Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 6 of 6

Diogenes caught a glimpse of who stood in the courtyard.  He changed to Gerraint as soon as he got through the window and finished helping Enid and Guimier down.  Gerraint gave Guimier a fatherly kiss, and kissed Enid like a faithful husband and went away again so Danna, the mother goddess of the Celtic gods, could come from the deep past and stand in his place.

The first thing Danna did was make Coppertone, the pixie stop fluttering around the courtyard and change into her big form.  She turned from a two-foot tall clawed and winged harpy-like creature into a four-foot-tall matronly lady, a bit round, and with gray hair sneaking into her brown.  Danna found Belle, an elf maiden short of three hundred years old, and made sure her glamour of humanity was secure.  She thought to have Belle and Coppertone tend to their mistress and the princess, by which she meant Enid and Guimier.  Belle curtsied, though Danna was not there to see, she knew Danna would see.  Then she hurried to Enid’s side.  Coppertone went skipping along the side of the great hall, despite appearing far too old to skip like a little girl.

“Can’t take the pixie out of the pixie,” Danna thought with a smile before she spoke to the beauty that stood in the courtyard.  “Rhiannon.”

“Mother,” Rhiannon answered as Danna joined her.  “Coppertone flew all the way to the Lake of the Moon to find me, and I am glad she did.  Arthur’s soldiers have the fort again, and twenty-three prisoners.  But these three are the ones from Sussex making the guns and powder.”

Danna nodded.  She raised one hand and made a fist.  Those three disappeared, and no one asked where they went.  Lockhart, Katie, Percival, Thomas, Peter, and Tristam walked up from one direction.  Arthur, Gwynyvar, Bedivere, Guimier, Enid and her two handmaids walked up from the other direction.  Piebucket and Bogus the dwarfs walked up from a third direction.  The dwarfs had in mind to complain, but Danna pinched her fingers so neither dwarf could open his mouth.

Rhiannon made Odacer and Harwic appear.  Harwic was dead.  Odacer had a minute of life left.  “Gunter and Sven,” Danna called them by different names.  “We will meet again.”  Odacer said nothing.  He closed his eyes and died.

Rhiannon raised her hand and the wraith appeared, badly broken by the explosion.  “Mother.  What do you want me to do with this one?”

Danna did something before she explained.  “I have removed the compulsion of Domnu.  Lockhart, she will bother you no more.  I believe I will send her to Alice.  Alice may send her through the Heart of Time, back to her proper days.  Then Alice will have to put a hedge around the time gates and all the land between against the wraith, so the wraith cannot interfere with herself as she travelers through time, chasing after the travelers.”  Danna quickly held up her hand for silence.  “I don’t know if she can do that just yet.  The Storyteller is still missing, and things are still very confused.  Alice may need to keep the wraith in a safe place until that can be accomplished, but at least she will not bother you anymore.”  She looked around at the fort and generally at the sky as the wraith disappeared.  “Time flies,” she said, as the last of the sun sank into the west.

“Yes mother. I will be going over to the other side, soon, but there is one more.” Rhiannon tried to smile.

Danna did smile.  She kissed the goddess on the cheek.  “I know but be sure it is soon.”

Rhiannon found a genuine smile then and waved to the travelers.  “Good to see you all again.  Sorry, must run.”  She disappeared and took nearly all the little spirits with her.

Danna turned specifically to Boston.  “Be gentle with me,” she said, and went away so Gerraint could return to his own time and place.  Boston raced up, paused, and hugged Gerraint most gently.  He still said, “Ouch.”  He added, “And tell Alexis her services will not be needed, either on myself or on the wounded, dead, or dying in the fort.  I am sorry, but that is how it must be.  We fight our own battles and take our lumps as they come.”

“So we are learning,” Tony said, and the other travelers agreed.

“You will stay a few days before you move on?” Gerraint asked, and people nodded.  “The place is a bit of a mess right now, but Gwynyvar and Enid love Cadbury in the spring.”

Katie looked at the older woman that Gerraint indicated was Gwynyvar, and she got that groupie look in her eyes.  They all did a little on meeting Arthur, and Lockhart had the good sense not to say, “I thought King Arthur was a myth.”

Sir Thomas said, “So what was that all about?  What just happened?”

Percival turned to the Admiral.  “As I am sure Bedivere will tell you from years of following Gerraint around, sometimes it is better not to ask.”

###

The travelers spent a week in Cadbury watching Gerraint heal.  Gerraint sent Scorch and Spark home with his thanks, and the thanks of Arthur and Gwynyvar.  “Don’t forget us if you need to blowed up some more things,” Spark said, as they vanished.

Most of the little ones that came with Rhiannon, went home to the British highlands and the lake.  The dwarfs got to escort the Saxons back to Sussex.  “To put the fear of God in them?” Nanette asked.

“No,” Gerraint said.  “But it might put the fear of dwarfs in them.”

Boston finally laughed.

Sukki sat quietly, thinking about what she did in taking down the wall.  Nanette moped.  Katie and Enid, who had become quite friendly, both came to ask what was wrong.  Nanette did not want to talk about it, so Boston told, snooty little sister that she was.  “She is upset that Sir Thomas is taking all of Decker’s attention.”

“I am not,” Nanette denied it, but the women could tell.

When they got to the south coast, Sir Thomas gave them free passage across the channel.  Boston and Lincoln had determined that the time gate had to be on the continent.  “If not in Brittany,” as they called it, though Sir Thomas mostly called it Amorica, “Then right next to it.”

“Bad area,” Sir Thomas warned them.  “Back when; a man named Claudus took the Roman military left in Provence and Septimania and tried to reestablish so-called Roman rule in the provinces.  Truth is, he ruled under the Visigoths, and sometimes played the Visigoths and Burgundians against each other.  Then the Franks came.  Then the Ostrogoths came out of old Rome and settled things.  Provence, at least, came nominally under the Eastern Roman Empire.  Claudus thought that was great.  He took his army and tried to expand his territory.  The Visigoths, Burgundians and Franks did not budge, but Claudus managed to capture the Atlantique province, alongside Amorica and south to about Bordeaux.  Then he tried to take Amorica, and Arthur brought the army over to help his cousins.  Claudus was defeated and killed in the battle.”

“Move forward.  The Atlantique province is now tributary to the Franks, but the Sons of Claudus have gained power and are again threatening Amorica.  And the Franks are sitting back, watching, to see how it goes, because they have spent their forces for the time being driving the Visigoths south of the mountains, not counting Septimania.”

“And we are heading right into that mess,” Lincoln said.

“Not so bad,” Boston countered.  “We will only be there about a day inland.”

“We might go before they know we have arrived,” Alexis agreed.

“I know a port that is safe,” Sir Thomas said.  “At least it was safe last I heard.”

“Great,” Lincoln let out his full sarcasm.

The port turned out to be safe enough, but the travelers had to wait in the port for three days until Lancelot showed up with three hundred men on foot.  They would be escorted to the time gate and left in the morning.  Around noon, Lancelot, who rode in front beside Lockhart and Katie pointed to the trees off to their left.

“The lake,” he said.  “What the Franks call Dulac.  It is where the Lady of the Lake had her residence and held court.  She trained me to the sword as she trained my son, Galahad.”

Katie nodded.  “She has moved to the British highlands and the Lake of the Moon.  She says she has one more to train.”

“How would you know this?” Lancelot asked.

“Sometimes, you just have to trust,” Lockhart said, and Lancelot accepted that.

Later that day, Lancelot admitted that things were not going well.  “Bohort and Lionel are backed up to the west coast.  The King’s city is besieged.  I will be going with Thomas back to Britain to try and raise an army.  The Sons of Claudus with their Frankish help have wasted the countryside, slaughtering whole villages.”

“I wish you well,” Katie said.  “Maybe Arthur will help.”

Lancelot shook his head.  “Arthur will not prevent me from raising men at arms, though I hope they bring their families to repopulate the land.  But Arthur says he is getting too old for foreign adventures.”

That ended the conversation.  Alexis kept talking about how lovely the spring was, but Sir Thomas and Lincoln were almost as morose as the three out front.

They camped that evening before the time gate, in an open field on the edge of a great forest.  They stayed quiet most of the evening and took advantage of letting Lancelot’s men take the watch in the night.  The following morning, Sukki asked a serious question.

“How much longer do we have to travel?”

“Are we there yet?” Boston said, with just enough whine in her voice to make Lockhart chuckle.

“As I count it,” Lincoln said.  “We have twenty-four more time zones to go.”  He waved to Lancelot and Sir Thomas and paced the mule as Tony drove and they disappeared in time.

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

MONDAY

Having read the travelers’ encounter with Arthur, the Pendragon, and before that, their encounter with Festuscato and the Vandals in Rome, it is only right to share the stories of the Kairos from those same days.  First, to see how Festuscato gains the trust of both the Pope and the Empress, not to mention how he gained a wife.  Then, Gerraint in the last days of Arthur leading to his final battle, when all is lost.  Beginning Monday.

*

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 5 of 6

Arthur, Diogenes, Bedivere, Gwynyvar, Enid, and Guimier hid in a back room of the great hall.  The room had a big enough window that looked out on the barracks and the new tower.  They could not see much of the central courtyard where most of the activity seemed to be taking place, but in any case, Diogenes made everyone stay away from the window.  He said they had to wait until dark.  With that, Diogenes sat on the bed in that room and went away, so Gerraint could return and hug his daughter, who was worried about him.

“Besides,” Gerraint said, “Any trouble we face will come from the door, not the window, and that will only happen if they discover we have escaped from our cell.”

“You know I don’t like not knowing what is going on,” Arthur said.  “But we will wait.”  He examined the sword he held, the one they took from a sleeping Saxon.  The man had probably been posted to guard the downstairs cell, but figured since the cell was locked, he could take a nice long nap.  They took the man’s things without waking him.  Bedivere got Gerraint’s long knife, Defender, and gave Enid Gerraint’s cutting knife.  Arthur took the sword and grabbed the man’s wicked looking knife that had been set on the table.  He gave the knife to Gwynyvar.  No one doubted the women knew how to use those knives, and would use them expertly, if they had to, and to protect Guimier.

###

Outside Cadbury Fort, Elder Stow handed Sukki an invisibility disc and said, “Be careful.  A lucky shot can still hit you, even if you are invisible.  I have mini self-screens in my belt array, but you have no such help.”

“She has pressurized fish skin,” Boston said.  “She got shot once before, but the bullet did not penetrate far and quickly fell out.”

“But it hurt,” Sukki said.

Elder Stow assured her.  “If you cut along the bottom of the wall while I press down from the top, you should be able to finish cutting before they figure out where you are.  Hopefully, I will distract them, so they may not even realize what you are doing.  And when you are finished, you need to rush straight back here to the others.  Is that clear?”

“Yes Father,” Sukki said.  “I am ready.”  She rose up into the air, and Elder Stow touched his belt to fly up and join her.  Then he touched in another place on his belt and the two of them vanished from sight.

###

Inside the fort, the Saxons hurried to reinforce the east wall with their guns.  “They will be charging into the setting sun,” Odacer pointed out.  “That is one more point to our advantage.”

“It will be a slaughter,” Harwic agreed.

“It will be a waste of your weapons and powder,” the wraith appeared, and yelled.  “I care nothing for the men of this age.  You should talk.  I have seen humans talk before they fight.  You should insist the man and woman who lead the travelers be there.  Also, the one who carries the memory in a box, and his wife.  And the big, African.  Then, when they are all present, you can shoot them with your gunds, and kill them.”

“Guns,” Harwic corrected the wraith.

Truth was the wraith came from the year 3585 BC.  Domnu, the Titaness who tried to take the old lands of Vanheim for herself, laid a geis on the wraith.  The compulsion to kill the travelers would never go away on its own.  The wraith honestly had no idea what guns were, but she knew the travelers had guns, and somehow, she became convinced she needed guns to kill the travelers.  It would be an understatement to say the travelers frustrated her and made her mad. Wraiths are angry creatures, by nature, and mad as well, for that matter.  But she remembered.  She had to kill the humans traveling through time.

When she first followed them through the time gate, she aged about sixty years all at once.  It all but killed the human men that followed her, but sixty years is not so much for a wraith whose lifespan is counted in centuries.  After the initial shock of ageing so rapidly, she almost turned back.  She found she could not.  The compulsion to kill the travelers felt too strong to resist.  She hesitated before following them again through the next time gate, but discovered after going through the first gate, she aged normally, no matter what.  The travelers could have explained to her that once she went through the first gate, she became displaced in time and aged according to her own personal timeline without regard to what time period she entered.  Of course, she would not understand that.  She just knew the travelers had to die.

She had enough sense to lay low while the gods remained active in the world.  The gods seemed to favor the travelers, and while she made a few slight attempts, she dared not do more than follow them.  Then the day came when the gods all went away, and she felt, surely, she could kill them.  But then she realized the Elder Race man had a thing that she could not break through to get at her prey.  And he had weapons that posed a danger to her.  And the girl who had been an Elder Race girl had dangerous powers.  She contrived a way to break the thing stopping her and got the guns in that day to attack the travelers, but the travelers proved too strong.

“Talk to your enemy,” she yelled at the gun makers.  She had to resort to trickery, but that was something she was very good at.  The two men grabbed the idea the wraith put in their heads.

“Our supplies of powder and shot are about two days away, I would guess,” Odacer said.  “Talking would delay the battle and help preserve what supplies we have.”

Harwic looked over at the barracks where the powder got stored.  They all looked over and saw a girl going inside.  The men thought nothing of it, but the wraith knew it was no ordinary girl.  She screamed, even as an invisible Elder Stow, that she could see perfectly, began to clear off the men from the top of the wall.

The wraith sent something like a fireball at Elder Stow, but it dissipated around the elder’s personal screen.

“Save the powder,” Odacer shouted.  His suspicious nature told him the girl did something.  That girl came out the door, transformed into a ball of flame, and raced to hide in the cooking fires.  The wraith screamed once more and flew to the barracks, easily getting inside the powder room.

“Get down,” Diogenes glimpsed Spark flying away and shouted to the others.  No one questioned him.  They all got to the floor, and Enid, Guimier, and Gwynyvar ducked behind the bed.

Elder Stow finished sweeping the wall clean of men as Sukki finished cutting the bottom of the wall.  The wall did not rumble for long before it fell, though it may have been helped when the powder room exploded.  That massive explosion knocked Odacer and Harwic to the ground where they got skewered with splinters from the barracks.  It provided enough push to make most of the east wall fall outward, like a cleanly cut tree.  Spark had to hold on to her log to keep the kitchen fire from being scattered everywhere.  Any men in the barracks, died.  And the new tower shook, right down to the new dungeon cells down below.

It felt like an earthquake, but the two Saxons managed to throw their prisoner into the cell before they slammed the door shut and raced back up the stairs, followed by the two assigned to guard the prisoners.  Inside the cell, a sergeant of the fort soldiers stepped forward.

“Who are you?”

“A friend of Arthur,” Scorch said, while in the back of his mind he thought, “good girl, Spark.  I love you.”  He heard her answer his thought.

“I love you, too.”

Scorch looked at the men.  “So, are you ready to fight the Saxons?”

“Sure,” the sergeant answered.  “But we appear to be stuck here.”

Scorch just grinned and got one finger hot enough to melt the lock on the door.  “I don’t much like metal,” he said, softly.  “Leaves a bitter aftertaste.”  He swung the cell door open, and the men piled out.  One grabbed the keys left hanging on the wall.  He opened all the cells.  Two went to a cupboard where the weapons of the soldiers were not so neatly stacked.  As soon as the first ones were armed, Scorch yelled, follow me, and he practically flew up the stairs.

###

Arthur’s men saw the wall fall.  Percival did not blink.  He shouted.  “Prepare to dismount and climb over the wall.”  He expected the order would be passed along by the leaders of the various groups, not that what they had to do would not be obvious.

Sir Thomas, standing beside Lockhart and Katie, put his own spin on the order.  “Boarding party ready?”

“Aye, Captain,” one man answered.

The little army mounted, but before they even sat on their horses, they noticed about fifty dwarfs already halfway to the goal and charging with all their might.  They saw an equal number of elves rush passed them, running at a much greater speed, but even they could not match the fairies who looked like mere streaks of light.

“The sun is almost set,” Katie said.  “I am sure the dark elves will want to take a turn, too.”  The travelers started their horses at a walking pace, so Percival and the army matched that pace.  Boston laughed, and then reported to the others.

“Piebucket said those skinny wickets and fly-balls better leave something for them to do.”

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 4 of 6

Percival handed back Katie’s binoculars and spoke softly. “I always thought the southwest corner of the fort-hill was the weakest part.  If we can get close enough on horseback, we might be able to breach the wall.”

“They will expect ladders,” Gwillim said.

“The southwest wall is shorter because the hill is steeper, but no one thought to compensate after they put the road in.  Men can sling ropes with hooks on that wall, and it should be no worse than a farmer clambering up to the roof of a barn to fix a leak.”

“Slim chance,” Decker said.  “But it might work if we can keep the defenders busy and make them keep their heads down.”

“We go with it,” Percival said.

After the dwarf supper, about two hours before dark, three hundred horsemen sounded like thunder along the road.  Every man had a rope with a makeshift metal hook attached to their saddles.  The road zig-zagged up the hill and watchers were surprised the arrows did not start on the last zig before the zag that ran along beside the wall.

“We have caught them napping,” Tristam said.  Percival knew better.  He kept his mouth closed and waited.  When the men were committed, the Saxon defenders rose up all along the wall and let off a volley of gunfire.  It was a ragged volley, but enough to be affective.  Some men and horses went down, throwing the charge into confusion.  The sound of thunder badly frightened the horses.  Many bucked or ran, bumped others or stumbled over the fallen ones.  Only one fell off the road down to the road below, but the attack faltered before the first rope got thrown to the top.

The defenders began to fire at will, picking out individual targets, though their muskets were not very accurate.  The horsemen still on horses picked up all of the fallen comrades they could, and leaving the dead behind, headed down the road back to the woods.  By then, the men on the wall pretty much stopped firing out of fear for their lives.

Decker and Katie fired three-shot bursts and slowly cleared the wall.  The others all fired their handguns a couple of times, though handguns at that distance were not much help.  Lockhart fired a few extra shots with his police special, but even he was not sure if he hit anything.  Most of the men made it back to safety, but they likely left a few wounded there on the hill.  No one said anything, but that was the way of it.  They felt terrible about that fact, but there was nothing they could do about it.

Up in the fort, Odacer yelled.  “What do you mean they got guns?  They aren’t supposed to have any guns.”

“Good ones, too.  Much better than our matchlocks,” Harwic said.

“They are the ones you must kill,” the wraith screamed as she appeared.  “Kill them.  Kill them.”

###

When the Saxons first took over, they grabbed some of the villagers, the ones who did not move fast enough.  They put the women to work cooking and cleaning.  They kept some men in the barn for heavy labor and fed them once a day.  The guards were too dangerous for such use.  They stayed locked up in the new dungeon rooms beneath the tower and were used for target practice.

Scorch and Spark fit themselves in, and nobody said anything about them being strangers.  Scorch helped keep the cattle penned and fed until they were ready to be slaughtered.  He tried hard not to set the hay on fire.  Spark kept the kitchen fires burning, and one older woman noticed and asked.

“You have come to free the Pendragon and his Lady?”

Spark nodded, but her eyes looked at the barracks where the powder got stored in a room separated from the Saxon sleeping quarters.  Gerraint told her and Scorch that they needed to set a fuse long enough to get away before the powder exploded.  Thus far, she did not know if either had been able to do such a thing.  She tried to go earlier with the women who cleaned the Saxon quarters, but got told to stay in the kitchen.  She felt frustrated, and imagine Scorch felt the same way.  Of course, she could not know, since the men and women were kept separated.

Spark and Scorch watched the men load those weapons and shoot at still targets, at first.  They practiced shooting altogether in what one of the head men called a volley.  Scorch felt fascinated by the fire and explosion that sent the projectile reeling into the distance, but he knew, somehow instinctively, that it was too early in history for these weapons.  He would blow up the powder if he could.  They could make more powder, but he felt one step at a time.

Scorch did feel the frustration, but he bided his time. When all the men rushed to the south and west walls, and the fort got generally in an uproar, Scorch took the chance.  He left the cattle and ran to the powder room.  He found a small piece of old, rotted rope that he knew would burn well, quickly, and easily.  He honestly did not make nearly a long enough fuse for a human, but Scorch was not human.  He could transform into flame and fly to the nearest campfire, where he could chew on some wood while the powder exploded.  He wanted to see that but decided to wait until dark.

Scorch backed out of the room, only to come face to face with the wraith and a dozen men down from the wall.  The wraith did something as the men grabbed him.  Somehow, he got stuck in human form and could not transform back into flame for a few minutes.  He could not even burn the hands of the men holding him.

“A fire sprite,” the wraith said.  “It seems we caught him before he could burn your powder.”

The head man swallowed at the prospect of a fire sprite touching the powder.  The wraith had no idea how dangerous that would be.  “Take him to the tower and lock him in one of the lower rooms.  I will want to question him.”

They dragged Scorch off, and Spark saw from the kitchen area and wondered what she could do now.”

###

Down in the dungeon under the great hall, Bedivere opened the door to look out to be sure no Saxons were presently guarding the door.  He closed it quietly again and gave the all clear.

“What did you do?” Gerraint asked, still sitting on the edge of his bed.

Arthur smiled.  “Bedivere and I picked the lock just after you went back to sleep, after Scorch and Spark squeezed through the crack under the door.”

“And nearly set the door on fire,” Bedivere added.

“I helped,” Gwynyvar said.

“She actually succeeded with her delicate touch,” Arthur admitted.

“You were right,” Bedivere said.  “These skeleton locks are too easy.”

“So, why are we still here?”

“You were unconscious,” Enid scolded him, whatever he was thinking.  “We couldn’t exactly carry you.”

“It would not have been right for us to all escape and leave you here,” Arthur said, plainly.

“I’m awake now,” Gerraint answered.  “I have wings to fly, and all that rot… Allow me to borrow Diogenes.”  Gerraint vanished and a different man appeared sitting in the exact same place.  This man was tall enough for Gerraint’s height, and still had blue eyes, but his hair appeared a light golden brown in place of Gerraint’s darker brown.  He appeared wearing the armor of the Kairos, with the sword called Salvation across his back, and the long knife called Defender across the small of his back.  He spoke right away.  “I used to sneak around forts all the time when I spied for Alexander the Great.”

“Alexander?” Arthur asked, unable to place the name.

“Greek fellow,” Diogenes answered as he walked to the door.  “Overthrew the Persian Empire.”

“Persian Empire?” Gwynyvar asked.

“Nothing like a classical education,” Diogenes said.  He pulled Salvation, handed Defender to Arthur, found the knife he used to cut meat at the table and handed it Bedivere, shrugged for the women, as if to say he was out of weapons, and stepped out into the hall, motioning the others to follow and keep quiet.

###

Outside the fort, Elder Stow stepped into the meeting of the minds.  Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Percival, Tristam, Gwillim, Thomas, and Gerraint’s son all sat and tried hard to think of what to do.  Decker finished his comment before they all stopped speaking.

“Now that we know they have guns we need to do something.  The Kairos was clear about that.  Only the Masters would be making guns before they are supposed to be made, and that makes them enemy combatants.”

People nodded, but then waited.  Elder Stow spoke when he got their full attention.  “I would not have suggested this, but in light of what Colonel Decker said, which is what I remember the Kairos said about guns, I may have a way. Sukki and I could fly up there, invisible, and working together, I believe we can take down a section of wall.”  He pulled out is scanner device and projected a three-dimensional view of the fort and environs, with the travelers as red dots, Arthur’s men as blue dots, and the men inside the fort as yellow dots because, he said, yellow was for danger.

“Remarkable,” Sir Thomas said.  The others kept quiet, not sure what he was suggesting.

“Here,” Elder Stow said.  “The east side of the hill appears less steep than the rest.  I’ve ridden enough to know you should be able to get up to the wall quickly.  You will have to dismount and climb over the rubble when you get there, but that should not be too difficult.”

“What do you mean, invisible?” Gwillim asked.  Elder Stow touched his belt and vanished.  Thomas spoke over his younger brother.

“Oh.  You mean invisible.”

“Father?”  Sukki came up with Boston and Nanette.  Boston overheard the conversation and warned Sukki they were talking about her.

Elder Stow reappeared and spoke kindly to Sukki.  “I thought we might do as we did to the pirate ship back when we met the bishop.  I can make the top of the wall unstable.  You can cut it near the bottom.  I can cut out the ground beneath the wall if needed, and the wall should tumble right down.”

“We should travel secretly, then, to be ready to attack the east wall when it crumbles?” Percival said.

“No,” Lockhart countered.  “There is an hour of daylight left.  We should travel openly, so they see, in order to draw as many men as possible to the east wall, so they will tumble with the wall when it falls.”

Arthur’s men agreed, though they did not exactly understand the way it would work.  While the men galloped the road within sight, but well beyond bowshot from the fort, Lincoln and Alexis brought the wagon more slowly.  When they arrived beyond the east wall, they found a hundred and twenty men newly arrived from Caerleon and eastern Wales.  They were mostly rapid defense force trained and more than ready for a good charge.

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 3 of 6

The travelers found the gift of the dwarfs fairly quickly.  There were eight fires burning, plenty of wood to keep them burning into the night, and eight whole deer roasting in spits over the fires.  The deer had been well butchered, and the dwarfs even left the livers to be fried, and two big cauldrons of vegetables to cook up when the deer got near ready.  That would not be until about four o’clock.  They would eat at five when there was still plenty of daylight.  Meanwhile, they had leftovers from the night before to chew on.

The first to join them were four dwarf women who wore glamours to make them look like kindly little old ladies.  “I’m Magpie,” the chief woman said.  “This here is Parcels, Treewart, and Butterbut.  The men folk said to leave you alone, but we figured somebody gots to cook this snack if you want to get more than four hundred humans fed.”

“Snack?” Lincoln asked.

Magpie frowned at him.  “We got bunches of men folk hidden in the woods, and the women there aint doing nothing but cooking and more cooking.”

“We have seen dwarfs eat,” Katie admitted.

Magpie smiled.  “My Piebucket is a good eater.  He also said I had to be good to the elf princess.”  Magpie tipped her hat for Boston and wandered over to the other dwarf wives who were basting the deer with something unknown.

“We could help,” Sukki said to Alexis.

“No, dear,” Alexis responded.  “I don’t think we can.”

The next to show up was a group of fifty rough looking men who looked more like pirates than soldiers.  The head man stepped forward while his men waited patiently.  Lockhart stepped up to shake the man’s hand, and Katie went with him.

The man introduced himself.  “Sir Thomas of Dorset, Admiral of the fleet of Britain and Knight of the Round Table, though I am hardly deserving of the honor.  I am really a merchant from the south coast.  I trade mostly with Dumnonia, Wales, South Ireland where there are the only Irish ports safe for British shipping, Little Britain across the channel, and sometime far away Galicia.  We have tried a few Francia ports, though the Franks are not very hospitable.”

Lockhart tried to match the man’s demeanor.  “Robert Lockhart, Assistant Director of the Men in Black and self-appointed leader of this motley group of time travelers.”  He paused to let Sir Thomas ask a question.

“Motley?  Outside of having two Africans, I see a normal enough crew.  Even the Africans are unusual, but hardly unnatural.”

Lockhart smiled.  That was not what he expected the man to ask, but he explained anyway.  “We are from the year 2010, except Nanette, there, and Tony are from 1905.  Sukki, the big girl, is from the time before the flood.  Elder Stow is a member of the Elder Race that once walked these lands in the days before human history began.  Boston, the red head is an elf.  She used to be human and became an elf to marry an elf.  Her sister, the one with the black hair, used to be an elf and became human to marry Lincoln.”  He took a moment to name all of the travelers.

“Motley crew,” Thomas said, and finally asked.  “Time travelers?”

“My wife and Colonel Decker, there, are Marines.  That is something like an army that works with our navy.  The Colonel knows a lot about naval combat, as long as you understand he cannot tell you certain future things that might upset history.”

“I understand,” Thomas said.  “But we have an errand to perform, much as I might like to stay and chat.”

Katie interrupted.  “We were told to stay here and wait for Percival.  The dwarf wives are just over the hill where you see the smoke.  They are cooking enough for a small army.  I think you are supposed to stay and wait with us, until Percival gets here.”

Thomas nodded at something that came to his mind.  “My little brother, Gwillim; he was the one who got the word.  We grabbed as many men as were handy, including a bunch from the Tumbling Seagull.  Sorry if some of them are hungover.  Anyway, Gwillim took ten men and rode off to find Percival.  We will wait.”  He turned to his men.  “Set the canopies for the night.  Make a fire, but we have supper already cooking so no need to break into the stores.”

“Aye, Captain,” one man responded, and promptly began yelling at the men.

“So, can you tell me more about your crew.  I’ve never met an elf.  I heard Gwillim talk about them, though I understood they were connected in some way with Gerraint, the Lion of Cornwall.”

“Come and sit,” Katie invited him to join their group.

“And time travel.  What all have you seen?  It must be fascinating, and you know, as a merchant sailor, I do love to travel, new ports and all that.”

“All we have seen would make a very long story,” Lockhart said.

“Then, let us hope Percival takes a very long time to get here,” Thomas smiled and took a seat.

###

Gerraint finally sat up when he heard the sound of firecrackers overhead.  The big chamber-cell did not have any windows, but he recognized the sound and did not have to see.  The distinctive Crack! was enough to trigger his memories.  The multiple cracks, like mini thunder, sounded like a firing squad.

“That’s it,” he said as a way of giving himself enough energy to get up and swing his feet to the ground.  He knew better than to try to walk, but he could at least sit.  Enid came right away and mothered his cuts.  She and Gwynyvar tore the bottom of their dresses to make bandages.  They tore his shirt to wrap his ribs tight and tore the sleeves of his shirt to make a sling for his right arm.  The arm was badly bruised, not broken, except every time he moved the arm, he felt some shooting pain in his ribs.

“Daddy.”  Guimier came to his left side, not to mother him, but to touch him and look at him with big eyes full of concern.  Gerraint cleared his throat.  He seemed to be having trouble breathing, like a rib might be pressing against his lungs, or maybe a bone shard scraped them.

“I need a big empty space in the middle of the room.  No straw there.  Bedivere.”  He coughed, took a big breath. “Enid and Guimier, you can help.”

Gwynyvar also helped clear the space, but Arthur got curious.  “What do you have in mind?”

Gerraint paused.  He had just been dreaming about Greta, the time she borrowed four fire sprites from Avalon and blew up the black powder and guns hidden beneath the temple mount of Ravenshold.  Arthur did not need that whole story, so he just said, “Watch.”  First, he looked at Guimier.  Everyone there went with him to Avalon when Enid and baby Guimier got kidnapped.  They all knew something about it, but Guimier would not remember.  Gerraint sighed, went away, and Greta came to take his place.  She came dressed in her own fairy weave dress, like she wore most recently on the Scottish shores.

Gwynyvar and Bedivere let out a slight shriek, though Bedivere had met Greta before.  Guimier more nearly screamed and cried out for her Daddy.  Enid grabbed her.

“It’s all right.  Hush.  This is your daddy from another time.  This is Mother Greta.  She is a healer, though I can’t imagine there is much she can do for her Gerraint self.”  That last bit got directed at Greta.

“Not what I am here for,” Greta said.  She settled her mind and heart as she had been taught by wise, old Mother Hulda.  Then she called for two of the fire sprites from Avalon.  “Scorch and the lovely Miss Spark.”  That was what Marcus Aurelius called them, and Gerraint agreed, so those words came out of Greta’s mouth.

Two balls of flame appeared in the room.  They spun in the air and fell slowly to the ground, only setting on fire a couple of stray pieces of straw.  It took a minute for them to get their bearings, before they took on human looking form and Spark said, “Missus,” to correct Greta’s word.

“And a lovely couple you are.” Greta said, and smiled for them.  She rose and hugged them both.  She returned to the cot and sat as comfortably as she could, knowing exactly how much Gerraint hurt.

“But Greta,” Scorch said, in a slightly worried voice.  “You died.”

“I did,” Greta agreed.  “A long time ago.  But I came here because I need to blow something up.  Do you want to do the blowing up?”

“Yes,” both shouted, together, and Spark grabbed both of Scorch’s hands and almost started dancing in her excitement.

Greta turned to the others.  “They are fire sprites.  They blew something up for me ages ago, in Dacia.  These two claimed at the time that they wanted to do it again.”  Greta smiled and shrugged, like maybe the fire sprites were crazy.  “That cracking sound you hear in the distance are guns—a very powerful weapon that has no place in this day and age.  They work by using a black powder called, plainly enough, gunpowder.  The powder is usually stored where it can be kept dry and away from fire, because the fire sets it off.  I propose to let our friends set off the powder all at once.  It will be a big explosion.  It will probably destroy whatever building in which the powder is being kept and might well set the fort on fire.”

“You are not suggesting we sacrifice our Scorch and Spark,” Enid objected.

Greta shook her head as she went away and Gerraint came back to suffer in his rightful place and time.  “No,” Gerraint verbalized.  “But it won’t be like the last time. Scorch and Spark will have to take great care in how they do this.  There will not be a magical string to draw them safely back to Avalon.  Still interested?”

Scorch looked at Spark, and she gave him a peck on the lips.  “We will do it,” he said.  “What do we have to do?”

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

MONDAY

The last three posts of the episode and the end of Season Seven where nothing works out to anyone’s plan.  After Avalon, Season Seven is finished, we ill return to our regularly scheduled programming.  The final story of Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome (6 weeks) followed by the final tale of Gerraint in the days of King Arthur (6 weeks) and finally the second tale of Margueritte, The New Way has Come.  Don’t miss it, but first the end of this episode and the end of Season Seven begins Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 2 of 6

The castle gate swung open, and three wagons full of barrels of black powder came in.  It was near suppertime, but the men would not eat or rest until all the gunpowder got stored in the castle barracks room that had been designated the powder room.  It would be guarded, not the least to be sure no fire got close enough to set anything off.

Up in the great hall, the Saxons Odacer and Harwic the blade argued.  The other Germans in the room, both at the table waiting for supper, and standing by the doors, guarding the room, knew better than to open their mouths.

“I tell you, it is perfect, ironic,” Odacer said.  “This is the very fort where all that Pendragon crap got started.  It is fitting that New Saxony should begin here.”

“You won’t think it is so perfect if they bring the army down from Caerleon,” Harwic countered.  “We could have built our forces in the safe haven of the south Saxon shore and had a good port from which to overrun the continent.”

“Bah.  You worry.  Besides, we will not leave enemies at our back.  We must control this island before we extend our empire.  We have the rifles, the same Trajan used to conquer Mesopotamia.  Once the men are trained, we will crush the whole world and make everyone slaves to the new order, rule by the New Saxons.”

“We do not have rifles,” Harwic countered.  “We have smooth-bore muskets, basically muzzle-loaded matchlocks.”

Odacer did not seem bothered by that.  “The design will improve as we improve the equipment to make them.”

“But what if they bring the army from Caerleon before we are ready?” Harwic asked, seemingly stuck on that thought.

“So?”  Odacer scoffed.  “We have this lovely castle to defend.  More men are coming every day to join us, while the fools in Caerleon think we are engaged in peace talks.  And even if they figure it out, we have hostages.  We have Arthur and the Kairos, the King of Dumnonia, and the women to ensure their cooperation.”  He paused while people brought in food and laid it out on the table.  Then he added, “You worry too much.  Tomorrow, we will begin training the men and use the guards from this castle for target practice.”

The wraith appeared in the hall, and everyone looked.  She felt pleased to see more than one turn away and vomit from her appearance.  She spoke.  “The powder is here.  Kill the Kairos.”

“Now, wait a minute,” Harwic stood.  Odacer shriveled in the face of the wraith.  “You said your chief desire is to kill the travelers, and the travelers have guns from the future.  I appreciate your help in taking this castle from the inside, and I know you did it because we also have guns, not out of altruism.  But our men need to be trained to use those guns if you wish us to kill your travelers.  Meantime, we are vulnerable until our men are trained.  If the British send an army before we are ready, we will need to keep the ones in the dungeon as hostages.”

“But the Kairos is too dangerous to be allowed to live,” the wraith yelled.

“Dangerous to you, maybe,” Harwic responded.  “But to us, he is just a man.  We will kill him when we are ready, not before.”

The wraith screamed, a sound to frighten the strongest of men.  She raced up to one of the guards and sucked the life out of him, slowly.  Her scream got replaced by the scream of the man, which sounded even more frightening to the listeners.  She left a husk of shriveled flesh that collapsed to the floor, and she flew to the table.  Men ran from their chairs, except Odacer, who appeared frozen in place.  She touched a roasted pigeon with her finger and sucked all the moisture and life from the flesh, leaving an empty carcass where even the bones cracked, being emptied of their marrow.

“See that you kill him,” the wraith said, as she licked her finger and vanished, pleased to notice that more men around the room vomited.

Odacer finally pushed his chair back from the table.  “I lost my appetite.”

###

Down in the dungeon, Gerraint woke and tried to sit up.  He got as far as his elbows before he collapsed back down to his back.  Everyone rushed to his side, but only his daughter and squire said anything at first.

“Daddy,” Guimier cried.

“We didn’t know if you were going to make it,” Bedivere said.

People waited while Gerraint managed to lift his hand and brush the hair from his little girl’s face.  He tried to smile for her, but he was not sure if his puffy lips and face actually managed it.  He turned to Enid but spoke to Bedivere.  His words came out slurred, and soft, but understandable.

“Squire Bedivere.  Ye of little faith.”  He spoke to Enid.  “I don’t think any bones are broken.  I may have a couple of cracked ribs.”

Enid quickly lifted her hands from his chest, as Gwynyvar spoke.  “Bedivere is full grown.  He hasn’t been your squire for many years.”  She may have wondered if the torture addled his brains.

Gerraint smiled, better that time.  “Once a squire, always a squire,” he said.

“Master.  Your Majesty.  Uncle.” Bedivere acknowledged as much.

“So, where do we stand?” Gerraint asked.  He wanted to sit up but could not manage it.

Arthur spoke.  “I am working on a way to get us out of here, or barring that, to get word to Caerleon to call up the rapid deployment force.  Even a company of RDF might be enough to get us out of this predicament.”

“Might get us killed,” Enid objected, and Gwynyvar agreed.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Gerraint said, but Arthur cut him off.

“You are not in any condition to do anything right now except heal.  Enid said her handmaids, Belle and Coppertone managed to escape the fort, but I am not sure there is much hope in handmaids.”

“More than you know,” Gerraint whispered and closed his eyes.  He knew Belle was a house elf, and Coppertone was a Cornish pixie.  Who knew what forces they might raise?  Belle in particular was sensible enough.  Hopefully she would go directly to Percival in the nearby midlands, or maybe Tristam at Tintangle in the other direction.  He slept again.

###

Having said good-bye to Brennan, the travelers moved one day through a mix of farm fields and wilderness.  They only saw a few people, and those mostly from a distance.  In the morning, Boston suggested they were only a day away from the Kairos.

“And an easy day at that,” she said, as she and Sukki rode out to the point to see if the way was clear.  Lockhart and Katie watched them race.

Tony and Nanette had taken to riding together when Elder Stow and Decker moved out on the wings.  Lincoln drove the wagon and spent most of the time complaining.  “These old Roman roads have not been well kept in some places.  Poor Ghost has had to really work to keep us moving.  I’m surprised we haven’t thrown a wheel, or worse, busted an axel on these roads.”

Tony leaned back from where he rode in front of the mule.  “I could drive if you don’t feel comfortable driving.”

Lincoln shook his head and spoke up.  “You drove most of the way through the mountains.  I can take my turn.”  He grumbled softly, and Alexis beside him grinned and gave him a brief hug.

Boston and Sukki did not get far before they found two odd looking men who blocked the road.  Sukki pulled up and looked at Boston.  Boston saw right through the glamour of humanity.

“Lockhart,” she shouted back, and could make herself heard even over that distance.  “Boss, we got dwarfs.”  She turned and spoke to the two in the road.  “You might as well take off your glamour.  It doesn’t matter to us.”

“Dwarfs?” Sukki asked.  She could not see it.  She only saw two exceptionally grubby, bearded men.  But one, and then the other removed their glamours of humanity to stand in their natural, fully bearded form.

“You will notice, the dirt and grubbiness are natural, not part of the illusion of humanity,” Boston said and Sukki covered her grin.

One dwarf growled and got a tight grip on his axe.  The other put his hand out to keep his fellow from doing something stupid, and he spoke.  “Name’s Chief Bogus.  You will have to forgive Piebucket here.  He doesn’t like elves much.”

“I’m Boston,” Boston said and gave them her best elf grin.

“We know, Princess,” Bogus said, and gave a slight bow.  Piebucket lowered his axe, but he still growled.

“What’s up?” Lockhart asked, as he and Katie rode up.  The others came along more slowly with the wagon, while Decker and Elder Stow moved in from the wings.

“Don’t know,” Boston said and turned to Bogus to explain.

Bogus nodded and looked at the road.  “You are headed to the Lord at Cadbury Fort.  Well, in an admirable bit of trickery, the Saxons have taken the fort.  The village is deserted, but right now, they got the Lord and his lady, and their baby girl with the Pendragon, Gwynyvar and Squire Bedivere in the dungeon cell beneath the great hall.  And the Lord has been tortured.”  Bogus shook his head, and Piebucket gripped his axe tight again, and growled.

“How can we get them out?” Boston asked Lockhart, some desperation creeping into her voice.

“Well, first you need to wait for reinforcements to get here,” Bogus said, before Lockhart could answer.  “There is a hundred coming down from the forts at Caerleon and Caerdyf.  They may pick up a few more on the way.  There’s eighty coming with Percival from the Midlands, and another thirty from around Swindon will join them, compliments of old, bed-ridden Bedwyr.  There’s about seventy coming up from Dorset and the British shore.  Admiral Thomas and his brother Gwillim are bringing them.  Both are Knights of the Round Table. And there’s around a hundred and thirty coming from the west.  Tristam is leading the men from Tintangle and Devon.  The Lord’s own son, Peter, is bringing the rest from Cornwall.”

“A pittance,” Piebucket said.

“Sudden notice,” Bogus nudged his fellow dwarf.  “As soon as they heard, they grabbed those they could and came on.”

“Four hundred?  Four-fifty?  Hardly enough men to take a fort like Cadbury.”

“These powerful folks might help too,” Bogus said.  “If you treat them right and stop growling at the elf.”

Piebucket tipped his hat and did his best to put on a smile, doofy as it was.  For once, Boston did not burst with laughter.

“I thank you dwarfs for your help and invitation,” she said.  “We will gladly help.  After all, he is my Lord, too.”

The others had caught up by then, so Lockhart did not have to yell too loud.  “Lunch.”

“We will be near,” Bogus said, and the two dwarfs vanished into the nearby woods.  With that, Lockhart took Boston aside.

“That is not your decision to make,” he said.  “I used to yell at others for getting us entangled in things that are none of our business.”  He let her stew for a moment, until she looked down and worried her hands.  “In this case, I agree with you.  Katie would never forgive me if we left without seeing Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  Guinevere is just icing on that cake.”

Boston smiled again.  “Gwynyvar,” she corrected him, and then hugged him.  He was the best boss, ever.

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 1 of 6

After 479 A.D. Britain

Kairos 97: Gerraint in the Time of King Arthur

Recording …

The travelers barely came through the time gate before they got surrounded by rough looking men on horseback, spears at the ready.  The men looked hardened by battle, but a bit afraid of something.  They did not move on their captives.

“Hold your fire,” Lockhart spoke generally to the air.  “No reason to start out on the wrong foot.  Which of you is in charge?”

One man moved forward, and the young man beside him came with him.  “I am Heinrich of the Sea, and this is my son, Heingurt.”

“Not much sea around here,” Lockhart said, and tried to smile.  “Lincoln,” he called.

“British highlands would be my guess.”  Lincoln compared his notes in the database with Boston’s amulet.  They sought the right map.

“You are Saxon?” Katie asked and stepped up beside Lockhart.

“Yes,” Heinrich said.  “And this is our land.”

“Fair enough,” Lockhart said.  “We are just passing though.  We will respect your land and be on our way.”

“Saxons,” Katie interrupted.  “This has to be when Britain slowly became England.  I bet this has not been Saxon land for very long.”

Before others could speak, the young man had questions he could not contain.  “Are you from the Lake of the Moon?  Do you know the Lady of the Lake?  I hear she is very beautiful.  Why did she not drive you mad?”

“Looking,” Lincoln said, while Katie and Lockhart turned to the older man to explain.

“We saw you appear out of nowhere, like a hole in the air.  Are you spirit people?”

“Only me,” Boston shouted, and leapt up on her horse, Strawberry.  She fluffed out her red hair and gave the Saxons a good elf-grin.

“We have one,” Lockhart admitted.  “We also travel with one of the elder races of the earth.  The rest of us are human, more or less, mostly.”

“What does that mean?” the young man spouted.  The older man quieted his son and spoke.

“Follow us.  We will take you to our village and our chief, Hans Bad-Hand.  He will decide.”

“Decide what?” Alexis asked Lincoln, softly.  Decker overheard and agreed.

###

The wraith appeared in the dungeon room beneath the great hall in Cadbury Castle.  The castle guard got locked up in the cells beneath the new tower, but the special prisoners were all kept in the original dungeon.  The wraith laughed, a wicked, evil sound that garnered everyone’s attention.  Seven-year-old Guimier barely kept herself from screaming.  She buried her face in her mother’s skirts.  Enid put one hand down to comfort her daughter.  Her other hand held on to Gwynyvar’s hand.  Arthur and Bedivere stepped in front of the women, to protect them, but they had no weapons, and they had no idea what they could do about a wraith.

“You are all here, but one, and he is on the way.”  The wraith spoke to them in a chilling voice that made Gwynyvar cover her own mouth against any untoward sound.  “Fear what is to come.  The wagons are nearly here with plenty of black powder.  When they arrive, you will become target practice.  Do you know what I mean, target practice?”

“Where is Odacer… and Harwic the blade?”  Arthur found the strength to protest in the face of that floating horror.  The wraith looked like a corpse in mid-air.  “I invited them to talk peace, not to make war.”

The wraith laughed again, and both Guimier and Gwynyvar softly shrieked, but refused to give in to the full-fledged scream. The wraith vanished as the cell door opened.  Gerraint, dragged by two big Saxons, got tossed into the room.  He collapsed to the straw covered stone floor, a bloody mess.

“Quick.  Help me get him to the cot,” Enid said.  Arthur and Bedivere got him lying down.  Gerraint moaned but did not show that he was conscious.  He had obviously been tortured.

“Daddy,” Guimier started to cry, and would have run to fling herself on him, but Gwynyvar caught her.  She hugged the girl and let her cry into her dress.

Bedivere stood and returned to the wall, where he tapped with the loose stone he found earlier.  “No secret passages in this dungeon,” he said, and turned to look at Arthur.

Arthur looked angry, in fact, he looked as angry as Bedivere had ever seen him.  He sounded angry.  “I am not the fool, but the lies these men told were masterful.  I honestly thought peace was possible with the Saxon shore.  It has been seven years since Badon.  I believed the Saxons had finally come to terms with their beating and were ready to make a more permanent peace.”  He sat heavily and Gwynyvar put Guimier in Enid’s arms so she could sit beside Arthur.

“Every right person wants peace,” Gwynyvar said, and she held him.  “Peace is one thing worth believing in.”  Arthur dropped his face into his hands as Gerraint moaned again.

###

Hans Bad-Hand looked over his guests.  They appeared to be three couples.  He did not like the look of the dark ones, Africans of some sort, he assumed.  The others looked normal enough, except the blonde’s husband had to duck to enter the house, as did the African.  Well, the third couple looked normal enough, until the black-haired woman mentioned that her husband only calls her a witch on her bad days.  Witchery from the woman would not surprise him.  He shifted his gaze to the window.

The old man outside had looked normal enough, and the young one that stayed outside with him might be his son.  The two girls that also stayed outside, though, made him thank the gods they did not come inside his home.  He could believe the red head was a spirit creature.  Just looking at her made is skin squirm.  He felt it all the way down in his bad hand.  The other one looked normal enough but appeared strong as an ox.  Even if she did not qualify as a spirit creature, he wondered if she might have some troll blood in her.  He turned to the group leader.

“I think you are not people to trifle with,” he said.  “Heinrich, you were right to bring them here.  You say you are just passing through.  May I ask where you came from?”  It was a loaded question.  He had been told they appeared out of thin air.

“The lake of the moon,” young Heingurt blurted out before his father hushed him.

“We don’t know what that is,” Katie said, kindly to the boy.

Lincoln cleared his throat as he got out the database to check.  “The Lake of the Moon is the place Rhiannon and her court went after Meryddin, that is, Merlin died.  She left her pet dragon in Brittany and escaped to the British highlands, so hers is not the dragon in these hills.’

“Rhiannon.  The Lady of the Lake,” Alexis said.

“The goddess?” Nanette asked, to be sure.

“I remember her from Greta’s day,” Katie said.  “She was very nice.”

“Ahem,” Hans Bad-Hand interrupted.  “If not the lake of the moon, where did you come from, if I may ask?”

People paused and looked at one another, but Lockhart did not see any harm in telling.  “An hour ago, we were in Italy, about two hundred miles north of Rome.”

“Worse than that,” Katie said.  “We were there when the Vandals sacked Rome.”

Heinrich gawked.  “That was a hundred years ago.”

“More like sixty years ago, I would guess,” Lincoln said.  “But right now, more importantly, we are looking for a man named Gerraint, the Lion of Cornwall.”  People looked at Lincoln and he realized he should not have said that.

“Ahh!” Hans shouted.  He took a deep breath before he calmly said, “I hope you intend to kill him.”

“Why is that?” Lockhart asked, and noticed Katie wanted him to be quiet, and Alexis tried to keep her husband quiet as well.”

“The Lion of Cornwall killed my brother at the mountain called Badon.”

Both Lincoln and Lockhart kept their mouths closed, so Decker spoke up.  “I am sure it was a fair fight.”

Hans Bad-Hand growled, but Heinrich spoke.  “It was in battle.  It was a fair fight.  What do you think, Brennan?”  He turned to the local man in the house who had thus far said nothing.  The man looked at the chief, but Hans Bad-Hand looked away, and looked like he was going to stew for a while, so Brennan spoke, and with a slightly different accent.

“I am from the village over the hill.  My people have been in these mountains for centuries.  About your sixty years ago, maybe more, there were reports of dragons in these hills.  At that time, many people moved from here down to man the forts in the old Roman wall.  These people are newcomers.”  He indicated Heinrich and his chief.  “They settled in this abandoned village about three years ago, now.  We were all afraid at first.  There has been too much war between my people and the German people.  But we made peace.  We trade.  It is good to have neighbors again.”

Heinrich smiled.  “Enough, Brennan.  The man will start in on the whole ancestry of his family if I let him.  Stick with the question.”

“Fair fight?” Brennan said, with another glance at Hans Bad-Hand.  “Yes.  I am sure it was a fair fight.  My uncle was there, fighting on the other side, of course.  But, like I said, there has been too much fighting and killing over the years.  Peace is better.”

Hans Bad-Hand sighed.  “Peace is better,” he agreed, and asked no more questions.

After that, and a slim lunch, the travelers got ready to leave.  When Brennan found out they were headed in his direction, he offered to guide them down, out of the mountains.  “The dragon is still around here, somewhere, you know.”

“At what price?” Lincoln asked before they went any further.

“Maybe, one gold piece, if you got one.”  Brennan grinned and held out his hand.

“When we are free of dragon lands,” Lincoln said, and Brennan shrugged.  He expected that.

Avalon 7.11 The Sack of Rome, part 6 of 6

The Vandals strung out, moving through the woods.  After a half hour, Velleius Fulvia, contrary to what everyone knew about the man, got his forty mercenaries to sneak up on the rear of the column of barbarians.  Someone did point out later that the man, being a miser, hired and paid the mercenaries to protect his own house during this emergency.  Since his own house was not threatened, he probably wanted to get his money’s worth.

In any case, the hired mercenaries stealthily attacked the rear of the column, even as the front of the column came out into the open before the tenant houses.  From there, Hawdic planned to turn on the back of the house, but he had to wait for all of his men to catch up.  They bunched up to hear their commander’s orders, and thirty, and then thirty more arrows came out from the tenant houses.  Bunched up as they were, it seemed impossible that any of those arrows would miss.  Nevertheless, half of those arrows missed, but half struck someone and put some thirty Vandals out of the fight.

The dwarfs could not hold back.  They charged, and the men reluctantly followed.  The dwarfs gave no quarter, and the Vandals tried to run back into the woods, only to run into Velleius Fulvia’s mercenaries.  The Vandals got slaughtered.  Hawdic survived because he fell to the ground and played dead.  Festuscato lost one farmer who was mourned greatly by the community.  Velleius Fulvia lost a half-dozen mercenaries, and did not mourn for any of them, though their families may have mourned their loss if they had families.

The man up the orange tree reported everything he could see.  It was enough to know that Hawdic was finished.  Godamer cursed everything and yelled for his men to charge.  They charged like berserkers screaming for blood.  They got surprised by the rain of arrows that poured from the house.  Godamer realized he seriously underestimated the number of defenders.  Some men crouched behind the wall, to use the defenders own wall against them.  They shot toward the open door and windows, but no one could tell if they hit anything.  With all that, the Vandals almost made it, but a family of ogres chose that moment to arrive.

One of the clerics in the pantry nearly had a heart attack as the ogres tore through the house.  Before anyone could say stop, or wait, or no, the ogres rushed out the front door and immediately began to pound Vandals into the dirt.  The surviving Vandals screamed and ran, as any man would.  Godamer saved his skin by fainting.  Some Vandals ran down the road.  Some ran back toward Rome.  But neither got far.

Down the road, Felix, his son, and their four men all had their bows ready.  Kate and Decker had their rifles.  The others had handguns, all except Alexis who stayed out of it, and Elder Stow, who went back to work on his screen device.  Only a few of the Vandals survived, when they dropped their weapons, fell to their knees, put their hand on their heads, and cried from the terror of it all.

In the other direction, the Vandals ran into Festuscato and his troop.  Most of those quickly surrendered since the ogres chose to chase them.  Besides, the Four Horsemen were as deadly as any rifle.  Festuscato had to intercede with the ogres.

“Stop.  Sit.  Stay,” he yelled, though the ogres would have heard him no matter the volume.  As expected, he had to say everything twice before the commands got into their ogre brains.  The ogres sat and stayed but continued to roar for some time.  They tore up the cobblestones in that place, but at least they stopped killing people.

When Festuscato arrived in front of the house, he saw the travelers already arrived with some prisoners of their own.  Felix went up to the house and called for Fetus.  The travelers saw a woman come to the door, a pregnant woman by the look of it, not put off in the least by all the dead men in her front yard.

“Felix.  Gaius is here.  Dibs and Festuscato went to Rome to bargain with the Vandal King,” she said.

“I have friends of the Kairos,” Felix said, pointing back at his group.  “They are very powerful people come to us from the future.  Come and meet them.”

But then, Festuscato came into view and Morgan ran from the door to him.  The elves and fairies had already vanished from the house.  The dwarfs marched off, looking forward to a real meal.  They said they had to go back to the hills to protect the women and little ones, though they did not specify if they were talking about the farmer’s wives and children or their own wives and children.

“Husband,” Morgan said.  Festuscato got down, grabbed Morgan, and picked right up where he left off with his kiss.  Boston rushed up, but she had to wait.

Sibelius turned to Boston and offered a curtsey.  “Princess,” she said.  Lord Roan and Lord Atias walked up, nodding, while Gaius and Felix came from the house.  Lockhart and Katie walked up from down the road.  Dibs got down to join his friends, as Felix spoke.

“The Fearsome Foursome back together.”

“I’m not a princess yet,” Boston responded to Sibelius.  “My husband is still missing.”

“Yeah,” Dibs responded to Felix.  “A Centurion, a Cardinal, A seller of fine silk, and we are still not sure what Festuscato is.”

“I don’t have a husband,” Sibelius said, and lowered her eyes.

“Not fair,” Boston protested, and turned to Lord Atias, the only other elf present.  “You have to get her a husband.”  Atias smiled and nodded but Sibelius looked up at that thought.

“No, please.  No,” she said.

Festuscato took a break from loving his wife to give Boston her hug.  Then they all spent the next few hours preparing wagons to carry the dead to a field out back where they dug a mass grave.  In the morning, they would carry the armor, weapons, and shields of the near two hundred dead, along with the hundred and fifty survivors back to Geiseric, some fifty of whom would have to ride, being too severely wounded to walk.  Godamer and Hawdic were tied up, of course.  They would be sent back to Geiseric with a message.

The homes of the people outside the city are not part of the deal.  Stick to your agreement.  You have two hundred dead and some who are near dead.  Godamer and Hawdic are your headache.  Meanwhile, the dragon is not pleased that he lost one farmer in the struggle.  The man will be sorely missed.

Finally, everyone met everyone, and the clerics in the kitchen had to work overtime to get everyone fed.  Alexis, Lincoln, Nanette, and Sukki all helped, along with the household staff, but they had to feed a lot of people.

Katie talked with the empress, Licinia Eudoxia, and her daughter Eudocia.  Lockhart sat and said pleasant things, rarely.  Katie was learning not to say too much, but she had so many questions, and felt the least she could do was encourage Eudocia who might well be headed into a bad situation.  

“She will have children and raise them right,” the empress said.  “Things will get better.”

Morgan took Placidia under her wing right away.  Festuscato called her his ward, so Morgan hugged the girl, mightily.  Placidia was not sure about the arrangement—about leaving her mother and sister, but her attitude improved when she discovered Sibelius was really a house elf.  She became convinced, though, when she met Violet, a young fairy who agreed to be her friend.

Violet was roughly seventy-five years old, which is very young and not even full grown for a fairy.  In her big size, she appeared to be about fifteen, maybe sixteen.  Placidia liked the idea of Violet being older, especially, since she would be losing her older sister.  She did not yet realize that when she turned eighteen or twenty, Violet would still look sixteen.  When she turned thirty, Violet might pass for seventeen, probably not eighteen.  In fact, Violet would not be considered full grown until Placidia turned forty.  That could be very annoying if you were not prepared for it.  Still, for the present, both Placidia and her mother were happy with the arrangement.  The empress thought the older girl would keep Placidia’s feet on the ground.  Clearly, she did not know fairies at all.

Tony spent most of the night, and most of the six days the travelers stayed talking with Festuscato, almost monopolizing the man.  The travelers stayed to perform some basic maintenance, on the wagon, and particularly on the horseshoes.  When they got ready to go, Clyde the Celt promised to guide them through the hills to the other side of Rome, where they could pick up the main road to the north.  They thanked him and waved when they left him behind.

Tony spoke to Decker before the colonel moved a small way from the road to watch their flank.  “So, World War One, here we come.  I can’t imagine it, much less World War Two, or Three if there is one.”

“Two by my time,” Decker said.  “And did you happen to mention to the Kairos that the Wraith evaded us again?”

“I think everyone mentioned it,” Alexis said.

Decker looked at her sharply, before he nodded and moved out.

Up front, Boston, Sukki, and Nanette rode on the point, a little bit out from the rest.  They let their horses walk side by side and talked.  Nanette suggested Supergirl.

“Taken,” Boston said.  “And so is Wonder Woman.  I thought of those right away.”

“You mean, in the future…” Nanette did not know what to ask.

“No.  Just in fiction, but Sukki might get in trouble with the copyright people and all that.”  Nanette nodded as Boston spoke again.  “How about Astoundo Lady?”  Both Nanette and Sukki turned up their noses. “Well, something astounding, or astonishing.”

“How about Mega Girl,” Nanette suggested.

Boston shook her head.  “Sounds too much like Lego blocks, or maybe diapers.  It sounds like an anime character.  It sounds fat.”

“What’s wrong with fat?” both Nanette and Sukki asked at the same time.

“Where I come from, I don’t know.  I think it has become a swear word, as stupid as that sounds.”

“That is just because you are such a skinny bean,” Nanette said, and Sukki nodded.

They rode in silence for a minute until Boston exploded.  “I know.  Why don’t we name Sukki some take-off on Neanderthal, or Gott-Druk, or whatever?”

Sukki, who rode in the middle, finally had enough and spurred her horse to move out front.

“Where are you going?” Nanette asked.

Sukki shouted back.  “Someone has to keep an eye on where we are going.”

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

MONDAY

Another person known to regular readers. The travelers arrive in Britain looking for Gerraint the son of Erbin in the days of Arthur, Pendragon. They find the wraith got there ahead of them. Don’t miss it, The Guns of Camelot, Monday. Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.11 The Sack of Rome, part 5 of 6

Katie remarked to Lockhart and Felix for the third time in three days that there did not seem to be very much traffic on the road.  Last time they came through, during the time of Julius Caesar, the road actually got crowded.

“Often, the crowd included soldiers,” Lockhart added.

Felix glanced back at his son, his four men and two wagons full of linen and a good bit of silk brought up from Egypt.  He agreed again and spoke again from his knowledge and experience.  “Italy has suffered from drought and bad harvests for almost ten years now.  Famine has reared its head in several places.  There isn’t much business going on.  As for soldiers, the nearest legion is south, facing Sicily, or north, facing the Huns.  I am not sure either is fully manned, and it would take them a month to get here in any case.  The one in the north is mostly comprised of Goths.  The one in the south is full of barbarians as well.  They might all fight for the Vandals.  Most Romans don’t fight these days.”

Lockhart copied Felix and glanced back.  Decker and Nanette followed the three out front.  Lincoln and Alexis presently drove the wagon.  Elder Stow sat in the wagon and worked on his equipment when Tony, who followed, did not interrupt him with conversation.  He turned his head to look out front.  Boston and Sukki were somewhere ahead, making sure the road was clear.  He had a serious question and turned again to Katie and Felix.

“Who is defending Rome, the city?”

Felix opened his mouth but did not get to say anything as Boston and Sukki came racing back with news.

“Barbarians.  Maybe thieves on the road, but I think barbarians.  They have long swords and shields with funny pictures, and they don’t look very Roman.  About fifty of them.”

The column stopped.

“They are getting off the road to hide in the trees, like a trap,” Sukki said.

“Ambush,” Boston told her, and Sukki nodded.

“Ambush.”

Lockhart looked at Katie, who looked at Felix, and Felix spoke.  “We are close enough to the city, so this road is the primary way from here.  We might cut down to the coastal road to Ostia, but that would put us into the hands of the Vandals, and the nearest cutoff is a couple of miles back.  We want to get to Festuscato’s manor house.  I am sure he has some clever way of keeping out the Vandals, but that is off this road.”

“Do you think they are attacking all merchants on this road, headed for Rome?” Lockhart asked.

“Not enough traffic to warrant that,” Katie answered.  She thought about it while Decker and Nanette squeezed up from behind.

“I smell a wraith,” Decker said.  “Or something like her.”

“Me, too,” Boston blurted out.  Sukki scanned the treetops and sky, expecting the wraith to appear at any moment.

“I agree,” Katie finally said.  “The Vandals want gold, and there isn’t much to be had on this road.  The wraith wants us dead, for some reason, and would know we are coming.  She would be the one to set a trap.”

“Ambush,” Boston and Sukki spoke together, and grinned at each other.

Lockhart nodded.  “Nanette and Felix.  Stay here and explain it to the others.  Decker, Boston, and Sukki, come with us.  We will scout ahead…”

“No!”  Meg, the wraith, appeared in front of them, fifty yards down the road.  She looked especially pale, hovering in the sunlight.  “How can you know?  How can you figure it out?  I hate you.  Die.  You must die.”

Boston shot a fireball at the wraith, but the wraith vanished.  As she did, they saw the fifty barbarians not more than a hundred yards off, running at them, screaming murder, holding their shields and swords.  Boston’s fireball struck two of them, but the others did not appear to even notice.

Decker and Katie pulled their rifles, and a half-dozen in the front row went down.  The rest just went around or leapt over their fallen men.  Lockhart and Boston pulled their handguns, as did Tony who rode up front to see what was happening.  Nanette did not have time to reach Decker’s handgun.  Sukki froze, not sure what to do.  The barbarians would surely reach them.

Elder Stow recognized the danger and stopped walking toward the front about half-way there.  He held his screen device.  He had it pre-set, to test it.  He shut his eyes and turned it on.  It sputtered and let out a spark.

“No, no, no,” he complained, and banged it against the palm of his hand.  It turned on, and Elder Stow grabbed the edge of the silk wagon with his free hand to steady himself against the impact.

Three Vandals made it inside the screen.  They stopped when they saw the rest of their men crash against the screen and fall back onto the road.  Everyone stayed too busy shooting the barbarians to notice, but Nanette saw and yelled for Sukki.  Sukki raised her hands, and the three got bathed in a bright light.  They collapsed straight to the ground. and Sukki got down from her horse, tears threatening to break out of her eyes at any moment.

“Please don’t be dead,” she said.  She met Nanette on the ground, and Alexis was not far, having walked up beside the wagons on the other side from Elder Stow.  “Please don’t be dead,” Sukki whispered.

The gunfire stopped when the surviving Vandals, about fifteen, turned and ran off, screaming.  Some thirty lay in the road, dead, or near enough.

Sukki felt relieved when the three proved to be knocked out, but other than terrible headaches, seemed undamaged.  “I tried to just stun them,” Sukki said.

“And you did,” Alexis responded, while Sukki’s sisters, Nanette and Boston both hugged Sukki and told her how proud they were of her.  Sukki was the youngest sister, after all.

The three got tied up and tossed into the back of one of Felix’s ox-drawn wagons.  Then, Lincoln would not let Alexis try to heal any of the others.  They spent an hour dragging the dead men off the road and forced the disarmed ones that were only wounded to sit with them.  Then they moved on.  Felix, and for the most part, all of the others felt certain if the wraith attacked them, she must be attacking Festuscato’s home at the same time.  They hurried to get there.

###

“What do you mean you can’t find Clorismund?” Godamer shouted.

Hawdic ducked.  “He must have taken his troop further down the road, or maybe he stopped at one of the other homes we passed.”

Godamer gave Hawdic a mean look but hit the man next to Hawdic in the chest, hard.  That man made a face, took two steps back and rubbed his chest, but he knew better than to fight back.  Godamer already turned and started yelling.

“Get your hundred,” he said to Hawdic.  Godamer took a breath and calmed a little.  “At the side of the house, there, you see a long, gentle slope of grass that ends in some trees at the bottom of the hill.  There, in the direction of the Tenant houses that can just be seen out back.  Take your hundred through the woods to the huts in the distance and circle around to come up on the back of the house.  You can attack the rear of the house where they might not be prepared.  Besides, now that they know we are here, we don’t want them running away with all their gold.”

Hawdic nodded but said nothing as he turned to get his men ready.  Godamer had it all figured.  Once Hawdic attacked the rear of the house and drew away the defenders, or some of them, anyway, he would charge his two-fifty… his two hundred… his one seventy.  But anyway, it would be enough to break in and kill the defenders.  He did not count more than thirty or forty archers behind the wall and in the house.  Then he added a thought.  “Curse Clorismund.”

Inside the house, Morgan got the defenders ready.  She had ten members of the household staff, led by Sibelius, all elves good with a bow and arrows.  Lord Atias had twenty more elves, all experts with the bow.  Lord Roan only had fifteen fairies.  Most of his and Lord Atias’ people were in Rome, keeping a watchful eye on the Vandals there.  But Porculus showed up with thirty dwarfs, and while they preferred the axe, they could shoot well enough.  Then, Clyde, the Celt arrived with another thirty men, tenant farmers who returned from the hills to defend their homes and the manor house.

“Lord Agitus has kept us fed in these hard times,” Clyde said.  “He provides good homes, and we have good lives and a fair wage, besides.  We don’t want to lose that.  Vercinex has thirty more at the houses to defend our homes.”  He tipped his hat to Morgan who leaned forward and kissed the old man’s cheek.

Porculus hooted for Morgan’s attention.  “I left Hawgtic and his band at the houses with the other defenders.  They are no good with a bow, but magic with the axe, in case the enemy is stupid enough to get close.”  He leaned forward in expectation of a kiss, but Morgan just tussled his hair like one might acknowledge an obedient child.  She smiled for him, which was almost like a kiss.  The only thing that would have been better would be if she had a plate overflowing with food.  

Porculus sighed, and Morgan thought.  She had over a hundred defenders stuffed into her house, since the elves and fairies abandoned the wall.  They remained outnumbered about three to one, but that had to be far more than the Vandals counted on.  Every window and door would send arrows by the handful, if the Vandals were foolish enough to press the attack.  And, if it got to where they had to withdraw, they had fifty more people to strengthen them when they reached the tenant houses.  She felt they had more than a fair chance to save her home, until Sibelius came running up.

“Lady, Mistress.  The vandals are moving through the woods that border the land of Velleius Fulvia, next door.  About a hundred.”

“Lord Roan?” Morgan called.

“They are obviously getting around behind us, to cut off any escape, and to attack us from the rear.  The Lady could escape now and be safe.”

Morgan shook her head.  “No.  My husband would not be happy with me if I gave up now and ran away.  We fight.”

Porculus offered a suggestion.  “We could tie her up and force her to leave.”

“You will not touch my Lady,” Sibelius shrieked, stepped in front of Morgan, and pulled her knife.  Morgan’s sister, Macy, heard from the window and stepped over to support her sister.  Ironwood, of course, supported his wife Macy, though Ironwood gave his fairy king a shrug and Lord Roan hid his grin.

“I’m not sure we could,” Lord Atias admitted to the dwarf.

Gaius, flanked by two clerics, came out of the back room.  “I know it is not over.  I should be in prayer, but my knees can only take so much,” he said.  “What?” he asked

Porculus merely shrugged and went to his window to wait.  “Could use something to eat while we are waiting,” he mumbled.

The others broke the tableau and went to their assigned places.  Macy gave Ironwood a kiss.  Sibelius curtsied for her mistress and returned to the side window to keep an eye on the Vandals in the woods.

“What did I miss?” Gaius asked.  Morgan merely smiled for him, stepped over to give Porculus a kiss on the cheek and then returned to her place.

Gaius shrugged, took the two clerics to the pantry and watched them get to work.  It occurred to him the defenders were probably hungry.

Avalon 7.11 The Sack of Rome, part 4 of 6

After the days of waiting, when both Vandals and Romans had been instructed about the terms of the agreement, the gates of Rome opened, and the invading army entered the city.  It took all day to bring the Vandals inside and set their living accommodations for the next two weeks.  Some tents were set up in various squares and open spaces around the city.  Many more families were displaced so the soldiers could stay in people’s homes.  Most of those families sought shelter in the churches of Saint Peter, Saint Johns, Saint Paul, and others.

When the army came in, Festuscato prepared to slip his small troop out of the gate to the Appian Way.  He took Empress Licinia Eudoxia, and her daughters, Eudocia and Placidia, and disguised them as soldiers, complete with dragon tunics.  They could ride well enough, so that was not a problem.

“We will know in two weeks if Geiseric keeps the agreement or not,” Festuscato said.  The empress agreed, but looked away, a sad expression on her face.

“I know Valentinian set this up,” she said.  “Eudocia is willing, even if it means marrying a barbarian.  It was her father’s wish.  Besides, she will be queen one day, and I have tried to raise her to do right.”

“Why are you fretting?

“It’s just, Africa is so far away.  I hear they have wild men there, and barbarians rule the city.  I fear for our safety in such a barbaric and strange place.”

“Hush,” Festuscato said.  “When your father sent you to Rome to marry Valentinian, a stranger to you, in a strange land, you found the courage, and held your face up high, even in front of Valentinian’s mother.”

“Not very high in front of her,” the empress admitted.  “That would not have been wise.” 

“Mother-in-law.”  Festuscato grinned.  “But Carthage is not that different from Rome.  Geiseric did not burn the city when he took it.  He wanted to rule there, not ruin the city.  It is full of Romans and a very Roman city.  Why, it is one of the five greatest cities in all of Roman lands.”

“Five?” the empress asked.

“Rome and Constantinople are obvious,” Festuscato responded.  “But Carthage and Alexandria in Egypt are close seconds.”  He handed the Empress his handkerchief.  She wept softly and wiped her eyes.

“And the fifth?”

“Jerusalem,” Festuscato admitted.  “Though when I visited there, it was hardly a village.  But the history…”

The empress nodded.  She blew her nose and put on her smile.  She kept a brave front for Eudocia and Placidia.  Eudocia turned seventeen and well understood her part in the play.  Placidia just turned thirteen and found it all exciting because everything was exciting at thirteen.  “We should join the others.”

“Wait.”  Festuscato said and had to frame his thoughts.  He chided himself.  His glib and loose tongue used to rattle things off without having to think first.  “You and Eudocia are facing a secure future.  Placidia is only facing uncertainty.  Eudocia’s charm and beauty will serve her well.  I have no doubt you will find a good place in Carthage and Geiseric’s court.  But Placidia, though bright, is a bit of a tomboy, neither graceful nor beautiful.  Her future in that environment will be risky and questionable.”

“What are you suggesting?”

Festuscato took a deep breath.  “I could keep her here.  She would be safe, and when she is of age, I can marry her to a good family.  I know a few where she will be both safe and happy.”

The empress stood and changed the subject.  “Would you consider taking the throne in the west?”

“Not me.  Not ever.  I hate politics.”

The empress nodded.  “You are as wise as I always imagined you to be.”  She went to join her daughters and Festuscato noticed she did not say no.

###

Godamer, Hawdic, and their three-fifty arrived outside the manor house and paused.  The house appeared to have been fortified, though they saw no men manning the fortifications.  All the same, Godamer thought to be careful even as he said, “This is the house.”

“We passed several wealthy houses to get here,” Hawdic said.  “Why this house?”

“While you spent the last two days, fretting, I checked with some of the locals,” Godamer answered, and sent several men up in the orange trees that lined the road to see what they could see.  “This is the house of Senator Agitus, reported to be one of the richest, if not the richest man in Rome.  The man owns land all over Italy, and all that wealth comes here.”  Hawdic did not respond, but he grinned and nodded.

“I see movement,” one man shouted down.

“I don’t see any people manning the walls,” another added, so the first man shouted down a suggestion.

“Maybe it is just chickens, or farm animals let loose.  The people may have headed to the hills.”

Godamer growled.  Maybe they took all their gold and silver into the hills with them.  He had not thought of that.

“Maybe they escaped with their treasure,” Hawdic said it out loud.  Godamer hit him.  Hawdic thinking was not something to be encouraged.

“Let’s see,” Godamer said.  He waved for the nearest group.  Fifty men began to move slowly up the slight rise toward the house, wary of the newly constructed walls, even if they could not see any men at those walls.  They got about half-way there.  Suddenly men popped up from behind those walls and let loose dozens of arrows.  The archers were amazingly accurate.  Godamer’s men turned and ran back to the road, but only about half made it.  The front yard of the house became littered with bodies, few of which lived long enough to moan and cry out.

Godamer would need to plan this out.  “At least we know the people are still there,” he said.

“That means maybe the gold is still there,” Hawdic said, hopefully.

“Damn,” Meg said.  She did not plan on the house being protected by the little spirits of the earth.  They could be a problem.  She dared not fully manifest.

Upstairs, Morgan gave her half-sister a hug.  Macy was a half elf, married to the fairy, Ironwood.  She was an excellent archer, but she did not like killing.  She shot one arrow from their second-story window and probably killed the man.  Now, she wanted to cry.  Ironwood flew up, got big and took over the comforting role.  Megan turned immediately to her elf handmaid.

“Sibelius, your thoughts?”

Sibelius lowered her own bow.  “We may have to consider plan B.  We should probably go downstairs, collect our parcels, and get ready to run the planned route to the tenant houses.  From there, we can get lost in the woods and make for the hills to join the others already there.”

“I don’t like giving up my home so easily,” Morgan said.

“I count roughly three hundred Barbarians in the road.  If their commander doesn’t care about his losses, a concerted charge could overrun the house in no time.”

“Compromise,” Morgan decided.  “We will go downstairs and get our things but stay by the front windows to watch.  We won’t run, unless we have to.”

“Lady,” Sibelius wanted to protest.  “In your condition, you should get a head start on the running.”

Morgan did not answer her.

Avalon 7.11 The Sack of Rome, part 3 of 6

Geiseric had all his captains with him, including Godamer, when the gate called the Porta Appia opened.  He would talk to this Pope who followed orthodox nonsense.  Clearly, the Arian way made sense of his world.  God the Father, they called Odin in the old days.  God the son, whether Jesus or Thor, served under his father, not being equal to the King of the Gods.  Still, Geiseric would listen to what the old man said.  He took Carthage by trickery.  He might take Rome in the same way.  The only one to watch was this dragon.

Geiseric heard in great detail about the dragon from Attila and about Attila’s destruction at the hands of the dragon.  He heard in the old days, how the servants of the dragon drove Castinus to utter madness.  They said Attila himself was mad and seeing things when he died, and his empire fell apart among his squabbling sons.  Geiseric was not one to be afraid of any man, but maybe he would listen to what this dragon had to offer, and maybe he would be willing to make a deal.

The Pope walked out of the gate, followed by a long string of clerics and monks.  Geiseric ignored them.  Twelve men rode out, like an honor guard for the Pope.  Six, he knew, were guards, such as manned the walls of Rome.  With such formidable walls, Geiseric knew it would cost him greatly, and possibly months to break into the city.  Perhaps another way could be found.  He shifted his sight, because the other six riders wore the dragon tunic.  He looked for the red hair.  He knew that one was the dragon, himself.

“What have you to say, old man,” Geiseric turned to the Pope and shot straight to the point.

“Know you that this great and ancient city has become the city of God, and those who walk her streets do so in reverence and peace.  And I, unworthy servant that I am, follow in the footsteps of Peter as he followed the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  I am honored to speak for the people, the city, and in the name of God.  Here, then, is the word.  That you do not abuse the people, either by rape or slaughter, and that you do not burn the homes of the City of God.  Agree to this, and you may take what you wish of gold and silver, brass and bronze.  We care not for earthly treasures, for the power in the earth that once made Rome ruler of the whole world has been overthrown by a greater, and almighty power.  So, take what you will, but tread lightly.  What is done in darkness will be shown in the light.  God Almighty will watch, and he will neither slumber nor sleep.  This you know.”

Geiseric rubbed his chin and got thoughtful, but at last, his curiosity got the best of him.  “What says the dragon?”

“It is a fair offer,” Festuscato began.  “You see the walls.  You see the guard, men enough to make your entrance into the city long and costly.  You have no siege engines.  They will take more time to build.  But Italy in these last few years has suffered from poor crops.  There is not much food out in the countryside.  You will have a hard time feeding all your men all that time.  And you know, hungry men do not fight well.  No, I say it is a fair offer.  If you will pledge not to harm the people or burn the city, the Pope will open the gates to you and give you one week to collect all the gold and silver you can carry.”

‘One month,” Geiseric bargained.

“Ten days,” Festuscato countered.

“Two weeks,” Geiseric countered again, and after a moment’s thought, Festuscato held out his hand to shake.

“Deal,” he said, and Geiseric grinned, having gotten the last word in the bargain.  Festuscato figured he would not realize until later that he got tricked into agreeing to something he had not intended.  Festuscato also figured he needed to distract the man lest Geiseric figure it out right then and there.  “A word in private,” he said, and escorted the King of the Vandals away from all the others.

“The King of the Jutes once called Rome a fat cow, ready to be slaughtered,” Festuscato spoke, softly.  Geiseric liked that image.  “The truth is, the cow has become very lean, her meat stringy and full of gristle, and her milk all but dry.  Her strength and money are spent.  Give us tomorrow, and one more day after that to tell the people not to resist, but to give you all they have.  We will open the gates on the third day, and you may have your two weeks.  Listen, I understand some Romans will be stupid and stubborn.  There will be some bloodshed, but you must keep it to a minimum.  Do you know what I mean when I say how stupid and stubborn some men can be?  Any of your own people like that?”

Geiseric thought.  He nodded slowly, then he looked at a couple of his captains and rolled his eyes.

“I say, keep the bloodshed to a minimum, because that is what the lady requires.”

“Eh?  What lady?”

“For your ears only,” Festuscato said, and stepped closer, and spoke secretly, which garnered Geiseric’s full attention.  “The usurper Petronius Maximus and his son are dead, killed by the Romans themselves.  But I managed to spirit away Licinia Eudoxia and her two daughters, one being Eudocia who I believe my good friend Valentinian betrothed to your son.  Is that not so?”

Geiseric did not answer, but Festuscato saw the Vandal’s jaw fall.  The so-called rescue of the Empress and her daughter, his son’s betrothed, was one pretext he used to justify his attack on Rome.

“The lady and her daughter have agreed to go with you and fulfill the pledge of peace between Rome and Carthage, but only if you limit the blood spilled, and do not burn the people’s homes.  The women are presently under my protection, so if you commit atrocities in the city, they will not go.  As the Pope has said, God will be watching you.  I have no doubt God will see everything, but so you know, I will be watching too.”

Geiseric rankled at the thought that this dragon could keep anything from him.  He reacted.  “How will you watch to know what so many men do?” he asked.

“Ironwood,” Festuscato called in the right way and the fairy appeared.  After a moment to get his bearings, Ironwood became full sized, looking like a true warrior, and went to one knee.

“Lord?”

“Informal.  Geiseric is a friend.  You may sit on my shoulder if you don’t mind.”

“It is an honor,” Ironwood said, and he got small again and fluttered up to take a seat on Festuscato’s shoulder with a minimum of hair pulling to get comfortable.

Festuscato let out a small “Ouch.”  It was mostly an act.

Geiseric pulled in his breath before he laughed.  “All right, dragon.  We will keep the blood to a minimum, but you understand, I do not have little things to watch all my men.”

“Understood,” Festuscato said, and decided to save the last for another time.  When Geiseric prepared to sail, he would tell him never to come back to Rome.  To do so would be his death and there would be nowhere on this earth he could run to hide.

“So, these?” Geiseric pointed at the others that wore the dragon tunic.  His curiosity continued, or perhaps he sought something to distract himself from being backed into a corner of a bargain he did not want to make.

“My centurion, Dibs.  A friend from childhood,” Festuscato said, pleasantly, and with equal pleasantry, he added, “These others are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death.  Perhaps you read about them.”  Ironwood snickered, softly.  Geiseric’s eyes got big, and he thought it best to turn to the Pope.

“I accept your terms.  You may have tomorrow and the next day to prepare the people.  Then you will open the gate and we will help ourselves to your earthly treasures.  We will endeavor not to harm the people or the homes, but we will also look for newly dug holes in the yard.  My men know all the tricks to evade the tax collectors.  Two weeks, and then we will leave.”

“The bargain is made,” Festuscato said.

The Pope nodded, turned to walk back to the city, and whispered, “Pray everyone keeps it.”

Festuscato walked beside him.  Dibs walked the horses.  “No,” Festuscato said.  “I believe you put the fear of God in him.”

The Pope looked up.  “And you put the fear of other things into him.”

“Not really.  But it is hot out here at high noon.  I was afraid he would dither all day.  I just showed him the advantages of the bargain.  He was not hard to convince.”

“Prosper of Aquitaine said he should have recorded your conversation with the King, but he could not hear it well.”

“No, no.”  Festuscato turned to the man who walked only two steps behind.  “We are just the military escort.  That should be assumed and probably does not even need to be mentioned.”

“And the fairy?”

“Definitely not mentioned,” Festuscato said.  “Ironwood, go home to your wife.”

“Lord,” Ironwood said before he vanished, as Festuscato sent him to his wife.

“But listen.  This is important.”  Festuscato framed his thoughts.  Sometimes, keeping history on track and moving it in the right direction required a gentle touch.

“I am listening,” the Pope said.

“You understand the empire in the west is dead, overrun with barbarians, maybe having a few last gasps.  All that remains is the church, and many of the bishops listen to you.  You need to make something like an underground empire to keep civilization alive.”

“The church is not made for war and conquest.”

“No.  But you are made to read and write, to educate the people, to uphold a strong moral foundation in the world.  Love your neighbor, not to mention love your enemy will be a hard sell with the barbarians.  But the future is in your hands.”

“So I have often thought, and prayed about.”

“You are the only light to keep the whole world from falling into the pit of darkness.”

They waited a moment while the gate opened, and they walked in.  Then the Pope spoke again.  “Let us get through these next two weeks of darkness, first.

“Two days and two weeks,” Festuscato responded.  “Quite right.”  He veered off to return to the inn and let the Pope go his way.

Outside, Godamer spoke quietly as he and Hawdic rejoined their men.  “We will wait the days.  When the gates open and the king and the army go into the city, we will slip off down the road to the rich villas that will be minimally guarded, if they are guarded at all.”

“Can’t we go sooner?” Hawdic asked, looking anxious.  “The king will not miss our company,” 

“Patience,” Godamer said.  “We don’t want others to see and maybe figure out our plan.”

Meg, the Wraith clenched her fists.  “Fools,” she said to herself.  “They will barely have time to get there, destroy the loved ones of the Kairos, and turn to set the trap for the travelers.”  She had to wait.  She understood.  She went into the city and thought while she waited, she could at least give some Romans nightmares.

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MONDAY

Rome opens the gates, but down the road, perhaps things will not go the way the Wraith would like. Until Monday, Happy Reading

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