Avalon 8.8 The Bad Penny, part 4 of 6

Sir Bertulf and the night watch arrived at the same time as Decker, Elder Stow, Sukki and Boston.  The travelers did not appear to be fully awake, but Sir Bertulf and the men on the watch all gagged on seeing the shredded gate guards.  Giovanni arrived moments later with one of the old men that went with him to check out the farm.  The old man spoke first to Sir Bertulf.

“This is what we saw on the farm, though the family looked partly eaten.  We ran as fast as the horses could run when a dozen of these Wolv came out of the woods.”

“I count two Wolv,” Giovanni said, and he leaned back and shouted up to the top of the wall.  “Alexis.  How many did you get up there?”

Lockhart’s voice answered.  The man could not be well seen on the night shrouded walkway.  “Lincoln shot one.”

“That is three,” Giovanni said, seemingly satisfied.  He understood three-man—three-Wolv—three-person fighter/bomber craft became standard among space-faring people since the days of the Balok, some five thousand years earlier.  That three-man or three-Wolv thinking translated into all sort of other circumstances.  A three Wolv scout troop was what he expected.

“We saw at least a dozen at the farm,” the old man said, and added softly, “I didn’t stop to count them.”

Sir Bertulf stared at the Wolv by his feet when Giovanni said, “These were probably advanced scouts sent to check out the lay of the land.”

“There are more out there,” the old man said.

“You talk as if these Wolv think like an army.”  Sir Bertulf tore his eyes away from staring at the beast.

“They have first rate military minds,” Giovanni answered.  “Despite the fact that they look something like ordinary wolves, these Wolv are not dumb beasts.  They talk, are organized, and make excellent soldiers, which is why one group of people used them as front-line troops in their days of conquest.”

“How many do you figure?” Decker asked.

“At least a company of forty.  Maybe a whole brigade.  That would be six hundred.  Let us hope there are not more.  Oberon!” Giovanni called.

“Right here, Lord,” the dwarf answered.  He came out of the dark street followed by the half-ogre Sibelius and a very grumpy old woman named Madam Figiori.  Madam Figiori was a very old, full blood elf whose magic allowed her glimpses of hidden things, including rare glimpses of the future.  She ran the fortune teller’s booth, but at the moment, being a light elf, she wanted to be sleeping in the dark time.

Sibelius carried the stretcher Giovanni made with the hope they would never have to use it.  Sadly, circus people sometimes had accidents and needed to be carried to a place where they could rest and recover from their injuries.  In this case, Sibelius held up the stretcher with a question in his eyes.  Immediately, Alexis shouted down from overhead.

“Benjamin got clawed.  We need a way to get him back to the inn.”

“Come on, strongman,” Decker said and headed toward the stairs.

“I wondered why Madam Figiori said to bring this.”  Sibelius smiled as he held up the stretcher and followed.

Katie came down first and saw that there was nothing Alexis could do for the gate guards.  Sir Bertulf jumped when he saw Katie examining the men.  He began giving orders to the watch.  “Raise the city guard.  I want torches on the wall in the night so we can see them coming.  We have to man the whole wall.  They could come over at any point, and I’ll flog any man who falls asleep on the watch.”  He turned to Giovanni.  “Are they afraid of fire?”

“Not in the least,” Giovanni answered.  “You can’t think of them as dumb animals.  If we make the wall too costly for them, they may try to set the wall on fire, or burrow under, or build siege engines like an army of men.  They are ferocious, like berserkers, stronger and faster than ordinary men, but most of all they think.  They are not dumb beasts.”  Sir Bertulf nodded, even if the reality of that would take time to sink in.  Giovanni added another note.  “You need to consider manning the wall in shifts.  They may be here before morning, or it could be days or even weeks before they turn in our direction.”  A final nod from Sir Bertulf and he ran off followed by two watchmen.

Other watchmen started up the stairs as Decker and Sibelius brought Lincoln down as carefully as they could, with Alexis yelling at them to be careful.  Lockhart followed, coming down the stair where he and Katie joined Elder Stow, Sukki, and Boston who had gathered around Giovanni.  Giovanni was speaking to the dwarf.

“No, Lord,” Oberon said.  “It looks like the six hundred you guessed.  There are some good dwarfs, some string beans, flutter-byes, and dark ones all volunteering to help defend the town, but not many of each.  Those Wolv are scarry just to look at.”

“Every bit helps, and I am sure your volunteers will do more than they should.  Thank them for me.” Giovanni turned to the travelers, but Madam Figiori interrupted his thoughts.

“No telling if I can see rightly in the dark.  It is unnatural to be awake and about at this time of the night.  But it looks like you have an elect, a member of the elder race, a girl who is simply cracking with powers—the gods must have been generous to you, girl—and the red head is a full blood elf, a princess I would guess from the look of her.”

“Boston,” Giovanni smiled.  “You need to visit with Madam Figiori while you are here.”  he turned to the old elf.  “Consider Boston like the daughter you never had.”

Madam Figiori harumphed and walked once around Boston like she needed to see the girl from all the angles.  Then she spoke.  “She is a fiery wild child.  Brilliant, but a disobedient, stubborn girl who can drive everyone crazy around her.”  Boston did not object, but she looked sad to think this elder elf did not like her.  Madam Figiori surprised her when she let out a little smile.  “She is exactly the kind of daughter I would have had if I had one.”  She turned again to Giovanni.  “Nothing I can see right now.  These Wolv are just exploring for the present and their minds are too wild to make sense.”  She shrugged.  “I will sleep on it.  Come, girl,” she said and walked off with Boston following.  “What kind of a name is Boston?  Well, you used to be human.”

“Ugh,” Boston protested.  “How did you know that?”

“I know too much.  Elves frown on soothsaying and fortune telling.  It got me kicked out of my woodland home, but that happened a long, long time ago…”

That was all the travelers heard before Lockhart turned to Giovanni and asked, “Where do you want us?”

“Available,” Giovanni said.  “I would prefer you on the road to the next time gate, but that would not be safe right now.  I guess for now you can stay around the main gate on the main road.  The south road gate is next to the Baron’s residence.  Hopefully the man is not a complete fool, or Sir Bertulf may double the guard there.  Later, maybe when everyone is up in the daytime, you might hang around with me by the town hall.  That is the center of town.  We can run from there to the wall, wherever we may be needed.  Elder Stow?”

Elder Stow took one more look at his scanner.  “I have expanded the alarm to a half-mile all around.  That takes in the town and should give us more advanced warning if there are Wolv in the area.”  He handed Giovanni a disc.  “Here.  It is tuned to the scanner and will relay the alarm, should it go off.”  Giovanni thanked him and put the disc in his pocket.

Giovanni said, “I suppose it won’t do any good to ask Decker to take his eagle totem in a fly around in the morning.  As I recall, he can’t see much under the trees.  Still, he might luck out and catch a glimpse of whatever ship brought the Wolv here.”

“Agreed,” Elder Stow said.  “But for now, we need to rest while we can.  It also won’t do any good being exhausted when the Wolv come in force.”

Everyone agreed with that and went their separate ways.  Lockhart and Kate climbed to the walkway up on the wall where they had a turn watching for the Wolv, while men came to man the gate and clean up the mess of bodies below.

###

Giovanni had a fine breakfast prepared in the town hall.  The travelers had already eaten at the inn, but they did not mind nibbling on the food.  Decker meditated and sent up his eagle totem.  He saw nothing to speak of under the forest canopy and could not confirm the glistening something he saw in the distance, well beyond his range.

“It might be a ship, a big ship, or two ships,” he said.  “It might be a refection off the next big town over.”

“Stuttgart,” Lincoln named it. “On the Necker River.”

Decker said, “It might be the river.”

Elder Stow added a note.  “I am seeing movement in the woods, but it could be a herd of deer or something.”  His uncertainty did not reassure anyone.  He picked up on that and defended himself.  “This is just a toy.  It is not a real scanner. I am doing my best.”

“I am sure you are,” Katie said and smiled for him.

“I can’t eat anything,” Sukki said.  “All I can picture is the Wolv eating the whole town.”

Nanette nudged her.  “Good thing you had a big breakfast before coming here.”

Sukki nodded.  “I wasn’t thinking about the Wolv then.”

Sir Bertulf and some of his men were there along with the two old men from the farm.  One of the other knights, Sir Radbod was also present.  He came around after he saw the bodies of the shredded gate guards.  No telling where Sir Aldabert and the Baron Fredrick stood at that point, but at least now Sir Bertulf did not need to watch both ends of the town at the same time.

Any number of circus people were present as well, including Oberon the dwarf, Sibelius the strongman, Titania, the bearded fat lady, and Leonora decked out in her harlequin costume, who complained that they had an adventure in the night without her.

“That is what Boston usually says,” Sukki told her when Boston and Madam Figiori came in laughing about something.  Boston took the madam to introduce her adopted sisters Sukki and Nanette.  Madam Figiori was just revealing the impression she got of both of them, impressions that were uncanny in their accuracy, when Elder Stow’s alarm went off.

“I guess that is not a herd of deer,” he said.

Oberon nodded.  “It looks like the full six hundred, and they are straight out in the woods from this point, about half-way between the north and south gates.

“God help us,” Sukki said, and even the disguised little ones present did not object to that idea.

Avalon 8.8 The Bad Penny, part 2 of 6

“I thought they all died,” Sukki said as she got down from her horse.  “There should not be any more Wolv.”

“Not a chance,” Boston said, as Nanette and Titania came up to join them.  “They just got stranded on whatever planet they were on when their Humanoid ships busted beyond what they could fix.”

Elder Stow came up staring at his scanner.  He ostensibly came to help the women move their horses off the road.  The circus people were still bringing in the wagon loads from where they parked in a field outside the town palisade.  The others all went to help.

“Actually,” Elder Stow spoke to the women.  “Even in my day, a thousand years in the future, there are a half-dozen or so worlds where packs of Wolv still roam around.  You see, on some worlds the people were made extinct before the Wolv returned to space.  Some fought off the invasion as Earth did a thousand years ago in the days of Ali Baba.  But eventually the Humanoid technology broke as Boston said, and the Wolv became trapped on that world.  Again, some local people defeated the Wolv, and if they were advanced enough to do it, they also got an introduction to Humanoid technology and space travel.  I suspect the Flesh Eaters, and maybe the Apes fall into that category.  But on some worlds, the Wolv won and now own at least a half-dozen worlds in my day.”

‘You mean, they might learn how to fix things and come back here at any time?”  Sukki worried.

“No, daughter.”  Elder Stow gave her a reassuring smile.  “The Wolv everywhere have reverted to their natural pack and tribal state; what modern people would call a Neolithic existence.  They can learn.  They can be taught, as the Humanoids taught them how to use their equipment, but it will be thousands of years before they learn enough to build their own spaceships, and it is possible that will never happen.”

“But they are here,” Nanette said, sounding nearly as nervous as Sukki.  “How did they get here?”

“Over here,” Alexis shouted.  She and Tony had the wagon in a side street, and Alexis had hers and Lincoln’s horses.  The others each grabbed the reigns of two horses that were otherwise just standing around, and they followed the wagon, while Elder Stow said one more thing.

“That is the question.  They had to be brought here.  Who brought them?”

Decker and Lincoln went to help pack and bring in the last of the circus wagons.  The town watch and soldiers were anxious to get the gate closed, though they had not yet seen a Wolv.  If they had, they might have slammed the gate already and let those outside the palisade fend for themselves.  Decker did not have the heart to tell the locals a wooden palisade wall would hardly be sufficient against the Wolv.  It would not keep out an army, but the town could surrender to an army.  If they surrendered to the Wolv, the Wolv would just eat them or tear them to shreds just for fun.  The palisade might keep out a company of men attached to a distant army.  It would at least make the company think twice before attacking, so Decker supposed it was not a totally useless wall.

Meanwhile, Lockhart and Katie met with Don Giovanni and Leonora, and two older men who went out to one of the outlying farms to see what the madman kept screaming about.  They tried to explain things to the local Baron, his three knights, and the four town elders.  At least one of the knights, Sir Bertulf seemed to understand what they were talking about, or maybe he believed them.  The others all wanted to deny reality or interpret it in a way that did not appear so threatening.

“So, a pack of wolves attacked the man’s farm,” the Baron said with a haughty laugh.  “Nothing a couple of good hunters can’t take care of.  It happens all the time.”  He walked off and two of his knights went with him, laughing about the panic.

“No.  You don’t understand,” Otto, one of the old men started to speak but paused when Giovanni put his hand out.

“He will believe it when he sees it,” Giovanni said.  “Let us hope it is not the last thing he sees.”

“How can we help?” Lockhart asked.

“Actually, for once you can stick around and get your rifles ready,” Giovanni answered as he turned to the town elders.    “Besides, it isn’t safe out there to be traveling right now.”  He spoke to the elders.  “Do you understand what is going on here?”

The head of the little group looked at his fellows before he answered.  “I am with the Baron.  A pack of wild wolves I understand.  I don’t know these Wolvs you speak of.”

“Just as long as you open the gates for the people to come behind the shelter of the wall.”

“We will not keep anyone out,” he responded, and they left.

“Sir Bertulf?” one of the older men asked, wondering what the last knight present thought.

Sir Bertulf pulled a little on his beard.  “You say and all agree these are not natural or normal wolves.  They think, are clever and cunning, and have a language all their own with which they communicate with each other even as we talk with one another.  Are they demons, then, who have taken the form of wolves?  I know their master goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.  I do not doubt that his servants may take the form of wolves and be equally hungry.”

The old men looked at Don Giovanni as Lockhart began to speak.  “That is not exactly right.”

“But close enough,” Giovanni said.  “And if that line of thinking helps the people mount a reasonable defense, then let’s go with it.”

“We will spread the word among the people,” one of the old men said.

“And I will see to the soldiers and the night watch on the wall.” Sir Bertulf agreed.

As they left, Leonora grabbed Giovanni.  “Tell me about these friends of yours.  You never mentioned them.”

“I never think of them until they arrive, or mostly,” he said.

“They have an elf with them.”  Leonora smiled.

“And a member of the elder race, two witches, and Katie here is an elect.  We will meet them all later, but that is not important now.”  Giovanni turned at the door and looked to see the gate closing.  His circus wagons stretched the whole length of the street from the gate almost to the Baron’s residence at the far end.  The Baron lived in a mansion and had a strong stone tower as a fallback position.  He also had his own wall around his very big piece of property.  It was an improvement over the town wall because the bottom four feet or so was stone.

“I hope we don’t end up stuffing as many people as possible into the baron’s tower as a last resort.  That would not be good.”

Leonora tugged on Giovanni’s sleeve.  “So, where do these Wolvs come from?” she asked.

“Wolv,” he corrected her.  “It is like sheep.  Wolv covers the singular and the plural.”  The couple looked eye to eye in silence for a moment, and Katie smiled and nudged Lockhart who imagined he knew what she was nudging about.

“But where…”

Giovanni put an arm around Leonora’s shoulder.  She quieted and let out her smile.  He pointed to the sky and said, “You know in the night when all the stars come out?  Generally, in that direction.  You know, they are all suns very, very far away.  There is a world, like the earth, that goes around one of those suns.  They come from there, and how they got here is a question.”

Leonora sighed and laid her head against Giovanni’s shoulder.  Katie had to say something.

“Surely, the Humanoid ships are not still functioning.”

“No,” Giovanni said.  “And don’t call me Shirley.”  He smiled.  “But seriously, they had to have been brought here.  The question is by who and for what purpose.”

Lincoln called as he walked up to the town hall.  “Lockhart.  Katie.  We found an inn and got five rooms before they filled up with circus people.  The horses and wagon are in the barn.”  He stepped up and smiled for what he took to be two couples.  Giovanni quickly let go of Leonora and asked her a question.

“Would you mind going with the travelers to help them get settled in?  I need to settle the train and get the tents up in the street, I guess.  Tell Boston I haven’t forgotten.  I’ll be along later to get her hug.”  Leonora backed up and looked at him.  He explained.  “It is just tradition.  She is the elf.”

“Oh,” Leonora said and seemed to understand something. “Come on,” she waved to Katie and Lockhart as she and Lincoln led the way down the side street.  “The Frauenhaus,” she named the inn.  “Not the best in town, but acceptable.”

Avalon 8.8 The Bad Penny, part 1 of 6

After 979 A.D. The Black Forest

Kairos 106: Don Giovanni, Ringmaster.

Recording …

“Sir Brutus!”  A man’s voice echoed through the woods.  Boston could not tell how far away that muffled voice might be in the thick evergreen forest they traveled through.

Sukki rode up beside Boston where she stopped on the road in the sunlight, and Sukki commented.  “These woods are dark and spooky.”

Boston nodded as both girls turned their heads to the sound.  “Sir Brutus.”

“You hear that?” Boston asked, and Sukki nodded.

They rode back toward the others, but they did not get very far.  A wolfman stepped out on to the road.  The man had the Lon Chaney Junior look from the old black and white movies, with his face and hands completely covered in fur, but he otherwise looked human enough. Sukki screamed, but Boston had seen an actual werewolf before, and besides, it was around noon on a bright and sunny day, even if the forest floor remained covered in darkness.

“Are you calling for the knight?” Boston asked, assuming Sir Brutus was a knight.

The wolfman smiled and pointed back into the trees.  “Sibelius and Severas are calling the bear.  Sir Brutus is a bear.  I thought it would be better to sneak up on him.”

“Sir Brutus is a bear?”  Boston asked.  “You are sneaking up on a bear?”

“Bear?” Sukki’s concern doubled as she looked all around.

“He is tame,” the wolfman said.  “A well-fed pushover, though he may be hungry.”

###

Nanette screamed.  The black bear surprised her and came right up to sniff her.  Decker came in from the flank, his rifle ready, but he hesitated for fear that Nanette might get hurt.  Lockhart grabbed his shotgun, but Katie shouted.

“Don’t shoot him.”  She bravely stepped forward.  “He has a collar.”

“He is probably hungry,” Alexis said.  “Especially if he is lost.”  She stepped to the back of the wagon and butted right in front of Tony who stood there petrified beside Nanette.  Alexis reached in the back of the wagon and pulled out a leftover leg from the deer they cooked the night before.  “Probably smelled the meat in the wagon.”  The bear stood up, a bit over six feet tall, and it growled softly as Alexis approached.

“It’s okay,” Alexis said softly, like a mom.  “No one is going to hurt you.”  She set the deer leg down on the edge of the road and backed away. The bear looked at her.  “Go on,” she said, smiled and waved her hands at the deer. The bear sniffed the deer leg once before it flopped down on its belly and began to nibble on it. The brute let out a grunt of satisfaction

“I think we need to keep walking,” Lockhart said as calmly as he could.  He put his shotgun back in its holster.  “We can wait on lunch.”

“I wonder who the bear belongs to,” Katie said as they began to move.  She looked back and saw Nanette and Tony in the rear gave the bear a wide berth.  The horses probably insisted.

Decker fit in behind the others as Elder Stow came in from the other side with a report.  “There is a town up ahead.”

“Baden-Baden,” Katie named the town.

“About an hour,” Elder Stow finished his thought.

“Maybe we should lunch there,” Lockhart said, as everyone stopped.  A seriously big man with a beard stepped out into the road.  It took a few seconds before the travelers realized it was a seriously big woman with a beard.

“Titania.  What did you find?”  A young woman’s voice came from the trees before the woman, a rather lanky, but remarkably beautiful woman in tights, stepped on to the road.

“I’m not sure,” the big woman said in the meekest, squeaky, high-pitched little voice.  “Come see.”

Even as the arm with enough blubber on it to make a walrus proud pointed, Boston rode up.  Sukki walked her horse and seemed to be talking to a wolfman.

“Now, this s getting strange,” Lockhart whispered to Katie who had the oddest grin on her face.

“Hello strangers,” the skinny young woman said.  “Have you come to see the Don Giovanni circus?  The greatest show on earth.”  Katie nodded.  She figured it out.

Decker, Nanette, and Tony came up from the back, where the wagon stopped. “The bear is following us,” Tony reported.

“Sir Brutus!”  The skinny woman shouted, did one cartwheel, a back handspring, flawlessly, and scampered down the road to fetch the bear.

“We have meat leftover in the back of the wagon,” Tony warned as she went by.

“I’m Katie, and this is my husband, Lockhart.”  Katie smiled.

“I’m Titania, the bearded fat lady, and Baklovani is the wolfman,” the fat lady said with a welcoming smile beneath all that beard.

“Do you sing?” Decker had to ask.  That confused Titania until her attention got retaken by Katie who went on to introduce the rest of the Travelers.  By then, Sukki and Baklovani arrived, and the wolf man added the last note.

“Leonora is our harlequin, and about the best one I’ve ever seen, but since she is not in her makeup, right now she is just Leonora.”

“Sir Brutus,” the shout came from one direction

“Over here,” Baklovani and Titania shouted together before everyone paused at the sound of a great howl of a wolf in the dark of the forest.

“The big, bad wolf,” Lockhart said with a grin at Katie.  Katie’s response surprised him.  She actually looked worried.  Boston also seemed to sense something wrong in that direction.  Elder Stow took note of the reaction of the women and got his scanner back out.

“We should keep moving,” Nanette said, and stared into the forest like a child afraid of the dark.  They did, but only to stop again a short way down the road. Three men came to the road, or at least one of them looked normal enough.  He went straight for the bear who was behaving badly, wanting more of that meat from the back of the wagon.  He scolded the bear and put on a muzzle with a lead to bring the bear home.  Leonora appeared glad to be relieved of that duty, and she climbed into the back of the wagon to watch events transpire.

“Halloo!” the short one yelled and waved, though they were not that far away. He looked to be under four-feet-tall, but there was something odd about the way he looked and moved.  He did not look like a typical little person. His near seven-foot-tall and terribly ugly friend did not look entirely human either.

“Halloo,” Katie returned the greeting.  Boston cleared up the mystery.

“A dwarf,” she said.  “A dwarf without a beard.”  She sounded amazed.  “I’m Boston.”

“I’m Oberon, and I’m supposed to look human, miss skinny-minny.  I must say though, with that glamour you look almost human yourself.”

“Almost.  Ha!”  Boston did not take it as the insult it was meant.  “Who is your big, ugly friend?  He looks ogrish to me.”

“Name’s Sibelius,” the big man spoke for himself and doffed his hat.  “Only half an ogre on my father’s side.  I do endeavor to mind my manners, especially around the womenfolk.”

They started out again, only to be interrupted once more by five men riding hard up from behind them.  “Don’t stop,” one of the men yelled when they arrived.

“My father,” Elder Stow interrupted as they started to walk again.  “Those are not wolves. They are Wolv.”  The locals could not hear the difference, but the travelers knew, and Sukki shrieked.

“I thought they all died.”

“Keep moving. Fast as you can.  We have to go and warn the village.”  Four of the men rode off at full speed.

One man stopped by the wagon and reached out a hand.  Leonora leapt up behind the rider and the rider said one more thing before he raced to catch up with the others.  “Lockhart.  Good timing or bad timing as usual.  Later Boston.  Hurry.”

Oberon went straight to the wagon, as did Elder Stow.  Oberon yelled at Lincoln and Alexis. “Let me drive the wagon. Get to your horses so they don’t drag behind.”  Lincoln hesitated, but Lockhart said to do it.

Sibelius got on the buckboard beside the dwarf.  Titania struggled to get her bulk in the rear, while Elder Stow attached two discs, front and back, and tuned them to his anti-gravitation device, to lighten the load for Ghost the mule.  Baklovani got up behind Sukki, and they set off at a run.  The horses hardly went all out.  Everyone was aware that they could only go as fast as Ghost and the bear could manage.  But they hurried.  Decker and Elder Stow dropped back behind the bear to guard the rear.  No one heard so much as a howl before they reached the village, but they did not have to, now that they knew what was out there.