M3 Festuscato: To the Hall of Heorot, part 1 of 3

In the morning, everyone had to wait until Festuscato got up and about.  At one point, out of boredom, Gregor pointed behind Mousden and shouted, “Bear!”

“Where?” Mousden asked from half way down the street where he flew in the blink of an eye. Seamus laughed.  Even Bran smiled.

“Now come, little one.  Do you really think these Jutes would let a bear wander the streets?” Gregor asked.

Mousden shook his head after a moment’s thought.  “I suppose not, though mortal humans are still very strange to me.”

“Quite all right,” Seamus said.  “They are strange to me, too, and I am one of them.”

“Sorry.” Festuscato spoke up from the doorway. Without another word, he went straight to his horse and mounted.  “Lead on Macduff.”  He waved at Ingut who volunteered to lead them into Danish lands and to the hall of Hrothgar.  Ingut the shipbuilder, became one of the few, in those times of tension, who could continue to move freely across borders.  Ingut did not understand a word Festuscato said, but he understood the intent. He turned his horse into the lane, and everyone fell in behind, Luckless with his arms still full of breakfast.

Mirowen had her own horse then, and as soon as they passed through the city gate, she nudged up to ride beside Lord Agitus.  “Vingevourt had duties, but he said he might see us at Heorot.”

Festuscato said nothing.  He looked deep in thought.

“You missed breakfast, so Luckless ate your portion,” she tried again.

“Huh?”  She at least got that much before he said something that did not really make sense.  “My breakfast was eaten by a person you would least expect, but not find surprising, but it wasn’t me.”  He fell again to thinking.

“Will my Lord be having gloom for lunch as well?” Mirowen asked.

“Huh?” Festuscato looked up then, and seemed to focus.  “I’m sorry. I’ve been thinking about this monster. Twelve years is a long time not to have some lead on where the beast comes from.”

“From the place of the great swamps and dreaded pools,” Mirowen reported what she had heard.

Festuscato shook his head.  “Speculation. It has never been seen.  In fact, the tracks of the beast always disappear at the gate to the city, and not always the same gate.  You know, an animal, even a monster, can be tracked, and all animals, and especially monsters, cannot help leaving a trail of some kind.  But the trail of this beast apparently disappears at the edge of the city.  I know, because I stayed up most of the night bothering people and asking questions.

“But how?” Mirowen started to ask, but Festuscato caught the gist of the real question and answered before she could finish.

“The king found a girl who spoke the British tongue, a slave of sorts I guess, but a nice lass, as Patrick would say.”

Mirowen looked at him, as if the answer to her concern simply raised another whole series of questions.  “You overslept,” she confirmed.  Festuscato nodded slowly and Mirowen frowned and thought she could not have been that nice a girl, at least in the way Patrick would have meant it.  Then she had another thought.  “I know with the spirit of Diana inside your heart, the gift given to your reflection in the old days, you know more than most about tracking animals. I do not doubt what you say is true. A monster, certainly ought to be easy to follow.  But right now, I suspect it is the other gift shared with your reflection; it is the spirit of Justitia which is driving you.”

“Ah, yes.” Festuscato smiled.  “Your suspicious gland is functioning very well I see.  Every woman has a suspicious gland, you know, and you are exactly right.”

Mirowen ignored the insult, and after a pause, she spoke again.  “How so?  How am I right?”

Festuscato did not answer directly.  “Did you notice the monster always attends the hall, but he never seeks victims in their homes or apartments?”  He asked, though he made it a statement of fact.  “It might become evident, you see, if one house never got attacked, or the houses of friends, if any.”

“But is it not a monster?”  Luckless rode right behind them and he had been listening in with those excellent ears, at least between bites.  “Don’t monsters just go for blood and gore and that sort of thing?”

“If it is a monster, it is an intelligent monster,” Festuscato said.

“Like a Troll or Ogre?” Mirowen asked, but Festuscato shook his head.

“I said intelligent,” he joked.

At least Luckless laughed.  “If it is one of ours, it must be a dark elf to come only at night, like a Goblin,” he suggested.

“No.  It is not one of my little ones,” Festuscato said. “I checked that out first.”

“Surely you don’t think an ordinary man would do all I hear this Grendel has done,” Mirowen said.

Festuscato paused to look at her closely.  “Tell me. Do you know what a werewolf is?”

“I have only heard the word,” Mirowen admitted, while Luckless shook his head and wondered.

“It is a disease, actually,” Festuscato said.  “Of the few humans who are really susceptible, most carry the gene without ever knowing it.  But they pass it on through the generations, until it surfaces at some point.  It happens when the moon is full, like the pull on the tides, and the man, like the Were people of old, changes into a wolf and is driven half mad in the process because human people are not built to be transformed.  These people become mostly mindless killing machines, and I suspect this Grendel may be something like that, only with his mind still intact somehow.”

“Oh, I see,” Luckless said, not really seeing at all.  But Mirowen understood perfectly.

“So, you think the monster may be an ordinary person by day, and it may actually be a person in the hall itself, every day,” she said.

“Exactly. And I think if anyone figures this out, there are plans already set to see someone else, someone innocent, accused. I feel it in my gut, but then I may be wrong altogether.”

“No.” Mirowen shook her head.  “It is the only explanation I have heard that makes any sense at all.”  She dropped back to consider the problem in her own private world.  She said very little the rest of the day, and nothing at all about the monster.  Then again, no one said much that day, until just before night when they entered a village in the forest where they were refreshed and could be bedded for the night.

M3 Festuscato: Saved, part 1 of 3

It did not take long for Mousden to have the driest wood he could find stacked in a neat pile. Unfortunately, no one could get it started until Luckless came along from the opposite direction.  Dwarfs can nearly always get a fire started.

“Unless I’ve lost my tinder, too,” Luckless grumbled.  He had not, and in a moment, the flames rose with the sun.  The rain was over.  “I see you saved your books,” he added, with a nod to Seamus.

“It was Bran,” Seamus explained.  “We were able to stay aboard ship until there was nearly enough light to see.  The pounding of the waves made the ship lean more and more terribly to the weak side, where the hole was.”

“List,” Hrugen interrupted.  “Ships list, they don’t lean.  I don’t know why.”

“Yes, well, all that time, Bran kept tearing up boards and lashing them together with what rope he could find.  In the end, he said we were in danger of turning over altogether and he dropped the raft on the side closest to the water.  I got down with the books and Bran dove in and hauled the raft free of the ship, which by the way did turn over shortly after we escaped.  We came to shore, and it was a miracle the books are not more soaked.”

“Common sense.” That was all Bran called it.

“I don’t suppose you saw my tools?” Luckless asked.  The poor dwarf was still wringing buckets of water from his clothing. Dwarfs were not good swimmers in calm water.  Their legs and arms were too short.  They had a tendency to sink like stones.  The others all shook their heads, but Seamus turned and pointed to the sea.

“You’re welcome to take a look,” he said.  “The ship is not very far out.”  He pointed, and sure enough they could see the hull just above the water line in the distance.  It could not entirely sink, being grounded there on the rocks, but in time it would be broken to pieces by the relentless sea and become driftwood for someone else’s fire.

Luckless warmed his hands.  “What’s the point?” he asked.  “All is lost and it is all my fault.  If I hadn’t come along, you would have had clear sailing to the Danish coast where the Lord wanted to land.  I’m such a jinx.”

“No.” Everyone spoke together, but Luckless felt convinced.  The only reason they hit that storm had to be because he was a jinx, and he lost his precious tools as well, the last gift of his father, and now he would just sink into the rock until he was no more.  He felt miserable and he would not be talked out of it.

A couple of hours later, they caught sight of Mirowen.  They were hungry and just about to give up waiting and go in search of food, when she appeared, meandering sweetly down the coast.  She looked perfectly dry, her long black hair flowed in the light breeze, every hair in place, and her dress looked like it had just been cleaned and pressed.  By contrast, the men looked disheveled in their muddy, damp and wrinkled clothes. Hrugen’s blond head looked brown from the mud.

Gregor one eye was the first to notice that she was talking while she walked.  “I can’t hardly make out what it is, though, she is talking to,” he said.

Luckless squinted. His eyes in the day were barely better than Mousden’s.  “Water sprite.  I think.” He did not sound sure.

“Be back.” Mousden announced and flew off to greet the Lady.

Mirowen arrived with not one, but a whole train of water sprites in her trail.  They were true little ones, from eight to twelve inches tall and looked like a gelatinous mass roughly in the shape of a person, with a shimmer along the edge, which made a casing, like a nearly transparent exoskeleton that held them together.  The chief walked beside the elf and had a voice high pitched like a mouse, but sounded sweet as a baby.  The others, what Festuscato might have called liquid gingerbread men, carried all of the boxes and personal things that could be salvaged from the ship.  They also brought two more horses and a pony.

“Gentlemen.” Mirowen spoke when she got close enough. “May I present Lord Vingevourt, king of the water sprites and ruler of the Baltic.”

“The whole sea?” Hrugen asked, and looked ever so uncomfortable.

“No,” Vingevourt squeaked in Danish.  Mirowen had to translate.  “I’ve got a nephew in the North Sea, and a third cousin in the Channel.  I don’t know about the Arctic, what ice blob has that at present.”  Luckless and Mousden, of course, understood every word.  The little ones had the uncanny ability to understand each other regardless of the language, but even as Mirowen translated, the rest of the crew looked at Hrugen who shook his head.

“Not proper Danish,” Hrugen said.  “Jutland dialect which is difficult and has some strange soundings.”

“Odd pronunciations.”  Seamus returned the favor.  “Words are pronounced, not sounded,” he said.  “I don’t know why.”

Vingevourt continued while his train set down the cargo and dove back into the sea to disappear. “Imagine my horror when I came to discover through this fine Lady that I nearly drowned my own god in that storm.”

“Your god?” Hrugen asked.  He was the new member of the group and didn’t know the full story of Festuscato.

“Sure,” Gregor said with a sly grin.  “Didn’t you know your captain was one of the gods?”

“God only for the sprites of the earth,” Luckless said.

“God for us, too,” Vingevourt responded.  “Many sprites of the waters, the air, and the fires under the earth belong to him as well.”

“Mostly, you might think of him as the Watcher or a Traveler.”  Mirowen explained before the argument hardly started.  “But he is just an ordinary human to you.  That is inevitably how he or she is born.”

“She?” Hrugen raised an eyebrow.

“Of course.” Mirowen nodded.  “You don’t suppose he should always be born a male, do you?”

M3 Festuscato: Shipwreck, part 2 of 3

“Mousden!” Festuscato shouted to the top of the mast where the last member of the motley crew spent most of his time. “What do you see?”  The light seemed to be fading too fast and Festuscato started becoming concerned about the possible storm.  He wondered if he should turn the ship toward the shore to seek shelter.  Certainly, the sea began to turn rough.  Fortunately, the Cornish Pixie’s eyes were very sharp in the dark.

“I see the usual collection of lazy layabouts on the deck,” Mousden shouted down.

The men looked up. “Hawk!”  Gregor shouted and suddenly pointed.

“Hawk?” Hrugen looked up, but Mousden had already shrieked and flown to the deck faster than an eye could see.  He crawled under a coil of rope to hide, being only a foot and a half tall, altogether.

Gregor laughed with the others, and after a moment, even Hrugen thought it was funny. Mousden, however, got mad.

“How would you like a hot foot,” Mousden threatened Gregor for the millionth time, but everyone knew the old, one eyed Saxon really cared for the little winged man. Even Mousden could see that much.

“Ahem!”  Festuscato cleared his throat.  “I meant, what can you see at sea?”

“Oh.” Mousden nodded.  “Just some monsters spouting water and headed right for us.”

“Whales on the whale road.”  Hrugen jumped to the railing and Bran caught him before the pitch tossed him.  All the men, carefully strained in the growing darkness to catch a sight of the wonder.

“Ahem,” the captain said.  “I meant the clouds.  Is there a storm coming?  Should we seek the shelter of the shore?”

“Oh, yes, Lord,” Mousden said, frankly, but without the least comprehension of what he was saying.  He was just not very used to moving among men and did not fully understand human needs in the face of a hostile universe.  For that matter, most of his life got spent in caves and such, and he still just started learning about things like bad storms.  “There’s a big storm coming.  A monster storm.”  Festuscato had already turned toward the shore.

“When?” Festuscato asked.

It started to drizzle.  “About now. Why?”

At that moment, a giant swell washed the front of the boat, nearly swamped the whole bow. Mirowen held to her place, like a magnet to iron, but she got soaked head to foot and reacted as any woman would. Festuscato had one moment to view her glorious water soaked figure and the sheer vulnerability of her in her state, and the heavens opened up.

“Hrugen! Gregor!  Tear that sail.  Bran! Seamus!  Loose the horses.  Mousden to Mirowen.  We need your eyes in the dark.  Mirowen! Call out direction.”

“To port.” She spoke right from the beginning. “There are rocks to starboard.”

The lightning began and rapidly came in sheets like the driving rain.  It took only moments before Gregor and Hrugen cut the chords of the sail and the ropes began whipping in the wind.  They still had enough tension in the canvas to give the ship some real impetus and direction, but not enough to cause the mast to snap. That would have been a real danger. As for direction, Gregor and Hrugen quickly joined their captain at the tiller.

“To Port. We’re drifting,” Mirowen said.

“I see the land. I see it,” Mousden shouted, excited, though how the men at the tiller imagined he could see anything was beyond them. He bobbed up and down about a foot above Mirowen’s head, barely able to stay aloft in the wind.  He got hard blown toward the sea twice before a particularly close lightning strike made him quit his post and seek out his hiding ropes.  Luckless had already come back on deck with his precious bag of tools.  Seamus also came back up, his precious books in hand. He held the ropes across the deck from Luckless and hunkered down over his papers.  Bran came last, rubbing his shoulder where a terrified horse kicked and grazed him.  All the same, he joined the men at the tiller.

“More to port.” Mirowen shouted, her words somehow got through against the rain.  The swells came, and the little ship began to bob up and down like a cork in water. They began to take on water, but there seemed no point in bailing.  Everyone had to hang on for dear life as the sea took them for a ride.

For three hours Mirowen shouted, “To port!”

And Festuscato shouted back.  “She’s hard over already.”

For three hours, Mousden shivered under the ropes, Seamus and Luckless protected their priceless cargos and four men kept the ship turned hard to port, though whether they went to port or were driven to starboard in spite of everything, none could say.

“There are rocks to starboard!”

The lightning flashed, and the rain and thunder crashed, near deafening.

The sail ripped altogether in the third hour.  It flapped in the wind and the ropes flailed about and became dangerous for those amidships. That condition did not last long as the mast cracked in a snap as loud as the thunder.  When it broke altogether, it fell into the sea right over Luckless’ head.

“Luckless!” Seamus shouted.  The dwarf did not answer.  Leaving his books to the wind and rain, Seamus crawled toward the spot.

“I’m okay,” came the call.  “Mousden snatched me away in the nick.”  Seamus crawled quickly back to his spot by the railing.

“More to port! We’re getting too close to the rocks.” And they did get too close, first to hear the horrifying sound of an underwater ridge scrape up against the bottom before a boulder, taller than the rest, crunched into the ship’s side and caved in a portion of the deck below.  The ship jerked to a stop and Festuscato got thrown overboard.  He barely missed the rock itself as he plunged headlong into the cold waters of the Baltic.

M3 Festuscato: Shipwreck, part 1 of 3

Festuscato:  The Halls of Hrothgar

After 416 A. D., Outside the Western Roman Empire

Festuscato 1:  Shipwreck

The clouds gathered, gray and dark on the eastern horizon, but the evening was near and Festuscato was not sure if the darkness got caused by a storm or the slowly fading sun. He considered the problem when his eyes became utterly taken by another vision.  Mirowen came up from below where the seven horses, and two ponies sounded restless, even against the sound of the wind and the waves.

“Lord.”  She acknowledged him in the way she did ever since they left Rome on this impossible journey.  Long gone were the days of his childhood when she called him sweet names, and his teenage years when she called him spoiled brat.

“My Lady.” He responded and watched her walk to the bow to stand, statue-like; her habit of the past seven days.  Everyone else watched as well and only returned to their various distractions after she came to a stop.  Festuscato, held the tiller dead on and had nothing better to do than stare.

Mirowen’s long green dress flowed out beside her with the wind and made it seem as if any moment, the beauty might take to flight.  She appeared, not so much a beauty one could point to, Festuscato decided, but more of an unearthly kind of something that made her impossibly attractive. It could be seen in the perfection of her form and figure, in the grace of her every gesture, in her long black hair and pitch black eyes, in her elvish ears with those perfect little points. Festuscato decided she needed a mate, if one could be found to match her perfection.  Sadly, at present, all he could do was sigh for her and turn his eyes away.  Besides, Hrugen seemed much more interesting.

Hrugen claimed to be a great Danish sailor.  He volunteered to guide them safely through the waves, once he found out their proposed route would take them near his homeland.  He said he had nothing against living in exile in Britain, but secretly, Festuscato imagined the man just got homesick.  As Festuscato suspected, the man proved to be no sailor at all.  In fact, Festuscato had started calling the man Gilligan, from time to time, even if that made himself the Skipper. Presently, Hrugen tried again to tie down the sail in the corner where it came loose and flapped, furiously. Gregor One Eye, the old Saxon, finally got tired of watching him and did it himself.

“I was about to do that,” Hrugen said, defensively.

“Nothing compared to what I was about to do,” Gregor said.

“Yes,” Festuscato thought.  “Seven days at sea could be interminable.”

Gregor sauntered over to where Seamus, the Cleric and Bran the Sword sat quietly.  Seamus wrote in his book, and Bran leaned on his sword, contemplating the cross.  The first was a cleric in the true sense, a priest of the Irish, a present from Patrick. Bran was a puritan through and through, and also a present, given by Constantine whom Festuscato anointed as the first Pendragon to rule Britannia in the name of Rome until such time the Romans returned, if ever.  Bran had been charged to defend the Senator’s life until Festuscato could safely return to his home along the Appian Way.

“What is it you write in that book of yours, anyway?”  Gregor asked as he sat on the cleric’s other side where he could keep watch with his good eye.  “You’ve been writing for seven days now and I have not heard a word except out of that other book of yours, that Bible thing.”

“I am keeping a record of our journey and adventures,” Seamus said.

“Adventures?” Gregor let out a hearty laugh. “Haven’t had any yet.”  Bran, craned his neck a little as if to take a look, though he had not yet shown anyone reason to believe he knew how to read.

“If you must know.”  Seamus spoke fast, corked his ink and set it and his quill in the pouch he always carried. “I have just written how we came into the Baltic from the outer sea yesterday morning, rounded the height of Jutland and came within sight of the coast which ran from horizon to horizon.”

“That’s all there is at sea.  Just horizon every way you look.”  Hrugen spoke as he joined the group.  The others paused.  For one minute, it appeared as if Hrugen might be sick, again.  “I try not to think about it.”  He finished, and looked down at his shoes.

Bran still craned. “It’s poetry,” he said.  “It’s not supposed to make sense.”

Seamus shut the book even though the ink was not quite dry.  “It makes sense,” he said.  “It’s just poetic.”

“Latin?” Gregor asked.

“Of course,” Seamus said.  “Just because we were wise enough not to get entangled with Roman overlords, doesn’t mean every Irishman’s an uneducated lout.”

“Quite true,” Gregor said with a big, friendly grin.  “Well, partly anyway.”

Bran stifled a laugh and stood up for the cleric.  “David was a poet.  I’ll grant you that,” he said.

“A barbarian of high esteem?”  Hrugen asked.

“A king for God’s people,” Seamus said.

“God’s chosen,” Bran said, almost at the same time.

“Which god?” Gregor asked, and then relented.  “That’s right, you only have one, so you say.”

“The Danes know of the Alfadur.”  Hrugen suggested.

“Can he protect my tools from salt water?”  A new voice joined the group.  Luckless the dwarf had come up from below where he hourly checked on his precious possessions.  “Pray that they don’t all rust.  Some of them were my great-grandfather’s, brought all the way from the mines of Movan Mountain.”

“But I thought your father was in the thick of it when the dwarf lords drove you out?” Seamus said.

“I don’t blame him,” Luckless said, with half a heart.  “Got to seek my fortune.  Besides, what would you do with a bad luck charm?”

The two Christians shook their heads.  The other two, however, looked like they would throw the dwarf overboard in a minute if he was not under Lord Agitus’ protection.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 5 of 6

“You were here,” Labash started, and looked around.  “Most of you were here with Ishtar when Babylon was founded.  Assur founded Assur—creative name—about two or three hundred years earlier, a small time in the life of the gods.  But you may recall Ishtar saying, in effect, that now that the boys each had their own place, they would have to take turns.  That was around 2000 BC.”

“I remember,” Boston said.

Assur raided southern Mesopotamia. Then Marduk raised up Hammurabi.”

“I remember Hammurabi,” Boston interrupted.  “What a dweeb.”

Labash smiled for her.  “Not to say they were the only players.  Hebat sort of cheated and her Hittites took two turns. But the Mitanni, the Hurrians, the Gutians, and others, all got a turn, all being supported and encouraged by various gods.  Enlil and Enki sort of supported the Elamites, who never went away until they got absorbed by the Medes and Persians.  Marduk did not mind.  He sort of held on to southern Mesopotamia and minded his own business.  Assur, though, got mad.  I think because he seemed closer to the front line, as Decker calls it.  About 1366 BC, he had enough.  He took a 300 year turn and shoved everyone back, taking on the Hurrians, Hittites, Mitanni, and the rest.  He messed with Babylon and southern Mesopotamia some, but not much.  Then it should have been Babylon’s turn, but Babylon had become occupied by Kassites.  You might call them the first Hippies.  Peace, man.”

“Far out.”  Lockhart couldn’t help himself.

“Groovy,” Lincoln countered.

“They were some serious vegetarians, well, meat got so expensive.  Marduk called it his mellow period.  They endured the pull and tug of Assyria and Elam, and for the most part lived quiet, peaceful lives.  Meanwhile, Assur went on a rampage, rearranging all his furniture.  The Assyrians again came out to play after a hundred and forty-some years of Babylonian do nothings.  This time, they overran everything in sight, including Egypt, but that is a different story.  Oh, I guess you met Tobaka.”

“Yes,” Katie said.  “He was Nubian, and his family ruled Egypt, but he said the Assyrians came in and threw his family out.  Killed most of them.”

“He wanted revenge,” Labash nodded. “But he never made it further than the Levant.  So, Assur made a big mistake when he burned Babylon to the ground.  That was about seventy years ago.  He got rid of that king and made sure the next one rebuilt the city and apologized to Marduk, personally.  But from then on, they would not be in the same room together, and I think Marduk plotted.”

“So now, we have two brothers fighting for the Assyrian throne,” Evan said.  “And I imagine Assur is behind the one in Nineveh, and Marduk is ready to support the other.”

“I became a frog,” Labash reminded them. “But, yes.  Marduk appeared in his temple and yelled.  He caused a small earthquake in the city.  He demanded Nabopolasser get off his rump and take the army out to support Sinsharishkun.  He said he wanted to see some Assyrian butt-whooping”

Decker laughed softly.  Boston spoke up.  “I wonder where he heard that term.”

“Yes, well, you know Sinsharishkun killed his brother, and I don’t know how it happened, exactly, but Marduk killed Assur at the same time.  By some trick, I am sure.  But the boys were pretty good at being able to read each other.  I don’t know, but the deed is done, and Marduk has suffered ever since.  I figure he will either come out of it, or in maybe fifty or less years, he will flip out entirely.  I dread dealing with a split personality, or worse, a multiple personality disorder.”

People waited while some especially loud screams reached their ears.  Several got up and stepped to the edge of the building to see how much of the city might be on fire.  Katie sort of regained their attention with her question.

“Nebuchadnezzar goes sort of loopy in his older years, do you think?”  She did not spell it out.

Labash frowned at her for talking about the future so flagrantly.  “Perhaps,” he said.  “But I don’t expect to be here by then.  In the new palace, I am building a wing for captive kings.  I said they can make it into a museum.  I have also built a great camp area for strays and captive people. Nabopolasser has already moved some Arameans and Suteans into the area.”  Labash appeared to enjoy shrugging.  “That is about all I can do; that and exert what influence I can on Nebuchadnezzar for the future.  I imagine I will be gone when Jerusalem falls. God, the source, seems content to let things work out that way.”

People nodded as they thought about it. Then Evan had another question.

“So, what is happening now?  How do things stand?”

Labash shrugged.  “Sinsharishkun is sitting on the Assyrian throne, but it is not exactly a safe seat.  Many of the provinces have rebelled during the civil war, and have thrown out or killed the Assyrian presence. They would need to be conquered all over again, but too many Assyrian officials see Sinsharishkun as a usurper, even if he is a son of the emperor.  And without Assur behind them, I think the Assyrian people are tired of war.” Labash shrugged again.

“Nabopolasser retook Nippur.  You know, the pro-Assyrian hotbed where Sinsharishkun planned his rebellion.  That did two things.  It put all the cities in southern Mesopotamia on notice that Babylon is back and ready to enforce the law, so they better cough up their tribute, and fighting men, and not be slow.  Babylon can just as soon flatten their cities as he did Nippur.  It also gave him a chance to throw the Assyrian army units out of his territory, which he did.

“So, now there is stalemate,” Katie suggested.

Labash shook his head this time. “Sinsharishkun fears the support of his generals is only lip service.  Right now, he doesn’t want to go there.  Nabopolasser honestly needs three to five years to build his forces before he can make a move.  Who will get there first?  Will Sinsharishkun find his courage, and his generals obey him, or will Nabopolasser have the time to build up his forces and take the war to the enemy with some chance of victory?  It’s exciting.  Like a three to five-year horse race, but that is about as exciting as it gets around here.”

“Lord,” one of the dwarf wives interrupted. She stepped up with a goblin in tow.  Labash and Boston recognized her as a female, but the others weren’t sure. She looked like a brute.

“Yes, Missus Hearthstone?” Labash asked what she wanted.

“This is Miss Thrasher.  You got company.  Tell ’em if they get hungry in the night, we left some meat and bread by the fire, there.  You tell ’em just be asking and Miss Thrasher will be getting.  There’s some vegetables there, too, and she is passable to cook them up if you want.”

“Thank you very much, Missus Hearthstone,” Labash said.  “Miss Thrasher,” he acknowledged his goblin, and smiled for her, which made her turn away and turn a bit red under the gray. “I am sure we will be fine. Personally, I intend to have a good night’s sleep.”

“Not right a young man like you should spend so many nights alone.  If you wasn’t my god, I would do something about that.”

“I am sure you would,” Labash said, with a touch of fear on his face.

“Good night,” she said, and she and Thrasher walked off into the dark

“Good night,” several people said, only to be interrupted by Decker.

“Here they come.”  That was all he had to say.

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 1 of 3

Briana seated next to Hobknot the hobgoblin might have made her supper a bit strange, but Hobknot wore the appearance of an elderly man, the same as he appeared whenever he and Fae came to visit Berry in Greta’s home in Ravenshold, so this was not entirely a new thing for him, and Greta assumed that Briana, having been exposed to dwarfs, elves, fairies and goblins, would be nonplused and pleasant with the grumpy old hobgoblin, but spend most of the night with her attention on Alesander in any case.

“It is the best I could do,” Greta told Mavis.

“And exactly why I want to eat on the floor with the children,” Mavis said.  “Your brother and sister-in-law deserve to hear all about your adventures, and the children make me happy, and you know I am good with children.”  It was true.  After their nanny, Selamine, Gaius and Marta loved Mavis best.”

“If they make you happy,” Greta said and Mavis sniffed, but nodded.

Tales were indeed told, and the dwarfs, elves, fairies and goblins all got a human scrubbing to make them palatable to human ears. When it came to the Wolv, however, no one held back.  And no one hesitated to talk about Mithrite fanaticism.  “They will not hesitate to give their lives to further their cause,” Alesander said, which Father and Darius listened to closely where they might have argued with one of the women.

“But what is their cause?” Father asked.

“To crush the Germans and overrun Rome.  To turn the Empire into the Empire of Mithras,” Alesander concluded, and he stated it like a fact.  He did not say I think or I believe or I feel.

Darius took a breath and looked at Greta. Father looked at Darius and spoke. “I think they will find that Rome is not so easily overcome.”

Greta responded to her husband’s look. “General Pontius is a confirmed Mithrite.  You say he has the legion on alert in Apulum and is waiting to see if the Scythians come and where they strike.  I tell you, when the Scythians strike, General Pontius may bring the legion to fight on the Scythians’ side.”

“Surely not,” Darius said, and Father opened his mouth but remained silent.

“Surely so,” Greta countered, and Briana added a thought.

“You already tasted rebellion in the Roman ranks. Why should your legion not suffer the same?”

Father got it and stood.  He almost knocked his chair back into the fireplace.  “By the gods, we will stop them here,” he shouted.

Greta had grabbed Darius’ hand to keep him seated. Hans got Father’s chair and helped him sit again.  Alesander added fuel to the fire.

“The gods are working on it, I think,” he said. “But they will not do it for us. It is up to us.”  he looked at Greta who nodded for him and for Darius.

“We must cross our own bridges when we come to them, and if we have to build the bridge first, so be it.”

“Grandfather,” Berry interrupted with a look at Bogus. “What are you mumbling about?”

“I was just thinking your great-aunt Pincushion could win them over with a few good meals.”

“Great-aunt?” Fae looked up.

“Yes,” Greta said, grateful for the change in the subject.  “Pincushion and Bogus are half-brother and sister.  Same father.”  Pincushion and Bogus both nodded.

Fae and Berry stared at Greta.  Berry asked, “How did you know?”

Vedix spoke.  “It is not our way to question how the druid knows what she knows.”

###

The town became heavily fortified by the end of March, and none too soon.  Darius had pulled his troops back from the frontier passes to shore up the border defenses in January on condition that Greta send her little ones to spy and give word of any enemy advancement.  For that, Greta turned to Willow and her winter fairies.  Most of the fairies volunteered for the mountains, like their home in the Urals, but some were willing to keep an eye on Apulum and the legion fort.

April first arrived; a day when the sun stayed behind the clouds, but no more snow fell.  It was a day when the wind whipped and turned the cheeks red before a person walked ten steps.  Greta walked with Karina and the children when a bright streak of light came up from the south and stopped in Greta’s face.  Karina stopped moving, but Padma reached out with both hands from her mother’s hip where she rode.

“Fairy,” Padma spoke first.

“Lady,” the fairy spoke in a young woman’s voice. “The whole legion is on the road. They will be here in five days.” The girl’s voice shrieked with happiness.  “I remembered the whole thing!”

“Snowflake, get big,” Greta commanded.

“Fairy,” Padma reached for her.

Snowflake got big and appeared as a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl.  The girl looked shy and began to blush until Mavis reached for the girl’s hand to steady her.

“Mavis, take Snowflake to find Darius and tell him the message.”

“Yes, Lady,” Mavis responded and she coaxed the fairy to move away, even as the fairy recognized the children and began to reach for them.  Kurt did not buy it, but Padma looked upset to see the fairy go.

“Berry.”  Karina had a sudden revelation.  “She was a fairy.”

“She was, but completely human now,” Greta said. “Poor Hans.  He never stood a chance.”

“He doesn’t seem to be hurting,” Karina said and thought while they walked back to the house where she verbalized one thing. “And you have other strange friends, I guess.”

“They are not so strange.  Mostly good people once you get to know them.”

“I’ll have to take your word for that,” Karina opened the door and Greta waddled inside to sit by the fire.  She seriously wanted some tea.

Two days later, when it started raining instead of snowing for the first time in months, the boy, Chip, came racing into town.  He zoomed up to Greta’s face right in front of her father, and hovered for a second to catch his breath.

“Look out,” Father yelled and swatted at what he imagined was the biggest fly in history.

“Father.  No,” Greta stopped his hand and turned on the boy.  “Icechip, get big.”  It was not a request.  Father’s eyes got big along with the fairy, but he said nothing.  “Speak,” Greta commanded.

R6 Greta: The Lake of Gold, part 3 of 3

Some fairies came from the woods and the lake with all sorts of things to cook on the fire and share for supper.  Most of it was vegetables and fruit, but also some fish, well filleted.  They had warm bread that steamed when broken open in the air, and a fine wine that Alesander called excellent.  It seemed a good contrast to the hearty brew of the dwarfs and the light, amber ale of the elves.

Most of the fairies remained hidden, both in the evening and in the next morning, but a couple of fairies took on their big size to do the cooking.  Greta thought that was good and she felt grateful because if she tried to cook that fine food, she determined that she would just mess it up.  Hermes paid attention to what the fairies did to prepare the feast, and so Mavis paid attention, but the rest were content to wait, and more content when supper got served.

As the sun set, King Treeborn and Queen Goldenrod came in their big form to sit by the fire and talk.  Young Prince, Waterborn had been put to bed, but Goldenrod admitted that he spied on them from the reeds.  Lots of fee watched, especially the young ones.  The travelers looked all around, but confessed if they were not told, they would have imagined they were alone beside the lake.

“In the morning, we will head out for the swamp.” Treeborn talked to Alesander and the other men, though around the campfire sort of got spoken to everyone. “That will be about two days the way you folks travel, even moving by secret ways, but we will watch all the way to insure your safe arrival.”  Alesander thanked the king and the king grinned and nodded as if to say it was the least they could do.

Greta and Goldenrod talked about children with Mavis being all ears and Briana not wanting to miss what the men were saying, but interested in what the women were talking about.

“I never thought much about children before,” Briana confessed.

“And how many will you and young Alesander have?” Goldenrod asked, and Briana turned red.  She could not disguise such a thing as love from a fairy.

“I think that is supposed to be a secret,” Mavis said, in a voice meant to be a whisper but loud enough for all of the women to hear.

Goldenrod looked down.  “My apologies.”

“Think nothing of it,” Greta smiled for Briana as much as for Goldenrod.  “They are not fooling anyone.  Even us clunker humans can see it as plain as day.” She turned to Briana who only turned redder and would not look at her, and Greta explained.  “Love in the fairy world is not the complicated mess we humans have made it.  When a male and a female like each other, they are friends, plain and simple.  Then one says, “You are my heart.”  And the other says, “You are my heart,” and that is it. They marry and they usually have children, though to be sure, the little ones reproduce slowly.”

“So, what say you?” Mavis asked Briana the question that Greta would not touch.

Briana finally turned scarlet, but whispered, “He is my heart.”

“There,” Goldenrod smiled, and reached for Briana’s hand which Briana slowly gave as she looked up.  “Doesn’t that feel better?”

“But what if I am not his heart?” Briana asked.

“Very sad,” Goldenrod said.  “It is not unknown, and sometimes fairies pout for a whole day, even two whole days.  But in this case, I can tell you that you have nothing to worry about.  It is plain on his face that you are the only one he wants to be with.”

Briana took back her hand to touch her cheek. Her scarlet embarrassment turned to a true blush as her eyes wandered to the other side of the fire.  “But you need to tell him,” Greta added.

“You’re an elect.  You can beat him up if he gets stupid,” Bogus said as he dashed his wine on the fire to fill his cup with plain water.

“Bogus!”  Greta, Mavis and Goldenrod all scolded him, but he merely shrugged.

“I have a bone or two to pick,” Bogus said, and he sat where he could take in both Greta and Goldenrod.  He started right in.  “You made me and mine give up the free space we had east of the Bear Clan River. It was only a little space between the river and the road, but you said the time for separate places was over. But here, we have been to a protected elf village, we are sitting in a protected fairy nest, and we are going to a swamp full of dark elves who I am sure have their own place as well.  What gives?”

“Bogus.”  Greta tried to keep the sharpness out of her voice.  “I explained.  This world belongs to the human race now.  You were crowding the people of the Bear Clan and keeping them out of land that was rightfully theirs.  Presently, men have not moved into the swampland, and won’t for some time.  The goblins are keeping it from no one. Likewise, these fine fairies live in a very small and unobtrusive area.  They are preventing no one from using the land or the lake.  Then the elves live some distance from the nearest humans, but I imagine as the humans move up into the hills beneath the Carpathian Mountains, the elves will move further and further up the land until Miroven itself may be revived.”

“Miroven.”  King Treeborn raised his voice from the other side of the fire.  “There is a name of legend.”

“Indeed,” Goldenrod said.  “But I wonder, young Bogus, who might your mother be?”

Bogus paused.  He did not expect that question.  “Willow,” he said, and wisely listened.  It took some time to figure out which Willow, because Goldenrod knew three of them, but at last, it got determined Bogus’ Willow went with the snow fairies that moved up to the Ural Mountains more than a hundred years ago and now lived in the land of the Lavars, whom King Treeborn called a brutal and savage people.  The fairies had very nice things to say about Bogus’ mother, and Bogus sat quietly for the rest of the night.

“So, who are these Lavars?” Hermes asked.

“People that Rome does not know,” Greta answered. She grinned at her own thoughts, but as usual she had to explain.  “The Germanic tribes are moving west.  Already the emperor is having a hard time holding the Rhine, the western border of the Empire.  It is only going to get worse in the next couple of hundred years, but meanwhile, other people have moved into the east here, to fill the empty spaces.  All the many tribes of Scythians like the Lazyges and Samartians have moved into the plains above the Danube and around the Mountains of Dacia, which Rome currently holds as an enclave in Scythian land. But the northern half of those old German lands, the old lands of Aesgard, are being filled with Slavs, pouring out of the east and Siberia, and eventually they will settle down to farm and build towns and villages.”

“What are Slahbs?” Alesander asked.

“Lucius is a slob,” Greta said, and did not explain. “But the Slavic people are Indo-European remnants from the east around the Caspian and west of the Aral Sea, kind of a loosely defined people, and right now, like King Treeborn described them, they are savage and brutal.  They have pushed from the Ural Mountains to the Baltic Sea and into Belarus.  They are leaking into Poland and will one-day push down to the Danube, but for now, the Scythian-Iranian stock own the Ukraine. The Scythians won’t be pushed out until there is a back-up at the Rhine and South becomes the escape valve for the Goths and others.”

No one spoke for a moment because they were not sure they understood all she said, but then Alesander grasped at something. “Are you saying the Germanic Goths will one day push to the Danube and into Dacia?”

“They will swallow Dacia whole, but not for a couple hundred years.”

“Sounds like a game my brothers used to play when we were young,” Nudd said.  “We would set up bricks in lines and knock the first one down which knocked down the next and the next until the whole line got knocked down.”

“What was the point of that?” Lucius asked.

Nudd shrugged.  “Fun?”

“Dominoes,” Greta called it.  “That image is used for more than a thousand years, and not a bad image.  The Scythians push the Germans, the Slavs push them both.  The Germans get backed up by the Roman wall at the Rhine and curve south to where they push back at the Scythians.  But then the Huns will come out of the Caucasus Mountains and overrun everybody, but that won’t be for a long time.”

“And to think, we get to go into the middle of all this pushing and shoving,” Briana said.

“Expect everyone we meet to be on enemy thinking unless we can prove friendship in some way.” Alesander nodded.

“Like running the gauntlet,” Hermes said, and Lucius laughed at that thought for some reason.

“I’m more worried about the Wolv,” Nudd said.

“Me too,” Greta agreed.

“They won’t come here,” King Treeborn insisted. “This area is covered by a magical dome that makes all who are inside invisible.”

“The Wolv found their way into Movan Mountain,” Hermes pointed out and Mavis nodded vigorously.

“They have air ships,” Greta explained for the fairies.  “And there is no telling what natural magic their instruments might penetrate from the air. My only hope is this group is about the size of a typical Scythian or Dacian or German hunting group and so the Wolv might have a time trying to figure out which group is ours.”

“Slim hope,” Lucius popped that balloon, and everyone sat and sulked for a minute.

“Well, at least the humans won’t come here with all their pushing and shoving,” King Treeborn spoke into the silence, and Alesander added a thought.

“Get some rest.  We have a long day tomorrow through enemy territory.”

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

MONDAY

Greta and her friends pick up another traveler as they move on to the swamp of sorrows.

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 1 of 3

Mavis came in from the cold fall night and woke Greta before dawn.  “Lady. Bogus and Vedix have found the back door,” she said.  It took a few minutes to figure out what Mavis was talking about, but by then Briana came awake and got ready and several members of the Dragon Clan were there to escort them.

“The people of the dragon are determined to keep the notion that they have a back-door secret,” Bogus explained.  “But Chobar and the men of the Dog Clan are reported to be in the territory, only half a day away, and they are willing to make an exception for you in order to insure your safety.”

“This way,” The dragon elder led the way into a barn that butted up to the cliff face.  Greta smelled the animal droppings in the hay, which said the barn actually got used as a barn, and she tried not to step in anything as they made for the back wall.  Several men stood there to remove a well disguised bit of wooden planks and reveal a cave opening in the cliff.  The dragon elder continued to lead as the men brought torches to light the way up a broad path that wove through the inside of the rock cliff.

“Where are Alesander, Lucius and Hermes?” Greta asked quietly.  Her words echoed softly in the tunnel.

“Gone ahead to scout out the terrain above,” Bogus answered, and directed his voice to Greta’s ears so he would not disturb the underground.  Greta considered that ability.  Bogus the Skin wore the glamour of an old man, a ragged looking prospector, but Greta and Mavis, probably Vedix, and likely the rest of them knew he was in reality some sort of dwarf.  In fact, Greta knew Bogus’ father had been an imp and his mother a fairy, an odd combination to be sure.  Bogus had wings after a fashion, but he showed no indication his wings worked, or could work well enough to lift his imp sized body.  Certainly everyone, except maybe Vedix, knew Mavis as an elf, though presently they preferred the glamour that made her appear human rather than be confronted with that reality.  With that in mind, Greta decided that the ragged looking prospector look was not a bad choice for the imp.

“I can smell the outdoors,” Mavis whispered, like a person who had some trouble breathing.

Greta nodded.  She smelled it too, and she felt glad that Mavis was not like some elves of the light who were naturally claustrophobic and absolutely no good underground.

Up top, Hermes and two men of the Dragon Clan sat around the fire cooking eggs and burning toast.  After a short while, Lucius came in from the southeast with another man of the Dragon Clan.  He reported the road back to Porolissum and Roman lands looked open.  He urged them to take that route before he sat quietly and burned some of his own toast.  When Alesander came back from the north, he reported the way looked difficult, rough but passable.  Greta had something else to say.

“Nudd.  Why are you here?”

Nudd looked at his cousin Briana and shuffled his feet.  “I can help. I’ve been up this way before, all the way to the city of Samarvant on the River Olevant.  Father used to trade with the Dacians there.  I can help.”

“Samarvant on the River Heartbreak,” Mavis whispered.

“We go north.”  Greta wanted to say more to Nudd, but she thought she better get in that word before the others started expressing opinions and maybe tried to talk her out of it.  They took a moment to say good-bye and thank you to the men of the Dragon Clan.  Greta watched them expertly cover the hole to the underground so no one would stumble upon it by accident; then they sat alone with the sun just below the horizon and the eggs ready.  Greta nibbled with one eye on Stinky the mule that Hermes had struggled to bring up from down below.

“He can carry hard bread and bacon for a while,” Hermes said.  “I figure his natural smell will keep the predators away.”  A few laughed softly, but they seemed to be waiting for what Greta had to say.

“Nudd, why are you here?”

“Mother said to stay with you.  I can help,” Nudd repeated.

“Nudd,” Briana took up the cause.  “You will just get yourself killed.”

“So will you,” Nudd protested with some steam in his voice.  “Maybe I can get killed in place of you.”

“That isn’t helping,” Alesander pointed out.

“We go north,” Greta slipped that in again while Briana argued with her cousin, and since no one objected to going north, she thought she might try a piece of burnt toast.

Alesander and Briana took the point as before. Lucius and Hermes walked in back, behind Greta, Mavis and Nudd, with Hermes dragging stinky in the rear. Bogus the Skin and Vedix the hunter took the wings and kept their instincts open to warn against any predators, and especially to watch for Wolv.

“We ran into a Wolv on our way up to the village of the Dragon Clan,” Vedix said.

“You might say we saw eye to eye,” Bogus explained. “I can’t say what sort of senses they have, but it sniffed us much like a dog sniffing our identity.”

“Sharp.  All their sense are extra sharp, but the nose especially,” Greta said.  “Go on.”

“Well, after a good sniff, it didn’t seem interested in us and moved on.”

“Bogus put the whammy on it,” Vedix said, with a little laugh.

“Didn’t get a chance to,” Bogus said.  “But now I know what to look for.”

“Me too,” Vedix said, more seriously.  Greta put Bogus and Vedix on the wings, though she had serious doubts they would get much warning if any Wolv suddenly showed up.

All that day, they made a path and cut their way through forest and thorn covered meadows.  They stopped now and then to catch their breath at that high elevation, but the real mountain peaks stayed always to their right hand.  They found a small clearing before a ridge lead down into a deep valley, and camped before the sun set.  Hermes thought they made good progress, but Greta knew this would be a long journey.

In the morning, Greta got her bag and handed a watch-like shield control and a Humanoid pistol to Alesander, Briana, Lucius, Hermes and Vedix.  That was all she had.  Bogus and Mavis had other ways of protecting themselves, ways the humans did not have. Greta let go of her dress and red cloak and called to her armor.  It stayed shielded by the magic of the little ones who helped make it and by the power of the god Hephaestus, himself.  Likewise, the cloak, which she turned the sliver side to a green camouflage with a mere thought, had been made by Athena and proved many things proof, as the goddess declared.  She hoped it might be proof against the energy blast of a humanoid weapon.  She apologized to Nudd and told him whatever happened, he should to stay beside her until she could secure another wristband and weapon.

Greta made sure everyone knew how the equipment worked, and then got them to turn the equipment off unless and until needed. She could not be sure what kind of battery life the equipment had and wanted to preserve it, she thought, until needed.  She understood the need would be inevitable.

The group got out of the trees and came to a grassy ridge top, well before the descent to the valley.  When they stepped closer to the edge, they felt the wind in their faces.

“The way of the winds,” Mavis spoke softly.

Greta pointed as everyone stopped to look.  “My guess is the north wind funnels through a gap in the mountains over that way.  I assume that will be the pass of the ogre’s jaw.”

“And straight ahead?” Alesander asked.

“The rumbling ridge.  It covers the whole far side of the valley.  The instructions said the pass would be the only way through.”

Lucius spoke.  “Looks like there is a ledge half-way up the far side.”

Alesander continued.  “The ledge probably goes to the pass, but I would not want to try for it and climb up all those rocks.  They look unstable.”

“Rockslide, do you think?” Lucius said, before he got interrupted by Nudd.

“I remember this place from when I was young. There is a way to that ledge, but it is many days that way.”  He pointed at Vedix who just then came running in from the forest.  He only had to shout one word.

“Wolv!”

R6 Festuscato: 8 Branwen’s Cove, part 3 of 3

“Bryn ap Trefor, I am here.”  It sounded like a squeaky voice, and a man staggered into the room that could not have been five feet tall if he wore heels. Chief Bryn laughed for the next half-hour, and the only thing Dyrnwch could do was shake his head.

“He has been telling tales again.”

“Yes.”  Dibs spoke with some disgust, and a look that set Bryn to laughing harder.

“Trying to frighten us,” Mousden said, a bit loud.

“But, did you really fight off a whole Irish horde single handed?” Seamus wanted to hear a good adventure.

“It was more like fifty Irish, and my son, Addaon and a hundred of my men were there to help,” Dyrnwch admitted as he sipped his ale and sat on a seat obviously made for him so he could reach the table.  His son Addaon came with him, but so far, he kept respectfully quiet.  Gaius offered a compliment to turn the conversation.

“Your son has your look about him.”  Addaon appeared a good looking, full sized young man, but Gaius’ comment started Lord Bryn on another round of laughter.

“My thanks,” Dyrnwch responded.  “You are not the first to say so, but the truth is, his mother and I adopted him when he was very young.  I’m sorry, but we don’t know who his real parents might be.”

Oddly enough, Festuscato knew just from looking at the young man, at least he knew the boy’s father, but he did not feel it was the time or place to speak, so he held his tongue.  Mirowen also appeared to be holding her tongue, and Mousden took their example and said nothing.  In the end Bryn, Dyrnwch and Addaon all pledged to bring men to Caerdyf within the week, and the group moved on.

Mirowen opened up on the road.  “That Addaon is a breed, half-breed I would say, fairy I think.”

“Fairy for sure,” Mousden said.  He rode behind Mirowen and hung on to her waist.

“And a little something more,” Festuscato said, and knowing that he could never get away without explaining he added, “Talesin, that disobedient child of a mother is his father.  One day Addaon will have a daughter or a son, and they will have a daughter who will marry Uther and give birth to Morgana, the witch who is at least not a bad witch.”   Festuscato shut up, and Mirowen dared not ask another question because she knew Talesin was the son of Danna and a fairy Lord when Danna took on fairy life, and so Talesin became immortal, receiving that spark from Amonette, the serpent of Egypt, the hidden part of the goddess that remained when Danna became a complete fairy.  It was complicated, but a subject best not talked about, and Mousden felt it too. His eyes got big, but his mouth stayed closed.

###

Heading down out of the hills, now clearly headed for the south coast of Wales, they came upon a sight beside the Roman road. A young dwarf sat on a wooden chest and looked despondent, like he lost his true love to a terrible tragedy. Gaius and Seamus got right down and went to see what could be so wrong to cause the boy to come to tears, but they stopped when they saw that it was not a boy at all.

“Why so glum, chum?” Festuscato asked in English because the words popped into his head, and he knew his little ones could understand every language.  He, Mirowen and Mousden also got down, but Bran and Dibs stayed in the saddle.

The dwarf looked up.  “You don’t want to be around me,” he said.  “It isn’t safe.”

“Why is it not safe?” Seamus asked.

“Do you have a name?” Gaius asked at the same time, and the dwarf answered both questions with one word.

“Luckless,” the dwarf said.  “My name is Luckless, and that should explain everything.  My own people threw me out the minute I became a full-grown adult, because I am a jinx and they said it was not safe to allow me to stay.”  He took a deep breath and sighed.

“Your own family threw you out?” Mousden asked, with disbelief in his voice.

“You poor man,” Mirowen felt his pain.

“My family was in the front of the line,” Luckless said.

“Well, this is your lucky day,” Festuscato said, with a gentle smile.  “Do you have any tools?”  Luckless nodded.

“My father gave me his tools, the family heirloom, with some things packed for the road,” Luckless said.  “My father said it was my inheritance early, right before he told me to go away.”

“We could take him with us?” Mirowen asked, with a look at Festuscato, and Mousden appeared to agree.

“And some stray puppy dogs,” Festuscato said, without explaining what he meant.  “But I thought of giving this lucky fellow a job.  I need a new cross and a silver chalice and two golden candle holders for the monks of Branwen’s Cove as payment for these horses.  I don’t see why this fine dwarf might not get the work.” He turned to the dwarf.  “We are going to see the Wizard of Oz.  Mousden is needing courage and Seamus is looking for an adventure.  Mirowen is not looking for anything because she is too near perfect as it is, but Gaius and Bran and Dibs are all looking to fulfill their obligations.  I don’t see any reason why the Wizard can’t change your luck.  Come with us.”

“But I don’t have any gold or silver,” Luckless said, like he only heard the first part, or that might have been the only part he understood.

“I’ll supply the materials,” Festuscato said. “Just tie your box to Dib’s horse so he can protect it and you can ride behind Seamus and tell him all your adventures. I must tell you, though, we have a couple of minor inconveniences to go through first, like an entire Irish army and then a Saxon army, but that should not be too bad.”

“Uncle Weland has taken the dwarf army out from the mines, two hundred strong to battle, but he refused to let me come even though I have strong armor and a sharp ax.”

“Up,” Festuscato said.  “Tell Seamus about the chain of Weland, and the ring of it he forged to woo his fairy wife.”

“How do you know about Uncle Weland?” Luckless asked, and then he began to cry because he knew who Festuscato was, and Mirowen and Mousden and Gaius all comforted the dwarf while Seamus asked,

“Fairy wife?”

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: For Peace.  Sometimes, the path to peace is a struggle.  Until next time:

*

R5 Gerraint: Picts, part 1 of 2

Arthur moved the army by the obvious route toward York.  He figured if Colgrin had any sense, he had scouts out spying Arthur’s progress, and a whole army would be kind of hard to hide.  Gerraint, Arthur, Meryddin and the old men went over the map again and again, looking for some way to limit their exposure, but it seemed impossible until Arthur pointed to the open hill beside the Ure River.

“We can turn aside here in the forest of Bedegraine and come out here on the hilltop.  As long as we set our camp within the trees, we might stay hidden a few days anyway.”

“Might.  Maybe. Could be,” Meryddin did not actually object.

“Slim chance,” Peredur said.

“But still a chance,” Pelenor sounded optimistic, which surprised the group.  “You have men keeping an eye on the Picts and Kai and Loth have joined to chase them from behind.  No reason they can’t chase Caw toward the Ure.”

“This will, by necessity, be a different kind of battle,” Gerraint mused out loud.  “Lancers are not effective in the woods.”

“A company of stout hunters would certainly help our cause,” Arthur said, with a long look at Gerraint.

“But most of our men are hunters,” Pelenor said. “Have to be these days since it got colder.  The growing season has gotten short and the snows of winter have gotten deep.”

“This will be bows and arrows,” Meryddin agreed with a sharp look at Gerraint.  It was not the first such look Gerraint got from the man.

“It would be good if we could catch them between us and the river,” Peredur seemed in general agreement.  “They will have nowhere to run with their backs to the water, and we will have the high ground.”

Gerraint answered Arthur and avoided Meryddin’s eyes. “I’ll need to think about it.”

Two days later, Gerraint went into the woods, Uwaine, his faithful squire behind him.  “Now, don’t be scared,” Gerraint said.  “No matter what happens, they won’t hurt you.  You have to trust me.  You always have to trust me and this is a good time to start.  Do you understand?”

Uwaine nodded.  “Should I shut my eyes?”

“No, Percival,” Gerraint called him.  “You must always keep your eyes open so no enemy can sneak up on you.”  He turned to the woods and hollered.  “Pinewood!” and a man dressed like a hunter, but with a tunic that showed the lion of Cornwall stepped from the trees.

“My Lord.  So you know, I have a rather large company of hunters anxious to help.”

Gerraint shook his head.  He would not put them at risk for a transient human event.  “Got any dwarfs and dark elves on tap?”

“Right here,” a dwarf with a long black beard that covered his face and chest apart from his bulbous nose and two bright eyes, and dressed in chain armor that fell to the ground, and hefting an oversized ax for his height, stepped out beside Pinewood.  Gerraint knew him immediately, though they had never met.

“Bogus.”

Uwaine shrieked and stepped more behind Gerraint, but kept his eyes wide open.  At least Pinewood appeared human.

“My squire, Uwaine,” Gerraint made the quick introduction.  “Lord Pinewood and Lord Bogus.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the little ones said, and Uwaine tried to smile for them but his tongue appeared to be tied.

“Now, to business.  I know that you and Dumfries’ people have all sorts of enchantments to scare the poor humans and keep them out of certain places, particularly in the woods.  What I am asking is for a hedge on either side of the Picts and Scots that will guide their forward motion toward the Ure.  In a perfect world, they should end up by the river right below our current position, with Kai and Loth right behind them.  Pinewood, I need you to visit Kai and Loth and direct them to the battle point.  You can take a few hunters with you as long as they wear the lion of Cornwall.  But that means you have to remove all your tricks and traps after the Picts have moved in the correct direction and before Kai and Loth arrive.  We don’t want poor Kai scared witless.  Now, can you do this?”

“Easy,” Bogus said.  “Especially since they are headed in that direction anyway.  But where then do you want us in the battle formation.  On the south end opposite Kai and Loth so we can close the trap?”

“Nowhere,” Gerraint said.  “The lancers and RDF will dismount and take the south end.  I do not want you to expose yourselves.  You are not allowed any casualties; do you understand?”  Pinewood and Bogus nodded, but looked terribly disappointed.

Uwaine tugged on Gerraint’s tunic.  He looked down at that face which said, “What if the Picts swim the river?”  Gerraint smiled.  He thought much the same thing.

“Okay.  You can take up positions across the river, and any Picts or Scots smart enough to escape that way, you have my permission to chase them all the way back up to the wall. I would think a couple of ogres, some goblins and maybe a troll should do the trick.  Meanwhile, when the battle starts, Bogus, I want your people to set a circle around York.  I want no one to get in or out of that place until we get there, so Colgrin has no way of knowing what is happening.”

“You are confident of victory?” Pinewood asked.

Gerraint nodded.  “But only because you folk have never been much for following orders.” Bogus and Pinewood both grinned, slightly.  “But Bogus, especially if we are victorious as I hope, Colgrin better not find out. That is one order you better pay attention to.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes lord.”  Bogus and Pinewood bowed, and Bogus vanished back into the woods in only a few steps, while Pinewood got fairy small, much to Uwaine’s delight, and flew off at top speed.

“Son,” Gerraint said, sounding very much like master Pelenor.  “This is one thing you are not allowed to talk about.  You must never mention dwarfs or fairies or anything of the kind to anyone.  Okay?”

“Don’t worry.  If I told my mother she would think I lost my mind.  But…”

“But what?”

“Can we do that again sometime?”