R5 Greta: The End of the Day, part 1 of 3

Cleaning up after the battle proved a grizzly and horrifying job, but all the same, Greta worked long into the night.  The battle had been terrible.  Her side had won, but the price had been high.  The surviving Quadi were allowed to leave with pledges that they would not return, for all the good those pledges would be, but the Romans and Dacians together were not able to hold more than a few of the Quadi leadership.  There were simply neither the men nor the facilities to do more.

Greta found out that shortly before her arrival in the village of the Bear Clan, Samartin raiders attacked the far northern Dragon Clan.  That really convinced the Celts that their time of isolation was over.  They had to choose, and though Fae’s courage helped, in truth they had already chosen the known evils of Rome and the Yellow Hairs over the unknown.  With the Romans as mediators, they would keep their own land and retain their own way of life; but there would be trade, and in time, marriages, and life would go on.

Of more immediate concern to Greta was the fate of the rebels.  She sent an early plea for mercy to Marcus and General Pontius, and on that basis, she met with them early the next morning.

“Come in,” Marcus said.  “Sit down.”  He sat at a large writing table.  General Pontius stood behind him and leaned over his shoulder.

Greta was grateful for the seat.  She felt exhausted.

“You know,” Marcus continued before she could speak. “I cannot really tell my father that I pardoned the rebels on the basis of their being bewitched.”  He stopped writing to look up.  “Even if we both know there is some truth in that.”

“Personally, I hate it when someone reads over my shoulder.” Greta said, and slumped down in her chair.  Marcus looked up over his shoulder.  The General looked at Greta and took a large step backward.

“By the way,” Marcus spoke, as he went back to his letter.  “Whatever happened to the lady?”

“She made an ass out of herself,” Greta said. “She is no longer around.”

Marcus did not understand exactly what she meant, but he accepted her at her word.  “Just as well,” he said.  “I’m not sure it would have worked out in any case.”  Greta felt she had been right.  Lady Brunhild would not have been able to control him.  Then something occurred to her.

“I thought you promised to stay out of the fighting,” she said.  Marcus turned red, but she sat straight up.  “You lied to her.”

The red deepened.  “I don’t lie.”

“Then you changed your mind only a second after you promised,” she teased.

“Yes, I did,” he said.  “Let us remember it that way.”

An awkward moment of silence followed. Greta just framed her thoughts when Marcus spoke again.

“The other proposal of yours does have some merit. I can personally vouch for seeing many rebels pour off the Mount and attack the Quadi from behind.  I am sure they fought as bravely as any patriot on the battlefield.”

“It is one thing to have internal disagreements,” Greta said.  “But quite another to be invaded by outsiders.”

“Lady,” General Pontius interrupted.  “This was not internal disagreements.  This was outright rebellion.”

Marcus held up his hand for quiet before Greta and the General started arguing.  “Kunther, Eldegard and the known leaders of the rebellion have already lost their heads.” Marcus said.  “That is a done deal.”

“I’m sorry,” Greta said, and slouched again. “I feel Eldegard really came around to our side at the last.”

“Then let the gods show him mercy.”  Marcus continued.  “In any case, your proposal that we spare the lives of the rest on condition that they take land along the frontier, North of Napoca, and be first in line to defend the border.  This is an idea which I think I can sell to the emperor.  The only adjustment is that all of the rebels be identified and branded.”

“Branded?” Greta asked.  “Like slaves?”

“Their lives are forfeit,” Marcus explained. “This is a way to keep track in case they get out of line.  Besides, I don’t believe Rome will go for it, otherwise.”

Greta had a sudden concern.  “Bragi?” she asked.

“Your brother is a special case,” Marcus said.

Greta sat up again, fearing the worst.  “What do you mean?  He stopped Kunther and saved your life,” she reminded him.

Marcus shook his head.  “Technically, he threw Drakka to the ground.  But I won’t quibble.  He is being remanded to the custody of your father.  Your father is very strict, but fair, like the emperor, my father. I imagine that is why your people made him high chief.”

“Strict is right,” Greta said, as the relief made her slouch once more.

Marcus paused.  “Come, now.  You are his only daughter, and it is different for girls.  I am sure a few tears from you and he will do whatever you ask.”

“I wish,” Greta groused.

Marcus let out his smile.  “I am sure your father will punish your brother in far more appropriate ways than I could imagine.  In any case, it would not be politically wise to behead the son of the high chief.  As wife of the new provincial governor, you must learn these things.”

“What?”

“I am recommending that Darius be made governor here,” Marcus said.

“But he is a soldier,” Greta protested.

Marcus actually became tender for a moment, but whether that was for her sake or the sake of his childhood friend, was not clear. “Actually, now that his parentage is known, he will never rise above his current rank.  He will never be a General.  He will never be given his own legion.”

“His strict but fair father will not be happy about that,” she said.

“No,” Marcus agreed.  “And you can be sure my strict but fair father will be very aware of his father’s unhappiness.  Making Darius Governor of the province, however, should satisfy.”  Marcus fell silent and stared at Greta.  It took a moment for her to get it.

“Why you stinker,” she shouted.  “You’re sticking me in the middle between Darius and my father.  I’ll spend the rest of my life having to choose sides.”

“You’re the wise woman,” Marcus said.  “Choose wisely.”  Greta growled, but Marcus could only continue to smile.  “Besides, can you think of anyone better to be in the middle?”

Almost anyone, Greta thought, but she changed the subject instead.  “What about Drakka?”

“You tell me,” Marcus said and lost his smile. “The son of Eldegard.  He kidnapped the son of an Elder of the Bear Clan. He tried to kill me, only he shot you instead.  He would be dead already if you did not specifically mention him in your note.”

“He was not a rebel,” Greta said, firmly. “He was a late comer who followed Hans and I through the forest.”  Greta paused. The big, strong, handsome son of the blacksmith.  Hard to imagine why she once thought she loved him.  “He only did what his father told him,” she said.  “We all answer to our fathers.”  Liselle was pregnant, though Marcus would hardly be moved by that. But Liselle had been an only child because her mother had several miscarriages and died shortly after Liselle’s birth.  Greta feared the same for Liselle if Drakka was not there to support and love her. “Besides,” Greta concluded.  “The frontier farmers are going to need a good blacksmith.  I bear no grudge against his taking his shot.  I know what kind of expectations fathers can have and what kind of demands they can make.  I am sure once he marries Liselle and they have their baby, he will settle down.”

“He will be branded,” Marcus said.  “My every instinct says he should be crucified. But if you vouch for him, I will let you have him on your responsibility.”  That appeared to end the interview as Marcus returned to writing his letter.

R5 Greta: Battle, part 3 of 3

Fae took a deep breath and continued.  “When as the knights of the lance, as Hobknot calls them, crashed into the center of the enemy charge, they divided very sharply to the left and the right and many came very close to us.  That was when I took an arrow.  It must have been one of the first to ride by with a bow in his hands. But my people were watching, and with a great cry, they came pouring out of the forest and crashed deep into the side of the enemy horsemen.  Lady, it was glorious!”

“But now you got a big hole in your side.” Hobknot could not restrain himself. “You stupid moron.”

“Oh, shut-up.”  Fae smiled at him.

“No, you shut-up.”  Hobknot wanted to smile back, but he could not for worry.

“You both shut-up,” Greta said.  “Now Hobknot.  Fae is three-quarters human.  She has lived the human life between her and Berry.  I have no authority over that.”  Hobknot looked downcast, but Fae reached out and squeezed Greta’s hand.

“The Don,” she said.  “Or if in her wisdom, Danna will not help me, please, may I see her again before I die?”

Greta checked.  Danna was willing, and she had something she would also do which helped Greta understand a mystery.  “All right.” She told Fae, and she and Danna traded places through the time stream.

Danna looked at Hobknot, Berry, Hans and Bragi in turn.  They were very quiet.  Fae, however, became filled with joy.  “Great Mother,” she said.  “How often I prayed to you and to your children, hoping against hope that I might someday see with my own eyes.  I knew you were gone away.  You left the world in the hands of your children, but I never understood what that meant, until now.  All the same, I think I loved you most of all.”

“I know,” Danna said, and she did know, exactly so.  “The lady speaks true,” she added.  She smiled for Fae’s love, but it became time to act.  “Berry.”  She called softly.  Berry came timidly, but Danna put her free arm around the little one and hugged her. “Would you be willing to give your fairy blood to your sister so that she may live?”

“Oh, yes, Great lady,” Berry said.  “Even if it means I will never be little and never fly again.”  Danna made sure that Berry understood what she was asking.  Berry looked up at Hans.  “Even if it means that Hans will not love me anymore.  Yes, I will,” she said, sadly.

“Good,” Danna said.

“Wait.”  Berry got little and flew all around the tent.  She flew a couple of back flips and then kissed Hans on the cheek.  At last she got big again and stood beside Fae. “All right,” she said.  “I’m ready.”

Danna put Berry’s hand in Fae’s hand and it was done. Berry showed no outward sign of change at all.  She simply became a full-blooded twelve, nearly thirteen-year-old girl.  Fae, however, changed dramatically.  She shrank, but unlike Berry who reflected the fairy side of the family, Fae reflected more of her grandfather, Bogus the Skin.  She became a perfect little dwarf, though technically a half and half.  Hobknot got so excited, he did handsprings and cartwheels all over the tent.  As a dwarf, Fae now became considerably younger than she had been as a human. Seventy or so was not so much in dwarf years.  She seemed to want to jump up and join Hobknot in his game, but she still felt sore in the side though she no longer showed any sign of her wound.

Berry, on the other hand, became shy and tried to hide behind Danna’s back, no longer having access to her hair.  Danna had to pull her out and she held her, until Hans reached for her.

“I don’t have to give her up, do I?”  Hans asked.  “We can still be engaged, can’t we?”  Obviously, Berry wanted that very much, and she giggled a little in delight when Hans took her again, to hold her.

“You still have to wait four years.”  Danna reminded them, even if Berry still felt like that was forever.

“Now Bragi.”  Danna said at last.  “Please don’t tell Mama or Papa about this.

“No problem, er, Great Lady,” he said.  “I’m not likely to tell anyone.  They will just think I am mad.”  He meant what he said, but he smiled and Danna could tell he started enjoying himself again.

“Right now, I am Danna,” she said.  “And I have lived any number of other lives as well.”

“She’s the nameless god, too.” Hans blabbed.

“I know,” Bragi answered.

“Stop winking.”  Danna scolded them.  “Most of the time I am just a plain, ordinary person, like this time.  This is Greta’s life, your sister of the same mother and father.  And I hope you take good care of her.”  She traded back with Greta, and Greta continued speaking.  “I mean it.  Please don’t say anything to anyone.  I would like to live a nice, quiet, ordinary life.”

“Not likely,” Bragi said, with a grin to beat all grins.

Thissle ran in and jumped into Bragi’s arms. Thorn walked in and saluted.  Then the musicians came in.  It was Fiddler, Whistler and several others.  The music started, and Fae did finally get up and dance. She could hardly keep her feet still. Bogus the Skin came in with Ragwart and Gorse and several woodwives.  Greta only felt glad that Thunderhead was not to be seen.  That would have been too much.

The atmosphere quickly became festive and someone even produced a table of wine and sweet meats.  Greta did not really mind.  For the moment the war and the world were shut out.  Then she felt two arms slip around her from behind.  She turned.  It was Darius.  He did not seem to mind holding her close and she knew she did not mind it at all.

“Is this a private celebration, or can anyone join in?”  He asked.

“Not just anyone.”  She answered, and they kissed until Greta felt she could not kiss him anymore.

“I almost forgot,” Darius said at last.  “I have something that belongs to you.”  He reached under his tunic and untied something. He handed it to Greta.  It was her scarf.  Greta became wide eyed and found out she could kiss him a lot more.

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

MONDAY

What a lovely place to end a story… but the work of the Kairos never seems to end.  Some things need to be remembered, but some things are best forgotten.  Greta will need some extraordinary help to keep the guns out of Rome, and to save as many lives as possible.  Monday, The End of the Day.  Happy Reading.

*

R5 Greta: Battle, part 2 of 3

Men still fought in the distance, nearer the raised lake which had been the mount, but nearby there was the scene.  Kunther and Drakka were to her left with rifles in their hands.  Kunther screamed.  “Kill them! Kill them!”  He sounded like a man for whom all had been lost, but he pointed the rifles at Marcus, Darius and Gaius.

“No!”  Greta screamed in return, and with a run and a leap she threw herself in front of Marcus, turning her back on Kunther.  The guns went off.  A bullet struck Greta square in the back.  She fell into Marcus’ arms, who went to set her down gently, but she saw that Gaius went down and Darius knelt over him.  She wiggled free of Marcus, but had to practically crawl over to Gaius.

“My Lady.”  Gaius said, but he could say no more.  The bullet came out his lungs.  Marcus saw and found tears in his eyes.  Darius stayed strong, but stoic.

“Gaius.”  She spoke quietly.  She had the wind knocked out of her as well.  “Do you know the Icthus?” she asked.

“I know the cult.”  Gaius said through his pain.  The bullet had clearly nicked his heart as it bounced off his ribs.  There was not much time.

“Set your mind and heart on him,” she said. “And when you see him, tell him that I love him and I am tired, and I want to come home.”  Greta could not be sure how much of that Gaius heard.  She cried with Darius and Marcus, both of whom were on their knees.  After a moment, she found Darius holding her and she cried in his shoulder.

“Are you all right?”  She heard Bragi’s desperate question but she took a moment to respond.  “Greta!  Answer me. Drakka said he shot you by accident.”

“I’m fine,” Greta sniffed.  “He hit me square in the spine.  I’ll just be stiff for a little while is all.”

“Where?”  Bragi examined her cape.  It had not torn, and her armor had not been penetrated.  She caught his hand.

“It’s all right,” she said.  “Athena said the cape was bullet proof and many things proof. And anyway, Hephaestos’ chain would have stopped the bullet even without the cape.”  Darius got quiet and Bragi stared at him and his sister in the Roman’s arms.

“Darius.  My brother Bragi.”  Greta did the introductions.  “Bragi, this is my betrothed.”  Together, they helped Greta to her feet and shook hands which she thought was a good thing. “But Darius,” she said, sure that she looked a wreck.  “If you don’t want to marry me, now, I’ll understand.  I mean, now that it is over.”

“It is not over.”  Marcus spoke first.  Greta had not known he could cry, and she did not know he could get so angry.  Somehow, that did not seem to be the Marcus Aurelius history remembered.  “Men will be crucified for this.  I swear it!”

Suddenly, Greta knew her job became to save as many lives as possible.

“Lady, oh lady, I found you.”  Hobknot, almost visible, did not seem to care.  “Please help me.”  Greta saw that he was about to cry and it broke her heart.

“Dearest Hobknot.  What is it?” she asked.

“It’s the grumpy old lady you gave me to watch.” He howled and several men looked up in a moment of fear.  “The old biddy took an arrow and I am afraid she is dying.  Her crotchety old frame can’t handle it.  Lady, she is the only female I ever met with a brain.  Please, goddess, don’t take her from me yet. Please.”  Hobknot howled again.

“Fae!”  Greta spoke sharply.  “Bragi help me.  No, Darius, help Marcus and for Christ’s sake, don’t let him crucify anyone until I get back.”

“Christ?”  Darius asked.

“Later,” Greta said, and she walked as fast as her spine and cut, bruised and banged up body would let her.  Hobknot led all the way.

When they arrived back at the outpost, she found Fae in her tent and back in the same bed she had been in almost since they arrived.  Berry sat there, weeping and wailing in Han’s arms.  Bragi looked at his little brother, but Hans shrugged.

“We’re engaged,” he said.

“You have all been busy since I have been away,” Bragi whispered.

Greta went to Fae’s bed.

“Lady,” Fae said.  “You should have seen it.”  Her words were weak and the wound might well kill her, but not for some time. “It was glorious.”

“Tell me,” Greta said and took her hand.

“I knew when I heard the drums.  I knew they were war drums, but I knew my people were still hesitant.  I had to go out with Vilam and the others.  I had to be seen supporting my people.”

“I tried to stop her,” Hobknot said.  “But she is mule stubborn and pig headed.”

“Oh, quiet you old goat,” Fae shot at him.

Hobknot started to say something in return, but wilted under Greta’s stare.  “Go on,” Greta told Fae.

“When the enemy first charged, they seemed countless, but the Roman cavalry struck them dead center and split them nearly in half. The Romans on this side and near the city took care of some, but I could not see the road.  I only know when the enemy reached there, they were in disarray. The Roman cavalry then turned and came here, to the outpost.  It could not have been better timed, for just then, men from the mount came up to attack us. The cavalry struck them so hard from the rear that despite their weapons, they were forced to flee back to the mount.  They were on foot, you understand.

“Then I saw the thing that worried me greatly. The first charge of the enemy was only the beginning.  The main army, much, much larger, was beginning to charge.  Their numbers appeared so great I feared we had no chance at all.  Then I saw these men and horses shining in the morning sun like saviors sent by the goddess herself.  They were followed by many men on horseback, but they still looked so few compared to the enemy.  Still, as I was watching the lines draw closer, the Mount exploded.  There came a tremendous fire and then a great burst of water utterly destroyed the Temple and blew out the sides of the Mount itself. Great boulders flew through the air, and most on this side crashed into the enemy.  They became confused.”  Fae grinned.

R5 Greta: Battle, part 1 of 3

“What is this place?”  Eldegard asked as he got weakly to his feet.

Greta conceded.  “Most who live here call it Avalon after the ancient tongue, but it has many names.”

“Is this Elvir?” Vasen asked.

“No, it is Usgard above Midgard,” Greta said. “Elvir is over there.  Nidelvir is that way, and Svardelvir is in that direction.”

“Usgard,” Bragi repeated.

“Usgard above Midgard,” Greta corrected.  “But you may as well call it Avalon.”

The fairy queen arrived at that point and became big, even as she landed.  Her court followed suit.  Immediately, she walked up to Greta, got on one knee and held up her hand.  “Lady Kairos.  All is well?”  She asked.

Greta took the hand, but made the Queen get up. “I don’t know,” she said.  “I cannot stay this time.  My anxiety is too great.  I must get back to work.”

“My Lady works too hard sometimes, I think,” Thumbelin said.

“This is Lord Eldegard of Boarshag.”  Greta introduced him.  “And this is Vasen the Priest of the Temple on the Mount.” Vasen had been staring at Thumbelin and Greta.

“And this?”  Thumbelin asked, sweetly.

“This is my brother, Bragi,” Greta said.

“Sir Bragi.”  One of the ladies of the court nearest him offered her hand.  Bragi took it, but since he did not know what to do with it, he merely held it for a second before he let go.

“And that.”  Greta pointed to the last of her party.  “Is all that remains of Brunhild.”

“She had become a powerful sorceress.” Thumbelin confirmed.  “What then of her god, Mithras?  What game is he playing?”

Greta shrugged.  “Same old?” she said.  It was time to go.  “Please take Brunhild to an outer isle where she can live out her days in peace.  I don’t want her eaten by dragons or cyclopses or any such thing.”

Thumbelin suddenly hugged Greta and whispered through a small tear.  “I love your kind heart,” she said.

“I love you, too, Thumbelina.”  Greta returned the same as she received.

The door appeared behind them.  It would let out at the outpost.  Everyone took a last look before they left, and Bragi especially had to partly drag Vasen back to reality.  Once through the door, Avalon vanished, but several men, Romans and Dacians, saw them step out onto the Earth.  They stopped what they were doing and stared.

Greta took advantage of the moment and pointed to Eldegard and Vasen.  “Take them to safety,” she said.  “Treat them kindly.  They have had a hard morning.”

“Indeed I have, Lady Kairos,” Vasen said, having caught her name.

“Forgive this old fool, Mother Greta,” Eldegard said, and for her part, Greta did forgive him.

She watched for a moment as the man hobbled away, head lowered.  “The rest of you need to follow me.”  She said that in both Dacian and Greek.

“Where are we going?” Bragi asked.  She could tell he was beginning to enjoy this.

“We are ordered to stay and guard this post,” one of the Romans spoke up.

Greta ignored them both.  She focused and held out her hands.  Her shield appeared in her left hand and Salvation vanished from its’ sheath to appear in her right hand.  They were heavy, but she held them well enough.  Some men stepped back in surprise, but she was not really showing off. As before, she did not feel sure if she could draw Salvation without cutting her own ear off.  This felt safer, but then she immediately handed them to Bragi. “Here,” she said.  “You know how to work these.”  She did not wait.  She started running across the field and about ten of the thirty or so men followed her.

It looked and smelled like a slaughterhouse. She saw bodies of the dead and dying everywhere.  A few might recover if they received help in time, but that seemed unlikely.  Some of the bravest survivors were out on the long field trying to help those that they could, carrying men on makeshift stretchers back to the outpost or the forest’s edge.  Greta knew she could help, but she had something more important to do first. She turned toward the mount and caught her breath at the sight. The mount looked gone, along with the temple, and the water which bubbled from the sides, still crumbled parts and carried away boulders.

“The explosion blew the temple off the top.” A man said, as he stepped up beside her. It was the Centurion, Alesander. The water did the rest.  It must have shot a hundred feet in the air and threw the walls of the mount for hundreds of yards in every direction. The rest then collapsed all the way around.”

“I said it was full of water under tremendous pressure, but I never expected this,” Greta said, then she had to save her breath to run.  She had the feeling she might be too late.  “Come on,” she said, but Alesander paused, and grabbed at her arm to stop her.

“Wait,” he yelled.  “The fighting is over there.  It is not safe.  Damn!” He followed.

It felt like running through a nightmare, even on the edge of the battle.  Greta had to run around and twice leap over men who were not quite dead.  The sounds of agony were deafening.  Some tried to grab for her legs or arms.  She heard the word “Valkyra” over and over.  She imagined a woman in armor with straw colored hair flowing behind would invoke that image, but for her own part, she wished the Valkyra were still around.  She could use their help.

A man jumped in front of her and made her pause. She did not know from his blood-soaked clothing if he was Dacian or Quadi.  He stared at her for a long second in disbelief, then he held out his arm. His hand was missing and the stump poured out his life’s blood.  She brushed past even as Alesander and Bragi caught up, followed by the rest of the squad.

Greta passed by other horrors.  She could not stop.  She began to panic and reminded herself that she did not respond well in panic situations.  But she feared she might be too late.  It was her vision.

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 3 of 3

“You see, my lady.  I am the Nameless god.  That is why your Mithras does not dare to show up and help you now.  I would kick his butt.”  He thought to Thorn.  “Now.”  And he unlocked the door for them and caused the guards to come and see the jackass in the making so there would be no risk and no one standing in the way of the escape of the others.

Nameless laughed a hearty, healthy laugh such as Brunhild could never imitate, and then changed back to Greta just as Brunhild let out her first “Hee-Haw!”.  Greta thought the woman recognized her for one instance, but then the light of understanding seemed to die in Brunhild’s eyes.  “Bragi, hold the Lady,” Greta said.

“Sister.” Bragi, free of Brunhild’s spell, acknowledged his sister and took hold of the donkey’s neck.  “Mother Greta, I should say.”  He gently stroked the donkey’s nose and spoke soothing words to keep it from panic.  Greta grabbed Eldegard’s good hand and Vasen’s hand as well.

“The rest of you have about ten minutes to grab your friends and get down the Temple Mount before the Temple is blown sky high by the explosion.  I mean it.” No one moved.  “All right then, stay here and die.”  That got them.  They tripped over each other as they ran in mass and rushed out just after Gregor, Finbear and Thorn.

“What about us?” Bragi asked as he struggled a bit to keep his new pet under control.  Greta sighed.  She would not make Brunhild suffer the final indignity by making a bit for her mouth. Let her have Avalon.  The Isles beyond the seven were innumerable, after all. Surely one could be found where she could live out her days without struggle or fear.

“We go the easy way,” Greta said, and against the same wall where Brunhild called up the pictures of the preparation for battle, Greta called up the door to Usgard.  As soon as she opened it, the donkey leapt toward the grass which looked greener than any grass ought to be, and the aroma became too much for the beast. In Avalon, all looked more vivid and more real than anything on Earth.  Bragi, of course, followed after the donkey almost heedless of where he headed. Greta brought Vasen and Eldegard more slowly.  “Like Dorothy going from black and while to color,” she said,

“Are you all right?”  She generally asked the men, but Eldegard stared around and wandered off without answering, and Vasen wept, so she expected no answer there, either. The door closed behind them and vanished.

“Hey!”  Greta yelled, dropped her hands and stepped forward.  “That’s my brother, and that’s my donkey, too.”

Two gnome-like creatures were about to throw a net over the donkey who was contentedly grazing and utterly ignoring them. Bragi was on his back looking up with fright at the horrifically shaped black cloud that hovered over him.

“Stop it.”  She turned to yell at the fire sprite who stuck his head out of the lantern which hung from the tree and the water sprite, who just started to rise from the bubbling stream.  “You two strike at the same time and you will just put each other out.”

“Sorry, Lady.”  The fire sprite spoke up.  “Foam was just going to slip your feet out from beneath.”

“Yeah,” Foam said.  “And Flick was going to fall on you from above.”

“Yeah,” Flick said.

“Exactly the plan,” Foam said.

“Exactly right,” Flick said.

“Yeah,” Foam said.

“Enough.”  Greta did not have time for this.  She introduced her companions.  “This is Eldegard.  This is Vasen the Priest.  That one is my brother, Bragi, and the donkey is Lady Brunhild.”  The two gnomes tipped their hats to the donkey while the cloud over Bragi took on a friendlier appearance and offered his hand.

“Sir Bragi,” he said.  “An honor to meet you.”

“Yes.”  Bragi looked unsure, but he accepted the hand and the help back to his feet.

“My name is Cloudhook, and my little friends are Noblink and Mrs. Weebles.  Of course, Flick and Foam have already named themselves.”

“That’s right,” Foam said.  “I named Flick.”

“And I named Foam,” Flick said.

“You might say we named each other,” Foam added

“Or, we said each other’s names,” Flick amended

“Yeah,” Foam said.

“Ahem.”  Cloudhook interrupted the perpetual “Yeah” with a cough which sounded a bit like distant thunder.  “Our job is to guard the door and be wary of strangers.  No hard feelings, I hope, Sir Bragi.”

“No,” Bragi said, very graciously.  “I would say you do your jobs very well.”  Then he rushed to Greta’s side.  “What is happening with Thissle?  Is she all right?”

“Quiet,” Greta said, and even the brook stopped bubbling for a minute.  She closed her eyes and reached out.  It seemed an easy thing to do from Usgard where all ways lead to her little ones. “Thissle is just fine, and she found Thorn and they are dancing.”

“I’m glad,” Bragi said.  “Good for her.”  Then he got quiet because clearly Greta had not finished.

All right, Madwick.  Burns, Scorch, Miss Spark, be careful.

She saw the sprites leap out of their safe havens like blow torches and touch the nearest barrels.  Madwick and Burns were close enough not to even vacate their safe havens entirely.  Scorch made it back, but Spark had a way to go.  The explosion came as she grabbed on to the dolphin for dear life.  She just sucked herself inside as the statue clunked to the ground in front of them, a smoking hulk.  There were lights headed their way, as odd as that sounded on a bright, cloudless day.  Eldegard pointed them out.  Vasen looked, though he clearly looked like a man, raptured with more delight and joy than his old frame could handle.

“That would be Lady Thumbelin, the fairy queen and her court come to collect the statue.”  Cloudhook said.  “Probably make a big deal out of the job and Madwick and Burns will have swelled heads for a hundred years.”

“Too late.”  Noblink mumbled.  “Already swelled.”  Weeble stomped on his toe and curtsied for Greta.

Madwick and Burns pulled themselves from the wreckage at that moment and took on human form.  They looked dizzy and appeared as if they had been through a war.  Then Scorch and Spark appeared together, talking and holding hands.  Scorch had grabbed her at the last second and pulled her to safety.  Madwick got ready to say how hard that was, but he was glad to make the sacrifice, when Spark beat him to the punch.

“That was fun!”  She yelled and ran to Greta’s side.  “Can we do that again?”  She appeared a very pretty sprite, and Greta saw that Scorch thought so, too.

“Yeah,” Scorch said, sounding very much like Flick. “Can we do that again.”

“Please, no,” Greta said.  “I hope we never have to do that again.”

They looked sad for a minute, but then Spark looked up with hope.  “I volunteer if you ever want to blowed something up again, though.  You will remember.  You won’t forget me.”

Greta touched Spark’s hot cheek, gently.  “I won’t forget you, Spark,” she said, and Spark smiled, shyly.

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

MONDAY

Brunhild has made an ass of herself… but there remains a battle raging on the earth.  Greta’s work is not yet done.  Don’t miss it, Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 2 of 3

Greta opened her eyes and saw lady Brunhild’s hand stretched toward her like one warming themselves at a fire.

“There is more in you than appears, but I perceive you cannot sustain it.  I do not know what you were trying to do, but it will not help you.”  She dropped her hand and curiosity crossed her face.  It happens when you can’t read minds.  “One thing puzzles me,” she said.  “What did you hope to gain by coming here?”

“I plan to destroy the weapons of Trajan,” Greta said, seeing no reason to disguise her intention at that point.  “They don’t belong here.  They should not even be invented for another thousand years.

Lady Brunhild laughed again, and it was becoming annoying.  “But be my guest,” she said.  “They are old and broken and mostly useless.  They do not matter.  I know the formula for the powder and how to fabricate the weapons.  That is my confidence that I will rule the world.”

“So Trajan thought,” Greta said, urged by Ali. “Does the name “Masters” mean anything to you?”

“Why, no.  Lord Mithras, bless him, is my only master.  Why?”

“No reason,” Greta said, and small consolation, she thought.

They were interrupted then by men who came in from the front of the Temple.  One man walked slowly, helped by another man, and there were two more with them.

“Ah!”  Lady Brunhild perked right up.  “My Lord Eldegard.  How good of you to come for this elegant occasion.”

“Lady Brunhild,” Eldegard said with a sideways glance at Greta.  “Kunther has taken the men to attack the outpost as you commanded.  But now that the battle is about to begin I must see to the defense of the Temple.  Why have you demanded that I attend you at this time?”

Greta could see that Eldegard was not bewitched. Bewitched men generally did not fight well.  Even so, Greta thought Eldegard would be a man very hard to bewitch and it gave her hope that Marcus might be in his right mind as well.  At the same time, she saw that Eldegard walked in very bad shape. His left leg looked like it had cracked and after a week, it did not heal very well.  He limped, badly, and his left arm hung at his side.  He was also missing his right eye, and it seemed a wonder that the man was still alive.

“Because I know your heart, my dear Eldegard.  You are beginning to doubt and that troubles me.” She cozied up to Eldegard like a woman who cozies up to a man with whom she has been intimate.  Eldegard stayed reserved.  Whatever may have happened in the past, Brunhild was now a beautiful young woman, younger than his daughter, and Greta could see that Eldegard did not entirely feel comfortable with that.  She remembered that Papa had chosen Eldegard because the man straddled the fence.  Apparently, having fallen off one side, he now got back up on the fence again.

“You must see with your own eyes and be witness to the righteousness of our cause,” Lady Brunhild said.

“The way you talk, aren’t you afraid of angering the gods?”  Greta asked.

Lady Brunhild looked surprised.  “My dear Greta.  And from you?”  It came as a question.  “You know for certain that the gods have all gone away.  Only my dearest Lord Mithras has stayed to begin anew.  Don’t you see?  After I have brought the whole world under the divine god Mithras, and after I have given Marcus sons to rule after him, I shall become a goddess and bear the children of Mithras.  Do you not see?  I shall be the divine Mother of the new gods.”

“Now I know the gods are angry for your arrogance and presumption.”  Greta said, and she saw that Eldegard felt the same way.

Lady Brunhild shook her head.  “I told you.  The old gods have all gone away.” she said, and she made a show for Eldegard. “I invoke the mighty Zalmoxis.  Great Zeus, come and bring your wisdom to this council.  Do you see? The statue has not moved.  It is merely stone.”  She laughed and went on.  “I invoke mighty Dayus the horseman to bring judgment to this gathering.” She looked at Greta.  “I invoke your Nameless god.  Come now, O Light of Heroes, Lord of the Valkyra.  Strengthen our arms for battle in the name of Selvanus, Lord of the Forest, and strengthen our hearts in purity and nobility under the name Epona and Bendi the Huntress.  Come, Nameless one.  Even now, come.”  Lady Brunhild laughed aloud one last time, but Greta heard a word.

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Greta vanished from that place, but no one knew, because as Nameless came to take her place, he made a glamour far stronger than the one Thissle could make.  It showed an illusion of Greta that Brunhild could have no hope of penetrating.

“Stand there.”  Brunhild turned on what she thought was Greta and commanded her. “Stand there.  Don’t move.  Don’t speak.” Braggi and Vasen let go, and Nameless played the part well, but of course, he felt nothing.  It would have been easier if Brunhild had tried to tell the galaxy to stop spinning.

“You see.”  The Lady spoke to Eldegard again.  “No one has come.  The gods have all gone away.  That is why we must give our allegiance to the one living god, Mithras, bless his name, who died and was raised to rule the world.”

“How about Abraxas?”  Nameless said in Greta’s voice, and then he thought, “Oops!” as he remembered that he was not supposed to be able to speak.

“Silence!”  Lady Brunhild yelled, her face turned ugly and distorted.  “Even if he should turn half the world to hags, that pretender will not survive the onslaught of the one, true god,” she said, and let her steam dissipate, slowly.  “But now, I take too long.  Enough of this foolishness.”  Her voice sounded cruelly wicked.  All semblance of girlish playfulness had gone.  Indeed, she sounded very much like the Lady Brunhild that Greta first knew and despised.

“At first I thought you would make a good lap dog, only now I think a jackass would be more appropriate.  You can bear my burdens for the rest of your days, but do not fret, you will never know it.  You will never remember being human at all.  Your transformation will be thorough and complete.”  Brunhild waved her hand, but it all appeared to be in slow motion to the nameless god.  Nameless could actually see the magic form and leave Brunhild’s fingers like so many sparkles of light or specks of gold dust.  Of course, the magic would have had no effect on him, but all the same, he put up a magic mirror, which let Brunhild pass judgment on herself.  It was actually a very easy thing to do, even if he had not been a god.

“Let this woman who would lead the people in the wrong direction be shown for the jackass she really is.”  Brunhild spoke for Eldegard, but in fact, Brunhild pronounced her own fate.

“Now, Thissle, now,” Nameless thought with ease while Brunhild’s magic struck the mirror and bounced back into her own face.

“Yes, Lord.”  Thissle said, and took only a moment to curtsy out of respect for one of the true gods of the little ones.

“Good girl,” Nameless said.  “Stay invisible and be careful.”

Lady Brunhild’s own magic hit her squarely and immediately her ears began to grow and her hands began to turn into hooves. Poetic justice, Nameless thought, and he dropped the guise of Greta.

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 1 of 3

The morning came quicker than Greta imagined. When they opened the door, the sun looked ready to rise, and even though the light remained very dim, it took Greta a moment to adjust.

“Come out,” Lady Brunhild commanded, and Greta stumbled out to see a girl barely older than herself.  Instead of attacking her, though, the Lady surprised Greta by twirling around in her dress like an excited school girl, and asked, “How do I look?”

Greta frowned.  The young Brunhild looked very beautiful, and Greta, by contrast, felt rather ordinary and plain looking.  Then Thissle’s words came back about the need to outshine, and she could not help herself. “You have a zit.”  Greta said.  “On your nose there.”  Greta pointed.

“What?”  Brunhild went into an absolute panic.  “Bring me a mirror,” she demanded.  “Hurry!” Her finger went along her nose to try to feel it.  When the brass came, Greta started snickering.  Then the Lady surprised Greta again by genuinely laughing when she saw her clear skin.  It seemed a pleasant laugh, too, and she did not appear to be mad at Greta at all.

“Too bad,” she said.  “Under other circumstances, you with Darius and me with Marcus, I think we might have been friends.  I reminded myself last night that you are no fool, and I would dearly love a friend who has a semblance of a brain, not to mention someone who knows what I am talking about when I mention India or China.”

“Too bad?”  Greta asked, thinking she would no more be friends with this woman than she would with a succubus.

Brunhild nodded.  “Too bad I have to kill you,” she said, sweetly.

“So, what shall we do?”  Greta asked.  “Pistols at ten paces?”

Brunhild genuinely laughed again.  “A sense of humor, too,” she said.  “It really is too bad.”  She walked toward the back of the temple near the altar and statue of Odin, but where the wall looked clear and uncluttered.  Everyone else followed.  “First we see what is happening down below.”  She waved her hand against the wall.  A picture formed on the wall like a movie or a television picture, but it appeared like they looked from the Goodyear blimp.  They zoomed down to the road where they could hear the noises and see the fortifications.  Greta noted with glee that a morning attack would force the Quadi to ride near enough into the morning sun.

“Such a pitiful few horses the Romans have,” Brunhild said.

Greta did not think it looked that pitiful, but then she realized that Brunhild could not see the knights of the lance, though the way they gleamed at sunrise, they became almost all that Greta could see. And it looked like more than a hundred! Greta began to count, but before she could send a stern word to Sunstone, the scene shifted.

“But see?”  Brunhild said as they zoomed over to the Quadi line.  “Three thousand men in the first wave.  They are expendables, really, designed only to break your lines.” The picture zoomed further back behind the first wave.  “You see? Ten thousand warriors ready to ride in the second wave.”

“I see.”  Greta said, and she thought Yin-mo saw as well, though she could not be sure. Brunhild looked at Greta as if sensing the subliminal message, but before she could speak they got distracted by the sound of drums.  The Quadi also heard the drums, and their front line had a hard time holding their horses in check.

“What is this?”  Lady Brunhild looked genuinely surprised.  She zoomed over to the forest and tried to peer down between the trees. The drums, so many drums, sounded as if they were getting louder and louder.  “I see.”  The Lady said as she must have seen something.  “Very clever. Outflank the Quadi.  Who will win?  But then, who cares.  I will win.” She laughed, and this time Greta heard no pleasantry in her laughter.  “All the same, it is exciting, isn’t it?”  Brunhild touched Greta’s hand in girlish excitement, but Greta pulled her hand away, feeling that she might have to scrub her hand with a Brillo pad.

“It is not exciting,” Greta returned.  She knew war too well.  “What if Darius gets killed?” she asked.

“That should hardly matter to you at this point.” Brunhild shot at her, taking Greta’s snub, personally.  Then she appeared to soften, like a snake.  “But if it is any consolation, I will find someone nice for Darius’ bed.  He will not be unhappy.”

“Aren’t you afraid Marcus may be killed?”  Greta asked.

“Oh, no,” Brunhild said.  “Marcus will not be fighting.  I have seen him already, and he has promised to stay out of it.”

“No!”  Greta leapt forward to get her hands around the woman’s throat.  She wanted to break Brunhild’s neck before this went any further. Unfortunately, two men grabbed her and held her by the arms like the night before.  They could do this easily enough because they were going after Greta, not her armor.  Even so, Brunhild took no chances.  One who grabbed her was Vasen the Priest.  The other was Bragi, her brother.  Both were deeply enchanted and Greta almost wondered how they could even see out of eyes so glazed.

“Bragi.  What are you doing?”  Greta asked and put what little she had into the question.  Bragi did pause, but then answered firmly.

“I do what the Lady wants,” he said, and Lady Brunhild laughed again and made no effort to disguise the wickedness in her laughter.

Greta had to close her eyes for a minute.  She found Thissle safe but not sure what to do. The rocket was already sticking straight up at the ready, where Bragi had set it the night before.  Thissle, Greta thought.  You will have to light the fuse when I tell you.  Then run straight to Berry.  Stay away from the fighting and horses, and stay invisible.”

“Yes, Lady,” Thissle said, and Greta felt sure this time that the little one heard her.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 3 of 3

Immediately, the two men who held Greta’s arms jumped back. This proved good, because Greta needed to collapse to the floor and take a moment to herself, to recover from the brink of death, and fortunately, Lady Brunhild gave her that moment.  The woman stared at her and seemed to be recovering a bit of her own strength as well, but outwardly she appeared to be examining the armor as if deciding what to do.

“I must tell you.”  Greta breathed as she struggled to her feet.  She would have appreciated the opportunity to pass out, but she was not about to stay prostrate before the woman.  “The armor belongs to the Nameless god.”  She spoke of the one with whom Brunhild and the men with her were most familiar.  “Defender and the sword, Salvation, have a mind of their own.  I do not want you to be hurt.”

Even as Greta finally got to her feet, Lady Brunhild spit in her face.  “Strip her.” She ordered.  The two who had been holding her arms stepped up and touched her.  Greta cried out.  She felt the power surge through her.  It struck the two men like lightening and shot them twenty feet through the air where they crumpled, unconscious, if not dead.

Greta caught her breath again, but found it much easier this time, as if the armor protected her from more than just arrows. Lady Brunhild stared hard at her and began to pace, once again to decide what to do.

“Ruby slippers,” Greta said, and Brunhild squinted at her, not understanding.

“I saw these weapons and this armor in a dream.” Brunhild began to speak.  “It was before Boarshag and it may be why you startled me so at the time.  The great God, Mithras, bless his name, revealed to me that if I could take them from the one wearing them I would receive riches and power beyond counting.” She stopped in front of Greta’s face and Greta tried to smile for her, and it would have been a truly obnoxious smile if her cheeks were not hurting.  “Give it to me, now!”  The Lady said and threw her every ounce of compulsion behind the words.

This time, Greta hardly felt it, though she knew it had to be very draining for the Lady.  She knew Lady Brunhild would sleep well that night, but for Greta, she merely smiled more broadly.  The Lady, however, did not attack Greta.  Greta remained as vulnerable and human as ever.  But the Lady went after the armor of the Kairos, and as such she had zero chance of success.  Greta watched the Lady’s face flush and she could almost taste the anger that rose up in the woman’s veins.  By contrast, Greta stood very calm and resolute, and smiled as much as her cheeks allowed.  Finally, the Lady grabbed the hilt of Salvation which stuck up over Greta’s shoulder. This time, the charge appeared sufficient to glue the Lady’s hands to the sword.  The more the Lady tried to pull, the more she got drained, until a small surge kicked her free before she killed herself.

“I told you, you cannot have it,” Greta said, and something rose up in her from all the days in the ancient past.  “And your Mithras will not help you.  He has no given authority in this region, and he knows if he shows his face he will be killed for real, and this time I will not be there to bring him back.”  Nameless got tired of the game, and he was a master game player, arguably second only to Loki among the northern gods of old.  Indeed, some of the men thought they were hearing directly from the Nameless god, the reported owner of the armor, and they would not have been wrong in that assumption even though Greta remained where she stood.

Meanwhile, Lady Brunhild fainted in Kunther’s arms. “Watch her tonight,” she said and promptly passed out.  They took Greta away at sword point because no one would touch her.  To Greta’s disappointment, however, they did not return her to the room with the others.  Instead, she got driven into a real storage closet which did not even have a window.  When they shut the door, she sat in utter darkness.

The state of grace Greta had felt, left her with the light.  She tried to reach out to Yin-mo.  She tried to tell him it would be all right to plan for the morning attack, as he thought best, but please limit his and the knight’s contact with humans as much as possible.  She felt he acknowledged her, but she could not be sure.

She searched for Thorn in her mind’s eye, but he seemed to be asleep.  Thissle, on the other hand, seemed awake and curious.  She and Bragi were half-way down the Mount on night watch.  They had been busy.  Thissle left the glamour that Lady Brunhild found.  She left it to fool the guards when Bragi stole the real statue and took it to the diggings.  After hiding the statue beside the powder, they talked to any number of men. Thissle tired from all of that. More than once she had to step up and break the spell Lady Brunhild had set like a glaze over the men’s eyes. That seemed the only way they could be sure about the men, and then Bragi went on duty with a rocket-like flare which would be the signal for all of the men to vacate the Temple.

All at once, Greta seemed to be seeing out of Thissle’s eyes and hearing with her ears.  Thissle yawned and Greta yawned with her.

“But in reality,” Bragi said.  “I think Karina is so very beautiful, it has made her shy. She is shy around men and shy about outshining all of the women around her.”

“Silly boy.”  Thissle yawned again.  “Human women live to outshine each other.  Why, for some, if they can’t outshine their neighbors, life is hardly worth living.”

Greta jumped back into her own skin.  That felt like a strange experience, and now Greta had a monster headache on top of her hunger and all of her other pains.  She did not expect to sleep.

She tried to reach out to Berry, to see how she was.  She imagined her and Hans, Fae and Hobknot all sitting in Fae’s tent worrying about her. It seemed a sweet thought, but then, Greta felt sure it was only her imagination.  Greta smiled at the thought and got struck with a vision, like the opening of a curtain on a scene that looked all too real.

She saw a young woman, screaming and terrified. She looked about Greta’s age, perhaps seventeen, but absolutely beautiful.  Greta well understood her terror.  A worm, a dragon hovered over her, looking at her like a tasty morsel.

Bragi stood there, yelling at the monster. Greta could not hear the words. But no, it was not Bragi.  She heard the young woman.

“No, father.  Please!  Hans, help me!”

It was Hans, but Bragi’s age.

“Berry!”  Greta snapped out of it, shouted the word out loud.  But how did she age so much in her big form?  She should have still looked thirteen, even if Hans looked eighteen or nineteen.  It seemed a mystery.  She would have to puzzle it out somehow, but even as she began to think, she fell fast asleep.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 2 of 3

“You really are an ordinary looking girl,” Brunhild said at last, squeezing Greta’s cheeks.  “Funny that you should have gotten so close to power and then failed at the last.”

“Whatever do you mean?”  Greta asked through fish-like lips.

“Silly girl.”  Brunhild smiled wickedly and let go, scratching Greta’s face with her nails. “My god, the Lord Mithras, blessings on him, has pledged to take over the whole world, beginning with Rome.  I shall marry the next emperor and rule the world, my dear.”

At first, the idea of Rome taking over the world brought a bad episode of Star Trek to mind; but then Greta’s eyes widened. “No,” she said.  “You cannot have him.  He will not serve you.”

“So, you know.”  Lady Brunhild mused.  “Yes, I must remember that you are no fool.  At first I thought my Lord wanted me to use Trajan’s weapons against Rome, ironic as that would have been.  But now I see that in his all-powerful turning of fate, all of this, the rebellion, certain Romans being here in this hinterland, the Quadi, all of it was simply to bring Marcus to my side.”

“No.”  Greta still shook her head.  “It won’t happen that way.”

“Why, yes, my dear.”  The lady had a flashy grin.  “And when I put my Germanic peoples together with the Romans, no force on earth shall stop us.”  She laughed. “Now don’t you think Marcus will make a good puppet?”

“He will make a good emperor.”  Greta spoke carefully.  “But he will never be the puppet you imagine.  Be careful, lest you end up serving him.”  Greta shook her head.  “Oh, I forgot.”  She spoke with determination.  “You won’t be there with him.”

Lady Brunhild slapped Greta’s face and started her lip bleeding again.  Then her smile returned and she pinched Greta’s cheeks once more.

“Now, what makes you think that?” She asked.

I’ll stop you, Greta thought, but she said nothing. All the same, Lady Brunhild laughed. She might not have been able to read Greta’s mind, but she could easily read Greta’s face.

“Let’s see your toy.”  The lady said, and scratched Greta’s face again as she turned toward the altar.  She looked carefully, and so did everyone else.  Lady Brunhild slowly circled the altar until she stood right behind it. Then she laughed again and waved her hand right through the object.  The statue wavered for a moment in the wind, like a vision of heat rising from the rocks, and then it vanished altogether.  “Very good.”  Lady Brunhild appeared impressed.  “I knew you had some power by blood, though I thought it was only a little from your grandmother.  I had no idea you were capable of such an illusion.  Such magic!”  She was not really impressed, but spoke to Greta like a mother might speak to a toddler. She came to pinch Greta’s cheeks a third time, and now it started to become very painful, but there seemed nothing Greta could do about it.  Her arms were still held tight.  “You may even have something of a lesser Spirit about you and that may be why I can’t quite catch your thoughts.”  She let go once more, and the scratch in her face began to bleed.  “But no matter.  My power has been granted to me by a god, by the Divine Mithras himself, blessings on him.  You startled me well in Boarshag, but I was not nearly so strong then as I am now. Perhaps this time I can startle you.” She giggled a very girlish giggle at her own thoughts and it made Greta want to gag.

“Mother.”  Kunther interrupted at no little risk.  “I mean, Brunhild.  These are the result of no illusion.”  He brought forward the man with the burned hands.  Brunhild touched them and closed her eyes.  Greta could see the strain on Brunhild’s face, but slowly, the blisters went away, the blackened flesh turned red and then fair again, and soon enough, all of the red had gone.  The man began to weep in gratitude, but Lady Brunhild brushed him off.  She had to catch her breath.  She clearly looked worn.

“There are other ways to burn a fool than by a spurious statue,” Brunhild said.  “As you told me, he dropped the statue, but the fire stayed on his hands.”

“That’s true.”  Several men confirmed, and Lady Brunhild brushed off any further discussion on that matter as well and turned back to Greta.  Greta steeled herself, calmed her insides and wondered what would happen next.

“That armor you manifested that day in Boarshag.  I would have it.”  She came right out with it.

“It is not mine to give.”  Greta responded.  It was hers, but only in her lifetime.  In truth, it belonged to her greater self, to the Kairos, and got passed down from Traveler to Traveler, from life to life.

“Manifest it now!”  Greta felt the power of Lady Brunhild’s demand hit like a brick.  It struck her mind and twisted her gut. Greta had no power like that.  She could not resist, but the armor resisted. It remained rooted too deep in the works of the gods of old.  Lady Brunhild might kill her, Greta thought, but the woman would never have the armor.

“Now!”  The Lady got impatient, and Greta could see her straining.  She forced the issue and Greta nearly went unconscious.  Then voices came into Greta’s head.

“She would do better if she relaxed and kept herself free of her emotions and impatient will.”  Danna spoke through time.

“I would not suggest it, though.”  Salacia quipped.

“Go ahead and show her the armor.”  Nameless finished.  “Trust.  You are the Kairos now.”

Greta did not exactly understand what Nameless meant by that, but she understood that her work throughout history was always a struggle, full of human foibles and failings.  Invariably she had to trust in the source, as the gods used to call it. She knew now, and for the last hundred and fifty years or so, what she had always known but was never allowed to speak about.  She knew what Gerraint knew, what Arthur learned despite Merlin, and what Festuscato knew as well.  She had to trust in the source, now called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which is to say, the God of the gods.  She called to her armor, and the call sounded strong, though she had nearly fallen into a coma.  She could always call for her armor, she knew, whether she found herself beneath the ocean or sucked into the vacuum of space, her voice would make the sound, and her armor would come.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 1 of 3

Something bothered Gregor.  “And where will you be in all of this?” he asked.

“I have to confront the Lady Brunhild,” Greta said.  “Which reminds me, Thissle.  Under no circumstances are you to be in the same room as Lady Brunhild.”  She turned to Bragi.  “I do not know the extent of her powers, but I will not risk Thissle, Okay?”

Bragi nodded again.

“I understand, my Lady,” Thissle said.  “I don’t like witches.  No, no, no.”

“She said that right,” Bragi interjected. “Lady Brunhild is a witch.  She bewitched us all.  I know you have the sight, but you have no power like hers.”

“She turned one man into a dog,” Gregor said. The others looked at him as if he had lost all sense, but he insisted.  “It is true.  Hagen confronted her and she turned him into a dog right in front of my eyes.”

“You can’t confront her,” Bragi said.

“But I am the only one who can,” Greta responded. “And this rebellion will never be over until Lady Brunhild is finished, one way or the other.”

“Bragi.”  The guard stuck his head in the door.  “The Lady is returning from the Quadi camp.  You need to get out of there before Kunther finds you.”

Greta gave her brother a last hug.  “Good luck,” she said.  “Take care of my Thissle.”  Greta let go, and Bragi left with the invisible Thissle beside him. The door got shut and bolted once again.

After that, Vasen became full of questions for Thorn. Curiously, no one questioned her authority over these gnomes except for Vasen’s one comment near the end.

“Truly you are Mother Greta.”  Gregor started it.  “Only the woman of the ways would know such things.”

Vasen shook his head.  “There is more here than mere tales of the woman of the ways.”

“Yes, that’s right.  Much more.”  Thorn started, but Greta hushed him.

“You don’t want to be a tale teller,” she said, as she went over to examine a tapestry on the wall.  Thorn shrugged, but got the message and got quiet.

“There is a lot of fairy work in the wall hanging,” Thorn said after a while.  “I can smell it.

“Yes,” Greta agreed.  “Grandfather Woden had it on the wall when this served as his hunting lodge.  The haunted forest started as his hunting preserve, you know.”  Thorn smiled.  Greta rolled her eyes and slapped her hand to her mouth almost hard enough to start it bleeding again.

“Grandfather Woden?”  Vasen caught it.

“The wise woman keeps silent, but the fool’s tongue cannot keep still,” Greta said through her fingers just before they heard a sound at the door.  “Thorn. Behind the tapestry.”  The little one complied.

Four guards stepped in and then stepped aside to let Lady Brunhild enter.  She looked as haughty and cruel as ever, Greta thought, yet something else as well. It disturbed Greta to look at the woman because she could not pinpoint what was wrong with the picture.

Lady Brunhild glanced at Greta, looked at Gregor who had a scowl on his face, and looked briefly at Finbear who did not look sure he knew what was going on.  Vasen turned his back on the Lady, but she stared at him, and he knew it as everyone saw the back of his neck turn red.  She walked casually to the tapestry and examined it, as if she sensed something.

“An exquisite piece of work,” she said. “Don’t you think?”  Greta heard something different about the woman’s voice as well, but it still eluded Greta’s grasp.

“Fairy work, one might say.”  Greta spoke pleasantly.  “It is very finely done.”

“Indeed,” the lady said.  Her hand came away from the tapestry to focus more fully on Greta. “I have been smelling the annoying things all over the Quadi camp all day.  No wonder they were in no condition this morning to mount an attack.”  She took a few steps closer and looked at Greta as if trying to penetrate her mind, but Greta, or more precisely, the Kairos would not let her in.  “Why do I feel you know something about all of this?” she asked.

Greta shrugged and smiled.  The woman would not read her thoughts, and after a moment, Lady Brunhild gave up trying.  She turned quickly toward the door.

“Bring her,” the Lady commanded.  Two men grabbed Greta roughly and seemed to delight in dragging Greta into the sanctuary.  It felt like Vedix all over again.  They returned to the alter which got towered over by the Odin statue, and there the men held her and did not let her so much as touch the scab forming on her lip. Greta saw her own small statue still on the altar, but then she realized it was only a glamour left by Thissle to fool the men.  The real statue had already gone.

Kunther also stood there along with a half dozen other men, including the man with the burned hands.  “Mother.”  He started to speak but became silent when she looked up at him, sharply.

“You must remember to call me Brunhild, Kunther dear, now that I am younger than you, Mother will not do.”  She said it.  That was it!  Lady Brunhild was no longer an elderly woman in her late fifties.  She was now no older than twenty-five, or perhaps twenty, and she spoke as if she expected to get even younger.  She walked up to Greta and squeezed Greta’s cheeks with her boney fingers. She caught the moment of recognition on Greta’s face and thought she might try once more to penetrate Greta’s mind; but no way she could.  Lady Brunhild had obviously gained a great deal of power and strength since their last meeting.  She was probably even more powerful than the Hag at that point, but the Traveler knew too much about the future.  Greta’s mind had been covered under the contract, so to speak, that the ancient gods in unison made millennia ago in the halls of Karnak.  It was the same contract which allowed her to manifest a power far beyond her natural abilities in relation to the little ones for whom she had been made responsible at that same meeting.  For Brunhild, no matter how strong, the attempt to read Greta’s mind became like a fly attempting to penetrate a concrete wall.