right because at least there is a little room for us to be free, and what happens?  A mere seventy years later, a measly seventy years, mind you, and the goddess shows up out of nowhere and Poof!  It’s all gone.  Then she says I gotta give this dumb girl her dumb brother back besides.  I tell you, what is the world coming to?”

Greta looked around briefly to see how Fae and Berry were getting along, but when she looked back, Bogus had gone.  Instead, there came a tremendous roar and a vision of horrible ugliness that towered before them.  It stood right in the path, and all three women screamed, and Fae at least feared that Bogus might have been eaten.  Greta jumped forward without thinking to get between Fae and the beast.  She was not sure how Fae’s old heart could stand it.

“Stop that!” She yelled at the beast without really thinking about what she did.  She just reacted.  “Bad, bad ogre!”  She yelled, and then she slapped the ogre in his outstretched arm, truly without thinking. Curiously, the ogre wilted under her scolding and, though he would not have felt a human slap, he howled in pain at Greta’s touch.  Then Greta remembered that ogres were included among her little ones, though they could hardly be called little.  “Bad, bad.” She said again, and the ogre winced as if under hammer blows.  Then Greta felt sorry for the beast.  Berry was hide-ed in Fae’s hair, and Fae, while clearly repulsed, at the same time, she seemed fascinated with the sight.

“You scared us badly,” Greta said, a bit more softly.  “You really are an ugly, scary ogre.  I bet if you saw your own reflection you would even scare yourself.”

“I did once,” the ogre proudly admitted, and he turned a little red from embarrassment.

Fae drew her breath in sharply as Greta stepped up and put her hand right up to the ogre’s mouth; but Greta had no fear.  “Oh, I knew it.”  Greta praised the creature and he turned ever redder as she began to scratch beneath the fold of his chin where his own hammy hands could not scratch.  Ogres develop a kind of moldy fungus there which otherwise only grows on rocks.  It is not painful, but it itches terribly and Greta imagined that might be why ogres were sometimes so mean.

“Have you always been this scary, or did you grow scary when you got older?”  She made polite conversation.  At the moment, he was thumping his leg against the ground like a puppy dog.  The ground shook a little and Greta felt obliged to stop scratching to let him answer.

“Always,” he said and stuck his chin out for more.

“What’s your name?” Greta asked, not offering any more scratches.

“Thunderhead.”

“Well, Thunderhead, you know you are not allowed to scare humans.”  She almost scolded again and that took his attention from his chin.

“Bogus said it was only fairies.  He said it was a prank.”  Thunderhead defended himself in the classic way.  He blamed someone else.

“No, Dunderhead.” Berry jumped out and began to scold him herself.  Evidently, she knew him.  “No hurting the humans.  It is not permitted.”  He listened, but at the same time he made a couple of slow attempts to grab the sprite darting in front of him.  It looked a bit like trying to swat a fly with a wrought iron lamppost.  Greta backed up a little to avoid the flailing arms. “Don’t make our goddess mad at you,” Berry said.  “You have had enough scratchies.”

“No telling,” Greta insisted.

“I’m no tale teller.”  Berry said, and she fluttered back to hover between Fae and Greta.

“What do you do, Thunderhead?”  Fae asked out of curiosity.

“I make sand,” the ogre said, frankly.  “I crush the rocks to make the soil good.”  He made a fist, like he was showing her how it was done.  “But sometimes my hands get tired so I crush them with my head.  But right now, I got terrible itches.  Maybe you scratch or I eat you, rule or no rule.”

Greta’s jaw dropped.  “Of all the nerve!”  She got a little angry, and the ogre wilted again under her lashing.  “You frighten my friends, but I make nice.  I compliment you and scratch under your chin, and what do I get?  You threaten to eat us anyway!  Serves me right for being nice to an ogre!  Now move, you big, ugly oaf!”  The ogre raised his arms as if to ward off her tongue, but she slapped his arm again, and this time he felt something electric in her touch.  Thunderhead howled and jumped back about eight feet.

“You sound like Bogus,” he confessed, while he sucked on his arm and eyed Greta with awe.

“Yes.” Greta started building up a good head of steam.  “Bogus! Bogus the Skin!”

“What? Who?”  He appeared right in front of her.  “What am I doing back here?”  He got confused, at first.

“The goddess said take me to my brother and she meant safely.  She did not say I should be threatened by an ogre!”

Bogus deflected her anger by turning on Thunderhead.  “Thunderhead.  What have you been doing?”  He began a scolding of his own, but Greta interrupted before the ogre could speak.

“He only did what you told him to do,” she said.  “Yes, I know the truth.”  She added before Bogus could lie about his innocence.  “Now get moving.  I want my Hans back, and Thunderhead.”

“Me?” Thunderhead paused in his sucking. He looked visibly shaken.

“Go make some sand, and maybe, if you are real good, just maybe your itchies will go away for a while.”

“Yes,” Thunderhead said.  “I will. I will.”  He did not know what to make of her, but he felt sure that she was one he ought to listen to.

“Move,” Greta said a bit more softly as the steam began to run its’ course.

“I’m moving,” Bogus said.  “What is the world coming to?  And who are you, anyway?”

R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 1 of 3

“Oh, no, my Lady.”  Berry jumped up.  She remained full sized, and Greta decided that perhaps Berry was thirteen after all. “But that would mean, Bogus, oh dear.” Berry finished without saying anything at all.

Greta spoke up loud as the men picked themselves off the ground.  “It would be a great kindness to me if you would clean up the three in the lock-up and feed them so they are ready to travel when I return.”

“It will be done.” Baran spoke graciously.  He dared not speak otherwise.  He behaved like a politician, after all.

Greta smiled, but turned to Fae.  “Coming?” She asked.  She stepped over to help Fae to her feet the way she used to help Mother Hulda.  At first Fae looked reluctant to have Greta even touch her, but at last she accepted Greta’s help even as a small tear fell to her feet.

“Where are we going?”  Fae asked.

“To see Bogus the Skin.”  Greta answered.  “This foolishness has gone on long enough.”

“Oh, oh, but oh!” Berry tugged on her own hair as if trying to hide in it, pacing in a quick two step back and forth, and not sure of where to go or what to do.

“If you get little again, you could hide in my hair.”  Greta suggested.

Berry looked at her with astonishment.  She had not thought of that.  Immediately, Berry flew to Greta’s shoulder and stayed hidden from view.  This caused Greta to consider her hair.  It felt frizzled and badly frayed and in need of washing, and so was she, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Vilam?” Greta looked up.  “Will you and your son kindly escort us back across the river?”  Vilam said nothing.  He doffed his hat, nodded to her and to Fae, and went to fetch his son.

They made a quick trip back across the water, and though Finbear continued to stare at Greta, he did not give her the same discomfort as before.  Greta believed he kept trying to catch a glimpse of the fairy on her shoulder, but Berry stayed firmly hidden in her hair.  Every now and then, when Finbear’s attention would waver and he would look down at his pole for a second, her little head would pop out and so would her tongue.  By the time he looked up, Berry would be hidden again, so Greta could not be sure if he ever actually saw the sprite.

When they reached the other side, Greta asked Berry which way to go.  “All ways are equal,” she said.  “All roads lead to Avalon if it is your heart’s desire.” Greta understood.  They would not find Bogus the Skin so much as he would find them.  They said farewell to Vilam and Finbear who headed back for a called council of the Bear Clan.  They did not know it, but Danna made sure that representatives from nearly all of the other Clans would be there by the time the council got into full swing. Only the Dragon Clan in the mountains lived too far away for such short notice.

They waved, and then Fae, who was hardly of the age for a long journey, asked very sensibly, “How many miles to Avalon?”

“Three score miles and ten,” Berry said, without hesitation.

“Can I get there by candlelight?”  Greta asked.

“Yes, and back again.”  Berry completed the story and clapped her hands and giggled.  Fae did not get it, so while they walked in the direction of the fairy circle where Greta and Berry first met, Greta tried to explain.

“Usgard above Midgard is my home, in a sense,” she said, naming the place in her own tongue. “It is a small point of relative stability in the Second Heavens, a universe which folds in and back on itself in ever new, kaleidoscopic fashion.  It is anchored by the seven isles of Elfhome, Dark Elfhome, Dwarfhome and so on.  They act sort of like the tail on a kite, and the innumerable isles stretch out beyond that. All the same it is a small place in the infinitely large and infinitely small universe that divides Midgard from the throne of the Most-High.”

Fae shook her head and did not follow.  “I know of Avalon,” she said.  “It is among the oldest of the stories of my people, but it was always said that Avalon could be found just around the next bend, or just over the horizon, or at the end of the rainbow.”

“Or here and gone in a blink.”  Berry chimed in.  “Or the way you didn’t go, or…”

“Enough,” Greta said, and Berry sat, quietly.  “Mostly it is home for the little ones, much more in the Second Heavens than here under the first.”

“Have you been there?”  Fae asked.

“No.”  Greta shook her head.  “But maybe someday, perhaps, but now, what was I saying?”

“How far is it to Avalon?”  Fae prompted.

“Three score miles and ten.”  Berry shot right back and she would have gone through the whole rhyme again if Greta had not covered her little mouth with her finger.

“It is right there all the time for the little ones.”  Greta said, remembering Fae’s quarter blood.  “It is accessible simply by being there.”

Fae looked very sad.  “How often I felt it was right there before me, and I would reach out and stretch out my hand, but always it stayed just beyond my fingertips.  And when the Villy, the imps of the boon, the spirits of the earth, the sprites of life were in the fields and trees and sky and the moonlight, I could almost see them and almost hear the strange, magical music by which all life danced.  But I never did until today, and now I dare not speak her blessed little name for fear that she will vanish away and prove once again to be only a dream.”

“What?  My name?”  Berry asked, actually following the conversation.  “But my name is easy to say.  You just say “Berry” and I say, “What?”

“And I promise that she won’t vanish,” Greta said.

“Your name is easy, too.”  Berry wasn’t finished.  She squeaked, “Fae.”  She spoke in her normal voice.  “Fae.” She dropped her voice an octave. “Fae.”  They stopped moving.  Berry stood on Greta’s shoulder with her hands on her hips, looking very miffed. Fae just looked at Berry in wonder until she shook herself free.

“What?” Fae asked.

“Yippee!” Berry shouted and did a back flip, landing perfectly again on Greta’s shoulder.  The wings helped.  “Now it’s your turn.”

Fae hesitated, but at last she pulled herself up.  “Berry.”

“What?” Berry yelled as loud as she could. Greta put her hand to her ear, but Berry could not help it.  It all built up inside of her, and with that much built up in that little body, it just had to explode.

“You know,” Greta said.  “Maybe this conversation would go better if you rode on Fae’s shoulder for a while.”

“Oh, may I?” Berry liked the idea but she wanted to be sure it was all right.  She knew the rule that the little ones and humans were not supposed to mingle.

“Yes, if it is all right with Fae,” Greta said.

“Oh, please,” Fae said, and Berry waited for no more invitation.

Good, Greta thought, perhaps now they could get moving again.  She no sooner turned around, however, when she saw a little one standing in the path, baring their way and looking very cross.

R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 3 of 3

“Woman.” Baran turned his wrath on the old woman. “I think age has finally caught up with you.  She speaks crazy and you say it is the truth.  I do not even understand what she is saying.”

Fae simply looked at the man until he backed down.  “I understand little myself.”  She said. “But what she says is truth.  She does not lie.”

“Tell us about the wolf,” Vilam spoke up.  “Tell us about Liam.”

“I killed the wolf.”  Greta spoke plainly as she recognized that in a sense this became like a visionary moment for her.  “He did not suffer.  And I buried him twenty feet beneath the earth and solid rock.  Do not dig him up lest you become infected like he was. Let him rest in peace.”

“You killed the wolf?”  Baran only caught the first part of her answer.

“She speaks true.” Fae almost went unheard.

“But you said the Nameless god of the Yellow Hairs killed the wolf.”  Vilam objected.

“The Nameless god did kill the wolf.”  Greta said.

“But how could you both?”  Vilam got confused.

“That doesn’t make sense.”  Baran still protested.

“She does not lie!”  Fae said, with sudden strength.  Everyone looked at her.  Greta also looked and saw that the old woman started looking at Greta in a very different way.  She guessed that the quarter of Fae’s blood which belonged to her little ones saw something her human three quarters never dreamed possible.

“The Yellow Hairs will be made weak by the loss of their woman.”  Baran wasted no more time.  “Put her with the others.  We will bring them to the bogie beast this very afternoon.”

“The bogie beast? The hag.”  Greta understood.  “That won’t be possible.”  She spoke before they could grab her.  “I killed the Hag.  I baked her in her own oven.”

That really got their attention because they knew all about the chimney and, of course, the oven.

“She does not lie,” Fae said, and Baran looked astonished.

“That is why the smoke stopped,” Vedix said, as if confirming her story.  He started looking at Greta with different eyes as well at that point, and not without some fear.  Greta showed considerable restraint not to say anything especially since Salacia kept urging her to ask if Vedix would like to spend the rest of his life as a sea slug.

While Baran conferred with several of the men, Greta considered the stockade around the village.  Such a structure could not ultimately keep out a hag, or bogie beast as they misnamed it. Such creatures returned to the same village, and often to the same house as their last feeding.  But then, a regular flow of sacrifices might keep one at bay and even fix the beast on a new place for feeding.

Baran turned angrily and spoke without preliminaries.  “Tie the woman in the swamp and leave her for the banshees.”

“I destroyed the banshees, the wyvern.”  Greta spoke without hesitation, but lowered her eyes as if not wanting to remember what she saw.  “They are no more.”

“She.”  Fae began to speak, but Baran interrupted her.

“Old woman, I swear you are senile and don’t know what you are saying.”  Then he turned his anger back to Greta.  “I suppose you can prove it!” he demanded.

“I have a witness.”  Greta answered, as calmly as she could in the face of the man’s storm.  She had amazed even herself up to this point in the things that she said, but now, suddenly, she felt completely alone.  She did not hear a peep throughout time, and she knew she had to do it herself, whatever that might be.  In truth, she could only think of one thing to do.  “Berry.”  She called softly.  She steadied herself and decided how things needed to be.  “Berry.”  She insisted. “On my shoulder.”  And Berry got compelled to vanish from wherever she was and appear on Greta’s shoulder.  “There, there.”  Greta said immediately.  “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Berry let out a little shriek and instantly hid in Greta’s hair, but not before everyone in that place saw her.  Most just stood and stared, including Baran who appeared to be frozen with his mouth part way open.  Fae, however, fell to her knees, placed her face in her hands and wept.  It seemed as if seeing Berry became the fulfillment of her every hope and dream.

“Just talk to me.” Greta said.  “Come and face me and speak up good and loud, Okay?”

Berry hesitated and shook her little head.

“You can put your back to all of the people so you don’t have to look at them.”  Greta pointed out.

Berry thought about that and decided she could do that.  She flitted out to hover and faced Greta, and Greta did not hesitate to get her talking instead of thinking about being on display.

“Did I go into the swamp yesterday morning?”  Greta asked.

“Yesterday? I have to think.”  She put her little finger to her temple and tapped. “Think, think.  Oh, yes!  You know you did and I almost stopped you, but Bogus the Skin said I was supposed to just watch.”

“And you followed me?”  Greta made it a question.

“I watched like I was told.  I do good what I’m told.  So I fly from leaf to leaf and you don’t see me because I hide-ed.”

“You hid.”

“I sure did. I do good what I’m told.”

“Then what happened?”

Berry flitted back and forth several times very fast before she settled down again.  “I don’t like to think that part.  The suckies came.”

“The banshees? The wyvern?”  Greta suggested both the Celtic and Dacian names for the succubus.

“They been called that.”  Berry said. “But you got the big god sword and POP! One is no more.”

Then you did something very brave.”  Greta praised her, and Berry puffed up her chest in pride.

“I showed myself,” she said, and then added, “But not so brave.  I knew you would save me, and you did.  You powered them with more than magic, like fire and lightening herself, and they turned like fish bubbles and POP!  POP!  POP! They were no more.”  Berry smiled and then frowned.  “But four still chased you.  They did not chase me so you could not power them.  One got popped on the God sword, but three surrounded you and I was afraid for you.”

“And what did I do?”

“You went into tomorrow or yesterday and the big man came.  With the god sword and the long knife, you one, two, threed them and they were no more.”  Berry thrilled at the memory of them being no more, and everyone present felt it. Berry did a back flip in mid-air and zoomed right up to hug Greta’s neck and kiss her cheek.  Then she pulled back and looked serious as if she just remembered something very important.

“Oh, but Lady. I’m not supposed to be here.  No, no!  Bogus the Skin made a greement.  The mortal, clumsy trompers get this side of the river and we get the other.”

Of course, it was nonsense.  Greta knew that Berry and plenty more were over on the human side all of the time. They were in the grain, the trees, the flowers, the animals, but she supposed they always hide-ed.  They had a comfortable freedom in being able to go about without always having to be invisible; but then those days were over since the dissolution.  The days of dividing the land into separate realms was over.  The earth was one, now, and it belonged to the lowly human race.

“And what was this agreement?”  Greta asked. She was not entirely surprised to hear Baran answer.

“It would last until Danna herself, the Earth Goddess, the mother of all the Gods should end it herself, and what can you do about that?”  Everything had gone so badly for him thus far, he wanted to mock her, as if that might still give him some power over events.  Greta simply looked at the man without blinking.  Then she went away into the winds of time, and Danna, herself came to take her place.

Some ran. Most hid.  Some fell to their faces.  Berry got big and got down on her knees beside Fae, but she could not contain herself.  She slowly inched forward to where she could hug Danna’s knees, and Danna reached down and gently stroked Berry’s hair.

“All right.” Danna said.  “The agreement is now ended.”  And she made sure that Bogus the Skin and all of the little ones heard as well. “The whole forest now belongs to humanity which at present means the Celts, Dacians and Romans in equal measure.” She paused to let that sink in before she turned to the leader.

“Baran, you think if the Romans and Dacians fight each other it might weaken them and be to your advantage, perhaps even give you the opportunity to reclaim your land. Foolish man.  The Northland is terribly overcrowded.  Even now Germans of many tribes and nations are jostling each other and pushing against the soft side of the Roman Empire.  Even as we speak, the Quadi stand poised to invade. If the Romans and Dacians weaken each other, only the Quadi and Samartins will gain, and the next invasion will not stop at the borders of the forest.  For your own survival and for the sake of your children, I implore you to make yourselves known to the Romans and Yellow Hairs.  You must join with them to strengthen and defend the border. There may yet be a hundred years of peace, but I leave that in your hands.”  She paused again, but only to stroke Berry’s hair.

“Now Vedix.” Danna said, and Vedix appeared before her, instantly.  A number of people gasped and several screamed.  They were startled, but not surprised when Berry appeared earlier. They almost expected such things from the Vee Villy.  But to think that it could happen to a man!  “You kicked me this morning.”  Danna said.

Vedix fell to his knees.  His heart beat too fast, his palms sweating and he looked ready to pass out.  Poor Danna had to tone down her nature to almost nothing at all, and even then Vedix barely eeked out a response.

“’Twasn’t you,” he said, and fell on his face.

“’Twas.” Danna responded in kind.  “Not Danna me, but Greta me,” she said.

“Oah!” Vedix moaned.

“This is your punishment.  Hear me!” Danna threw her arms out compelling attention and the sparks flew from her hands and eyes.  Vedix certainly had to hear her because she had the power to send him to where a thousand years would barely begin his torment.  All she did, however, was speak.  “You must learn to treat others as you would wish to be treated if you were in their shoes.”  She paused before adding, “No sea slug.”  And she waved her hand once more and sent him back to the place where he had been trying to hide.

“I must go,” she said, and smiled, which suddenly warmed every heart present.  Many people looked up, but only Berry had the presence to speak up.

“Must you?” she said and flitted to another thought.  “Is it time for my Greta to come home?”

“Yes, sweet,” Danna said.  “This is my Greta life, not my Danna life.  Only, be good to her.  You know my Greta is just as human, mortal, and fallible as Baran.”  She paused for effect.  “Well, perhaps not that fallible.”  And she vanished into the winds of time, and Greta did come home, still speaking as if finishing Danna’s very thought.  “Still, Baran, I would appreciate it if you would stop trying to sacrifice me to myself.  That would be too strange, even for me.  Now, I hope to make peace instead of war, but even if I fail at that, I must still destroy the weapons of Trajan.”  Greta shook her head.  These people had no idea what those weapons might be.  “But first.”  She looked down at Berry, “I’m going to fetch my brother Hans.”

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

MONDAY

R5 Greta goes in search of Hans, but he is in the territory of the Wee Willies, and they are not inclined to cooperate with mortal humans.  As she really begins to learn her place, and what it means to say they are her little ones, it becomes a very heady experience.  Sadly, she does need to return to the real world to finish her quest.

Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 2 of 3

After that, there only passed snatches of conversations until it got dark and their captors brought some mashed meal and water.  It hardly seemed enough to sustain them, and Greta felt faint from hunger, having gone all day again without food.  One meal a day was not easy.  On the other hand, she imagined she might be losing some weight.  She really did not want to get round, like Mama. That thought did not help much.

Each person found a place to lie down, alone.  Drakka became the first to sleep.  As soon as Drakka began to snore, Koren crawled over beside Greta.  He shook her because her back was turned, but she was not asleep.

“Greta,” he whispered.  “Greta, I want to tell you why we are here.  Greta.”  She stopped his hand.

“I’m listening,” Greta whispered in return.

“It was Drakka’s father, Eldegard.  When the men rode out of the village after Lady Brunhild, he told us to keep an eye on things.  He feared Jodel’s father or one of the others might raise more men to swell the ranks of support for the Romans.  He said we were to watch and stop anyone who headed out for Ravenshold.  He said if we could not stop them, we were to kill them. Then you left town to cross the forest to Ravenshold.  We followed.”

“Drakka’s father, Eldegard?”  She got a clear picture, and her suspicions had been correct.  Darius was riding into a trap, to be squeezed between the hammer and the anvil.

“I want you to know.”  Koren went on.  “I only came along to see that Drakka did not hurt you.  I-I wouldn’t like it if you were hurt.”

Greta looked at him and he looked away.  She kissed his cheek.  “Thank you, Koren,” she said, while he turned scarlet.  “But you need to get some rest now.  We should all try to get some sleep.”

“Yes, you are right,” Koren said, while Greta scolded herself for sounding exactly like her mother talking to the children.  “I’ll be over here.  Good-bye, I mean, goodnight Greta.  I’ll see you later, in the morning.  Goodnight.” He crawled to the other side of the room and Greta glanced at Rolfus.  Rolfus’s eyes were open.  He faced her and as far as she could tell, he heard everything.

“What?”  She shot at him and tried hard to push her mother words away.  She wanted to know if he had a problem.

“Who can sleep with that racket?”  Rolfus frowned and pointed at Drakka, who snored.  He turned over and presumably shut his eyes.

Greta also scooted down and tried to get comfortable on the bare floor.  As she did, she got the distinct notion that Danna not only spoke to her, but said that she would probably have to pay a visit to the people in the morning, and perhaps visit this Bogus the Skin as well. Greta pulled back from the thought. What did that make her?  Far from fighting her own battles, she felt in danger of becoming no more than a pawn of the gods.  Nameless fought her enemies, Salacia kept her safe, and now Danna, to do what?  Gerraint said he was supposed to fight his own battles.  That only seemed fair.

“Is it wrong that Nameless, Salacia and Danna should seek to make peace between Dacian, Roman and Celt?” someone said.

“No.”  She almost responded out loud.  “But what does that make me, just a vessel for the gods to use and trash when they are done?”

“Greta will have to deal with the guns in her day.”  She remembered what Salacia said a lifetime ago, and sighed.  She turned away altogether from such thoughts and just as quickly, she found herself somewhere else.

Marcus, Darius, the Centurion Alesander, Herzglaw and Eldegard stood around a table in a tent of grand Roman design.  They were no doubt arguing about how they should enter Ravenshold in the morning. As soon as Greta saw them, Darius picked a cloth from a pocket in his cloak and went out into the night air.

“M’lord?” Gaius stood by the tent door, faithfully on duty.

Darius waved off his questions.  “They’ll argue a while longer, but in the end Marcus will have his way,” Darius said.

“M’lady?” Gaius asked another one-word question.

“It’s strange, Gaius, but despite being so far away I can almost sense her watching over me,” Darius said.  “But I suppose that is the way of it.  Foolish men go off to fight over foolish things while women stay home and wait and watch.”

Greta felt sure Darius spoke of his true love in far-away Rome.  She imagined that cloth as her token.  With a sudden surge of anger and hurt, she nearly lost the sight, but she settled herself and looked again.

“Women fight, too,” Gaius said.  “And just as much, but in other ways and on other battlefields.”

Darius nodded, as if to say Gaius was probably right, but he said no more.  He walked away from the campfires for a minute and stood under the natural light of the stars and the moon.  Suddenly, he came sharply into focus.

“The road is an ambush.”  Greta’s thoughts came quickly.  “Beware of Eldegard.”  Those thoughts poured out of her, again and again.

Darius’ eyes shifted, and for one brief moment it seemed as if they were looked eye to eye.

“Not tomorrow, but next morning.  Look for me. Look for me.”  She saw Darius lift his hand as if to touch her face and then she saw no more.  Someone kicked her.

“Get up!” The voice yelled.

Greta got up quickly, blinking against the bright morning light that streamed in the doorway. Drakka and Koren were being kept back by two men with swords.  Rolfus was still lying down, saying things in Dacian which made Greta hope the guards did not understand the language.

Despite Greta’s willing compliance, the one who kicked her also shoved her out the door. She spoke her feelings in his language.

“Don’t do something you might later regret,” she said.

“Shut-up.” He responded with a slap across her face.  Drakka and Koren both jumped but the door got slammed shut in their faces.  Drakka let out some epithets, but he got ignored. Greta felt the blood in the corner of her mouth, but she barely had time to touch it before she got dragged down the street.  She was not given the option of walking.  When they reached the center square, she ended up thrown face down in the dirt.

“I said fetch her, Vedix.  I didn’t say damage her.”  Baran spoke. He stood in the square with a number of men and one very old woman who was allowed a chair in which to sit.

“Sorry.” Vedix retorted with a laugh.

“He lies,” the old woman said.  The woman looked at Greta with a touch of sympathy as Greta got herself up and did her best to brush herself free of the mud.

“Fae.” Greta remembered the woman’s name. “I am pleased to meet you.”  And she was glad, indeed, to see another woman in the midst of all the men.  She hoped they might hear a woman’s counsel, and she also hoped that she and this druid, or wise woman might find some mutual ground on which to bond.

After a brief pause, Fae spoke softly.  “She does not lie.”

Greta looked at Baran and her curiosity must have shown.  He nodded, and explained.

“They say her grandfather was of the Vee Villy, though some believe he may have been one of the other spirits who haunt these woods.  Her father, the child of that rape, was never right.  He used to run off into the woods and disappear for days at a time.  Some said he went to dance to strange music in the fairy circles in the wilderness, under the moonlight.  Some say his other half needed time to live as well.  Other times, he seemed more normal.  They say when we escaped to these woods some seventy years ago, had it not been for him and his power over the animals and growing things, we all would have starved.”  Baran paused to shrug.  It all seemed mythology to him.

“In one of his more human moments, he impregnated a girl who gave birth to twins and promptly died in the birthing.  He disappeared, though some say he ran away and was lost in the mountains of Agdala, the Dragon.”  He shrugged again.  “But for us, the question was what to do with the twins.  After long debate, it was decided to give one to the Vee Villy in the hope that they would continue our prosperity without him here.  That prosperity has continued to this day.” He paused to take a breath.  He did not strike Greta as a believer in the earth spirits, but most of his people did believe, and as a politician, he blew with that prevailing wind.

“As a young woman, Fae went off with the people who wander the face of the earth forever and who have no home of their own.”

“Gypsies.” Greta named the people.  “It is so diluted now as to be almost nonexistent, but they, too, have the blood of the Vee Villy in their ancestry and have been cursed because of it.”

Fae’s eyes widened to imagine Greta knew anything at all about the Gypsies.  “She does not lie.”  Fae said. But Baran gave Greta a hard, cold stare.

“Sorry,” Greta said.  “Please go on.”

“Our Fae returned to us as you can see,” Baran continued.  “And she has served her people well for more years than any can remember.  But her greatest service has been to know when someone is telling the truth and when someone is telling lies.  She knows without fail,” Baran said, and he looked like he might be gloating.  “So be careful how you answer.”

Greta, however, read the man more deeply than he imagined.  She knew this was all show.  If she hung herself, that would just make things easy, but if she did not, he had already decided her fate.  It really was not fair, not the least because she was still having a hard time responding well in pressure situations.  Don’t panic, she told herself.

“What is your name?”  Baran asked. The lie detector always got the easy questions first.

“Greta.” She responded.  “The Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, Greta, and I am also called the Kairos, but as the Kairos I have had and will have many names.”  She looked up.

“What?” Baran gave her a stern look, but that stern look changed to surprise when he heard Fae give a little gasp.

“She does not lie.”

Baran tried again. “How old are you?”

“I am seventeen.” Greta said to Baran’s satisfaction, but she had not finished.  “And I am over four thousand six hundred years old, though I cannot say exactly how much over.”

“What does that mean?”  Baran threw his hands up when he heard Fae.

“She speaks the truth.”  Fae looked at Greta with a strange and curious look on her face.

Baran gave it one more try.  “You are the Wise Woman for your people?”  He asked.

“I am, as you call it,” she said.  He almost looked smug again.  “And much more besides.”

“What more?” Baran asked without waiting for Fae to verify her honesty.

Greta herself did not know where these thoughts came from, but she repeated them with certainty.  “An experiment in time and genetics, a safety valve for the gods, the Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, goddess to the little spirits of the earth, Lady of Avalon…”

“Shut-up.” Baran roared.  He threw his hands at her as if to say she started speaking nonsense, but Fae spoke clearly.

“She does not lie.”