M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 2 of 3

The fight did not last long.  Both Bedivere and Uwaine killed their man, and the third Roman fled, wanting no part of it.  Gerraint’s encounter with Ondyaw was even shorter as Fate cracked the Roman’s sword on first contact and broke it in two.  Gerraint’s well aimed back swing sliced through the Roman’s jaw like it was putty, and the man’s jaw fell to the ground, his own eyes fastened on it.  “Tooth for a tooth.”  Gerraint muttered.  Then Ondyaw collapsed as Fate had also cut through most of the man’s neck.  Gerraint stirred himself, then.  He was not unaware of what happened elsewhere.

The words came from somewhere in time.  “No fire!”  He yelled in the Agdaline tongue, the command language to which all dragons were bred to obey.  “Do no harm!”  Gerraint was aware that when dragons went wild, when they generally shed their feathers and got big, the Agdaline commands did not always register.

“No fire!  Do no harm!”  Gerraint shouted again while the dragon cocked its’ head as if in confusion.  Gerraint decided it would not be worth the risk of his own skin.  Besides, there was something he needed to check out.  He found Amphitrite once more, but this time Danna pushed her way in front.  He traded places with Danna, exchanging one life in time for another.  The Don floated right up to the dragon’s face, repeated the commands for the sake of those below, but concentrated on looking for that fingerprint.  It showed there, but looked covered by another.

The dragon breathed as it faced the goddess.  Fire came, but Danna merely felt warmed by it.  She was the Mother goddess who touched the fires of the sun itself as well as the fires that ran like blood through the earth.  She was also, as Amonette, the serpent of Egypt and inclined to commiserate with this worm.  And again, she was the cold north wind and the frost that hardened the metal beaten on the anvil.

“Rhiannon.”  Danna commanded immediately as she floated back to the ground.  The goddess showed up instantly and kissed Danna on the cheek.

“Mother.”  Rhiannon said, lovingly.

“Rhiannon, dear.  What is with the dragon?”

Rhiannon looked pained for a minute.  “It was his suggestion.”

“His who?”  Danna spoke with some sternness in her voice.  “Don’t tell me this is the worm’s fault.  Eve already tried that one.”  The dragon moaned, softly and the women turned.

“Go home and take a nap.”  Danna commanded.

“Sleep?”  The dragon barely mouthed in Agdaline.

“You heard me.  No arguments.”  Danna insisted and the dragon shot flame straight up into the sky with a moan loud enough to make the few men who were still near cover their ears against the sound.  The dragon took to the sky and was soon lost in the clouds.

“He, who?”  Danna returned to the former conversation, not having forgotten.  Rhiannon had that pained look again.

“Young Abraxas,” she said, and then she struck a pose.  “Master of light and dark.  God of good and evil.  He has such an ego.”

“Sounds it,” Danna said.  “And you listened to him?”

“Well,” Rhiannon hedged.  “You were hurt and seemed in such trouble.  He suggested the dragon might help you escape.”

“Help?  It went straight for the tent where we were held prisoner.  If we had not escaped already, we would have been toast!”

“I did not know,” Rhiannon admitted.  “He is a very slick character.”

Danna stopped walking and Rhiannon stopped with her.  “Daughters don’t usually take a mother’s advice on such things.  And I don’t honestly remember if you are a granddaughter or great-great, whatever.  Not that it matters.  But he does not sound like the sort of young man a mother, any mother, would like.  Please avoid him in the future.”

“Oh, yes I will,” she said.  “Most assuredly.”

Danna leaned over and returned Rhiannon’s kiss and barely kept her tongue from saying, “You lie like an elf.”  She traded places then with Gerraint and came straight to the point.

“The Welshmen,” Gerraint said.

“I have them,” Rhiannon admitted.  “They wanted me to open a door to Avalon, Gwynwas as they call it.  Abraxas seemed keen on the idea as well.”

“You didn’t.”  Gerraint needed to hear it.

Rhiannon pretended offense.  “No,” she said.  “You have told us a million times how the Island is private, even if we are your children.  That is your place, shared with Mannanan in the old time.  Mine was in Tara, before it was deserted.”

“Yes, about that,” Gerraint said.  “I thought after Lancelot you were going over to the other side with the others?  The time of the gods is over.  What are you still doing here?”

“Galahad,” she said.  “And you did ask me to keep Meryddin under wraps for the rest of his life.

“Oh, yes.  And how is the geezer?”

“Gone.”  Rhiannon said, sadly.  “And I’ve been thinking of moving the court elsewhere.  I don’t want to stay and be reminded.”

“What is it with you and the wrong sort of men?”  Gerraint asked with some tenderness in his voice.  He wiped the tear that formed in the corner of her eye.  “But seriously, if Meryddin is now gone and Galahad is grown, why are you still here?”

“Apparently, there is one more young man.  But I do not know who it is yet.”

“Yes, well you must not dawdle.  Nearly all of the gods have already passed over centuries ago, you know.”  Gerraint still spoke with some tenderness.  Dying was hard enough when it was involuntary, not that her spirit would cease to function in the world, only she would no longer have flesh to touch the world, or eyes to see, or ears to hear.  She would be more like a force in this world, deaf, dumb and blind, and subject only to the directions of the Spirit of the Most-High God.

Rhiannon looked at Gerraint and smiled.  “Don’t worry,” she said.  “Festuscato has already scolded me enough.  “Keep away from Patrick!  You should not be here!” OH!”  Rhiannon read the look on Gerraint’s face and stopped.  “He was a past life of yours, don’t you remember?”

He remembered, but he wanted to have a bit of fun.  “Past would be the only ones you would know,” Gerraint said.  “But that doesn’t mean I know.  You know the rule.  Never tell the Kairos about any life he has not yet experienced.”

“Oh, yes, but then you trade places sometimes with the future lives,” she responded.

“Festuscato?”  Gerraint grinned, and she knew he was teasing.

“Stop it.  You’re embarrassing me.”  They came to Uwaine and Bedivere.  She named them, looked gently into their minds, and welcomed them to the lake.

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 1 of 3

They slept in the wilderness, and in the morning, headed straight for the North road.  “The main way down the center is just as quick and probably easier traveling,” Gerraint explained.  “But this way will take us by the old Cairns, the burial places of the kings.”

“You think the Welshmen came this way?” Bedivere asked.

“No.”  Gerraint spoke plainly.  “I think they must already be at the Lake, or near enough.  But we are less likely to be pursued in this direction.  I doubt any trouble would guess we even know about this road.”

“Trouble?”  Bedivere asked.  “I thought last night you said that was all cleared up.”

“Odyar,” Uwaine said.  Gerraint liked his old squire.  He had a gift in the judgment of character.

They stayed at a coastal inn that next night, and again, on the night after that.  The following evening, they had hopes of reaching the lake, but they were surprised around midday by the last thing Gerraint expected.  Instead of swords from behind, they ran smack into swords ahead.  Even as they turned to the Southeast and toward the actual lake, they were surrounded by about thirty swords of the Romans coming up from the south.  Gerraint knew the lake area was like a kind of no man’s land that separated the Romanish lands from Amorica.  He felt distressed to see the revived Romans making incursions across the border and again, he did not doubt Howel’s concerns about a possible war in the near future.

Gerraint would not let Uwaine draw his sword against such odds.  They surrendered quietly.

Ondyaw was the Captain of the Romans, despite his obvious Gallic name.  Gerraint looked at him closely and immediately saw the family resemblance.  “Odyar’s brother?”  He asked.  Ondyaw confirmed as much with a slap across Gerraint’s face.  Bedivere struggled against the ropes, but Uwaine knew better and kept still.  Bedivere only hurt his own wrists.

“And where are you headed?” he asked.  “My brother’s message was rather vague on the details and said only that I should stop you.”

“To the Lake of the Vivane,” Gerraint said.  He saw no reason to hide it.

“That accursed place.  I should take you there and dump you.  I doubt you would last the night.”

“Fluff and mirrors,” Gerraint said.  “Rhiannon just likes her privacy is all.”

Ondyaw slapped him again.  “That great Lady’s name should never touch your lips.”  Gerraint felt it in his jaw, and for a moment, he was sorry his hands were tied so he could not put his hand up to help wiggle his jaw back into place.

“Sorry,” he said.  “But I thought you were Roman.  Shouldn’t you be defending Diana and Venus instead?

Ondyaw struck him one more time just for that, or perhaps just for fun, because he could.  Gerraint decided silence was called for.  He had to pause in any case until the dizziness passed.

“Tell my brother all is well.”  Ondyaw spoke to the man who was waiting.  “The men are still watching the lake and I will send more when I know more.”  The man left and Ondyaw turned as if he had something else to say, but then decided against it.  He left and the three were alone in the tent.

“Are you all right?”  Bedivere asked while Uwaine spoke at the same time.

“Now what?”  Uwaine asked.

“Now we leave.”  Gerraint showed anger.  They had freely surrendered and honorably submitted to being captive.  They did not need to be tied.  They certainly did not deserve to be beaten, not by any standard of civilized behavior. “More like barbarians than Romans,” Gerraint said and spat out a tooth.  “Damn.  Now I’m really mad.”  He had to calm down and think for a minute.

Margueritte came immediately to mind and when he traded places with her once more, her feminine, eleven-year-old hands and feet slipped right out of the ropes.  She had on her red dress, of course, and would from then on until she changed it.

“Let me see your wrists,” she said to Bedivere.  They were chaffed raw from his attempts to tug himself free.  “Now you were so smart with the horses,” Margueritte scolded him.  “How could you be so stupid now?  How are you going to hold your sword with your wrists hurting so?”  She shook her finger at him and frowned.  Bedivere melted.

“But she’s so cute,” he said to Uwaine.

“Yes, and dangerous I’ll warrant.”  Uwaine responded.

“Not.”  Margueritte insisted, but she was getting nowhere with her young hands and fingers against the knots.  She felt obliged to trade once again with Ali.  He still wore the Armor, and though his nimble thief’s fingers would soon have them free, he pulled his long knife, not wanting to take forever.

Once Bedivere and Uwaine were up, and Ali had to say hush three or four times, they got their weapons back as they had simply been dumped in a corner of the tent. Ali then cut a small slit in the back of the tent which grew bigger as he looked and saw no one back there.  “Allow me to steal our horses,” he said.  “Must keep in practice, you know.  Be right back.”

Ali slipped from the tent and, quiet as a snake in the grass, he wound his way around the camp to where their horses were tied but unguarded.  He considered the problem, and then went back for his companions, believing the men might move more quietly than the beasts.  Perhaps they did, but they were still too loud.  The Romans would have got them but for the noise from above and the shadow that crossed over their heads.  As soon as the beast landed, the tent they had just vacated went up in flames and a roar and fire shot up into the sky.

Uwaine stared.  Bedivere screamed, though not nearly as loud as some of the Romans.  The camp turned into chaos while the dragon nosed through the burning tent.  On finding nothing edible, the dragon set its’ sights on the scattering men.

“You!”  Ondyaw saw them and pointed.  “Cursed.”  He shouted and he and three other Romans attacked.  Gerraint came back, of course, Ali having returned to his own place in time at the first sign of trouble; and none too soon as far as Ali was concerned.  Gerraint drew his sword and the long knife he had sheathed and he and his friends went at the Romans, even as the dragon contentedly swallowed a piece of charcoal which only vaguely retained the shape of a man.

Avalon 6.0 Monkey Brain Fever, part 5 of 6

Lockhart spurred forward, but his horse would only get so close before it refused to go further.  Lockhart had to shout, enunciating the alien Agdaline words as well as he could.  “No fire.  Do no harm.  Friends. Friends.  No fire.”

The worm had very stubby arms and legs.  This kind looked more like a true worm, or serpent, and it still had plenty of asbestos-like feathers, like an infant dragon.  It did not look like an infant.

“No fire.  No harm. Friend.”  Lockhart kept yelling, and the dragon paused to turn its head and look at the people and horses, as it were, upside-down.  The head snapped back right-side-up, and the dragon made a very different sound.  It almost sounded like the dragon repeated the word “friend”, before it looked up and let out a stream of fire at the sky.

“That can’t possibly be Puff.”  Katie came up near to Lockhart.  Her horse, Black Beauty, seemed even more leery of the dragon than Lockhart’s horse.

“I can’t imagine.  Maybe a child or grandchild or something.”  They met puff roughly two-thousand, five hundred years ago, back when people first started moving into the area that one day would become the Olmec civilization.  That happened when they first met Maya and her children.

“Chac was the storm and Kuican, the wind,” Lockhart tried to name those children.

“And Ixchel, the rainbow after the storm,” Katie said.  “I remember.”

“Ixchel.” Lockhart nodded.  “I couldn’t remember the girl’s name.”

“And Puff poked her nose right between a Pendratti and a Gott-Druk shuttle and scared everyone half to death.”

In timing, such as the little ones had, they heard a woman’s voice. “There you are.”  They looked up and saw a beautiful woman floating up by the dragon’s head, which lifted up near the tree tops to greet her.  She appeared to scratch under the dragon’s chin. The dragon purred.  The travelers could not imagine getting that close to the dragon’s jaw, though they had seen it done before.

“Friend,” the dragon said, and looked at Lockhart, and the rest who came up to stand behind Lockhart and Katie.  The woman looked, squinted, and appeared curious, until Katie spoke

“Maya?” Katie asked, though she knew it was not.

“Quetzalcoatl,” the woman spouted through her smile, as she zoomed to the ground, to face them.  “Maya said you were here, but I didn’t believe her.  I am Ixchel.”

“You didn’t believe your own mother?” Boston sounded surprised.

“Yes, I suppose she is my mother.  After going on three thousand years, since you were in this part of the world, some things blur.  Other things don’t make sense at all.  I mean, my father is a girl.”

“That must be interesting,” Decker said.

“I love her dearly,” Ixchel said, before Lincoln interrupted.

“I don’t suppose you can take us to the city the quick way.”

Ixchel took a moment to figure out what he asked, before she shook her head.  “I am not really here.  I came to collect Kuku.  She got set out to guard the ways to the city.  She can smell the disease, but not being native to earth, she cannot get the sickness.  She wandered off.”  Ixchel smiled a lovely smile.  “But I will welcome you when you arrive…” she vanished, and reappeared straddling the dragon’s neck.  She said something in Agdaline—the world from which dragons came.  It sounded like, “Come along, baby.”  And the dragon spread its wings and took to the sky.

Lockhart turned around and saw Ota on his knees, weeping.  He breathed through his tears. “Kukulkan.  Man of the dragon.”

Mister Crow returned from whatever safe perch he visited.  “I guessed, you know.”

“You guessed?” Alexis asked.

“Well, there weren’t any dragons around before now to know for certain.” The crow settled down on Misty Gray’s back.  “So, what did Kukulkan say to the beast, anyway?”

“He said we were friends,” Katie spoke up.

Mister Crow appeared to nod.  “Good choice of words,” he said.

“Man,” Lockhart said, as he got Ota to stand.  “Man of the dragon, but the important word is man.  I am as human as you are.”

Ota looked uncertain, but Mister Crow spoke again.  “Not if you are three thousand years old. The great goddess, Ixchel herself said she knew you three thousand years ago.”

“More like twenty-five hundred years,” Lincoln responded, as he helped Ota get up on Cortez, his horse.  “I’ll have to look it up.”

“That is a long story,” Alexis said.

“We need to ride.  The way appears to be clearing,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart rode out front and avoided looking back at the local man and the crow.  He heard Alexis and Lincoln trying to explain things, but tried not to overhear the actual conversation.

The travelers came out of the forest and found themselves in a meadow, the road clearly delineated by mud between fields of grasses and flowers. They saw a river, far in the distance, and a hint of pale green beyond, which everyone guessed might be the city. They traveled for nearly an hour before Boston had a thought.

“No,” Boston shouted, but it was already too late.

Lincoln and Katie both slipped from their seats at about the same time.  Ota hung on to Cortez’s saddle, but he weaved in his seat, like one ready to fall. Boston looked back and saw Decker leaning forward, hanging on to his horse’s neck, trying not to fall, and trying to stay awake.

“Decker,” Elder Stow reached out to the man.  The Gott-Druk did not appear as affected by whatever it was.

Boston looked at Sukki.  The girl yawned, but did not appear to be in danger of falling asleep.

“No,” Boston said again, and looked to the front to see Lockhart and Alexis slip to the ground.  The crow followed Alexis, and Boston’s hair felt like it stood on end.  “Arm up,” she said.  “Elder Stow.  I think we are going to need your weapon, especially.”

“What is it?” Sukki asked.

Elder Stow checked his scanner.  He stopped focusing on it after they got out in the open where they could see around with their own eyes.  His eyes shot toward a small rise in the landscape.  People began to come over the rise.  Maybe a hundred or more, and they all looked insane with disease.

“I don’t think the dragon just wandered off,” Sukki said, as Boston handed over her Beretta.  Boston pulled Decker’s super advanced military rifle she could turn to automatic fire.  She didn’t wait.  She sprayed the oncoming horde with bullets, even as Decker became the last to slip to the ground.  Boston felt glad that the horses were magically tied to their riders and would not wander off.  She also felt glad they got sent back from the American wild west, and would not be spooked by gunfire.

Boston tried to confine herself to bursts of five to seven bullets. The rifle would never run out of ammunition, thanks to the Kairos who set that up at the beginning, but it could overheat, and she could not afford for it to jam.

Sukki fired her pistol as she had been taught.  She only paused, and dropped her jaw, when Elder Stow’s weapon let out a line of light that turned the ones in front to ash and the ones behind to charcoal.

Even with all that power, Elder Stow admitted, “Some are going to reach us.”

“I know,” Boston wanted to panic, when a wind came up that nearly pulled her off her feet.

The people on the ground remained unaffected.  The horses turned into the wind and lowered their heads to keep from being tipped over.  Elder Stow and Sukki, with their strong and squat Neanderthal bodies, appeared to hold on to the earth.  But across the way, the diseased people got lifted up and blown away, until they moved out of sight.

Boston, who eavesdropped on Katie and Lockhart when they talked about Maya’s children, thought to say something.  “Thank you Kuican.”

Lightning, coming out of a perfectly blue sky, struck in the direction of the diseased people, and the thunder clapped loud.  The cloudless sky instantly filled with deep gray clouds, and the rain came, pouring, turning the mud road into puddles and a little river, an inch or so deep.

Boston, Sukki, and Elder Stow ran to the others to get their heads above the water; but found them coming out of their sleep.  People turned their fairy weave clothing into rain slickers, hats, and rain boots, though they got rather soaked at first.  It took some time to shake off the effects of whatever got into their systems, but soon enough they got ready to move on to the city in the distance.

R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 3 of 3

“The big bird is after the big worm,” Bogus said it, and they all ran to the door in time to see the dragon grabbed by the bird beak and tossed into the trees.  The dragon protested with fire, and it looked like it held its own for a while, but the bird kept grabbing it and shaking it and banging it against the trees, until at last, the big worm ran out of strength.

The bird picked up the worm with its claws and headed into the sky.  It punctured something, as the people smelled the gas.  The hydrogen bladder that ran along the whole belly of the beast had a leak. The dragon waited until they circled enough to gain some altitude, then Nameless said a quiet, “No.” as the dragon flamed himself.  There followed a massive explosion. People screamed at the horror.  Pieces of dragon rained down on the forest along with all of the insides of the Raven.  The bird plummeted in a streak of flame, and Berry and Fae raced out to where the dragon fell.  The rest of the crew followed.

Nameless saw something in his mind, picked everyone up with a thought and transported them to where the dragon head had turned into a very old and broken man.  Nameless also caught sight of the spark of light that came from the Raven.  It shot to the south, well beyond the dome, but he said nothing as Berry and Fae fell down beside the broken old man and began to cry.

The man could hardly speak, but he looked first at Bogus and breathed.  “Sorry father.”  Then he spoke to the girls.  “You have my permission and blessing.  They seem fine men, such as they are.”  Then he turned to Nameless and stumbled over his thoughts.  “None of the parts of Mithras mean good for the human race. They want to be the new gods and they all want to lead their way.  Beware Mithras.  He is the Pater.”

The old man’s voice trailed off and Nameless raised his head and commanded attendance.  “Willow,” he called, and his command went all the way to the Ural Mountains where a snow fairy vanished and reappeared at Nameless’ side.  The fairy spun around several times, but halted on sight of the Nameless god.  “Your grandson,” Nameless pointed to the old man, “And your great-granddaughters.”  He stepped back, and let Willow find her own way.

Willow flew up to face the old man.  She took on her big form, which made her appear like a beautiful, older woman, perhaps just shy of fifty.  She knelt beside the old man and looked briefly at Fae and Berry before she smiled for the man and spoke.  “You are Oren?”

“I am,” Oren whispered.  “And now my days are complete.”

Willow took Oren’s hand, the one Berry was not squeezing, and found one tear to protest.  “But you are so young.”

“More than a hundred,” Nameless said softly. “More than long enough for a half-human.”

Willow looked up at Fae and Berry.  “Berry,” she said.  “Queen Thumbelin has told me wonderful things about you, and young Mab said you were all right, which I think at her age is a great compliment.” Berry’s eyes teared up so she could not say anything.  “And Fae. I have heard from far away, from my dear old friend, Thissle, that you are a kind and wonderful person.  How you ever got involved with the old stinker, Hobknot, I will never know.”  Willow paused to wink at Hobknot, who scowled appropriately in return.  Clearly, they had some history.  “But love is a strange and wonderful thing, and that is worth holding on to.”  Willow turned her eyes toward Bogus who stood that whole time, quietly worrying his hat.

“Mother.”  He spoke when her eyes fell on him.

Willow smiled for her son.  “Sometimes love takes us places where we could never imagine. Love had its way with me and your father, and though it was only for a short time, he gave me you, my son.”

“I’ve been not much of a good son,” Bogus said. He lowered his eyes and shuffled his foot.

“But you have.”  Willow smiled for her son. “I have been thinking about it now for more than a hundred years.  I was wrong. You loved your human woman, Clarissa. The Kairos has taught us that we are not to mingle with human mortals, but even she knows that love will have its way. I treated her badly.  I was terrible.  I was wrong, and I went away, and I am sorry.  I missed my grandson’s whole life, and now I can never get that back.” Willow looked down and a few precious fairy tears fell to dampen Oren’s side.  Oren extracted his hand from Berry’s grasp and with a great effort, he covered Willow’s hand and patted it twice.  Bogus found a few tears of his own and stepped up to hug his mother. Nameless spoke.

“There are only two things in life that everyone experiences.  Love and death.  And we have no control over when they will come.”  Nameless went away so Greta could return and finish the thought.  “Who would have thought I would end up with a Roman?”  She stepped up and looked down at Oren.  “Sleep now,” she said.  “The old life has gone.  The new life has come.”  Berry reached for the cross she wore around her neck and Oren closed his eyes and stopped moving.  Immediately, they heard a howl.  The Wolv were not far away.  Greta lifted her voice to the sky.  “Nameless! You are mean.”  He brought her back to face her own Wolv.

“What are we going to do?” Hans asked.

“Oh, Hans.”  Greta stepped to the side and amended her word.  “Hansel.”  She grinned as she waved her hand in the air.  A great archway formed, a doorway to Avalon in the second heavens.  Greta and Berry had been there once.  Now, the others were coming, but then her little ones were always welcome.  “Hans and Hobknot, carry Oren,” Greta commanded.  “Quickly now.  Through the door before the Wolv catches us by the heel.”

People scrambled as another howl came, closer than before.  They heard the yip-yip of the Wolv before they crossed the threshold and stepped out on to a perfect, green lawn beneath a beautiful blue sky and a magnificent castle on a hill.  A small river ran through the grasses and emptied into the sea at their backs.  To their left were great rock pillars, like guardians against the sea.  To their right stood a field full of grain ready to harvest.  The air felt crisp in the late fall, but they saw no snow to cover the ground.  Directly behind them all, in the doorway to Earth, Greta stood and waited.

A Wolv ran up, but stopped as it tried to make sense of where it stood as opposed to what it saw through the archway.  A second and third Wolv arrived and stopped as well.  The third Wolv looked like an old gray-haired Wolv.  Greta spoke to the gray hair, and since she spoke from Avalon, she knew her message would be understood.

“You know this planet is off limits.  Your fleet will be destroyed in space before it can arrive if your commander is foolish enough to come here.  As for your transport, I have other tasks to perform, but as soon as I am free, I will attempt to repair your ship so you can leave. You would be wise to confine yourselves to the forest of the dome in the meanwhile.  Do not interfere with the war between the humans, unless you have a wish to die and be no more.”

Greta snapped her fingers and the door to Avalon blinked out of existence.

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

MONDAY

After a stay on Avalon, Greta and her family need to visit her brother who lives on the north border of Dacia.  She sees only blood being spilled, and fears the war to come.  Until Monday…

*

R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 1 of 3

“Son,” Bogus began like he had a long speech prepared, but there came shouts and a great commotion among the horsemen in the distance.  The horses at the parley screamed and swords got drawn, and a hundred men broke from the ranks of horsemen and charged.

The dragon turned and slithered up between the two giants.  It rose up and held itself a matching twenty feet from the ground.  The snow and cloud giants looked briefly at the dragon while it looked back and forth between the two, then all three let loose with everything they had in the face of the oncoming charge.

The snow giant shot sharp pointed icicles, like a machine gun.  Those icicle bullets penetrated everything, wood, bronze, iron, leather, horsehide and human flesh.  The cloud giant let loose one lightning strike after another.  The ground, people and horses exploded, and the thunder boomed for miles.  Greta mumbled.

“There was a reason the ancient gods put all the little ones, the sprites in her hands.  They would not give them to another immortal because it would have made that immortal too powerful.”

The dragon, of course spewed flame and created crispy critters, but after only seconds, that whole line of horsemen turned and ran for their lives.  Greta shouted up.

“Oren, you must take us now.”

The dragon turned.  “I feel the strong urge to cook you and eat you,” Oren said.

“You are still half mine,” Greta responded.  “You have a powerful half that belongs to the sprites of the earth, and you can resist the control over your human half.”

The dragon turned its head up and shot flame into the sky before it lowered its neck for Greta and Bogus to climb on board. “Hold tight to my scales,” the dragon said.  “You will not hurt me.”  They held tight, and as they rose into the air and circled several times to gain some height, Greta got a good bird’s eye view at what happened down below.

The Scythian horsemen made a massive army. Greta feared for her friends, even if they had two giants protecting them, but then she caught sight of an army coming from the east.  Slavs, she thought, and quickly turned her head to see an army coming from the west. “Goths,” she shouted.  Then she looked once more and saw three horses racing back from the parley, and then she saw no more as they shot out over the trees.

After that, Greta looked side to side, but decided she would rather not look down.  She looked for Mithrasis, and felt surprised the goddess had not already picked them up.  She decided that she guessed correctly.  As long as Mithras and Mithrasis canceled each other out, they were vulnerable to more ordinary things.  Mithrasis probably feared the dragon fire, not to mention the dragon claws and teeth.

Greta finally looked down when she felt the dragon begin to circle for a landing.  She saw the river and had to think about that.  Four thousand years ago the river came down more from the north, above the dome.  Now it had shifted to south of the dome which no longer appeared a dome.  She saw no more than a few dozen blocks of stone, even if they were ten ton blocks, but even they started crumbling under thousands of years of relentless weather.

They landed, a rough landing for Greta and Bogus, though one the dragon probably thought of being as soft as he could make it. Bogus said nothing as he slid to the ground and raced into the gap between the stones.  Greta paused.

“Thank you, Oren.  I hope I live long enough so I can bring your grandmother here for a visit.” She wanted to say she would change the dragon back into a man, but she was not sure how to do that, and besides, the gods never made promises.  Greta learned that four thousand years ago when the dome was whole and the Titan who lived in it still lived.  She could do one thing though, and she leaned over carefully and kissed the dragon on the nose.  A great, hot tear rose in the dragon eye before they both heard something that made Greta jump and made the dragon lift its head.  The distant howl of a Wolv echoed through the trees, and someone started coming through the bushes.  Greta ran through the gap in the stones that let her inside.

Bogus closed his mouth.  He had been yelling at his granddaughters, and mostly Berry whom he knew so well from her years among the little ones of the forest.  But when Greta popped into the room, he quieted and everyone stared for an instant of absolute silence before they shouted and Berry ran into Greta’s arms, tears in her eyes.  Fae followed Berry, and a grinning Hans and Hobknot began to nudge each other, like they had some sort of bet.

Greta took a moment to look around that great round space.  Most of the wall looked one block high, though plenty of places still had part of a second block on top, or two whole blocks which made a wall as tall as Greta. A couple of places were three blocks high where Greta could begin to see the slight curve in the stone that once rose up to the top of the dome, but there were not many three block places. There were more blocks and worn down blocks and partially crumbled blocks on the floor of that space, and Greta could see where they were turned into seats and tables for their furniture.

“I never stopped believing,” Berry managed to say before she started to cry again.

“We all kept believing,” Fae said.  “It’s what kept us going on those long winter nights.”

Greta nodded, but she moved Berry into her grandfather’s arms so she could face the old man who sat quietly in the corner. He stood and spoke when Greta’s eyes focused on him.

R6 Greta: The Road of Dreams, part 3 of 3

Greta sat alone.  She still had plenty to think about and she was not at all finished with her worry.  There were no guarantees here and she imagined a million things could go wrong. She felt panic coming on, but fought the feeling.  She did not do well in panic situations.

She thought she might be leaving her moody stage and entering her paranoid stage.  She wished Darius was there.  He always made her feel like everything would be all right, even if he had no way of knowing. He was her rock, and she missed him. She took a deep breath of the cold, fresh air, and set her mind to the task.

It did not add up.  She understood Mithras and Mithrasis trapped each other in the woods. When the two gods cancelled each other out, neither one could work many miracles.  She knew it had nothing to do with the old Gott-Druk electric fence because that equipment had surely rotted away after more than four thousand years, and she could not be sure if it had been picked up and moved to Avalon all those millennia ago.

Greta considered Avalon, her home in the Second Heavens, the Castle of the Kairos, her little island sanctuary where all her little ones were welcome to come and rest from their labors.  She looked at her companions who sat quietly, enjoying a wonderful meal.  She briefly thought she could open a door to Avalon, go there, and open a new door in the dome of the master, to step out and thus avoid the woods of the Wolv entirely. But she would not do that.  It would go against her every rule. Somehow, the need to burn her own bridges included walking her own walk.  As she often said, if she was supposed to die on the road so she could be born in her next life, then she had to be on the road to do it.

Greta blanched and thought again about Mithrasis. Mithrasis did not exactly threaten her life, truth be told, though she said it might come to that.  The Nymphus really just wanted to prevent her from coming. Then there was Lucius.  At first, Lucius kept trying to convince her to return to Roman lands.  True, he got a bit carried away with the rock slide, unless it really was the accident he claimed, but otherwise he did not get hostile, uncooperative, or even unhelpful. Jupiter seemed to want to kill them, but then he proved not as accurate with his lightning strikes as he got in her nightmare.  Maybe he just wanted to scare her.  She wondered. Certainly, she felt a strong urge to go home before she had that nightmare.

Greta stopped.  She started getting confused.  But she could not help thinking that even the Persian did not outright attack her, not counting that jackass thing.

“Lady?”  Her faithful centurion, Alesander, got her attention.  Greta looked up and appreciated his faithfulness over the years more than he would ever know.  She saw that Briana still sat by the fire.  She tried not to be obvious, but clearly, she payed strict attention, so Greta knew it was something she and Alesander discussed.

“And what have you and Briana decided?” she asked, and watched Alesander turn red.

“How did you—?”

“It is not our way to question how the druid knows what she knows,” Vedix spoke up.  Vedix sat nearby and listened in.  They probably all listened, especially Mavis.

“I cannot marry you two before I go into the Land of the Lost.  There is not enough time.  My ride is already on the way.”  Greta paused and stood.  “And we have company.”  Her eyes stared off to Alesander’s left so he turned to see what she looked at. Everyone looked.  An army of horsemen stretched across the south from one end of the horizon to the other, and they were drawing near.  Lucius appeared out front, leading them all, and Alesander spit, but held his tongue.

A fine mist followed by several clouds drifted down from overhead and formed into the shape of a giant between them and the oncoming horde.  The cloud formed figure stood twenty-feet tall, and inside the cloud they saw sparks and a kind of blue flame, which said the cloud giant had started to build up enormous amounts of electricity.  The horsemen in the distance slowed.

Then the snow gathered, even from beneath their feet, and it built itself up, higher and higher, until it made a kind of twenty-foot-tall snowman.  It had a grin with great, sharp icicle teeth.  A very small head, upper torso, and arms stuck out from the butt of the snowman. “We came down with the snow.  We were worried about you.” The baby snow person grinned and his own ice teeth filled the grin in a frightening way.

“Bubbles,” Greta named the sprite who disappeared again into the mass of the giant snow body.  Greta went on to speak her thoughts out loud while the rest of the crew got ready to defend her.  “I need to be gone.”

“They look to be sending out a group to parley,” Hermes pointed.  The horsemen stopped a thousand yards off and three men followed Lucius to a spot half-way between the horsemen and the giants.

“Briana, Hermes and Vedix,” Alesander took charge. “Get your horses.  Bogus, Pincushion and Mavis, guard your mistress.” The horses had to be saddled before the horses walked between the giants toward the meeting.  As the horses moved out of earshot, there came a great flapping sound heard from behind, like the leather wings of an enormous bat.  A dragon came over the tree tops and landed beside Greta.  It looked easily forty feet, perhaps fifty feet long, and it raised its head ten feet up to stare down at Greta’s party.  The snow giant and cloud giant paid close attention, but no one made a hostile move.

“Do no harm.  No fire,” Greta shouted in the dragon tongue that all dragons were engineered to obey.  Of course, when they got as big and old as this one, they tended to develop selective hearing.  “No harm.”

The dragon cocked its head, turning it much further than a human neck could turn.  “I still understand the words.”  The dragon spoke in the Gaelic tongue of the people of the forest.

“We need your help,” Greta shouted.  “Your father and I need to reach the dome to save your daughters.”

The dragon turned its head further until it stared, upside down.  It looked hard at Bogus.  “Father?”

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MONDAY

Greta and Bogus enter the Land of the Lost.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 9 For Peace, part 3 of 3

They arrived in the woods and held the men back so the chiefs and lords could get a good look.  Saxons covered the grass below the fort, looking as numerous as the blades of grass themselves.  Festuscato wondered how Pinewood came up with the number of five thousand, unless he counted everyone.  It mostly looked like a lot, and several men whistled softly at the sight.  It looked for the moment that the Saxons were stymied by Cadbury Hill.  They had to overcome the three or four terraces that ran all the way around the hill before they could get to the fort itself.  Presently they had no easy way up, but the Saxons had catapults and slings so it would only be a matter of time before the wall came tumbling down.

Festuscato grabbed a handful of grass and let it fall. He felt the wind in his face, and it felt strong, but he knew in Somerset it could be changeable.  He looked at the grass which felt dry, perhaps dangerously dry, and tall where it still stood despite the Saxon footprint. As far as Festuscato knew, it had not rained in the three weeks since he had been back on the island.  He called to his little ones.  Yes, they could keep the wind at ground level blowing in the right direction and could easily set fire to the grass.  He explained what he wanted them to do, and then divided his men.

He had five hundred horse and added five hundred foot men to the count.  He sent them through the trees to the head of the open fields.  Their job would be to prevent any Saxons from escaping, especially horsemen.  The other fifteen hundred men had bows, or prepared themselves with long spears to protect the bowmen.  When things started, they would happen fast.

“Not a very good siege to leave these woods unprotected,” Mirowen commented.

“It isn’t a siege,” Festuscato said.  “They figure the Welsh are busy fighting the Irish, and York and North Britain are too far away to bother, and even if York sends some men, they still have the advantage in numbers.  Obviously, they have their men concentrated in these fields because they have brought the necessary equipment to smash down the walls. Once that onager, that primitive trebuchet makes a big enough hole in the wall, a concentrated charge with massive numbers of men will get the Saxons inside well enough.”

“And now?” Dibs asked.  He knew what an onager was.

“Now I want the siege engines burned along with as many Saxons as possible.  I expect the Saxons to try and escape out from the line of fire.  So we have a thousand men, half on horseback to hunt them down.  I expect most to make for these woods, and we might not survive such an attack, but we should take most of them with us, and the ones who break through will find Dumdiddle and his dwarfs waiting.  I expect some will try to jump the line of fire, but they won’t live long.”  He did not repeat the part about their not surviving, and no one asked, so he gave the signal to begin.

A long line of fire rose up on the other side of the fields and started to move across the field like disciplined soldiers on parade. The Saxons fought the flames, but fire sprites kept it burning and the wind stayed relentless, blowing smoke in the Saxon faces.  When the fighting got fierce on the edge of the woods with all those Saxons that slowly decided to try to escape, Festuscato got word that Constantine and Cador of Cornwall were ready to come out of the fort and attack the Saxons head-on if Festuscato could stop the moving fire.  He did, and sent word to his foot soldiers on the end of the fields to hit the Saxons from behind when those Saxons turned to fight off the men from the fort.  The elves stayed behind the fire line, so any Saxons who tried to jump the fire would be picked off.   Festuscato brought up his dwarfs to hold the trees while he organized a charge of his own.

When the men with the dragon tunics and the men with the lion of Cornwall tunics poured from the fort, the Saxons turned to meet the threat, as expected   The fire hemmed them in, but there remained plenty of room to fight.  When the five hundred fell on the Saxon rear, the Saxons were shaken. When Festuscato lead a thousand men from the woods to hit the Saxon flank and push the enemy into the fire, the Saxon resistance fell apart.  Some tried to force past the five hundred and escape south, back to Sussex, but the Welsh and British horsemen tracked them and caught many.  Others still found the woods their best bet, if they could make it past the dwarfs.  Not many escaped, but some did.  When the Saxons found enemies pressing in on every side, one great line of Saxons jumped the fire at once with the plan to make for the far woods and turn south under cover.  Some got passed the elfish archers, but only by sheer numbers, and they got tracked by Pinewood and his fairies in the late afternoon, and the goblins and trolls after dark.

Only dribs and drabs of Saxons returned to Saxon lands tell the tales, and they were tales to frighten the children, tales of the Roman and his sorcery, of elfin magic and demon terrors in the night. One tale that made it back to Saxony on the continent, and from there up into Danish lands and across the water to the Swedes and Geats was the tale of miraculous dwarfish armor, magical, made with such skill and cunning no sword or ax could break it.  In truth, six dwarfs caught sixty Saxons trying to escape through a gully near the fort.  Six Saxons survived and four made it home alive.  Of course, the tale got stretched, in a literal sense, and expanded until the chain of armor came with a whole trove of cursed treasure, but that came later.  In the near term, the chain of Weland showed up again, but that is a different story.

In truth, Luckless found his Uncle Weland in a pool of blood.  The unbroken chain did not protect everything.  Weland was missing a hand and a foot and leaking from innumerable cuts around his face and neck.  “The jinx of the family,” he breathed out his recognition of his nephew.  “Make your way well in the world.  I never believed in that unlucky stuff.  Here, take the chain.  It may protect you and bring you luck.”  That was all he said when he died, and Luckless cried in the night and said his Uncle was the only one who ever believed in him, and what was he going to do now?

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MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 10 Londugnum:  After the battle is cleaned up, and the people of Britain, Wales, and Cornwall are convinced that this Pendragon idea might work after all, Festuscato and his crew escape to London…and then, from London.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 9 For Peace, part 2 of 3

Danna spanked Talesin so hard he took to the air, involuntarily, and landed somewhere out in the channel.  “Now, Addaon,” she smiled for the boy.  “Never forget.  That was your sire, but Dyrnwch is your father.  Always honor your father.”

“Dyrnwch is my father.  I will not forget,” Addaon said, and he added, “Mother.”

Danna put her hand to the boy’s cheek again, and patted it softly.  “Good boy. Marry and have children of your own, and I cannot say if I will see you again.”  She turned away and shouted and clapped her hands.  “Rhiannon.”

“Now what?”  Rhiannon appeared.  “I was just about to take Clugh for a good wing stretchy.”

“I know,” Danna said.  “You can do that here.  Do you see those towers, building?”

“Of course.”

“I would appreciate it if you and Clugh practiced setting them on fire.”

“Yes.  But there are men there.  Aren’t you afraid we might be teaching him the wrong sort of lesson?”

“Perhaps.  But you know Festuscato.  He crosses one bridge at a time.”

Rhiannon nodded.  “He makes it up as he goes along.  By the way, I heard Talesin scream all the way in Amorica.”

“He broke the rules, a thing you should consider as long as you still have work to do.”

Rhiannon changed the subject by peeking around Danna. “Addaon.  Hello brother.  I think I will call you brother A.”

“Hello?”  Addaon got the word out in the face of the goddess, but he did not sound to certain, as Rhiannon vanished and Danna let Festuscato come home.

“All right,” Festuscato shouted and saw the various Lords of Wales were dismounted and waiting patiently.  They all saw what happened, but Danna made sure they did not hear, and she made sure Addaon knew they did not hear.  “Ogryvan,” Festuscato called.  They were hearing now.  “When the dragon attacks, the rest of us will attack this end of the Irish line. Ogryvan, I want you and your men to take the town.  Try to kill only the Irish, and there is nothing wrong with driving them to their ships and letting them cut loose.  Do not burn the Irish ships.  Anwyn should be allowed to keep them as a small payment for his troubles.  Okay?”

Ogryvan nodded.

“Bryn and Dyrnwch, you and your men take the point. You men from the coasts need to back them up.  The idea is when the Irish run away from the dragon, the rest should be running away from us, and when the two groups run into each other, hopefully, in the confusion, they will surrender.  Allow them to surrender.  We don’t want an all-out war with the Irish.  We just want to hurt them enough so they don’t try this again.  Got it?”

Men nodded, and Bran whispered.

“Good plan.  Good luck.  They are not trained Romans.”

Festuscato heard a scream come all the way from the back of the woods.  “Dragon! What do you mean you smell dragon!”

“I was kind of hoping the clerics would keep Mousden quiet.  I forgot about the dwarf’s nose,” Mirowen said.

“You better go see to them,” Festuscato told her, and she gave him a dirty look for using that as an excuse to keep her out of it, but she took her horse and went without arguing.  “Mount up,” Festuscato yelled, and it took only moments before they charged the Irish line.

Things did not go as expected, which was expected. Ogryvan’s men took no prisoners and burned the Irish ships, the docks, several fishing boats and one merchantman from Lyoness which happened to be in port when all of this started.  Ogryvan apologized, profusely, but could not hide his pleasure.  When Festuscato pointed out that Ogryvan would have to pay for the fishing boats and merchant ship, he lost his smile.

“Of course, you can appeal to the Pendragon, but I would not expect sympathy from the lords gathered there.”

It took more than expected to get the Irish to give up their position and collapse the line, and when they gave up ground, they did not run in panic but pulled back, slowly.  Bran lost his horse to an arrow early on, but that proved worse for the Irish as he showed what an artist he was with that big sword of his.  Dibs and the monks Cedrych and Madog joined him as he led a company of men along the wall of the fort where the horses could not go. Meanwhile, men ran well enough from the dragon, but Clugh got distracted by all that motion and fried a number of men. Rhiannon tried to keep her baby to task, but did not begrudge him some fun since getting the Irish to run was the plan.

In the end, there were plenty of Irish soldiers who tried to escape to the woods.  Half of their ships were a number of miles away in a cove the Saxons would use in Gerraint’s day.  Festuscato knew the escapees would never make it to their ships, and indeed, the guards they left around the ships would not survive the night, and he felt bad about putting his little ones in danger, but he also felt bad about the fact that his little ones interpreted orders in whatever way felt convenient.  He knew surrender would not be convenient.

The only thing Festuscato insisted on was finding Sean Fen.  It turned out to be easy.  The man had been killed by an arrow the day before Festuscato arrived, and he said so in the letter of condolence he wrote to MacNeill.  Then they had to get everyone to Cadbury, because the Saxons were definitely moving, an army of about five thousand strong.  Fortunately, there were twelve hundred men coming down from the north, from York and Fort Guinnon and Edinburgh, and Festuscato thought if he timed it right, he could meet up with them somewhere around Bath.  With his little ones added in, he might move three thousand to meet the Saxon threat, and hopefully south Britain, Cadbury and Cornwall could make up the number difference.

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 3 of 3

Once inside the gate, Festuscato grabbed the old man from the group that appeared around the parley.  “Macreedy,” He knew who it was.  “Why are you here.”

Macreedy put up his hands to forestall any anger. “There are only thirty of us, and we have come to protect my niece, Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden, and that’s all. You humans can play whatever game you want, as long as Mirowen is safe.”

Festuscato frowned, while Macreedy waited to see how his half-lie got taken.  Festuscato decided keeping Mirowen and Mousden safe was a valid concern, but Mousden would probably hide.  Mirowen would pull out her bow and wade into the midst of the fighting, but if Macreedy and his supposed thirty elves could keep her from serious injury, Festuscato would not quibble about how many Saxons they killed.

“All right.  Spread your men out along the wall, only keep a strong glamour on to appear human, please.  The best way to protect Mirowen will be to keep the Saxons from breaking into the fort.”

“Yes, Lord.”  Macreedy let go of his breath.  “To the wall,” Macreedy shouted, and his men appeared with dragon tunics, already on the wall, anticipating the attack.  Festuscato rolled his eyes, but said no more until Mirowen stepped up beside him and confessed.

“You wouldn’t let me go to the parley, so I called my uncle.  Sorry you weren’t here to ask.”

Festuscato only said one thing.  “Elf.”  It did not get kindly spoken.

MacNeill and Patrick looked over the wall at the gathering Saxons.  The Saxons had no siege equipment, not even ladders to scale the nine feet of wall, but even with men from the village added, the Saxons had twice the number of defenders.  The Saxons probably also thought that apart from the twenty or thirty men who worked more directly for MacNeill and acted something like soldiers, the rest likely did not have the stomach for a real fight.  They concluded that this would not take long, and the only reason the Saxons paused before attacking the fort was to visually determine where the weak spots might be in order to concentrate on those places.

Festuscato walked up and down the length of the wall. “Keep down,” he shouted.  Get your bows ready, but don’t stand and fire until I yell fire.  Don’t expose yourselves until I yell fire.  Bows ready, but heads down until I yell fire.”

All this time, Donogh kept Clugh entertained in the lair, and kept him quiet, but it became impossible to avoid the tension and excitement in the air.  Donogh felt it just outside the cave entrance, so Clugh certainly felt it. People say dragons can smell fear, but the truth is more complicated than that.  They can actually sense things like stress, worry, apprehension and the like and feel the general emotional state in the air around them, even if there is something near, like someone invisible that they cannot see or smell or hear.  That is why it is all but impossible to sneak up on a dragon, unless the dragon is sleeping, but as said, waking a sleeping dragon is not recommended.

“Wait until I say fire.  Ready.  Heads down,” Festuscato jumped up beside the Lord and the Bishop.

“I see you found some friends,” MacNeill said and pointed at a nearby man in a dragon tunic.

“These are not like the glorious ones that shined even in the dim light of dusk,” Patrick said.  “There is something more earthy and humble in these.”

“Like Mirowen,” Gaius said, as he stepped up beside the others.  Festuscato said nothing.  He took a good look at the enemy and jumped down to continue his walk up and down the back of the wall.

“Heads down.  Bows ready.  Wait until I yell fire.”

Clugh came out of the cave despite Donogh’s protests.  Seamus was there, but it did not help.  The people who did not find a place inside Lord MacNeill’s manor house, or in the barracks, or out back by the blacksmith’s and other shops, backed up as far as they could.  Some screamed on sight of the dragon, but not many noticed, concentrating as they were on the coming battle.  Festuscato ignored the interruption and kept walking up and down the back of the wall, yelling in as calm a voice as he could muster.

“Keep down and be ready.  Not until I yell fire.”

“Donogh, lad.  Clugh can’t be out here,” Seamus said,

Donogh had one hand on the back of Clugh’s neck, where the dragon liked it, but Clugh squirmed and Donogh appeared anxious himself, so the scratches behind the ears did not really help.

“Ready,” Festuscato yelled.  They heard the Saxons begin to scream their war cries.  They would scream wildly for a minute or so, a technique intended to unnerve their enemy.  “Ready,” Festuscato repeated as he jumped up to the back of the wall.  He raised his hand and waited while he looked up and down the line.  Men here and there could not help a peek at the assembled Germanic horde.  Some chose not to look.  Generally, the only heads above the wall were MacNeill, Patrick, Festuscato and Gaius, and they stared, and not one of them looked concerned.

“Ready.”  Festuscato yelled, though it became hard to hear him above the Saxon din.  The Saxons charged.  They did not have much ground to cover, but Festuscato immediately lowered his hand to point at the enemy and he yelled, “Fire!”  Knowing he would be hard to hear, he yelled it several times, up and down the wall.  “Fire. Fire.”  He knew the elves would hear, and spaced as they were among the men, when they stood, the men stood and the arrows flew.  He did not know Clugh would hear, and fire was one word the dragon knew.

More than thirty Saxons got dropped in the first volley.  Whether they were dead or wounded hardly mattered.  They were taken out of the action.  Another twenty fell quickly, but then the Saxons raised their shields and began to fire back, so the third volley looked much less effective.

The Saxons chose their targets well.  There were a few places along the wall where the wood had sufficiently splintered from age or got wobbly in construction so men could get handholds and climb.  The gate got the makeshift battering ram the Saxons made from a whole log taken from a house in town.  But even as Gaius started suggesting it would be inevitable that the Saxons get in, Clugh could not contain himself.  He took to the air when Festuscato yelled and, on seeing the Saxons roaring, Clugh roared and came in like a dive bomber spewing flame everywhere.  Part of the fort wall got set on fire, and one Saxon became totally crisped while quite a few were badly burned.  To be sure, when Clugh landed and roared, every Saxon within flame range turned and fled.  That seemed all it took to get the whole lot of Saxons to run.  They dragged off some of their burnt and wounded, to their credit as soldiers, but they did not stop long enough to see if some of their men might be saved.  The ones who could not even limp were abandoned.

Once Clugh landed, he slithered to the crisped Saxon and bit off the dead man’s head.  No doubt he found it tasty, but with that, Festuscato sighed.  He knew once Clugh got a taste for human flesh, he would not be contained, no matter how well the Agdaline command words were pronounced.

“Lord.  Save Clugh,” Donogh yelled as he came up alongside the others and stood on his toes to look out over the top of the wall.

“I cannot help the dragon.”  Festuscato spoke gently to the boy.  “But maybe the Lady can.  Maybe mother can help.”  Donogh and Seamus thought he spoke of Greta, but he meant Danna, and he traded places with her through time and immediately became invisible.  She floated down to the dragon where she became visible again and calmed the beast.

“Mother,” Clugh said, but Danna shook her head and lifted her voice.

“Rhiannon.  Come here. I need you.”  She spoke, not a harsh call, but a request, and Rhiannon appeared, her face full of curiosity.  “Rhiannon, dear.  You need to take this beast and keep him from people.  He has tasted human flesh, so now there is no turning back.”

“Mother.  I have nowhere to keep such a creature.”

“Well, it is either that or I have to put him down. And he is still such a youngster, you know, a child in need of a good mother.”

Rhiannon screwed up her face.  “You cheat,” she declared.  “What am I going to do with a dragon?”

“I was thinking.” Danna folded her arms and put a finger to her temple.

“A dangerous sign,” Rhiannon admitted, but she waited for the shoe to drop.

“There is a lake on the edge of Amorican territory in the forest called Vivane.  Do you know it?”  Rhiannon nodded so Danna continued.  “The naiad there is getting elderly, but she is very nice.  I am sure she would not mind if you built a castle on the small island in the middle of the lake.  There are plenty of spirits who live in the forest.  You could hold court there and keep Clugh as a pet.”

“And why would I want to do all that?”

“Because your work will come to you there.  I have seen it.”

“You have seen the future?”

“No, I live there, remember?”  Danna stepped up and kissed her many times distant daughter. “I have tweaked the image of mother in the dragon’s mind so you will fill the role, only don’t get too attached. Leave him in Amorica, and one day this male will sire babies, I think.”

“But you just told me to go to Amorica.  Now why are you telling me to leave him there?”

Danna shrugged.  “Just don’t get too attached.”

“Mother.  Why do you have to be so mean to me?”  Rhiannon reached out to pet the dragon and Clugh purred.

“Because you don’t belong here, you should be over on the other side.”

Rhiannon said nothing.  She looked unhappy but disappeared, and took the dragon with her. Danna reappeared on the wall and went away so Festuscato could return.  He smiled for his friends before he hugged Donogh.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “Rhiannon will take good care of Clugh.”

“The goddess?” Donogh wiped an eye. Festuscato looked briefly at Patrick.

“And should no longer be here, but out of Ireland at least.  And Danna should not be here, either.  She knows that.  I’m sorry. The new way has come.”

“The old way has gone, though stubbornly I see.” Patrick turned his back and said no more.

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MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor.  Don’t Miss it.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 2 of 3

The gate to the fort got closed and locked when the last of the villagers straggled in.  They knew Sean Fen was MacNeill’s cousin, so he and his men were not there to loot and pillage, apart from stealing whatever brew they had; but they were pirates, and it was generally not safe to be around pirates, especially for young women.  The courtyard of the fort presently teemed with young women and Festuscato could not help pausing and admiring a few.  He turned to look outside the fort when he heard Sean Fen’s voice.

“Roman.  It would save us both a lot of trouble if you just came out and gave yourself up to the sword.”

“Give me some time to think about it,” Festuscato said, as he looked around.  The sun looked nearly set and Sean Fen’s men started lighting torches, as did some of the men in the fort.

Sean Fen looked like he might be thinking.  “I will give you until the sun is fully gone, and that is more than generous, and only because I don’t want the bother of having to fetch you.”

Festuscato said nothing when a strange, Asian looking man stepped up beside him.  Mirowen noticed and curtsied for the man.  Festuscato frowned.  “Yin Mo,” he said.

“Lord Agitus.”

“Macreedy sent you, didn’t he?”

“As you say.”

“This has got to stop.  The knights have no business being here, of all places.”

“Yes, Lord.  But the Knights of the Lance might send your enemies to various places around the island without actually injuring them.  I had thought an end to the trouble that avoided shedding blood might be preferable.”

“There is that.”  Festuscato thought about it while the druid shouted up to the wall.

“Crooked heads, come down.  It will be my privilege to remove the crookedness from the land by taking your heads from your bodies.”

“Tell him those that are with us are more than those that are against us,” Festuscato offered, and Patrick repeated the words before responding to Festuscato.

“What?  So now you are Elijah?”

“I don’t remember.  Was it him or Elisha who said that?  Anyway, just watch.”  He turned to Yin Mo and gave his okay and Yin Mo waved his arm.  As Festuscato figured, well more than a hundred Knights of the Lance appeared just outside, at the base of the castle wall.  They charged.  Most of Sean Fen’s men had the good sense to run for their lives, not that it did them any good.  Every man vanished as soon as he got touched by a lance, and the knight vanished as well. The knights did not stop, however, until they got to the docks.  Where Sean Fen’s three ships went was anyone’s guess.

When the action finished, an action very hard to see and follow unless you had night vision like a goblin, or Mousden, Yin Mo also vanished and Festuscato spoke again.  “I would have told him no more than in Greta’s day, like Gerraint told him, but he snuck about five or eight hundred into that battle.

“When was that?” Gaius became curious.

“Oh, about a hundred years in the future.”

“As you say.”  Patrick had picked up the phrase.

Sean Fen and the druid were the last two still out front, but men with torches came from the village and MacNeill and his men came out of the fort so there seemed nowhere the two could run.  It got hard to hear the yelling that went on when they met, but Mirowen likely heard with her good elf ears.  It also got hard to see exactly what happened, but at some point MacNeill pulled his sword and chopped off the druid’s head.  He later explained.

“I knew the man.  He would have devised some poison or some ambush, and he would not give up until the deed was done.  Removing his head simply removed my headache.”  MacNeill headed them back inside to salvage what was left of the meal. “I hear in Britannia, the one they are calling the Pendragon has forbidden the killing of priests.”

“That includes druid priests,” Festuscato said.

MacNeill shrugged.  “Well, maybe starting now.”  The man smiled for his mother.  “But who would kill the druids there?  I am told the Christian God is all about love and peace.”

“Never fear,” Patrick said.  “The church has its share of militant priests.”

“Really?”  MacNeill smiled.  “There may be something to this faith of yours after all.”  Festuscato just laughed and prepared himself to answer questions about the Knights of the Lance.  Those questions did not come, but from that day, all over Ireland, scattered here and there, pirates appeared and told about a man named Patrick and the power and the miraculous army of his God.

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At the end of the second month, Clugh started taking to the air in anticipation of his visitors.  He found the fire pit fairy quickly, and on scattering it, he almost set the fens on fire, wet though the swamp was.  The men had to build a new pit out behind the tavern, and then with MacNeill’s permission, in the courtyard of the fort itself.  He had men dig out a great underground chamber, lined with stones and with a great bed of stones and broken and rusty spears and swords, plows and axes for the dragon’s bed.

Clugh actually arrived only two days after the construction finished.  Some were not sure he would come into the midst of so many humans, but Clugh had become accustomed to his brothers and his one sister, and he showed that perhaps humans were not the enemy.  Whether or not he considered humans to be edibles remained to be seen.

Festuscato figured it would only be a matter of time once Clugh went airborne.  He kept day-old, burnt meat in the nest, and he called it a nest for Clugh when he arrived. The dragon slithered in and squealed, flamed the walls and roared, which made MacNeill and most of his people doubt the wisdom of making a home for the beast.

“It is frightening,” MacNeill admitted.

“Nonsense,” Festuscato responded.  “All that fuss just means he likes the new nest.  Just think what the other Lords around will say when they realize you have your own personal dragon guarding the place.  Why, I bet Leinster will get so jealous, he will run out and try to get one of his own.”

That made MacNeill grin.

Clugh settled in for about two weeks.  MacNeill lost a couple of good hunting dogs, and he had to move the stables further away.  He also took back his old barn from Patrick, though Patrick did not mind because of the church they were building.  Overall, Clugh stayed good, and Donogh was there every day to play with his brother and keep him somewhat contained.  By then, Clugh knew how to say “Donogh”, though it came out more like “Dalnaw.”  For his part, Donogh learned a reasonable amount of dragon words.  He learned to say come and stay and stop and no and Bran suggested the boy was learning parenting skills.

 After two weeks, Festuscato knew it would not work.  As much as the people might be willing to give it a try, and as good as Clugh could be, eventually the dragon would get big enough and old enough to where he could not be contained.  Given the circumstances and the regular feedings, he imagined Clugh might stay good for another fifty or so years, or at least as long as Donogh remained alive. But there would be incidents, no doubt including some crispy people along the way, but after two weeks, circumstances changed.

Festuscato, Dibs and Gaius sat in the tavern, reminiscing, when the Saxon long boats were spotted, headed for the port.  They had little time to evacuate the village before the Saxons landed and began burning and looting everything in sight.  People crowded into the fort, but left a wide area empty around Clugh’s home.  Donogh and Seamus went down into the dragon’s lair and tried to keep the beast calm, but it was not easy given the air of excitement and distress all around.

It did not take long for the Saxons to gather outside the fort.  Mirowen counted about two hundred which seemed quite a sizeable group for a raiding party.  Festuscato knew that Saxon raiders were much like the Vikings that were to come centuries in the future.  They tended to avoid direct conflict with large groups of armed men and avoided forts, unless they had something to gain.  Raiders, like pirates, struck hard and fast, took what they wanted, and left before any serious opposition could be raised.  In this case, though, the Saxons looked like they had something in mind.

Festuscato, MacNeill, Cormac and Murdoch went out to meet the Saxon leaders before hostilities erupted.  It turned out Festuscato and the Saxon knew each other.  It turned out to be Gorund, the chief who wanted the Cornish gold that did not exist.

“Take what you want from the village, but leave my people alone and you can go in peace,” MacNeill said.

“But what I want isn’t in the village,” a big fellow named Herslaw countered.  “We have been very well paid to come here and do a job, and when we bring back some heads, we will receive the other half of the payment.”  Gorund simply watched and kept his eye on Festuscato.

“Leinster.”  Cormac spit.

Gorund grinned.  “I am thinking you don’t want to fight any more than we do.  You can send this Dragon and his priests out to us and we can go away, and nobody needs to get hurt.”

MacNeill folded his arms and looked at Festuscato. Festuscato took that as permission to speak.  “Listen, Gorund, Coleslaw.  The problem with the priests is they have been declared off limits for killing by Lord MacNeill here, and as for myself, the one some call the dragon, you see, there is an actual dragon, a real dragon behind the fort wall ready to defend the people here.  The real dragon came from Rome, burned his way across Gaul and has been terrorizing the Fens for some forty years, until we made peace with the beast.  Leinster wants you to get the real dragon.  I am sure you don’t want to get involved in that, though I see where you might have been confused.”

Gorund did not budge.  “I heard a rumor about a real dragon, but I figured it was just you. I heard you only have two men with you, and that seems a small price to pay for a village.”  He turned and saw the smoke rising near the docks.  “What is left of it, anyway.”

An uncomfortable silence followed for a moment as MacNeill thought through a number of options before he spoke. “Nope.  You have already done your damage to the town.  There isn’t much more you can do unless you want to waste your men attacking the fort.  As my friend said, the priests are off limits, and as for the dragon, now I am talking about the man, I figure he has a few tricks up his sleeve that none of us can imagine, so I’ll stick with what I’ve got and you can go back to Leinster and tell him you changed your mind.

“Ah, but I can’t do that, you see,” Gorund responded with a wave of his hand.  There was movement in the Saxon line until ten men appeared out of thin air around the group, and each man had a bow with an arrow pointed right at Gorund.  “Hold it,” Gorund shouted for his life.  “No tricks.  We do this the proper way.”

Festuscato and MacNeill walked casually back to the fort. Cormac snickered and Murdoch nodded in agreement.