Reflections Flern-5 part 1 of 3

The following day, progress slowed, and Flern thought they could not go any slower. One wagon busted a wheel and that put any number of men out of commission for a time. The rest of the train eventually had to stop and wait for them to catch up. In the late morning, the whole train stopped and while the women cooked, the men went to hunt. Mostly, they found rabbits and pigeons, but it would suffice for a time. Because of the sparse game, several men stayed out on horseback and continued to look for bigger animals. They came into the camp after dark that evening, but they had managed to find an Auguar, a European buffalo, and that would sustain everyone for a day or two.

“You know, sometimes Wlvn has nothing to eat at all,” Flern said casually over supper. Pinn and Thrud heard and merely nodded.

“That was the end of the third day,” Vinnu reminded everyone. “Do you think the Jaccar will really come after us?” Among the girls, Vinnu was the soft and sweet one who hated confrontation of any kind

“Yes.” Tird said with some trembling in his voice. Among the boys, Tird was the worrier, and not the most courageous of souls.

Then Flern did not sleep well at all that night, despite her thoughts about dreamy Kined. Poor Wlvn rested on an island in a swamp, and she felt that surely the night creatures would catch him, and maybe eat him.

Flern awoke with a gurgling in her throat. She had to lean to the side to let the water drain from her mouth. Curiously, while uncomfortable, it did not restrict her breathing in the slightest.

“Are you well?” Arania stood right there to ask. Flern nodded, but then she understood. Njord, God of the Sea had just laid his hands on Wlvn, and it reflected in her just like all of the other gifts Wlvn received. She shook her head clear of her sleepies and became most pleasant during breakfast, but she wondered when this gift giving was going to stop. She felt afraid of what she could do already, and she worried about what the others might really think, especially Kined.

The next day seemed very much the same as the first, and in fact the countryside hardly changed a bit since the day they crossed the river. “So much for travel broadening the mind,” Flern said softly, but Kined heard and smiled. All that time, Kined rode beside Flern, but he said almost nothing. They looked at each other now and then, and smiled when they were seen, but the conversation became limited to commentary on the others and on the travelers. Once, Kined pointed out that Trell and Arania seemed to be hitting it off rather well, and Flern responded that she hoped so, but that became the end of that line of thought for the moment.

Around three in the afternoon, Flern cried out. Kined stayed right there, but Flern could hardly explain herself. “No, it’s alright,” she kept saying. Wlvn started breathing underwater, and after that, Flern smiled and enjoyed the ride, because for her it acted like a holographic helmet from the far future. It felt better than white water rafting, and she stayed in no danger at all. When it finished, Flern glowed again for a little bit. Kined simply looked at her. “Frigga.” Flern said, without any further explanation.

“Well, you better come.” Kined told her, and she followed him, having completely missed their arrival at the village. “Vilder and Pinn think you should be there.”

“Me?”

“Your father is the chief negotiator for the village. Chances are some of these village people know your father, and you by extension.”

“Oh, of course.” That made sense. She had her father’s auburn-red hair, and the same eyes as well.

When they arrived, they found an argument already going on. The villagers complained that the travelers had trodden over two newly planted fields. The travelers apologized, but only wanted a place to rest for a time, and trade. Vilder and Pinn stood back and held their tongues. They knew it would not be their place to get in the middle of whatever the elders wanted to say. In that respect, Flern, and all of her companions, were sort of like children, and they knew it well enough.

“You, come. Come.” Karenski stood there and pointed straight at Flern. Flern shied away, but Karenski insisted. “Come. Tell.”

Vilder and Pinn turned their heads to stare at her, and Flern knew then that it was unavoidable. She reached for Pinn’s hand and took Kined with her other hand to drag them forward. Vilder followed.

The village men stood, wary of some Traveler trick, and unhappy already in the extreme. Flern took a moment to compose herself. She saw the travelers had parked on this side of the river ford, and the village sat on the other side of the ford. To be sure, the plowed fields on the Traveler side of the river looked like little more than mud flats, but still…

“You may know my father.” Flern said, coming out with the first thing to enter her mind. “Our village is the first on the Dinester where it runs wide and deep.” She pointed in a general northeasterly direction. “You may know the small hill and cliff to the river that marks our land.”

Several of the villagers paused in their anger, and one in particular took a closer look at this girl. “I believe I do know your father,” he said. “How is it you are with these rabble?”

Flern put on her most serious expression. “The Jaccar have come,” she said, and then she had to wait while the villagers got over their fright. “But we have escaped, some fourteen of us young people, to find men and weapons to help set our village free.”

“The Jaccar?”

Flern nodded and looked at Vilder and Pinn. “Most of us believe the Wicca will send men after us to try and stop us.”

“What?”

“Why would they do that?”

“Because they fear us. Because they know if we are able to get enough men and weapons, we will be able to defeat them and drive them back to the east from whence they came.”

“Are you sure?” Karenski asked.

Flern shrugged. “Let the travelers camp in a semi-circle on this side of the ford, parking their wagons close together like a wall. They will be the first line for the village against the Jaccar, and I am sure they will work with you to help repair any damage they may have accidentally caused to your fields. Then, maybe the village will share bread with the travelers for their willingness to do right by your fields and stand out front against the enemy. Sharing your best bread would not be too much to ask.” Flern got quiet and looked at her feet. That had been very hard for her. She did not see the village elder who thought he knew her father smile. That man only had to look once at the other elders behind to see the nods.

“We will do this thing,” he said and held out his hand. When there was a pause, Flern looked up and found Karenski eyeing her. She could almost see the wheels spinning in his head that maybe his people would just move on and leave the young people and this village well behind, thus avoiding the Jaccar altogether. But Flern knew that the travelers had come a long way and had been on the trail for some time. They were all worn out and desperately needed a time of rest. Besides, the offer of bread for no more work than simply fixing a couple of trodden fields and camping where they planned to camp anyway was too good to refuse.

“We will do this thing.” He shook hands with the village elder.

“And my friends and I will also help with the fields.” Vilder interjected. “We know something about growing grain.” He said this to Karenski, but the village elders looked happiest to hear that.

“For your kindness to us, children.” Pinn added with a smile, and Karenski paused briefly before he let out a belly laugh.

Flern, meanwhile, still held Kined’s hand as she had backed away from the center of attention. She looked up at the young man and asked an honest, heartfelt question. “Did I do all right?”

Kined just smiled and pulled her in close and kissed her for some time; and this time, Flern was not sure if her right foot ever touched the ground.

That evening, the young people stayed with the travelers, though they were invited to go into the village if they wished. Flern made a comment about how Wlvn finally arrived in their village, but no one heard her that time. Arania, getting adjusted to the girls, talked up a storm, not like Elleya, Flern thought, but close enough. Of course, she talked mostly of Trell, and the girls were all kind to listen; but then she also talked about getting back at the Jaccar and how she hoped the men would finally find the courage to do something.

“Oh, Flern always says you can’t count on a bunch of lazy men,” Thrud interjected.

“Oh yes,” Vinnu added. “Flern made us learn to ride horses and learn how to shoot a bow and arrows.” Flern imagined that Arania probably learned to ride when she was young, but the girl looked impressed by the idea of learning to shoot a bow.

“I’m not very good at it,” Elluin admitted.

“Better than Thrud.” Both Pinn and Flern spoke at the same time, and Thrud just stuck her tongue out at them and gave them the raspberries, even if it was true. With that, the last hour of daylight got spent teaching Arania how to string a bow and shoot at a target. Flern’s assessment was the girl was going to need practice.

“But did you really stand on a horse’s back and shoot a man so far away he looked smaller than your hand?”

“It wasn’t me.” Flern said, and she looked up at Pinn, Vinnu and Thrud. “Not exactly.” Flern did not bother to look over at Elluin. She figured that Elluin probably did not follow the conversation in any case.

That night, Flern woke briefly and staggered over to the pot, but she did not have to go. She looked at the others before she mumbled to herself. “Thor.” She went back to bed without ever fully waking up.

The next morning, a misty fog came up from the river. The girls crossed into the village and felt right at home, primarily because it looked like home. The boys went out into the fields and worked as hard as they could because everyone said it was going to rain and they wanted the fields done before the water came down.

When the rain started to pour, the boys found the girls in the common house at the center of the village—the big place where the village feasted when there was some reason for a feast. There would be a feast that evening, and they all made the obligatory noises about how the food would all be soggy, while they realized that in truth, it would probably be very good, and very much like home cooking for them.

Vincas, the local girl, daughter of the village elder Venislav, volunteered to show the boys the various houses to which they had been assigned. Drud and Bunder were going to one house, Tiren and Kined to another, Vilder and Gunder to a third, and Fritt and Tird would stay with her. She smiled at that thought, her being around sixteen or so, even if it was hard to tell, her being a chunky girl. Thrud nudged Flern when Vincas stood beside Fritt the Fat and whispered, “Don’t they make a lovely couple?” Flern just scolded her friend with her eyes.

Reflections Flern-4 part 3 of 3

While they waited, Flern found herself walking with Elluin; a girl that Flern had hardly seen in the last year since Elluin seemed determined to stick by Drud. To be sure, Flern would have walked with anyone at that point to get out from the scrutiny of the travelers. She felt sure that there were some who did not believe their tales and were probably quick to accuse them of being boastful liars. Flern wanted no part of that argument and the trouble it might cause. So, she walked beside the stately, blonde beauty, and made small talk, until Flern asked a question.

“Why did you never stay with Kined? He seemed to love you well enough.” Flern could not help herself. Kined stayed generally on her mind those days.

Elluin looked down at Flern and then looked at her hands which she clasped in front of her dress as she walked. “Because he was never really interested in me,” she said. “Drud loves me. I know he does, but who else would have me? Not Kined.”

“What do you mean, not Kined?” Flern did not understand this girl. Kined was bright, kind and very loving. Poor Elluin had the lowest self-esteem Flern had ever seen. “But Drud is very unkind to you.” Flern wanted to point out that Drud beat the poor girl, but she dared not say it out loud.

“Only when I am bad,” Elluin said. “Like my father.” A light went off in Flern’s head. Suddenly she understood something she had never seen before, and she wanted to say something about it, but she had to ask something else, first.

“But why not Kined? He loves you well enough.”

“No.” Elluin denied it. “Whenever I was with Kined, all he talked about was you, but he said you had your hands full since childhood, and someday you would marry Trell or Fritt or Tird and that would be that.”

“What?”

“Aren’t you going to marry Trell?” Elluin asked, and Flern held her hair out as if it was sticking straight up. She made a face, and Elluin smiled. “Well, Fritt then.” Flern puffed her cheeks and put her arms out to her side like she was holding her girth and she waddled a little for the effect, and Elluin did smile, but covered her mouth as if smiling might be a bad thing for which she should be beaten. “Well, Tird?”

“Please!” Flern’s word said that idea would be the most ridiculous of all. “He is such a Tird,” she said, without the explanation.

“So then…” Elluin started to speak; but paused to put her finger to her chin to tap it, as if she tried to figure something out. She stopped walking and Flern stopped with her. They were in among some trees, away from the camp, and Flern thought they honestly had wandered far enough. Of course, Flern kept thinking about poor Elluin being beaten by her father and the Kined issue had not yet added up in her mind; but Elluin came to a decision.

“Come on.” She took Flern by the arm, let out a real smile, and turned them straight for the camp. Unfortunately, it was not exactly on the same path by which they arrived among the trees, and after only three steps, both girls fell up to the waist in a puddle of muck. At first, they laughed about it and tried reaching for the solid ground to pull themselves out, but that proved impossible. The mud started dragging them down.

“Help! Help!” They shouted and were very lucky they had not walked farther than they did. Kined, in fact, became the first to arrive, having watched the two of them wander off, side by side. He went straight for Flern, which surprised her a little, and he pulled a branch down from the nearest tree and told her to hold on as others came to help Elluin. Flern held tight to the branch and came a little bit out of the muck, though the muck seemed reluctant to give her up. But then Kined could catch her hands and between his pulling and tugging, and Flern’s squirming and kicking, he managed to get her free.

Poor Flern immediately embraced him. That had been a terrifying experience in its way. Kined held her with a good will, and then she looked up into his sparkling blue eyes and he looked down into her fawn-colored eyes, and they kissed, and Flern lifted her right foot and pounded her toe into the dirt several times before they parted.

“You are glowing,” Kined said. And Flern backed up a little to let her one hand hold tight to his hand while her other hand tried in vain to wipe the smile off her face.

“I’m not surprised.” She thought he was only kidding.

“No. I mean you are really glowing,” Kined assured her.

“What?” Flern looked at her hands and indeed, they glowed ever so slightly. “Wlvn is tasting his golden apple desert,” she said without explanation. She looked up at Kined who looked content just to watch her glow. “Do you mind if I change?” she asked, considering how the glow failed to take away all the muck.

“You mean with the swords and stuff?” Kined needed clarification.

“Uh-huh.” Flern nodded. “I don’t have another spare dress.” Kined nodded in return, and he only got a little startled when Flern became instantly clothed in her armor and the dress went away. He looked a little sad that there was no moment, however brief, when he might catch her with nothing on at all, but Flern looked curiously at her feet. She stood barefoot, she decided, because her legs needed cleaning from all that muck. “You don’t mind?” she asked, while Kined still looked her up and down. He said nothing, but clearly, he did not mind at all. Flern turned with him, took a firm hold on his hand, and bumped right into Karenski and several of his men. Karenski reached out to see if her glow could be touched, and though it could not be touched, he seemed satisfied with something, and perhaps with many things. Flern just started thinking that she would probably glow for several hours when Karenski spoke.

“Maybe we help you with your village. Maybe,” he said, and they all went back to camp.

Flern held tight to Kined’s hand the whole way and smiled as much as her face allowed. With great reluctance, she let go of his hand in the end and went into the tent with the women where she could wash her feet and legs.

They set up a curtain to wall off part of the tent against unannounced visitors, and Elluin and Flern stripped down to nothing and confirmed that Flern glowed from everywhere. Vinnu seemed especially taken by Flern’s under things. “Fairy weave,” Flern called it, though she did not exactly understand the term.

“Whatever it is, the mud won’t stick to it.” Vinnu said, and everyone had to touch it and check it out with appropriate “ooos and aaahs.”

As soon as Flern felt human again, she had a thought about fairies and about Badl, who said he belonged to Wlvn in some way, and she called out for her dress. Her armor and weapons went away, but the dress arrived, and it appeared cleaned and pressed, not only looking like it never got dirty, but indeed, like it had been made brand new. Arania fell to her knees before this glowing girl with such great magic, but Flern made her stand and then took that moment to yell at everyone.

“Just because Vrya has been kind to me, that does not mean anything. I think she just wants to be sure we succeed against the Jaccar, that’s all. She happened to pick me, but she might have easily picked any one of you. Don’t start thinking it makes me special in any way. I’m still just Flern, and honestly, I almost wish she had picked one of you.” Though not strictly true, and Flern, and at least Pinn knew it, it got Arania to stand up and it felt like just the sort of thing Flern would say. The others did not doubt that Flern honestly wished the goddess had picked someone else.

“She probably picked you because you did not want to be picked,” Thrud said.  She meant it as a joke, but one that stayed close to the truth.

“They say I glowed for three days when Gunder asked me to marry him, but I didn’t glow like that,” Vinnu pointed out.

“It will wear off,” Flern growled, and she got dressed and went to curl up on the nearest blanket.

“Bed.” Pinn announced, and everyone complied but for the little conversations that went on for some time. Arania participated in little of the conversation, though, because she was going to sleep beside Flern and watch to see if the glow indeed wore off.

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

MONDAY

They arrive at a village and after negotiating, they settled in for a while, to wait. They fear the Jaccar are coming, and the forgotten one, Bunder, makes his move.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

Reflections Flern-4 part 2 of 3

Around three, during the hot part of the day which Flern thought plenty hot for the first of May, they saw a train of people down toward the bottom of a little hill and debated vigorously about whether to join those people or avoid them at all costs. The vote to join them won easily, since the train appeared headed in their general direction.

“Besides, I though part of the plan was to get people who might be willing to help us against the Jaccar,” Pinn said. They got all bunched up on top of their little hill by that time and thought nothing about whether they were seen. They supposed the people in the train might be wondering the same sorts of things about them, whether to contact the people on the hill or ignore them and hope they went away. The gang on the hill certainly did not want any trouble. But, even as the sound of Pinn’s voice finished echoing across the hillside, two dozen men on horseback with spears came out of nowhere, virtually up out of the ground, and they surrounded the young people.

Everyone froze, afraid to say or do anything in the face of so many spears; until an older man detached himself from the crowd of spears and rode up to the group. He looked hard at Pinn, Flern, Vilder, Tiren, Thrud, and Vinnu who looked away for fear. He stopped in front of big Gunder. The man’s long gray hair was slicked back with sweat. He had green stripes painted on his cheeks, and Flern thought he looked mean.

“You are not Jaccar,” he said. His accent sounded thick, but his words were understandable.

“Do we look like Jaccar?” Thrud asked, with a sharpness that betrayed her nervousness. Normally, her sarcasm got delivered deadpan.

“I bet Flern killed a dozen Jaccar all by herself.” Gunder said and pointed. The old man looked up, but Flern shook her head.

“It wasn’t me,” she said, and technically it was not her flesh and blood that did it.

“Our village just got overrun with Jaccar.” Vilder spoke, while Pinn reached out for Flern’s hand. “We escaped, and now we are seeking the weapons and friends to help us set our village free.”

The old man paused to scratch his beard. “Children.” He pronounced the word with some disdain. “Come.” And that was it. They were escorted to the train by the armed men, and rode together, mostly in silence for another two hours, flanked at all times by men until the train halted for the night.

The old man returned after they stopped and conferred with the chief guard before he approached the group. “You are no danger.” The old man concluded. “Day after tomorrow, we will come to the Piddy River. There is a village there. Maybe they will be your friends with weapons. Now, come. You stay with us, and we eat.”

Flern and Kined started to dismount but paused when the others did not move.

“Come, come.” The old man said and tried to smile. It was hard to tell under the bush he had for a moustache. “Young boys like to eat. Come eat and you tell us your story.” Trell, Fritt and Tird got down, but the rest waited a second longer until Vilder and Pinn dismounted together. They came to a big tent, one still being set up, and they smelled the cooking fires already burning and roasting something for supper. They got ropes with which to hobble the horses and got escorted into the big tent, but not before Flern had a chance to take a good look around.

Flern had thought at first that these people might be refugees from some other village the Jaccar attacked, but now she saw that she was mistaken. The dozen wagons pulled by pairs of oxen were little houses built on top of the wagon. She decided that these people were not settled people, and that notion got confirmed when the old man finally introduced himself.

“I am Karenski. We are travelers. We have fought the Jaccar on two occasions and moved on from those places. They push, always we move west, but they follow, and some say soon there will be no more west to go.”

“Someone needs to push them back.” Strawhead Trell was the one who said that, and the old man gave him a strange look, even as a young girl came in under the tent door and interrupted them all.

“That is what I keep telling my father, but he says I am just a girl and don’t understand.” Flern let out a little “Grrr,” and Kined patted her hand to keep her quiet.

“My daughter, Arania.” The old man made the introduction. “She is your age, a child.” The girl looked to be about fifteen, or sixteen at the most which made her younger than everyone, but this old man seemed determined to lump them all under the same umbrella of being children, and who were they to argue?

“You are welcome in our tent,” Arania said, in her formal best, and she smiled, but it seemed to be for Trell.

“Now, tell while we wait for the food.” The old man insisted as his daughter took a seat beside him, and Vilder, with a little help from Pinn, told of their adventure thus far. At first, Flern shook her head violently, but she need not have worried about Vilder revealing anything that might be best kept secret. On the other hand, Flern turned red by the end of the telling and refused to look at anyone. Vilder credited her with the raid on the village, the kindness of the naiad, saying that she and the naiad appeared to be old friends. And he praised her for killing both Jaccar on the following morning. Flern turned beet red at last, but at least she did not have to explain about the Princess. When they were finished, Arania wept softly and Karenski comforted her.

“Her mother was killed by the Jaccar,” he said, all the while never taking his eyes off Flern. “We raided them back, but you cannot kill them all. I think they are without number.” Flern felt grateful, then, because several of women and several men brought in plenty of food for all and stayed to join in the meal. It made their quarters rather tight because the big tent was really built to accommodate maybe a dozen or so. There were twice as many at present for that meal and they had to avoid bumping elbows.

After they had begun to feast, Karenski asked a simple question, still not having taken his eyes off of Flern. “Do the young men confirm this tale I have heard of this woman in your midst?”

Every man in the group nodded, and Kined took a breath. Flern who continued to look down, being too embarrassed to look up, stomped on Kined’s foot to quiet him, but he spoke up anyway. “She is friends with Vrya, goddess of love and war. It was the goddess who warned her and us of the Jaccar, and I am sure she also helped our escape.”

“Ah!” Karenski said. “The new lady of Aesgard.” Far from disbelieving what Kined said, this seemed to clarify some of the other questions in his mind. “You are of Vanheim, then?” He asked, but the question got directed at Flern.

“I am an independent,” Flern said, quietly. “I seek the well-being of all the gods.”

Karenski pursed his lips and nodded. “Very wise for one so young,” he said, and then he turned the conversation to other matters. He spoke of the hunt and the way of the bear and the beaver. He did pause now and then to glance at Flern after that, but he also got occupied with glancing at Trell and his daughter who seemed to be having their own glancing contest going on. It became quite a dance of the eyes.

After supper, the young people vacated the big tent while suitable arrangements were made for them to sleep in the night. The girls got to be housed with Arania, and the boys were to be given a fire, outdoors. The weather stayed good, not threatening rain, so the arrangement felt more than acceptable.

Reflections Flern-4 part 1 of 3

Flern nodded. “There are other lives,” she said. “But I don’t remember most of them, you understand.”

“But some of them are men, aren’t they?’ Pinn became very insightful. “Like maybe this Wolven you sometimes talk about?” It might have been a question.

“Wlvn.” Flern nodded and tried to say the name the right way, the way she had practiced it. It came out sounding more like “Ulvin.” “But he is from the past, about five hundred and eighty-six years ago.”

“I thought it might be something like that,” Pinn said, before she grinned a little. “I had an imaginary boyfriend when I was younger, but mine wasn’t real.”

“But yours did not turn out to be yourself from long ago,” Flern countered.

“It was me, in a way,” Pinn said, wisely, and Flern understood. They sat and watched the arguments for a while longer before Pinn spoke again. “So, can I meet this Wulvin? I assume you can find him the way you found the Princess.”

“Maybe someday.” Flern shifted in her seat and felt a bit uncomfortable about it all. “But only if the circumstances are right.” That was not strictly true, but she felt she had to explain, and only wished Vilder could hear as well. They were the leaders of this expedition and needed to know how it worked. “You need to tell Vilder. I can’t just make the Princess show up because someone thinks she might be needed for some reason.” Pinn raised her eyebrows again, so Flern continued. “This is my life. None of the others—the other lives I have lived don’t have any business being here at all. I am the one who has to go over the mountains and fetch the weapons—the bronze. I have to try and raise an army and come back and face the Wicca and her Jaccar warriors. That has to be me, and I have to make all of the decisions along the way, myself.” Flern dropped her eyes and yanked out a handful of grass. She slowly let it run out between her fingers as she finished her thought. “No other life is going to die in my lifetime and in my world. If it is my fate to die on this journey, I have to be there to do it.”

Pinn lowered her eyebrows. “A morbid thought.” She patted Flern’s hand and Flern took that action to grab Pinn’s hand and look at her straight on.

“I’m still just Flern, just a girl who started from nothing like any other person in the world. Pinn, we were babies together. I didn’t even know I had any other lifetimes until just a short time ago, and really not until I talked to Mother Vrya.”

“Mother Vrya?”

“Not for a couple of thousand years, but it is not what you think.” Flern honestly could not remember exactly when Nameless would be born, but she felt that was fine, because she decided it would be best if she avoided too many details about that life.

“The goddess of love will be your mother?”

“It’s not what you think.” Flern repeated herself.

Pinn nodded. “But it is what some of the others are beginning to think,” she said.

“Well, don’t let them.” Flern sounded determined and hoped Pinn would catch it. Flern dropped her eyes again. “I couldn’t stand it if everybody started treating me different—if everybody stopped being my friends.”

“How about if Kined started to think of you differently?” Pinn asked. Pinn nudged Flern in the ribs, even if it was not a physical nudge.

“Grrr.” Flern responded in her way before she confessed. “I wouldn’t mind if he thought of me differently. But not like that. Really, Pinn, sit on them if you have to.”

“I understand,” Pinn said. She patted Flern’s hand again before she took hers back to wrap her arms around her knees. “So, Mother Vrya. What is the goddess like?”

Flern smiled, broadly. “Lovely, and a wonderful person. You would like her, and I am sure she would like you very much.” Flern paused and imitated Pinn in raising her own eyebrows. “She probably already does, I suppose.”

Pinn nodded. “I guessed as much. You know, I used to pray to her every day when I was little.” Flern looked at her friend. Pinn had a big nose, little, squinty green eyes and lips which were too thick for her face. She kept her ordinary brown colored hair cut off at the shoulders because otherwise it would be as ratty and unmanageable as Strawhead’s. She might not be ugly, exactly, but out of all the girls, she was certainly the farthest away from pretty. Flern looked over at the boys. Vilder, on the other hand, had the clean-cut, sculpted look of a quarterback, or maybe a model for a trashy romance novel.

“She gave you Vilder,” Flern said in all seriousness.

Pinn let a few little tears well up in her eyes. “I know. It is all I ever wanted.”

Flern leaned over and hugged her friend. She felt happy for Pinn, and Pinn hugged Flern right back. They would remain friends, no matter what. They stood together without another word and got into the middle of how to cook the liver without a pot to boil it or a pan to fry it.

They did not leave that place until noon, and by then Flern started chomping at the bit as surely as the horses. She said if two of the Jaccar could swim to this side of the river, despite the assurances of the naiad, maybe others could, too, and they were risking another confrontation every minute they stayed. “And maybe this time one of us will get hurt,” Tird added, and Vinnu stood right there to agree with him.

“Yes, but maybe those two just wound up on our side of the river after being dumped. Maybe the naiad did not want to drown them. She seemed nice, I think,” Elluin offered.

“I feel we can trust her. She did seem nice,” Kined agreed.

Flern frowned but did not growl. Odin’s permission meant a lot. She doubted that even any of the gods would dare go against that; but still, she felt anxious and got worse by the hour. Vilder ended the discussion, however, when he became very practical.

“We have a long way to go and no telling when we might get a next meal. It is only sensible to take as much of this animal with us that we can safely smoke and burn in the short time we have.”

“Salmonella on a stick.” Doctor Mishka called it, but Flern deliberately did not listen to any of her other lifetimes at the moment. She felt seriously afraid of losing her friends, and maybe losing herself in the mix of so many lives and so much information. She did not want to stop being Flern, and she did not want to be alone.

They rode through the afternoon, though never at the pace Flern wanted. She knew they had no spirit guide like Badl to take them by the short cuts, so she feared the ground they covered could be made up easily by the Jaccar who were well practiced at moving in force at great speeds. She consoled herself by thinking that at least they were not being hunted by night creatures, slim consolation as that was. It would not be hard to understand why she did not sleep well that night in the wilderness. She dreamed about night creatures, and some of them were werewolves, and some of them were giants, and all they wanted to do was eat her friends and laugh at her in her loneliness.

The following day repeated the first, a slow and regular pace that did not help Flern’s stress. The area remained unchanged, being a gentle, rolling landscape where the meadows, grasslands and occasional swampy areas got broken up by mixed forests of oak and fir. The girls all enjoyed the ride, pointed out the lovely spring flowers at every chance, and the boys got frisky, not seeing the spring in the flowers but feeling it in their bones. The couples had agreed for the sake of Flern and the single young men that they would camp with separate boy’s and girl’s areas, but that did not keep the couples from riding side by side and whispering sweet thoughts all day long.

Pinn stayed all day beside Vilder in front, and Bunder brought up the rear, so sometimes it felt hard to remember that he was there. Thrud and Tiren came next to the front, but Vinnu and big Gunder wandered off sometimes into the woods. Flern’s stooges were not averse to showing off, pretending to be the great horsemen, which they were not. It actually became comical and entertaining, but it would have become really annoying if Flern did not have Kined beside her for most of the morning to offer his color commentary. Flern and Kined talked softly, but sadly all that day, and it was nearly all about her clowns and the fact that Elluin had seemingly trained her horse to ride a half step behind Drud. Flern found that disgusting. Kined called it sad.

They finished off the deer at lunch and Vilder started talking like he might stop them around the middle of the afternoon so they could hunt. Flern objected strongly. This was day two. The naiad only promised one more day and then the Jaccar would surely be after them.

“You don’t really think the Jaccar will follow us, do you?” Drud said, and he said it as if to suggest that Flern might be crazy to think it.

“I do,” Flern said, despite the threat of ridicule. The group actually split on that possibility, about down the middle. “They know what we are doing. The Wicca cannot afford to let us escape and raise a resistance against her. It will make her further expansion to the west much more difficult.”

“But we have come so far,” Thrud insisted. “Surely they would not come this far just for us.”

“Some have escaped before,” Kined pointed out, and Flern nearly growled at him. She counted on his support.

“A few ragged refugees,” Flern countered. “The Wicca probably let them go to spread fear of the Jaccar. That would make her job easier. That is not what we are about.”

Once again, Vilder ended the argument by being very practical. “Whether they follow or not, we still need to eat. We will have to stop long enough to hunt and gather.” Still, Flern pushed for them to ride as far as possible, and she spent the early afternoon wondering if Badl might still be alive and around somewhere, and if maybe she could find him, and he could lead them by swifter spirit ways so they could put some real distance between them and the Jaccar.

Reflections Flern-3 part 3 of 3

Flern woke when she heard a rustle in the bushes not far from where she and the other girls slept. She got up slowly, thinking at first that one of the horses may have wandered into the woods and away from the open, grassy area in which they rested. To be sure, the grassy area where they slept came merely at the edge of the grassland that stretched all of the way back to the river. They stopped when they reached the trees. Common sense told her if the horse was inclined to wander anywhere it would be deeper into the grasses, yet the rustling came from the woods, and it sounded large. She thought of a horse, in part, because she did not really want to consider the other possibilities. Several had been afraid the horses might wander off in the night, but Pinn had kept the rope Diogenes found, and it seemed long enough to tie all fourteen horses to the rope and tie the rope to a tree. So, it could not be a horse, Flern thought to herself. She reached for her sword and long knife as a comfort. She certainly did not know how to use them. Then she supposed that the horses were not tied comfortably. The rope did not seem long enough for that. One horse might have pulled free, or it might not have been tied well in the first place.

Flern heard the rustling again. The rustling came from the leaves. Vinnu stuck her head up to listen. “A bear?” Vinnu asked in a shaky whisper. Flern just shook her head, though whatever it was, it had to be big. She imagined night creature big. She looked around the camp. Fritt, Trell and Tird were missing. Flern supposed it could be them, but why didn’t they just show themselves? Unless they were joking around.

Flern put down her blades and reached into the back of her cloak. She found the bow there, the one the Princess used in town. A true, ebony wood, elf bow, with plenty of arrows, and Flern at least felt she knew something about using the weapon. She notched an arrow and backed up from the sound to listen once more.

“What’s up?” Tiren called from the far side of the fire, and he called much too loud.

“Quiet!” Vinnu hushed him with even more volume, and everyone started to stir. At once there came a great rustling of leaves. Two Jaccar stepped out from the trees. They looked like they had spent half the night underwater. One charged the campfire, but Flern’s arrow caught the man dead center. At that distance, she could hardly miss. Kined and Tiren jumped on the man, and he did not live long. The other man went for the horses, and brandishing a blade, he cut one free. He mounted on the run like a well-trained horseman, and everyone started yelling at once, but Flern no longer stood there. The Princess came to take her place.

The Princess called to her weapons, and they rose up, the sword attaching to her back, so it stuck out over her left shoulder, and her long knife attaching across the small of her back just before it jumped into her hand. She cut Flern’s horse free, mounted like the expert horsewoman she was, and rode after the man. She passed Vilder and Gunder on the way as they ran across the field, yelling.

The Jaccar looked back once, but the Princess already had an arrow on her string. She stood on the back of the galloping horse, like some circus act, but not for showing off. It was the only way she would get a clear shot. It only took one shot. The man, struck in the back, peeled off the back of the horse that immediately slowed to a trot and then to a walk. The Princess finished the journey more comfortably in the seat and finished the man with her long knife before she let Flern return to her own time and place. Flern immediately mounted again and rounded up what turned out to be Thrud’s big steed. “Lazy as her mistress,” Flern said to herself. Then she started to cry as she rode back to the camp and decided that she did not like killing at all. The only thing that made it palatable was the certainty that the Princess did not like killing either.

“That was amazing, incredible, I knew you were good, but…” Most of the camp looked ecstatic, but Vilder and Kined stayed quiet. They saw that it was the Princess, and so did Pinn, apparently, but with her hood up, Flern imagined that all of the others saw her back and they just assumed Flern. Drud was hard to read. He stayed quiet but kneeled and stared into the fire. Who knew what he might be thinking?

Flern cried a little more as she dismounted, and after a moment of rejoicing, Elluin and Vinnu offered their condolences. Not long after that, Fat Fritt, Strawhead Trell and Tird came waltzing into the camp. They bagged a deer and expected massive congratulations. What they got instead was regaled with Flern’s adventure, as they were calling it. Flern took out the long knife the Princess used to slice the man’s throat. She threw it into the side of the deer, and it sank, almost to the hilt.

“It’s like a Ginsu knife, you know, never need sharpening,” she said, and she stepped off into the woods where she could have some privacy to relieve herself and cry some more.

Flern hardly stayed alone for long before she felt a tingling in her hands and a rumbling in her gut. Anyone else might have thought they were getting sick, but Flern felt suspicious. She looked up at the sun to gauge the time and mumbled two names. “Wlvn. Odin.” But why should she be feeling the effects of Odin’s gift to Wlvn? Surely, he did not mean to empower the Kairos forever.

“That gift isn’t in me.” The Princess spoke into Flern’s mind.

“Or me.” Diogenes and the Storyteller each confirmed.

“Perhaps because you are Wlvn’s genetic reflection, you are also reflecting his gifts.” Doctor Mishka suggested. “You certainly received his gift for horses.”

“But not to his extent.” Flern often tried to deny the gift even if it became self-evident.

“So, Odin’s gift may also be reflected in you to a lesser extent, but it is being reflected in you all the same.”

“But I don’t want it.” Flern confessed, and all she could see was the minute she started throwing thunderbolts around, she would have no friends left at all, and Kined would not want anything to do with her. She refused to do that, and she tried to make the feeling go away, and tried not to think about it at the same time, which proved very hard to do. Eventually, she remembered how to send her armor and blades back to wherever they came from and recall her own dress from that same place. The poor boys probably had a bit of a shock when her long knife disappeared, but she figured they were well skilled with their copper instruments and her long blade, while more than up to the task, had not really been designed as a butcher’s tool.

After a while, Flern went quietly back to the camp where she could sit on the grass and frown. The boys still argued about cutting up the deer and the girls argued about how to cook it. They all paused to look at her in her regular dress, and Kined spoke.

“Your knife,” he said.

“I know,” she responded, and that ended it. They all went back to their arguing, except for Pinn, who came over and sat beside Flern. She said nothing, so after a while, Flern spoke.

“Bunder is staring again. Dunder head.” Flern added the insult when she pointed at the boy who all but drooled.

“Maybe your Princess could beat him up. I assume that was the Princess, earlier,” Pinn suggested and Flern did not reject that suggestion. “Who is she, anyway?”

“Me.” Flern gave the simple answer and looked at her friend. “But I won’t be born as the Princess for three thousand, two hundred and twenty-four years, according to the Storyteller’s estimate.”

Pinn raised her eyebrows. “Three thousand years in the future?”

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

MONDAY

Flern and her companions find the first people beyond their village. They are nomads, an unsettled people heading in their direction, an they have had run-ins with the Jaccar, twice. Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Flern-3 part 2 of 3

The Jaccar had their horses in the corral area as Diogenes supposed they would, putting them near the feed. He entered the barn and found the village horses still mostly in their stalls. He figured the Wicca, whoever that was, had not yet gotten around to dividing the spoils. “P-probably have to s-secure the village f-first,” he said to himself as he walked straight toward the four fat mares in the corner. “G-girls spoil these horses,” he added, pulling Thrud’s horse out first. The horse looked extra big and sturdy, and Diogenes smiled at his thought, or Flern’s thought. Thrud, the smallest of them all, topping out at about five feet or maybe five-one, stood even an inch or so shorter than Pinn who was no giant. Flern always thought Thrud looked like a doll on top of this big beast. She looked like Badl.

“Woah.” Diogenes calmed the horse and gained the horse’s confidence as he found a good length of rope. He tied the reigns of Pinn’s, Vinnu’s and Elluin’s horses to the rope and led them outside. They waited patiently inside the fence while he pushed the bales of hay brought out for feed up against the walls of the barn. The hay appeared very dry from being inside the barn all winter, and so he laid out a good line to give him enough time to get away. Then he pulled out Flern’s copper tinder box. She only had flint and a stone, but it always made a good spark. The hay caught immediately, and with a little blowing it began the journey toward the big pile. It would also take a moment before the Jaccar horses smelled the smoke and began to panic. Diogenes almost wanted to stay and watch what the Jaccar would do once that happened, and the flames started roaring, but he also knew the barn would go up, and he apologized in his heart to the village for their horses because few, if any of them would be saved.

“C-come on.” Diogenes grabbed the lead horse that had three more horses tied to it, and he mounted Thrud’s mare and went through the gate. He paused and closed the gate to trap the Jaccar horses. He mounted again and rode out, hardly caring if he was seen. The darkness of the night would swallow him soon enough, and then he would turn south to follow the path of the river, judging the distance in his mind, so he could hit the riverbank about where the others should be waiting. When he felt sure of his direction, he slowed for a second and made certain that he had a good grip on the lead. Then he went back to the Middle East far in the future, and Flern came home to take his place. Thrud’s horse balked, but only for a second. Flern, after all, had been the one to train the horse in the first place, and she gripped the reigns in her teeth to reach with her free hand and pat the horse’s neck. “Steady.” She said, softly.

Flern got half-way to the river before she heard the shouting behind her. The fire had gotten up and running, full speed. She could see the light reflected against the night clouds, and she could hear the terrified screams of the horses trapped in the corral. She hated that. Some would be injured, and again she apologized to the village because some of their horses in the barn would not survive at all.

By the time Flern got to the river, her arm was tired from dragging three horses behind her. “Pinn.” She shouted because she wanted to be sure she was heard and she figured with all the shouting in the village, the Jaccar might not hear. “Vinnu!” She got down and dropped the lead when she saw that the horses were content to stand and taste some of the spring grass at their feet. “Pinn.” Flern felt anxious to get going. The ford was several miles downriver and a head start felt imperative. “Vilder! Kined!”

“They are safe.” Flern heard the word and looked up, but all she saw was the river, until the naiad moved. Her watery form blended in perfectly with the river behind her. Flern smiled broadly at the sight, not because she expected help from this lesser goddess, but because the lady was so beautiful.

“Lady.” Flern curtsied politely, though that was not easy to do given the short skirt of her armor.

“No need for formality between us.” The naiad smiled. “I have watched you since you were a little girl, though I confess I was not sure it was you until you were old enough to recognize from the brief glimpse I once had. Even then, I was not certain until you spoke with the goddess of love and war and became clothed in this outfit of war.”

“You watched?” Flern wondered. “I hope you don’t mind if we cross your waters.” She thought looking down and looking appropriately humble. She found a watery finger under her chin. It lifter her face so the naiad could get a good look at her.

“I see why you need to cross in a hurry, though I must tell you, I have no great desire to allow a bunch of filthy Jaccar into my waters. Even now they are coming.” Flern shot her eyes back toward the village. “Yes.” The naiad confirmed. “The Wicca has seen your young people in her crystal, and she had horsemen ready to give chase when you showed yourselves.”

“The Wicca?” Flern had to ask.

The naiad raised her arms and a wall of water fell to the ground, poured back into the river, and revealed everyone waiting patiently on the riverbank, the girls doubled up on the horses of their men. “A powerful enchantress. The blood of the gods runs in her veins.” The naiad raised an arm and a bridge of water formed across the river. She let the sand and mud come up from the bottom to color the bridge and she let the muddy sides grow so the horses could cross, unafraid. It almost looked like a regular wood and stone bridge. “The Wicca has driven the Jaccar across the continent to satisfy her foolish, childish whims. As things are now, I would not give you and your friends much of a chance against her, even with Diogenes and the Princess to help you.”

“Thank you for the fair warning,” Flern said. “And thank you for whatever you are willing to do.” Flern could not be more sincere, but the naiad said nothing about it, having something else on her mind, which she spoke.

“You do look exactly like him, virtually identical apart from him obviously being a man and you being a woman. And I was right by the way; you do make a very pretty young woman.”

“Thank you.” Flern looked down again, not knowing what else to say and then she looked at the others who were all waiting for her. “Well?” She spoke up. “Come get your horses, and where is mine?” She whistled and Bermer came trotting right up. After the girls reluctantly got down from behind their men and mounted their own steeds, the Naiad standing quietly by that whole time, Flern noticed that they were still staring at her. “What?” she said. “I’m not in charge here.” And she looked at Vilder who simply smiled, and Pinn, who said, “Right,” with only a touch of Thrud style sarcasm in the word. Nevertheless, Vilder shouted.

“Let’s go.” And they started across the bridge, and none too soon. They could hear the thunder of horses behind them.

Once on the other side, Flern had to stop and watch, and because of that, the others all stopped for a minute as well. The naiad flowed up out of the water on their side of the river and stood beside Flern once again, standing as tall as Flern’s face, though Flern stayed on horseback. They watched together as the Jaccar hesitated only briefly before they started out across the bridge at a gallop. Once the twenty or so Jaccar were all on the bridge, the Naiad let the bridge collapse. She sent the water back into her waters, and the mud and sand back to the bottom. All of the Jaccar, their horses and weapons went in, and many went under, though Flern assumed they would come up again. She imagined most would swim to safety, but then they would have to travel several miles before they could find a safe place to cross.

“No, my dear. They will not cross.” The naiad had been peeking into Flern’s thoughts. “I have Odin’s permission. Starting with the sunrise, I will hold the Jaccar for three days and three nights. I cannot hold them any longer, but perhaps you will be out of reach by then.”

“We have met before, haven’t we?” Flern finally figured it out.

The naiad looked her in the eye. “Indeed, I was told you are not living your lives in strict chronological order. I should not have said all that I said.”

Flern smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell myself.”

That elicited a smile from the naiad, and she touched Flern’s hand ever so briefly. “You are even pretty on the inside. I am glad,” she said, and melted back into the river. Flern turned away from the river, the smile still stuck on her lips. The others turned with her, but they only went far enough that night to be able to light a fire without its being seen from the village.

Reflections Flern-3 part 1 of 3

The Princess led the boys straight up alongside the river and stopped only when they came to a few trees and bushes where they could tie off the horses. They went on foot and Vilder expressed surprise that the Jaccar had no men out to watch, but the Princess figured as much. They probably had all of their men out on the other three sides of the village prepared to surprise any returning hunters or other such arrivals, but they probably figured they were safe on the river side where the river would be as effective as a wall.

The Princess handed her long knife to Kined with the hope that he would not have to use it. She handed her sword to Vilder and pulled out her bow. She noticed she had plenty of arrows, and they were good ones, too. A couple of arrows even had silver tips, so she knew Artemis was alive and well, somewhere in the world. After hunting and tracking, the Princess’ chief talent was with the bow, and hers had been designed by Athena and approved by Apollo. Once upon a time in the future, Artemis would gift the Princess as surely as Odin gifted Wlvn. Fortunately, she always carried the gift with her, even when she traveled back into the past. So, she could hunt and shoot like the goddess, and beyond that, she had practically been born on horseback.

“Why have we stopped?” Vilder interrupted. He appeared to be getting anxious, and that would not be a good thing.

“Patience,” she whispered in her military whisper. “Practice patience before you do something stupid. Now listen.” They were close enough to hear two Jaccar who guarded something or someone. The boys could not understand the language, but the Princess caught the gist of it which sounded something like this:

“You better stay extra sharp tonight. The Wicca says there are boys out in the wilderness, and she wants them alive when they return.”

“I know my job.” The second man sounded grumpy. “The Wicca wants everything, but it won’t be our fault if some of those boys get killed. You know that can’t be helped, sometimes.”

“Maybe I know that and maybe I don’t,” the first said. “But I wouldn’t say it again if you don’t want the Wicca to turn you into a frog like poor Chuang. You just stay alert, that’s all.”

“I know my job.” And the one man stepped away.

The Princess nodded and took back her long knife with instructions to stay put until called. She snuck up behind that alert man and cut his throat so he could not cry out.  A wave of her arm brought the others, and she wiped the blade clean and handed the knife back to Kined, who almost did not want to take it. He stared at the dead man.

“Don’t dwell.” The Princess risked another whisper. “It isn’t healthy.” She moved on.

“I can’t help it,” Kined said, as he followed. “I will see that even in my sleep.”

The Princess looked at Vilder. He got stoic. He looked determined. He also took her arm. “Pinn’s house is this way.”

The Princess shook her head. She pointed to Thrud’s house, which was where Pinn, Thrud and Vinnu should still be, probably worried to death. They hurried, pressured by Vilder’s nervousness, though the Princess should have known better. As they came around a corner, they bumped into three Jaccar. One got a knife in his chest. One got sliced across the guts, and the third had an arrow rammed into his throat. The Princess whipped out her boot knife even as the man cut in the belly began to raise his head. She made a near perfect throw into that man’s neck before he could cry out. Then she snatched her sword out of a stunned Vilder’s hand and finished the job before handing the sword back to Vilder. She raised her hand, and her long knife vacated the one man’s chest and flew to her hand. She cleaned it and handed it back to Kined again with some words.

“I would appreciate it if you would take better care of my things.”

“Now I’ve done it,” Kined confessed once his mouth closed. “Now I will have my own nightmares.”

The Princess leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “That’s from Flern,” she said, before she retrieved her boot knife. “Now shut up and come on.” They moved more slowly then, and kept to the shadows, until at last they came to a window at the back of Thrud’s house. “Pinn. Thrud.” The Princess called through the window shutters. They could see a light on in the room, so they knew it was occupied.

“Who is there?” The voice sounded a bit loud, but they heard Pinn’s voice.

“Flern, sort of. Come on out. We have to get moving.”

“You don’t sound like Flern,” Pinn came back.

“Pinn.” Vilder sounded much too loud, and for his efforts he got the Princess’ boot pushed hard into his foot.

The shutters came open and Pinn popped her head out. “Vilder.” She seemed sensible enough to keep her voice down. The Princess turned to watch both sides of the house, an arrow on the string and her senses on full alert.

“Are Thrud and Vinnu there?” Kined whispered. “Hurry.”

Pinn came out first and dropped easily to the dirt. She had her bow and arrows, good girl. Vinnu followed and accepted Vilder’s help to the ground.

“No, Thrud, no!” Someone, a woman inside started shouting. “We are safe in the house.” They all heard a loud slap followed by some angry whispers. Thrud might not be the prettiest thing on two legs, but she was no dummy. Her mother would get them all killed if she did not shut up!

Even as Thrud clambered out the window with her bow, having forgotten the arrows, a Jaccar came around the corner, perhaps attracted by the noise. The Princess made her usual perfect shot, and the man went down without a sound. “Come,” she said, before Thrud’s feet were fully on the ground, and she led them back the way they came, even if it meant the girls had to notice all of the dead bodies. Once they were free of the last house, the Princess stopped them and spoke, still in her military whisper. Then again, she gave military orders.

“Vilder and Pinn. Work back to the others and mount up. Take my horse. I will meet you by the riverbank just this side of the hill, only stay out of sight and keep quiet.

Vilder nodded, and Pinn accepted his assessment and nodded with him.

“Who is that?” Thrud asked.

“I’ll explain in a minute.” Kined said as he handed the Princess her long knife. He took Thrud by the elbow and escorted her away from the village. Thrud kept looking back.

“What about you?” Vilder asked.

“I have one more thing to do. I will meet you. Go.” She took back her sword.

Vilder nodded again and led Pinn and Vinnu after Kined and Thrud. The instant they were out of sight in the dark, the Princess changed to Diogenes. Diogenes looked like the Princess’ perfect genetic reflection, like Wlvn and Flern, even sharing the same hair and eye color, what some have called an identical twin of the opposite sex. As such, Diogenes also reflected to a lesser degree whatever gift the Princess received from Artemis. He was known in his day as a great hunter and great with the bow. Though not as skilled as the Princess, in this case, he had mastered this type of covert operation. He was the one with all of the experience of sneaking into an enemy camp and causing havoc.

Diogenes considered the village, which he knew perfectly from Flern’s memory. He knew the fenced in field where the men were being held, but it was too far away to risk and probably heavily guarded. Much nearer sat the public corral and the big barn near the village center, the place where the whole village stored hay through the winter. Diogenes moved swiftly. He knew it would only be a matter of time before the dead men got found. Two guards watched the barn and corral as well, but they did not last long, and they never raised the alarm. Diogenes made sure of that.

Reflections Flern-2 part 1 of 3

Flern sat straight up in bed. Poor Wlvn just lost eight months of his life, somewhere in time. Hardly fair, she thought.

“Flern!” The reason Flern woke up from her afternoon nap became apparent when her baby sister came bounding into the room. Gurdi turned fifteen, hardly a baby anymore. The real baby in the family belonged to twenty-year-old Thul who already had a girl of her own. Flern felt glad for her older sister, and not the least because the infant took some of the pressure off of her to marry as soon as possible.

“Stenis is taking the young men out on a hunt this afternoon.” Gurdi spoke as she plopped down on the end of Flern’s bed. “Isn’t it wonderful the way he takes charge. He is so dreamy.” Gurdi looked up at the ceiling, so she did not see her sister’s frown.

“I’m going for a ride this afternoon.” Flern acknowledged that her nap had become impossible. “Alone.” She knew what her sister wanted. Gurdi wanted to take her to the market and make small talk all day long with a bunch of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, and maybe do some sewing or basket weaving with more gossip. No thank you.

“But Flern!” Gurdi bounced on the bed just to be sure Flern did not plan to go back to sleep.

“Not a chance.” Flern escaped the bed out the other side. “And yes, Stenis is dreamy, if you think so.” She would not quite concede that any sixteen-year-old boy could be dreamy. Flern dressed quickly while Gurdi exaggerated all of Stenis’ dreamy qualities, then Flern heard something that got her feet moving.

“Flern,” Mother called from the other room, and that meant there would be chores. Flern went to her window and stared hard at Gurdi. Gurdi crossed her heart and looked up once while Flern escaped to the outside. It did not matter what Gurdi promised. Flern knew her sister would tell Mother in the next few nanoseconds, so Flern had to hurry.

Flern ran to the stables and only snatched her bow and quiver along the way. No one rode or shot with her much anymore. Vinnu and Thrud were too busy being married, and Pinn stayed too busy not touching Vilder. Elluin also stayed too busy being stupid with Drud, and Flern’s stooges were not around much, thank the gods. Flern whistled from behind the barn. She did not dare step into the open for fear of being caught, and she let out a soft whistle besides, but she knew Bermer would hear. Sure enough, after a minimal wait, Bermer the mare came trotting around the corner. Flern got right up and took off for the river. She had in mind to ride up the back of the hill to the cliff’s edge, and maybe take her nap there where her mother and sister could not find her.

“Okay,” Flern confessed to Wlvn for the hundredth time as she rode. “So I named my horse after your sister, but only because she is the sweetest thing I could think of.” Then Flern stopped talking altogether. She did not want conversation at the moment. She wanted to be alone and undisturbed, and that included Wlvn and all of her other lifetimes, at least the ones she could remember.

Flern let her mind wander as she rode, the way Wlvn had when he rode to the edge of his universe. She realized that essentially Wlvn got it right about her and her friends. Pinn had her Vilder in a commitment, though they were not married yet, just engaged. Vinnu had her Gunder, and they were married, and Thrud, the not nearly as beautiful as her name might lead you to believe, had her Tiren, and they were about to be married. Elluin looked like she was not going to give up on Drud, though there was no official word there yet, and that left Flern with her three Bozo the Clowns. We are all Bozos on this bus, she thought.

Of course, there was Kined, even if Flern did not feel allowed to think of him in that way. He remained just a very good friend, maybe her best friend. He told her that, even as he seemed to finally be giving up on Elluin. In fact, the last time beautiful, blonde Elluin ran away from Drud, Kined had not been there for her, hard as it must have been for him. He confessed how hard it felt to his good friend Flern in private, and Flern did her best to comfort him. Hugging seemed to help.  Come to think of it, she and Kined spent a lot of time together in the last year; but Flern imagined it as no more than a sort of a misery loves company kind of thing. Kined seemed heartbroken over Elluin, and Flern needed some rest from her daily duty of telling her stooges, “No, I don’t want to marry you.” Good thing Bunder never asked. Actually, he never said more than two words to her in her whole life. She would have gone mad, though, if she had to say no four times a day.

~~~~~

Flern dismounted and climbed the hill to the little grassy spot at the top. The rocks still held a bit of ice, so she had to be careful, especially when she approached the cliff. She started moping by then and so she did not pay her full attention, but she managed not to slip. She had spent a year and a half badgering the Elders in the village to mount an expedition to go over the mountains and bring back the technology of bronze. At first, the Elders simply refused to listen to her. Then, the more she badgered them, the more stubborn they became against the idea. In the end, even some of her friends began to doubt what they had seen with their own eyes when they were, as they called it, “mere children.”

Couldn’t they see? This would be the only way they would have any hope against the Jaccar, and by then, no one doubted that the Jaccar were coming. Flern reached down to her side where she had begun to carry a copper knife. She said it helped cut her meat, but to be sure, it was the kind of knife with which she could skin her meat, not just cut it. She drew it out and used it like a pretended sword. She would be the woman warrior if she had to be, but her movements were awkward, and she knew it.

“Ga!” She spoke to herself. “All of the other lives I live are so dashing and capable.” She thought of the Princess as the true woman warrior, and Diogenes, sometimes called Alexander’s eyes, as a warrior in the extreme. Flern brandished her pretend sword again, pretending to be Diogenes, she cut down Persian after Persian. Doctor Mishka and the Storyteller had such skill, and they knew so much. “I ain’t got no edjumication.” Flern said, out loud, though whether it came out in her own tongue or the Storyteller’s English, it felt hard to say. Nor did it matter. She started to wonder why the goddess Amphitrite and the Nameless god put up with her as one of their lifetimes. What could she do? She began to cry, sat on the grass and felt like an ant, like a bit of temporal dust, totally useless. The women she had been in other days were all so beautiful, and the men were simply the best. Who was she?

“Now, now.” Flern heard a woman’s voice, and at first, she thought it might be the Princess. “You were just thinking about possible husbands and who might be a good father for your children. If you can handle that, surely you can handle a little southern vacation.”

Flern shook her head. “I’m not good enough to be the Kairos.” She felt shocked when she felt an arm slip around her shoulder. She looked, but all she saw at first was the cloak and the hood pulled up.

“My son,” the hood said. “Even when you are my daughter.” And Flern knew who it was; Vrya, mother of the Nameless god she would one day be. While she found it a little frightening at first to be held so tenderly by a goddess, that did not prevent her from having a good cry. Vrya pulled back her hood and let the girl cry it out while she spoke softly through the tears. “Sweetheart. We all don’t like ourselves, sometimes. Consider the responsibilities I carry. Many is the time I wished I was just a normal, mortal woman. After Od was taken from me, I thought I would be chaste and never have a child of my own, but here you are, even as you will be one day, and I am holding you and telling you that everything will be all right.” These were powerful words, coming as they did from the lips of a goddess. Flern could not help crying a little harder and burying herself in the warmth offered until she got it all out of her system.

After a while, Flern pulled back her head and tried to smile while she wiped her eyes. Mother Vrya smiled for her and brushed her red bangs back out of her eyes. “Feeling better?” she asked. Flern nodded. Of course, she felt the peace that so often comes after a good cry. Mother Vrya just nodded and tapped Flern on the forehead.

Flern immediately remembered the tap on Wlvn’s head all those years ago. “What was that?” Flern asked and looked up for a second as if she could see her own forehead, as if Mother Vrya pasted something there.

“I cannot stop you from being the Kairos and living one life after another after another. No god can stop you. You are not in our hands.”

“But I thought—”

“Every mortal human is in our hands, and even the half-humans, but not you. You live beyond the reach of the gods. You are a very special person despite what you may be feeling at the moment.” Vrya touched Flern’s nose and smiled as she spoke. “But what I can do is hide who you are for a time so others may not notice.”

“Like you hid Wlvn from Loki.” Flern got excited. She suddenly understood.

Vrya nodded. “Now then. I understand you have learned about the discovery south of the mountains. I would say you have a decision to make as to what you will do.” She turned Flern’s attention out over the Cliffside to the village and helped Flern’s eyes see what her eyes unaided would never have seen. The Jaccar had arrived, and it looked like they took the village completely by surprise. The men were already being herded into a hastily erected compound, though the women and children still appeared to be in their homes, for the present. Flern’s countenance dropped once again. She knew it was long past time she should have gone for the bronze, herself. She chided herself for waiting and pleading with foolish old men and believing that they would eventually do something. All this time, she should have known that it would be up to her. There wasn’t anyone else, and she felt like such a fool.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Mother Vrya said. “Go and collect what friends you can and plenty of horses. Some will suffer while you are away, but you stand a good chance of getting there and back, and on your return, you should save most.”

“Most? A Good chance?”

“About fifty-fifty,” Vrya said, which did not sound all that reassuring. “In part, it will depend on how willing you are to be who you are. Don’t be slow to ask for help when you need it and do your best. That is all that anyone can do.” And Mother Vry simply was not there anymore.

Flern sat there for a little bit and stared down toward her village. She would have to go over the mountains herself, she decided, though Mother Vrya had been right about one thing: she needed to have her friends with her. She needed to wait until dark. With that, Flern curled up on the grass. Now she needed that afternoon nap more than ever. She tried not to think about it all, though she did not imagine her mind would let her rest. She actually fell asleep thinking, It’s the stress that gets you.

Reflections Flern-1 part 3 of 3

When Flern came to a screeching halt in front of her house, she found her big sister, Thul on the porch sitting out of the sun. “Come and see.” Thul shouted.

“Can’t.” Flern got short with her sister. “Where’s Father?”

“But it is my wedding dress,” Thul said with a bit of a pout.

“Father!” Flern called before she turned to her sister. “I can’t stop right now. Besides, your wedding dress will just make me so jealous I will scream. Father!” Flern ran toward the center of the village and the big council hall while Thul smiled. That was all she really wanted to hear.

“Father.” She saw him across the commons, talking to a stranger, and she ran up to them and rudely interrupted. “Where is the Chief? Where is the sword?” she asked

Father gave her an odd look. “What do you know?” Sometimes Flern knew things she had no way of knowing. Flern shook her head. She got busy catching her breath. “These are just traders.” Father meant to assure her. “They are not something you need to be concerned about.”

“But Vilder said the Chief has a sword that is as sharp as light and hard as stone.”

“Flern.” Father frowned, as the man he had been talking to turned and walked into the council chamber. “We are trying to negotiate right now. You have no business being here and interrupting.” That became pretty much as stern a scolding as her father ever gave. Then he smiled, warmly. “Go find your friends.”

“But.” Flern tried to protest, but Father would not listen. He interrupted with some real thoughts for a change.

“It is bad enough you shoot arrows and have taught all of your young women to ride, but swords need to be left alone.” He found determination in his voice, a sound that Flern almost never heard. “I mean it. A woman’s hands were not made for such things, and you will bring shame on your family if you don’t stop.” Flern flinched. Her father even looked serious and a little perturbed. Maybe something else, like something in the negotiations that got to him, but he did not hesitate to take it out on her, at least as much as was in him. He spun around and went into the chamber and left her standing in the street, wondering what she could do.

“Is this what you are interested in?” A man came up out of nowhere and held out the most glorious sword that carried the undeniable sheen of bronze. It looked crude, but bronze all the same, and Flern got ecstatic.

“Yes!” Flern’s face beamed, but when she reached out to touch it, the man yanked it away.

“Now, now,” he said, kindly. “You get your own.” Then he smiled down at her and regaled her with his story. “I struggled down the third river and faced terrible trials until I came to the cliff face beside the mountain pass. It was there that I climbed up into the hills to where the pass cut through the mountains and led me to a high plateau. Across that plateau of high hills and deep, wide valleys, I came to the far side of the mountains where I clambered down to safety. It was near the greatest river of all that runs on the far side of the mountains, deep in the south, I found men who have learned to make instruments like this.” He held the sword out again and Flern felt entranced.

“Wait a minute.” Flern shook her head. “Bronze? Where did they get the metal?” She asked the question out loud, or so she thought, though she did not expect to get an answer. She certainly got startled by the answer she got.

“There’s tin in them thar hills,” the man said, and flashed a terrific smile. Flern’s eyes shot to the man’s face. It seemed a good face and she liked it very much, but that sounded too much like something the Storyteller might have said. The man winked, a bit of body language completely unknown in Flern’s culture, but it caused Flern to lose her sense of wonder and take on a more skeptical attitude.

“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” Flern asked.

“Me? Why, I’m not a witch at all.” He still smiled. He knew the allusion. Flern frowned all the more and then she saw the man’s missing hand.

“Fa…” She started to speak but changed the word. “Tyr.” She reached out for the gold cup where the hand had been. It had to be a recent loss, and Flern felt the tears well up in her own eyes for Tyr’s sake. She could not help it. The same Nameless life that became a raging storm when Wlvn found Eir a prisoner at the center of the universe now felt ready to cry a whole sea of tears. Flern still could not name that life, but she felt certain that it had to be a very emotional lifetime.

Tyr sheathed the sword to put his good hand on Flern’s shoulder, to comfort her. No doubt, something he had not intended to do. “Your Mother Vrya says you are her son even when you are her daughter. I can almost understand that. I am fine.” And just then, not to say that Tyr, the god of war, did not work things out that way, the rest of Flern’s friends came riding up in a bunch.

Flern felt pressed to ask everything at once. “But bronze. Why here? Why now? What are we to do?”

“Let me show you.” Tyr said, and he took a step back while the gang came up on foot. Even Drud, Bunder and Elluin came with them. Flern looked around. Normally, the village center stayed full of little children, women haggling in the market stalls, wagons plowing through; but right then, no one could be found around the center. All felt still and silent in anticipation. Flern imagined that she might be the only one who noticed; but then she almost missed it when Tyr made a canvas bag appear out of thin air.

“Now boys.” Tyr spoke. “You take these.” He pulled out a copper sword and handed it to Vilder. Fat Fritt got a big, stone ax. Strawhead Trell got a cutter—a piece of seasoned wood with sharp copper pieces around the head which made it like a medieval mace. Gunder got a big hammer, and he looked like the only one big enough to lift it. Everyone else stepped back when Tyr yelled, “Defend yourselves!” He grinned as they tried in earnest, and the boys did well, but the god disarmed them all and broke their weapons to pieces while he hardly put a scratch on his own sword.

“Convinced?” He looked squarely at Flern. He seemed to be speaking to her, personally. In fact, Flern could not be sure if Tyr’s mouth moved, so maybe she only heard the words in her mind. “The Jaccar on the other side have some supernatural help, so I thought this might even the odds a bit.”

“But why me? Us? Now?” Flern got curious.

“It’s my job.” Tyr said, and Flern remembered again that he was the god of war. Then she knew for certain that Tyr had not moved his lips and she growled, “Grrr.” She became determined to speak out loud, but Tyr merely laughed while the boys put the pieces of their broken weapons back into the bag. They did not seem fazed when Tyr easily lifted the bag and slung it over his shoulder. Not even Kined realized that the bag should have been too heavy to lift.

“But why just one blade?” Flern asked out loud and stared at the god as if daring him to answer her question in any way other than out loud. He laughed again and pointed to the river.

“I told you. You have to get your own. Go down to the third river, to the cliffs, up to the pass and over the mountains, and on the other side you will get to the Danube.” And with that, he turned and walked into the council chamber before anyone could ask anything else. The others were all replaying the battle, wondering at the marvelous sword, and amazed by the skill of the man. They got excited and loud, but Flern had to think. She scrunched up her face against the racket, and then it struck her.

“Hey! What do you mean supernatural help on the other side? What kind of supernatural help?” But, of course, Tyr had long gone from there. “Grrr.”

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

MONDAY

The Jaccar come.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Flern-1 part 2 of 3

Two of those stooges, Fat Fritt and Strawhead Trell, were among the first of the brood to arrive. They took seats leisurely near Flern as if honestly taking in the view. They were not fooling anyone, least of all Flern. To be sure, she could not imagine spending time with either boy, much less a lifetime. Fritt was, well, fat. She could think of no nice way to say it. And Trell’s dirty blond locks always looked ratted and stuck out in the strangest ways. She sometimes wondered if he had straw inside his head in place of brains as well. At least, he sometimes acted that way.

Next came Vilder, the tall, blond, good-looking leader of the brood, and Kined who came puffing up the hill from where they tied off the horses. Kined immediately asked where Elluin went.

“Drud.” Pinn spoke over her shoulder, but her eyes stayed on Vilder. She did not have to say anything more. It was enough for Flern to watch Kined’s face drop.

Tird and Tiren came next, and Tiren walked right up to sit beside Thrud. He would have kissed her if no one was around. They were engaged, though not officially. Tird, on the other hand, just stared at Flern for a minute, and stared at Fatty and Strawhead to see where it might be safe to sit down.

Gunder, the last to arrive, hauled his muscular bulk up the hill. He usually got stuck seeing to the horses. He sat beside Vinnu and slipped his arm over her shoulder. They were officially engaged, and Flern watched as Vinnu had to stand on her toes to give the ponderously big boy a kiss on the cheek. And she did it without turning red in the least, which impressed Flern.

“What news from civilization?” Thrud asked, as if Flern and the others had forcibly dragged her away from all comforts and into the deserted wilderness. She got busy working on the other braid and nearly had it completed.

“Horse traders in the village.” Tiren responded, as if telling everyone, but he kept staring at Thrud, and smiled. Thrud did blush.

“Otherwise, same fat ladies and balding men,” Tird said, and moved to look over Pinn’s shoulder, to the village; still not quite ready to sit down.

“Better than fat men and balding ladies,” Kined said, having recovered from his disappointment at missing Elluin. At least Fritt and Trell laughed. Then they jumped him in a kind of physical display, mostly for Flern’s benefit; but Kined proved too smart for them. Flern thought of him as probably the smartest of the lot. “Hey!” he protested. “Isn’t this Tird’s job?” That seemed all he really had to say. Tird’s eyes got big, and he took off into the woods. Fat Fritt and Strawhead Trell, whooping and hollering, ran fast on his tail.

Flern sighed. What good was the physical display for her benefit if she couldn’t see it?

“Horse traders?” Pinn got back to the subject as Vilder sat down beside her. Flern thought that Pinn and Vilder were the most engaged of all, but they were always so formal together. Vilder and Pinn never touched, but Flern sometimes amused herself by thinking what the volcano would be like when they finally did. She imagined they might need the whole river to put out the fire.

“But here is the best part.” Vilder spoke up. “They are not from the West or North. They claim to be from the far south, beyond the end of the river, beyond the other river and beyond the mountains themselves.”

“From the sound of their native speech and the strange way they pronounce some of our words, I can believe it,” Kined said, as he stood to stretch and dusted himself off from his brief tussle with Trell and Fritt. Flern watched. Kined always kept his black hair groomed and his eyes were just as blue as Elluin’s, and even easier to get lost in. Flern exhaled.

“Maybe.” Gunder looked up long enough to get the word in. He and Vinnu sat quietly with their backs to a tree. His arm draped around her shoulder, and she held tight to his hand.

“Well, I don’t believe it.” Tiren tore his eyes away from Thrud long enough to add his thoughts. “I have heard of the second river and even a third, but people have only seen the mountains in the distance. No one knows what is beyond the mountains. It is too far.”

With that, Kined had another thought, and he spoke as he sat again beside Flern, his friend. “I heard there is nothing but swamp and marsh between here and the mountains, you know, where the rivers overflow from time to time. I don’t suppose you can raise horses in a swamp.” Flern smiled for Kined. She thought of Elluin and felt sick for the poor young man. He deserved better, maybe even her, and it was not the first time she thought that.

“But that is not the best part,” Gunder the hulk interrupted Flern’s thoughts.

“Oh, yes.” Vilder sat up straight and his eyes got a little bigger than normal. “The chief trader has a sword of the strangest making. It isn’t copper, but some metal I have never seen before. It is dull to look at, but it is as sharp as a blade of grass, and it is hard, harder than stone I think.”

“Harder than stone?” Pinn could hardly believe that.

Kined had another thought. “If we all had weapons of that metal, the Jaccar would not stand a chance.”

“Maybe.” Gunder just grunted. Flern only half listened. Her ears stayed out in the woods at the moment where she could hear the struggle and Tird’s yelps. Just when Trell, Fritt and their quarry came into view, something struck home in Flern’s mind, and she shouted.

“Bronze!” She had to see for herself.

“What are you doing?” Thrud asked as Flern jumped to her feet

“Flern, where are you going?” Pinn asked at almost the same time

Flern ran and shouted back. “I have to see it.”

Vilder got up and motioned for everyone to follow. He had seen the sword and thought it would be worth the trip.

“What’s bronze?” Kined shouted after her, and Flern smiled. He was always the smart one.

Flern ran down the hill and almost tripped and tumbled down in her haste. When she reached her horse, she heard from her trio of clowns.

“Hey!”

“Wait!”

“What?” That last sound came from Tird who could not see what was happening because he had been tied to a pole, face down. Flern did not stop.

Ever since Poseidon gave Wlvn those horses, Flern also knew more about horses than anyone imagined, and the horses obeyed her in a way that seemed hard to explain. To be sure, not as well, but almost as well as they obeyed Wlvn. Flern imagined Wlvn as a boy about her age, and one that looked exactly like her. She imagined the same red hair and brown eyes, so he might double as a male version of herself. She imagined his story, sad, hard, and frightening as it was. She wanted to believe good for him, but that did not seem to be possible. Still, it was one thing to have an imaginary boyfriend, and quite another to reflect, in a small way, the gift she imagined he received—and from a God she did not honestly know. That felt hard to explain even to herself, unless her imagination reflected more reality than she thought. Flern did not feel prepared to go there in her mind, so she turned her thoughts to the bronze.

Flern leapt on her horse and almost tore her dress in the process. The gentle horse bucked in surprise, but only for a second, and only a little, and then it took off, running at full speed. Flern had not quite shown that ability before, though she was clearly the best horsewoman of the lot. She only hoped to reach the village before the traders moved on.