R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 3 of 3

Gregor confirmed that Kunther was a fool and Lady Brunhild wielded the real power behind the rebellion.  She had presumably bewitched most of the rebels, but he was no longer fooled.  He had lost family up by Porolissum to Quadi raiders.  He said there were others who felt the way he did and Greta felt glad to hear that Bragi was among them.

“What I don’t understand is what she intends to gain,” Gregor said.

“Obviously, the people did not rise up in support of Kunther’s rebellion, so she had no choice but to look for help from the outside.”

“Yes,” he said. “But if the Quadi overrun the land, what place will there be for her?”

“I don’t know.” Greta wondered that, herself.

After about an hour, she heard Bragi at the door demanding to see his sister.  The guard did not sound unsympathetic, and said he could go in as long as it was brief.  Bragi and Greta hugged for a long time, and Greta cried just a little. Despite her outward bravado, Greta still felt very scared and everything about her, her face, her shoulder and her hip throbbed with a kind of dull pain.

Soon, Bragi and Gregor started exchanging notes and planning.  They must have mentioned two dozen men who were firmly with them and the only disagreement became whether to effect a rebellion within the ranks and sue for peace, or to contact the Romans first and bring them into the Temple for a surprise attack on Kunther.  Bragi saw the political implications and imagined the penalty the Romans might require for traitors.  He argued for bringing the Romans in as early as possible.  Gregor, however, argued for rebellion within the ranks. A successful rebellion would convince the Romans whose side they were really on more than any talk, he said. Greta imagined the man might have a personal grudge, though she never asked what that might be.

“No.”  Greta pulled herself together at last and stood to gain everyone’s attention.  “Priest. I take it you have not been cooperating of late.”

“Not since Boarshag,” Vasen said, and the others confirmed this.

“You know where the weapons of Trajan are stored?”  She shot straight to the point.

“Yes, good Mother,” Vasen said, but he wondered what she was after.

“They are in the cavern and diggings beneath the Temple,” Gregor said.  “But it is very damp down there.”

“Most of the weapons are rusty and useless,” Bragi added.  “And the powder is not dry enough to use, either.”

“Is any of it any good?” Greta asked.

“Some.” Bragi shrugged.  “But not enough of it to turn the tide of battle, even if our people got all of the good stuff.”

Greta closed her eyes and cleared her heart before she spoke.  “Thorn and Thissle.”  She commanded, and they appeared a few feet away.  It took them a few moments to orient themselves.  Then they hugged as if they had not seen each other lately, and they turned together to face Greta.

“My gracious, lovely lady,” Thorn said, with a bow, and Thissle curtsied as well as she could in her new form.  Bragi jumped in fright, but stayed beside his sister.  Vasen looked delighted as if, like Fae, they represented something he had longed to see all of his life.  Finbear looked curious.  He had seen Berry fluttering around and had also seen the goddess, so he did not get especially surprised.  Gregor let out a short shout and jumped to the wall, but he made no other noise for fear that the guard might hear.

“Thorn, how far away is General Pontius?”

“He should be here by morning,” Thorn reported.  “And Gumbeater the Hobgoblin of the lower hills says the Celts are moving through the woods in great numbers.  They should also be here by morning.”

“Thissle. Can you make yourself invisible so only Bragi can see you?” Greta asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  “That is very hard to do.”

“Bragi is my brother.”  Greta explained, and Thissle brightened.

“Sir Bragi,” she said with a little bow.  “For family of the goddess, if his heart is true to you as with your brother Hans, he will be able to see me.”  She vanished from the sight of the others.

Bragi looked up after a minute to see everyone staring at him.  “Is she?  Oh.  I still see her, but there is a glow about her that I did not notice before.”

“The invisible spectrum, some call it,” Greta said, and Bragi understood.

“Thorn.  Can you open this door when the time comes?” Greta asked.

Thorn examined the door.  He made himself small enough to squeeze through a mouse crack, and then he came right back.  “There is a guard,” Thorn said.  “But the door should be easy to open.”

“I’ll deal with the guard,” Gregor growled while Greta explained things to Finbear. Finbear also pledged to help with the guard and extended his hand to Gregor.  It made Gregor pause, but then he accepted Finbear’s hand and Greta smiled for them.  They were all in it together, now.

“When the time comes and Thorn opens the door, you must follow the Priest.  I am sure he knows the quickest and safest way down the Mount.  Do you all understand, Thorn?”

“Yes, Lady,” Thorn said and looked at the floor.

“Good,” she said. “Now Bragi and Thissle, here is what you must do.  As soon as you can, you must take the statue to where the good powder is and leave it there. Put it as close as you can to the dry powder, and leave it there.”

“The statue?” Bragi asked.  “The one you brought?  Is it safe?”

“You won’t be hurt,” Greta said.  “I have told them, I think.  But just to be sure, Thissle, tell Burns and Madwick they are not to harm Bragi.”

“Scorch and Sparky too?”  She asked.

“Scorch and Sparky, too,” Greta answered.

“I’ll make triple sure,” Thissle said, and there came an interruption.

Vasen had finally moved close to Thorn.  “Do you live in Elfhome?” he asked.

“No,” Thorn answered.  “Thissle and I live in the forest.  Her family is from Elfhome, but my people all come from Mid-elf-land.”

“Quiet.” Greta insisted.  She turned again to her brother.  “Don’t bury the statue or put it under anything, but hide it behind something, behind the powder if you can.”
“Who are Spark and those others?” Bragi asked.

“Fire sprites.” Thissle started to speak, but Greta hushed her.

“Never mind, just trust me and do what I ask,” Greta said.  “And when the statue is in place, gather your friends, the ones who have had a change of heart, and wait until Thissle gives the signal.”

“What signal? For what?”  Bragi asked.

“It will probably be something like, “Get Out!”  You must hurry down the Mount as fast as you can and head for the Roman outpost and surrender yourselves.  Don’t worry about Gregor and these others.  Thorn will get them out all right, and they will have the same message. Do you understand?”  She looked at Thorn and Thissle, but everyone nodded, including Finbear who had no idea what he nodded for.

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

MONDAY

Greta has been lucky so far, in one sense.  That terrible, powerful witch, Lady Brunhild, has been missing.  Hopefully, plans can be put in motion before she returns, but she will return.  Next week: Confrontation.  Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: The Way Things Are, part 2 of 3

Fae was lying down and looked very frail.  Berry looked at a scroll, upside down.  Greta bent over to search for Fae’s pulse, and she heard Marcus.

“Now there’s a woman built to carry children,” he said.  It sounded like his way of suggesting she had a fat butt.  Greta turned slowly.  She pointed to the roof of the tent and Marcus foolishly looked. Her foot came down hard on his toes.

“Oaf.”  She called him.  “I’ll probably be as fat as Mama soon enough, and then even Darius won’t want to look at me and you boys can have all the fun you want.”  Marcus laughed a hearty laugh, and that did not make things easy.  Greta had to still her feelings.  There were important things to do.  She introduced Fae as the wise woman of the forest people.  It turned out Fae’s Greek was passable, and she even knew some Latin. Then she found out Sergeant Gaius knew Gaelic well enough to recognize most of the words in the local dialect. There were rough spots, but she knew they would work things out and she really would not be needed.

Greta sighed and stared at an invisible Hobknot to be sure he stayed good.  Then she went outside and took Berry with her for safe keeping.  Darius followed, until Greta turned to face him.

“You don’t like me much.  That is obvious,” he said.  He got military, blunt and formal.  “But I will be a good husband and never give you reason to complain.”

Greta shook her head.  To his surprise, she took his arm and walked him to where they could have some privacy. Meanwhile, Berry said nothing, but followed a few steps behind with big eyes and open ears.  “That’s not it,” Greta said.  “I like you well enough.  You seem to be a nice man, only I don’t know you very well.  I never imagined myself with a Roman.  It takes some getting used to, is all.”

Darius turned and placed his hands gently on her shoulders.  He smiled a little and she let herself be drawn up into his deep eyes.  “I can live with that,” he said.  “I’m still getting used to the idea that my mother was one of your people, or I should say our people.  I understand. Maybe someday.” He did not finish that sentence and turned to another thought altogether.  “And, now that you mention it, I don’t know you very well either, I suppose.  I like what I see, and I suppose I am guilty of assuming the rest will be equally wonderful.”

Greta blushed a little, and she hated the way it made her freckles stand out.  She was not what she imagined as beautiful, and especially after so many days in the wild woods.  She imagined she looked frightful, but that mattered less than she thought as she finally began to understand her reluctance.  “But there are things about me that you know nothing about, and they are big and important things, and they would take a very special man to be able to deal with them, type things.”

He looked at her, and clearly wanted to reassure her that, whatever it might be, that he could deal with it.  But she knew he had no idea.

“There are things you need to know while there is still time to change your mind.”  She said, bluntly, and then for the life of her she could not imagine how to begin to explain.

After the longest time of silence, Darius took her hand and attention.  “Perhaps you could begin by telling me who this cute little shadow of yours is,” he suggested.

Berry sat on the ground to run her hand across the top of the grass.  There were all sorts of animals that grazed near the forest’s edge, so in spots the grass looke like a newly mowed lawn.  Greta pulled herself together.

“This is Berry.” She introduced her.  “She is my ward, and you had better get used to having her underfoot because she will be with me until she convinces me to let her marry Hans.”

Berry looked up at Greta with great big eyes.  “Really? Oh, thank you Lady.  Thank you, thank you.”  She scooted over on her knees and took Greta’s hand and began to kiss it.

“Berry,” Greta said softly.  “This man will be my husband so you had better get used to him, too.”

Berry looked first.  “I like him,” she said, and she scooted over and took his hand and began to kiss it. “Thank you, my Lord.  Thank you for giving me Hans.”

“Berry.” Greta spoke, and when she had the girl’s attention she finished her thought.  “You must wait four years.”

“Four years!” Berry fell over, nearly fainted dead away.

“Not before he is eighteen, don’t you think so?”  She looked at Darius.

“At least,” Darius said.  “But don’t you think Hans ought to have some say in the matter?”

Berry sat straight up.  “Why?” She asked in such a frank and innocent tone it seemed clear that she had never considered this thought before.

“I’m afraid he has no say in the matter,” Greta said.  She covered Darius’ mouth with her hand to stop him from speaking.  “You see, there are some things about me that you don’t know.  Big things.” Darius stayed wonderfully patient. “Berry.” Greta spoke at last, though she never let her eyes waver from his and the expression on his face. “Please come up to my shoulder.  I think there is a knot in my hair.”  Berry looked at Darius and tried to get up on her tip toes for a look.  “No, sweet.” Greta said.  “I mean get little.  It’s all right.”

Berry looked again at Darius and then flew straight to Greta’s shoulder.  Her head and hands went immediately into Greta’s hair and left only her wings and backside exposed.

“Great Gods!” Darius croaked, but then he stood there and watched.  He looked fascinated, and Greta felt glad he was not like so many humans who viewed the little spirits of the earth with fear and trembling.

“Hey!” Berry shouted, having forgotten all about Greta’s hair.  She turned and put her little hands on her hips.  “If you two are going to be married, what was that game you were just playing?”

“Traditional human mating ritual,” Greta said, without pause.  Darius hid his grin.

“Well I hope I won’t have to do that with Hans,” she said.  “I couldn’t remember all that foolish talk.”

Darius and Greta both turned a little red that time.  “That’s enough, sweet,” Greta said.  “You need to get down now and get big again.”

Berry did one back flip in mid-air and landed perfectly on her feet.

“I say.” Darius looked at Greta.  “But is it safe having her around?”

Greta shrugged. “Ask her.”

Berry spoke right up.  “Oh, I hope it will be safe.  I have been thinking about it and I am a little afraid of being around so many clunky humans all day, every day.  You will be there if I need help or get into trouble, won’t you?”

“Um, yes.” Darius said, though that was not what he had in mind.  He cocked one eyebrow at Greta, but this time she hid her smile.  “But now Berry,” he said.  “Will you be a good girl, and always be honest with us and do right away whatever we ask?”

“Yes I will,” Berry said, but then she thought about it and lowered her head.  “At least I will try very, very hard.”  She answered more honestly.

“Don’t expect too much,” Greta said.  “She is a teenager.”

Darius gave Greta a look and she stood up straight.  “Seventeen and a half.”  She lied. “But I feel so much older after these last couple of months.”  Darius nodded to that.

R5 Greta: To Ravenshold, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Count on it.” Fae agreed.

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

“Grandfather?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Done,” Greta said with a smile

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

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

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