R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 2 of 3

After that, there only passed snatches of conversations until it got dark and their captors brought some mashed meal and water.  It hardly seemed enough to sustain them, and Greta felt faint from hunger, having gone all day again without food.  One meal a day was not easy.  On the other hand, she imagined she might be losing some weight.  She really did not want to get round, like Mama. That thought did not help much.

Each person found a place to lie down, alone.  Drakka became the first to sleep.  As soon as Drakka began to snore, Koren crawled over beside Greta.  He shook her because her back was turned, but she was not asleep.

“Greta,” he whispered.  “Greta, I want to tell you why we are here.  Greta.”  She stopped his hand.

“I’m listening,” Greta whispered in return.

“It was Drakka’s father, Eldegard.  When the men rode out of the village after Lady Brunhild, he told us to keep an eye on things.  He feared Jodel’s father or one of the others might raise more men to swell the ranks of support for the Romans.  He said we were to watch and stop anyone who headed out for Ravenshold.  He said if we could not stop them, we were to kill them. Then you left town to cross the forest to Ravenshold.  We followed.”

“Drakka’s father, Eldegard?”  She got a clear picture, and her suspicions had been correct.  Darius was riding into a trap, to be squeezed between the hammer and the anvil.

“I want you to know.”  Koren went on.  “I only came along to see that Drakka did not hurt you.  I-I wouldn’t like it if you were hurt.”

Greta looked at him and he looked away.  She kissed his cheek.  “Thank you, Koren,” she said, while he turned scarlet.  “But you need to get some rest now.  We should all try to get some sleep.”

“Yes, you are right,” Koren said, while Greta scolded herself for sounding exactly like her mother talking to the children.  “I’ll be over here.  Good-bye, I mean, goodnight Greta.  I’ll see you later, in the morning.  Goodnight.” He crawled to the other side of the room and Greta glanced at Rolfus.  Rolfus’s eyes were open.  He faced her and as far as she could tell, he heard everything.

“What?”  She shot at him and tried hard to push her mother words away.  She wanted to know if he had a problem.

“Who can sleep with that racket?”  Rolfus frowned and pointed at Drakka, who snored.  He turned over and presumably shut his eyes.

Greta also scooted down and tried to get comfortable on the bare floor.  As she did, she got the distinct notion that Danna not only spoke to her, but said that she would probably have to pay a visit to the people in the morning, and perhaps visit this Bogus the Skin as well. Greta pulled back from the thought. What did that make her?  Far from fighting her own battles, she felt in danger of becoming no more than a pawn of the gods.  Nameless fought her enemies, Salacia kept her safe, and now Danna, to do what?  Gerraint said he was supposed to fight his own battles.  That only seemed fair.

“Is it wrong that Nameless, Salacia and Danna should seek to make peace between Dacian, Roman and Celt?” someone said.

“No.”  She almost responded out loud.  “But what does that make me, just a vessel for the gods to use and trash when they are done?”

“Greta will have to deal with the guns in her day.”  She remembered what Salacia said a lifetime ago, and sighed.  She turned away altogether from such thoughts and just as quickly, she found herself somewhere else.

Marcus, Darius, the Centurion Alesander, Herzglaw and Eldegard stood around a table in a tent of grand Roman design.  They were no doubt arguing about how they should enter Ravenshold in the morning. As soon as Greta saw them, Darius picked a cloth from a pocket in his cloak and went out into the night air.

“M’lord?” Gaius stood by the tent door, faithfully on duty.

Darius waved off his questions.  “They’ll argue a while longer, but in the end Marcus will have his way,” Darius said.

“M’lady?” Gaius asked another one-word question.

“It’s strange, Gaius, but despite being so far away I can almost sense her watching over me,” Darius said.  “But I suppose that is the way of it.  Foolish men go off to fight over foolish things while women stay home and wait and watch.”

Greta felt sure Darius spoke of his true love in far-away Rome.  She imagined that cloth as her token.  With a sudden surge of anger and hurt, she nearly lost the sight, but she settled herself and looked again.

“Women fight, too,” Gaius said.  “And just as much, but in other ways and on other battlefields.”

Darius nodded, as if to say Gaius was probably right, but he said no more.  He walked away from the campfires for a minute and stood under the natural light of the stars and the moon.  Suddenly, he came sharply into focus.

“The road is an ambush.”  Greta’s thoughts came quickly.  “Beware of Eldegard.”  Those thoughts poured out of her, again and again.

Darius’ eyes shifted, and for one brief moment it seemed as if they were looked eye to eye.

“Not tomorrow, but next morning.  Look for me. Look for me.”  She saw Darius lift his hand as if to touch her face and then she saw no more.  Someone kicked her.

“Get up!” The voice yelled.

Greta got up quickly, blinking against the bright morning light that streamed in the doorway. Drakka and Koren were being kept back by two men with swords.  Rolfus was still lying down, saying things in Dacian which made Greta hope the guards did not understand the language.

Despite Greta’s willing compliance, the one who kicked her also shoved her out the door. She spoke her feelings in his language.

“Don’t do something you might later regret,” she said.

“Shut-up.” He responded with a slap across her face.  Drakka and Koren both jumped but the door got slammed shut in their faces.  Drakka let out some epithets, but he got ignored. Greta felt the blood in the corner of her mouth, but she barely had time to touch it before she got dragged down the street.  She was not given the option of walking.  When they reached the center square, she ended up thrown face down in the dirt.

“I said fetch her, Vedix.  I didn’t say damage her.”  Baran spoke. He stood in the square with a number of men and one very old woman who was allowed a chair in which to sit.

“Sorry.” Vedix retorted with a laugh.

“He lies,” the old woman said.  The woman looked at Greta with a touch of sympathy as Greta got herself up and did her best to brush herself free of the mud.

“Fae.” Greta remembered the woman’s name. “I am pleased to meet you.”  And she was glad, indeed, to see another woman in the midst of all the men.  She hoped they might hear a woman’s counsel, and she also hoped that she and this druid, or wise woman might find some mutual ground on which to bond.

After a brief pause, Fae spoke softly.  “She does not lie.”

Greta looked at Baran and her curiosity must have shown.  He nodded, and explained.

“They say her grandfather was of the Vee Villy, though some believe he may have been one of the other spirits who haunt these woods.  Her father, the child of that rape, was never right.  He used to run off into the woods and disappear for days at a time.  Some said he went to dance to strange music in the fairy circles in the wilderness, under the moonlight.  Some say his other half needed time to live as well.  Other times, he seemed more normal.  They say when we escaped to these woods some seventy years ago, had it not been for him and his power over the animals and growing things, we all would have starved.”  Baran paused to shrug.  It all seemed mythology to him.

“In one of his more human moments, he impregnated a girl who gave birth to twins and promptly died in the birthing.  He disappeared, though some say he ran away and was lost in the mountains of Agdala, the Dragon.”  He shrugged again.  “But for us, the question was what to do with the twins.  After long debate, it was decided to give one to the Vee Villy in the hope that they would continue our prosperity without him here.  That prosperity has continued to this day.” He paused to take a breath.  He did not strike Greta as a believer in the earth spirits, but most of his people did believe, and as a politician, he blew with that prevailing wind.

“As a young woman, Fae went off with the people who wander the face of the earth forever and who have no home of their own.”

“Gypsies.” Greta named the people.  “It is so diluted now as to be almost nonexistent, but they, too, have the blood of the Vee Villy in their ancestry and have been cursed because of it.”

Fae’s eyes widened to imagine Greta knew anything at all about the Gypsies.  “She does not lie.”  Fae said. But Baran gave Greta a hard, cold stare.

“Sorry,” Greta said.  “Please go on.”

“Our Fae returned to us as you can see,” Baran continued.  “And she has served her people well for more years than any can remember.  But her greatest service has been to know when someone is telling the truth and when someone is telling lies.  She knows without fail,” Baran said, and he looked like he might be gloating.  “So be careful how you answer.”

Greta, however, read the man more deeply than he imagined.  She knew this was all show.  If she hung herself, that would just make things easy, but if she did not, he had already decided her fate.  It really was not fair, not the least because she was still having a hard time responding well in pressure situations.  Don’t panic, she told herself.

“What is your name?”  Baran asked. The lie detector always got the easy questions first.

“Greta.” She responded.  “The Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, Greta, and I am also called the Kairos, but as the Kairos I have had and will have many names.”  She looked up.

“What?” Baran gave her a stern look, but that stern look changed to surprise when he heard Fae give a little gasp.

“She does not lie.”

Baran tried again. “How old are you?”

“I am seventeen.” Greta said to Baran’s satisfaction, but she had not finished.  “And I am over four thousand six hundred years old, though I cannot say exactly how much over.”

“What does that mean?”  Baran threw his hands up when he heard Fae.

“She speaks the truth.”  Fae looked at Greta with a strange and curious look on her face.

Baran gave it one more try.  “You are the Wise Woman for your people?”  He asked.

“I am, as you call it,” she said.  He almost looked smug again.  “And much more besides.”

“What more?” Baran asked without waiting for Fae to verify her honesty.

Greta herself did not know where these thoughts came from, but she repeated them with certainty.  “An experiment in time and genetics, a safety valve for the gods, the Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, goddess to the little spirits of the earth, Lady of Avalon…”

“Shut-up.” Baran roared.  He threw his hands at her as if to say she started speaking nonsense, but Fae spoke clearly.

“She does not lie.”

R5 Festuscato: The British North, part 2 of 3

That evening, Festuscato had three visitors to his tent, and all he wanted was a sip of ale and a good night’s sleep.  The first, a Dane brought in by Gregor the Saxon.  “I was taking a shit away from the camp and I saw this skinny fellow sneaking around in the woods.  I thought there might be a reward, though I don’t suppose he is worth much.”  He laughed a loud, hearty laugh.

“Do you speak any language I know?” Festuscato asked.

“I speak the British.  I was on one of the first boats that came to settle on the shore.”

“Are you a sailor then?”

The skinny man looked at Gregor, who appeared a big man in every way.  “I am an excellent sailor.  You might say my ship never would have crossed the North Sea safely without my help.”

Festuscato sat back in his chair while Gregor took an empty tankard and filled it without asking.  “What can I do for you?”  Festuscato was curious.

“You are the Roman.  I have heard you do not plan to stay on this island.  I was thinking if you take a ship anywhere near the Norwegian shore and my homeland, I could help you sail it.”

“Homesick?” Festuscto asked.

The man dropped his head.  “My name is Hrugen, son of Unferth, grandson of Edglaf, and I came here more than ten years ago when my uncles were foully murdered.  I feared for my life, but now I fear more that my father is old and I am not there for him as a good son should be.”

“I see.”

“He has my vote,” Gregor said.  “I say we take this sailor home.”

“We?” Festuscato got ready to ask what Gregor meant by that, but Death stuck his head in the door and indicated he had another visitor.  Festuscato excused himself and stepped out.  He found Cadwalder, the druid.

“My master wishes to speak with you, but he does not wish to disturb you if you are in a time of Christian meditation, er, prayer.”

Julius stepped up with curiosity on his face.  “You better go in,” Festuscato waved at his tent.  “Keep an eye on Gregor and meet Hrugen the Dane, son of, grandson of, and so on.”

“A Dane?” Julius went in.  Festuscato waved for the druid to lead on.  Death started to follow, but Festuscato assured him he would be fine in the camp.  Besides, Death and Pestilence would probably be needed to fetch more ale and cups.

The man Festuscato found looked near forty, with the gray just beginning to color his beard and hair.  He was a druid, a master druid.  Festuscato knew him right away, of course.  “Merlin,” he said.  “Meryddin. Good to meet you again for the first time, but I wonder why looking at you always reminds me of Loki.”

Meryddin appeared confused.  “You are a seer?  You are a prophet?”

“Neither one. I spoke to the Raven.  I am just an observer, you know.”

Meryddin accepted the explanation, though it really did not make sense.  “You are not in the midst of any Christian activities?” Meryddin was being polite.

“Moi?  I was drinking.  What is it you wanted?”

“I have heard from several that you have certain friends…”

“No.  You can’t have one.  You can’t even see one.  They are shy you know.  And I am friends with lots of people, all different kinds of people too.  I just made friends with a Dane, I think.  I’m not sure.  I have to get back to my drinking.  Anything else?”

“About these priests…”

“All priests are to be respected, as far as it goes.  Killing a priest, christian, druid or pagan is a crucifixion offense.  No burning churches or temples or deliberately desecrating sacred spaces.  That is a quick way to get yourself killed.  And no, you can’t go around the island designating every square inch a sacred druid space, so forget it.  Now, I am going back to my ale.  Wake me up if you have a serious question.”  He walked off quickly.

The third visitor stood outside his tent, not quite ready to join the party going on inside. Hellgard the Jute, had questions. Festuscato did his best to be up front with the man.

“General Aetius in Gaul has some seventy thousand Romans and more than two hundred thousand Fedoratti of one kind or another.  He even has some Huns working for him, and maybe some Jutes.  Anyway, I might be able to borrow some of his men and could probably kill every Pict on the island, man woman and child.  The thing is, I will never do that.  I believe that men of good will, Celts of different sorts, Jutes, Germans of all kinds, Picts, and even Danes can choose to live in peace with one another, support one another, and prosper. Everyone wins.  Maybe I’m a fool, but I say it is worth a try.”

“It is an interesting idea.  My people came to this island as Fedoratti to you Romans two generations ago.  We left the continent because it became impossible to live.  Everyone hated everyone, and war never ceased.  Since you Romans left, I have seen this island break down into the same troubles.  There is too much anger, hatred, pride, revenge.”

“You have to start somewhere.  I’ve spoken to Constantine.  We survey the land and establish borders.  Let the disputes be settled by vote of the Peers rather than fighting. That way if one man is unhappy with the vote and chooses to fight, he will know the whole rest of the island will get together and crush him.  That should stop most of the fighting, anyway.  Once people agree to stay to their own land, then trade can happen. Taxes can be low because fighting costs money as well as men.  Free trade, low taxes, suddenly everyone prospers.  Peace is a good thing.  Our women can grow fat and our children can grow strong.”  Hellgard nodded.  He liked the idea.  “Now, lets join the party.  Come meet Hrugen the Dane.  Gregor says he is a skinny little thing, and maybe not terribly bright, but we have to start somewhere.”  Hellgard nodded again as they went in.

Noon the next day saw no answer from Wanius so Constantine called his counsel together. Many ideas were discussed, and Festuscato only said, “You probably like your idea, and will argue strongly for your point of view, but don’t be wedded to it.  The counsel may decide otherwise, and I will expect you to give your full support to whatever the counsel decides and the high chief approves in the end. Whole-hearted support, too.  No dragging your feet.  Maybe next time your idea will be the one that carries the day. Besides, I once knew a man who could only think, “Kill the bastards.”  When he finally got the chance, he did not find it as easy or as much fun as he thought.  So, argue your point, but don’t marry it.”

R5 Festuscato: Nudging the Future, part 3 of 3

Hywel made most of the introductions and the Welsh were cordial, but one man from the north of Wales had something to say.  “I don’t know exactly why I am here.  The Irish have been quiet these last few years.”

“But they won’t always stay quiet,” Festuscato said.  “And won’t it be good to have the British and Cornish to back you up?”

“We can handle a few Irish pirates,” he said gruffly, though one man quietly differed.

“Speak for yourself.”

“And the Picts?” Festuscato smiled for the man.  “I understand they are getting to be a regular nuisance.”

“Well.”

“The thing is, Eudof,” he called the man by name having caught it in the conversation earlier. “We band together and take on one thing at a time.  Megla made an incursion into Wales last summer to test the waters.  You can be sure he will be back if he isn’t stopped. But after we take care of the Hun, we can then deal with Wanius and his Picts.  Make sense?”

Eudof slowly nodded, and then stepped aside to reveal his druid.  There came a moment of tension in the room among those who knew Festuscato’s rule, but Festuscato surprised them all.  “A druid.  Welcome.” He reached for the man’s hand. “You have a name?”

“Cadwalder.” The druid shook hands, but looked like he expected treachery.

“Cadwalder,” Festuscato repeated the name.  “Now listen, everyone.  Your attention please.”  The room quieted.  “No killing the priests includes druid priests.  Listen up.  Constantine, you explain.”

Constantine got startled, but then rubbed his beard.  “Well.  It is as I told you.  It is not my place to decide what can and cannot be taught to the people.  A man has to make up his own mind what he believes.” He looked straight at Eudof. “Hardly can be called a man if he doesn’t.”  Eudof nodded agreement.  King Ban laughed and placed a hand on Constantine’s shoulder.

“You have been spending too much time with the Roman.”

Festuscato underlined his words with a look to the Fathers Gaius, Felix, and Lavius.  “You understand.  No militant bishops.”

“Well understood,” Gaius said, and made a point of stepping over and shaking the druid’s hand. The poor druid did not know what to say.

“All right.” Festuscato moved on.  “Cador, the Lion of Cornwall.  I love it.”  All of the men of Cornwall had lions on their tunics.

“The dragon was already taken,” Cador said, and shook hands before he introduced his men. Weldig was High Chief of Lyoness. Baldwin was the Lord Mayor of Exeter, but he looked ready for war.  Dynod was from Glastonbury and building a fort on the Tor.  “And you remember Gildas, my cousin from Tintangle.”

“Of course. Gildas.  You ready to kill the bastards?”  Gildas grinned in a way that said he was ready.

“Constans,” Constantine called his son.  Constans was over with the women, speaking to a very animated young woman.  “Constans.”

“Father?”

“Come here, son. You will be in Cadbury after I am gone. You better figure out how it all works right from the beginning.”  The high chiefs sat around one long table where they had wine decanted, and glasses. There were three other tables in the Great Hall, and Festuscato made men move and mingle, because otherwise there would be a Cornish table, a Welsh table and a British table.  Julius, who came in two nights earlier, sat beside Festuscato.  Marcellus took one table, Tiberius took the second, and Dibs took the third, just to watch and keep things cordial.  When everyone got seated, Festuscato waited for Constantine to sit at the head of the table before he sat beside him, across from Constans and King Ban.  Cador asked why he didn’t take the top spot.

“You are the Imperial Governor, and Comes Britannarium.”

“I am an observer, mostly, and one who looks forward to one day going home.” Festuscato stood again to talk. “You are the people of Great Britain, and I am giving you a high chief for the whole island to help you sort out your differences.  Call him the head dragon.  In Welsh that would be Pendragon.  I have given you a place of Sanctuary where you can come and argue your case, and be heard by your peers who are seated all around this room.  And the lords of Greater Britain can decide, case by case, what must be.   The fact that Constantine is native Amorican is important.  He is not invested in your many troubles.  He is invested in peace.  But remember, he is not a king.  Every man here is equal, and can sit face to face, I hope in friendship.”  Festuscato saw Mirowen appear at the door and she nodded. “Constantine is a man invested in peace, but when it comes to war, I am appointing him Dux Bellorum, the leader in battles.  When he sends out the call to arms, you will bring your men here, or wherever they are needed.  And the Irish, the Picts, the Saxons and the Huns better beware.”  Festuscato picked up his glass of wine that Julius just poured, and he saluted Constantine before he downed it.  Then he made a face.  “We got any ale?”

Mirowen rolled her eyes, but nodded, and many of the men laughed, and a few cheered. “Before we get down to business on this fine day.  Let us feast as good neighbors should.”  He sat down. Servants started to bring in great trays of all sorts of food.  It was not fairy food, but the cooks had been practicing the art of cooking for several hundred years and were pretty good at it.

“Lord Constantine,” Ban said after a while.  “If I had your cooks I would weigh a hundred stone.”  That sentiment seemed fairly universal.

“Hey!  None of that!”  Dibs shouted.  Two men at his table were about to go at each other.  Constantine stood, urged by Festuscato.

“What is the trouble?”

“They both want the last Pig’s ear,” Dibs said and several men laughed.  “And they are about to cut each other.”

Mirowen, in the room, frowned and snorted the word, “Boys,” which got all of their attention. She stepped to the back table where she cut off a pig’s ear.  She came back to Dib’s table where she cut the other ear, every eye following her the whole way.  She handed one to each of the men and said, “Sit.”  It was a command, and they sat.  “Children,” she said, and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe one’s mouth like a mother might wipe her four-year-old.  “Now behave or next time it will be worse for you.”  She stomped out of the room and many of the men tried not to laugh.  Constantine raised his voice.

“All you had to do was ask.”  People stopped to listen.  “The answer might be no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.”  He sat and sipped his drink before he spoke more softly.  “Remarkable woman, that Mirowen.”

Festuscato nodded, and King Ban spoke up.

“Speaking of which, that was a fine looking young woman you were speaking to earlier,” he said to Constans.  “She seemed taken with you.”

Constans gulped. “Do you think?  She is beautiful.  Ivy.  That’s her name.  Father, don’t you think that is a beautiful name?”  Constantine looked at his son who appeared lost in his own thoughts.

Ban leaned over the young man.  “My daughter,” he said.  “So do we plan for a summer wedding or wait until fall?”

Constantine appeared to think a minute while Constans’ face grew redder and redder. “If we have both the Hun and the Picts to deal with, I think fall will be best.  What do you think?”  He turned to Festuscato.

“I think when I was nine, Mirowen used to wipe my face like that.  It can hurt.”

“No,” Ban said, and turned his head briefly to look for her.  “She is much too young.”  No one responded to what he said.

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Next Monday: R5 Festuscato: The Hun in the House.  Don’t miss it. Until then…

Happy Reading

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