It took three days to reach the river and they never questioned the path or wavered in their course, even through a whole day of late spring rains. Riah brought them straight to the village of Andronicus, but she said it felt more by instinct than knowledge. They found homes there of a very different construction than their own. These were made out of far more lumber and used far less stone, and it made them all feel like they were in an entirely new world. The language the people spoke underlined that feeling. They understood none of it.
A big man, a Gunder sized man of about forty years came out dressed in a leather apron. “The word came through our seer that you were coming.” Riah had to translate for the others, but Flern understood the words well enough. “The thing is we are not inclined to give away our secret for free.” A dozen or more men stood in the background, and they were all watching, More than one pointed at the elf, and whispered.
“Not free,” Flern spoke quickly. “You have four strong men who will work to learn.”
“And me,” Pinn volunteered when the words were translated.
“And you have horses,” Andronicus said and wiped a bit of coal dust from his naked arms. “There are not many horses around here, at least domesticated horses.”
Flern dismounted, so the others dismounted as well. She went straight to Kined and took his hand first before she walked up to face the big man. “We are offering free labor. I think we need to talk about the horses later,” she said, and tried to sound firm about it.
The big man looked down on her and studied her face. He shook his head. “No. Despite your spirit guide, I see nothing special in you. I think you need to give us your horses and maybe whatever else we want if you want the secret of the metal.”
Flern floated up to face the man which caused the man’s eyes to widen a bit and caused him to take a half-step back. “Horses later.” Flern put her hands to her hips and spoke in her most determined voice even as a bright flash of light came from down by the river. A beautiful woman appeared in what looked like a Greek mini-skirt, and she had a silver bow over her shoulder. She looked down as she walked, like she was following some special trail.
“Artemis!” Flern squealed in delight and forgot all about the big man. She fell to her feet and ran to the goddess, but when Artemis looked up and gave her a hard and uncertain look, Flern left that place and let the Princess, dressed in her armor, finish the run. Artemis showed a guarded smile at the change. The Princess got gifted and filled with the spirit of Artemis herself, and of course Artemis knew that even if she could not imagine when she might have done that or might do that in the future which she knew as something special about the Kairos.
“Good thing you got here,” the Princess said when she arrived. The two women looked at each other for a moment. The Princess knew that for Artemis the relationship was still young, but she had known Artemis for centuries and finally gave into her urge. She hugged the goddess and greeted her with a true sisterly kiss. Artemis responded in kind though the uncertainty remained. A moment later, Kined arrived and went to one knee before the goddess. Riah was right beside him, though the others kept back.
“I see you have one already.” Artemis pointed her head at Riah. “I brought some more to help with the language problem and whatever.”
“Kined,” the Princess spoke to Flern’s fiancé. “This is Artemis, my best friend in the whole world, forever. Artemis, this is Kined and Riah is also my friend.”
Artemis merely nodded and turned her head to look around. “Where can they have gotten to? Goldenwing.” Artemis called just like Flern when she called Bricklebrains back from his journey. Goldenwing had no choice but to appear. He was a fairy, and there were two dozen young fairies with him, males and females. They fluttered a bit before they took to hovering in the air as Goldenwing transformed into his full, human sized form. He bowed graciously to Artemis and then bowed with equal grace to the Princess as he spoke.
“My Lady, how may we serve you?”
“I need some of you to translate so my friends can understand and communicate with these people. Then I need the rest of you to help us set up and maintain a camp outside the village where we can stay through the summer while we learn about the bronze making.” The Princess turned back to Artemis. “Thank you,” she took and squeezed Artemis’ hand. “I never considered the language barrier, and you would think of all people I would have thought of that. You are always so thoughtful. Please,” she waved the fairy troop toward her friends. “I would be grateful if you would help.” Some of the fairies fluttered toward the horses.
“Actually, I thought you might have some trouble here. Andronicus can be hardheaded and greedy.” Artemis took a moment to study the Princess’ face even as Andronicus studied the face of Flern moments before. “Let me see the one who belongs here.” She said the words, but she honestly asked, and it sounded odd because the gods never really asked anything.
The Princess nodded and Flern returned. Oddly, Flern felt a bit shy in front of the goddess where the Princess felt completely comfortable and familiar. “Do you like?” She lifted her arms to show herself off, but her uncertainty in herself mostly showed.
Artemis slowly smiled like she just figured something out. “I like,” she said. “I think I could get used to the idea of having a best friend in the whole world,” and this time she hugged Flern and gave her the sisterly kiss. Flern blushed and had to turn to Goldenwing who stood patiently, waiting on the gods.
“This is Kined, my betrothed,” she said. “I would be grateful if you stayed with him and maybe the two of you can find the right helpers for my friends.”
“It would be an honor to stay with the young Lord.”
“Maybe you could get small and sit on his shoulder. Then you could whisper wisdom in his ear.”
“If I have any wisdom to whisper,” Goldenwing said. He seemed quite young, as was his whole troop of volunteers. With a bow and a look at Riah that no one missed, Goldenwing returned to his natural small size and fluttered to Kined’s shoulder. Together, they walked back to the others, talking like they were old friends, the rest of the fairy troop following. Flern noticed Andronicus had turned from the group. Vilder and Gunder were following while the others held the horses. Pinn shouted and pointed to the fairy that hovered beside her.
“He said he would give us everything we want. He said he was not about to cross the gods.”
“Good,” Artemis said, and looked again at Flern when the two of them were alone, but for Riah.
Flern had a thought and voiced it. “But where are Ares and Dite? They were the ones who came to Wlvn.”
Artemis smiled at the name, Dite. “Aphrodite is flitting about in her way as I am sure you know. Ares is off sulking. Your war will be in another world, and he cannot even attend unless he is invited.”
“Oh, yes, of course,” Flern said. The jurisdictions of the gods were fairly well defined, and they were strict about humans and other gods crossing the lines. Of course, that meant little to the Kairos who moved as the Watcher over history. The gods understood that history included the whole earth. And it also did not mean much to the little spirits of the earth that migrated with the winds and the waves and the seasons.
Artemis spoke again as they slowly walked toward the village. “What I have heard is Odin believes you may find a way to resolve things without the need for further bloodshed. He thinks very highly of you.”
“The Kairos, not me. I’m just Flern.”
Artemis offered Flern another kiss on the cheek, and a genuine, unguarded smile at last. “You will never be just an anything.” And she vanished.
Flern sighed and spoke to Riah as she took the elf’s hand and walked slowly beside her. “I have all the rest of the spring, all summer and probably all fall to try and figure out what to do about the powerful and terrible Wicca without spilling more blood and killing more people.”
“Good luck.” Flern felt the words echo in her soul and thought “thank you.” She was going to need all the luck she could get.