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?”

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 1 of 3

Something bothered Gregor.  “And where will you be in all of this?” he asked.

“I have to confront the Lady Brunhild,” Greta said.  “Which reminds me, Thissle.  Under no circumstances are you to be in the same room as Lady Brunhild.”  She turned to Bragi.  “I do not know the extent of her powers, but I will not risk Thissle, Okay?”

Bragi nodded again.

“I understand, my Lady,” Thissle said.  “I don’t like witches.  No, no, no.”

“She said that right,” Bragi interjected. “Lady Brunhild is a witch.  She bewitched us all.  I know you have the sight, but you have no power like hers.”

“She turned one man into a dog,” Gregor said. The others looked at him as if he had lost all sense, but he insisted.  “It is true.  Hagen confronted her and she turned him into a dog right in front of my eyes.”

“You can’t confront her,” Bragi said.

“But I am the only one who can,” Greta responded. “And this rebellion will never be over until Lady Brunhild is finished, one way or the other.”

“Bragi.”  The guard stuck his head in the door.  “The Lady is returning from the Quadi camp.  You need to get out of there before Kunther finds you.”

Greta gave her brother a last hug.  “Good luck,” she said.  “Take care of my Thissle.”  Greta let go, and Bragi left with the invisible Thissle beside him. The door got shut and bolted once again.

After that, Vasen became full of questions for Thorn. Curiously, no one questioned her authority over these gnomes except for Vasen’s one comment near the end.

“Truly you are Mother Greta.”  Gregor started it.  “Only the woman of the ways would know such things.”

Vasen shook his head.  “There is more here than mere tales of the woman of the ways.”

“Yes, that’s right.  Much more.”  Thorn started, but Greta hushed him.

“You don’t want to be a tale teller,” she said, as she went over to examine a tapestry on the wall.  Thorn shrugged, but got the message and got quiet.

“There is a lot of fairy work in the wall hanging,” Thorn said after a while.  “I can smell it.

“Yes,” Greta agreed.  “Grandfather Woden had it on the wall when this served as his hunting lodge.  The haunted forest started as his hunting preserve, you know.”  Thorn smiled.  Greta rolled her eyes and slapped her hand to her mouth almost hard enough to start it bleeding again.

“Grandfather Woden?”  Vasen caught it.

“The wise woman keeps silent, but the fool’s tongue cannot keep still,” Greta said through her fingers just before they heard a sound at the door.  “Thorn. Behind the tapestry.”  The little one complied.

Four guards stepped in and then stepped aside to let Lady Brunhild enter.  She looked as haughty and cruel as ever, Greta thought, yet something else as well. It disturbed Greta to look at the woman because she could not pinpoint what was wrong with the picture.

Lady Brunhild glanced at Greta, looked at Gregor who had a scowl on his face, and looked briefly at Finbear who did not look sure he knew what was going on.  Vasen turned his back on the Lady, but she stared at him, and he knew it as everyone saw the back of his neck turn red.  She walked casually to the tapestry and examined it, as if she sensed something.

“An exquisite piece of work,” she said. “Don’t you think?”  Greta heard something different about the woman’s voice as well, but it still eluded Greta’s grasp.

“Fairy work, one might say.”  Greta spoke pleasantly.  “It is very finely done.”

“Indeed,” the lady said.  Her hand came away from the tapestry to focus more fully on Greta. “I have been smelling the annoying things all over the Quadi camp all day.  No wonder they were in no condition this morning to mount an attack.”  She took a few steps closer and looked at Greta as if trying to penetrate her mind, but Greta, or more precisely, the Kairos would not let her in.  “Why do I feel you know something about all of this?” she asked.

Greta shrugged and smiled.  The woman would not read her thoughts, and after a moment, Lady Brunhild gave up trying.  She turned quickly toward the door.

“Bring her,” the Lady commanded.  Two men grabbed Greta roughly and seemed to delight in dragging Greta into the sanctuary.  It felt like Vedix all over again.  They returned to the alter which got towered over by the Odin statue, and there the men held her and did not let her so much as touch the scab forming on her lip. Greta saw her own small statue still on the altar, but then she realized it was only a glamour left by Thissle to fool the men.  The real statue had already gone.

Kunther also stood there along with a half dozen other men, including the man with the burned hands.  “Mother.”  He started to speak but became silent when she looked up at him, sharply.

“You must remember to call me Brunhild, Kunther dear, now that I am younger than you, Mother will not do.”  She said it.  That was it!  Lady Brunhild was no longer an elderly woman in her late fifties.  She was now no older than twenty-five, or perhaps twenty, and she spoke as if she expected to get even younger.  She walked up to Greta and squeezed Greta’s cheeks with her boney fingers. She caught the moment of recognition on Greta’s face and thought she might try once more to penetrate Greta’s mind; but no way she could.  Lady Brunhild had obviously gained a great deal of power and strength since their last meeting.  She was probably even more powerful than the Hag at that point, but the Traveler knew too much about the future.  Greta’s mind had been covered under the contract, so to speak, that the ancient gods in unison made millennia ago in the halls of Karnak.  It was the same contract which allowed her to manifest a power far beyond her natural abilities in relation to the little ones for whom she had been made responsible at that same meeting.  For Brunhild, no matter how strong, the attempt to read Greta’s mind became like a fly attempting to penetrate a concrete wall.

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 1 of 3

“Thissle!” Greta saw the little one and wondered what she was doing there.  She was invisible, so in no immediate danger from the men in the room, but still…

“Gods you’re beautiful,” Darius said.  It took a moment for Greta to realize he was talking about her.

“I am not,” she said.  “Have you been here all night?”

“Yes he has. Just about,” Thissle said.

Darius recovered himself.  “Nice outfit.”

“What, this old thing?”  Greta joked, but when he laughed she rebuked herself.  She was not going to play lovers games with him.  “All right, Thissle.”  She turned her back on Darius.  “What is this all about?  Why are you here?”

“You see?” Greta heard Darius interrupt.

“I see, but I don’t believe it.”  The Roman guard answered in Greek.

“Agreed.” The Dacian also knew some Greek.

Greta knew what they were talking about.  Thissle stayed invisible after all.  “Do you want to see?”

“No Mother.” The Dacian responded quickly and in Dacian.

The Roman sounded more thoughtful.  “If Lord Darius has not been talking to himself all night, I really do not want to know it.”  Berry laughed and started to hand him a tart.

“No!”  Greta jumped.  “That’s fairy food,” and to the Dacian she said, “Food of the elves.”  The Roman politely said, “No thank you,” and stepped back while Greta closed the door to Usgard above Midgard, and let it dissipate and disappear.  Darius asked the guards if they would rather wait outside, and they readily agreed. But Berry had not finished.  She offered a tart to Darius who examined it carefully, and sniffed it.

“Is it safe?” Darius asked.

“It’s too late for you,” Greta answered.  “You might as well enjoy it.”  At which point he took a bite and lost himself in contented munching sounds. “Well?”  Greta turned again to Thissle, confident that this time she would not be interrupted.

“Well, Lady.” Thissle curtsied.  “Thorn and I were awakened around sundown by the sound of a whole army setting up to camp beside the road.”

“Thorn?” Greta asked.

“Yes, it’s just Thorn, now, if you please,” Thissle said.  “And, well, we did not know if they were goods or bads, so we thought we had better come and warn you.  He knows all the ways, you know.  Forwards and backs and overs and unders.  We got here around midnight, I guess, and my Thorn found us all the way to your room.”

“The legion is still a day and a half away,” Darius interjected.

“My Lord thinks so, but Thorn and I think it is more like two days the way they move so slow and all,” Thissle continued.  “But then when we got here, you were not here, but the door was, so we figured out where you were.”

“You figured it out, Miss Thissle,” Darius said.  “I heard you say she’s gone to Avalon.”

Thissle reddened a bit and turned to Darius.  “It was a lucky guess, is all,” she said.  “But then came the real surprise.  You saw us plain as day, you did.”  She turned back to Greta.  “Thorn said to stand still and quiet and maybe he just saw a glimpse or heard something like the wind, but he walked right up to us and he said we had better come right in and tell him who we were, he said, “My lady will want to know why you have come, but she won’t be back until morning.”

“I could go fetch her,” Thorn said, but my lord blocked his way.

“No, she said I was the only one to fetch her if she needed to be fetched.”  And as the doorway was closed, there wasn’t much else we could do except sit down and explain ourselves.  Lord Darius caught on real quick.  He knew we were invisible to the guards, but he just ignored them and talked free as if he did not care if they thought he was crazy.  We told him all about the army and he figured out from some of the things we said that it was his seventh legion.  So he got a paper and wrote some words, and then took Thorn to wake up his friend Marcus so Marcus could put his seal on the paper. Then Thorn is up and gone to take this message to General Pontius, and my Lord is back here to keep me company all night.”  Greta looked at Darius and she did not give him a soft look.

“I outlined the situation here with a note that we might be able to hold them for a day, but once they broke into the city, they would be fortified and able to mount a real defense.  Then it would be impossible to dislodge them except at great expense.”

“How could you do that to Thorn?” she asked.  “He will be in as much danger with you Romans as he would be with the Quadi.  Do you trust this General not to stick him in a cage and do—who knows what?”  Out of deference to Thissle, she did not suggest that the General might roast him for supper.

Darius nodded thoughtfully.  “General Pontius is a true believer.  He would not dare hurt Thorn, especially since Marcus wrote at the top of the letter, if you hurt one quill on my little friend, I will have you crucified.” Darius seemed to think that would answer everything.

“My Lady.” Thissle spoke innocently, but out of turn.  “You must love him very much for him to have such authority to see us invisible and all. And here, you are only betrothed and not even properly married and all.”

Greta felt embarrassed, and with her fair skin that became easy to see.  It made her freckles stand out and that felt even more embarrassing.  “I don’t,” she lied.  “This wedding was not my idea.”

“Well it wasn’t mine, either.”  Darius shot right back.

“But you’re a soldier, and a loyal Roman,” she said, sharply.  “What do you want with a wife?”

“Look at you, wise woman.”  He also returned her tone.  “With all of your little ones and every man and woman of the Dacians doting on your every word, what need do you have for a husband?  What am I?  Just some burden you have to bear.”

“What do the Dacians matter?  I suppose you will want to live in Rome.”

“I thought about it,” he answered honestly.

“Well, you can forget it.  I’ll never be your submissive, obedient little wife to stay at home with the servants, cooking and cleaning your villa so you can run off to your Roman lover.”

Darius gave her a hard look.  “That’s not fair.  I never asked you to cook or clean.  You never asked what I want, so don’t start putting words in my mouth.”

“You said yourself that you wanted that Roman woman.”

“That’s not fair, either.  I haven’t even thought of her for almost a month.  But what about that lover boy of yours?”

“He’s a jerk,” Greta said, in all honestly, and with a bit more softness in her voice.

“And she never answered any of my letters.”  He also softened his response.  “It was all one sided.  She may even be married by now.”

“So, where does that leave us?” Greta asked.

“Where we started, I guess,” he answered.

“Ahem!” Berry interrupted.  “My Lord Darius, I mean, Darius, would you make an escort for me and Hans to visit my sister, Fae?”

“I can do that, Berry,” Darius said.  He still looked at Greta but took Berry’s hand.

“Wait.” Greta stopped them.  She stood on her toes and planted a quick kiss on Darius’ lips.  Then she stepped away and looked down.  “I’ll see you in the hall.”  She could not tell the expression on his face.  She could not bring herself to look up at him.

“I’ll see you at breakfast.”  He touched her hair, but she still would not look at him.  She did hear Berry, however, as they left.

“I hope me and Hans don’t have to say those things.  I could never ‘member all that.”

Greta looked at Thissle and almost laughed.  “You love him and he loves you,” Thissle said.  “You humans are the strangest creatures in all creation.”

Greta did laugh, and she also cried, smiled and sniffed.  “I do love him, you know.  I tried calling him the enemy and the oppressor of my people and whatever awful thing I could think of, but he is all I can think of no matter what I do.”

“Not like my Thorn,” Thissle said.  “We spent a hundred years, hardly able to touch each other, praying that we would find you, and praying that you would help us when we did.  And you did help us.  But then there is you.  Lady, all you need to do is help yourself.  He is already as much yours as anyone can be.”

Could she really give up her friends, her family, her home?  Could she really be a Roman wife and not feel a traitor to her own people? “But if I help myself, I might be…” She started to speak her thoughts but they all sounded hollow and foolish.

“Might be what?” Thissle asked rhetorically.  “Might be happy?  Yes, you might.”  She answered herself.

“Hear hear!” An echo came from the statuette. Greta had forgotten about Madwick and the others, covered as they were under the cloth she brought, but they had been privy to everything.  Greta pulled down the cloth.  “Please to make your acquaintance, Miss Thissle.”  Lord Burns popped his head out.  Greta had to introduce them all, but then she reminded them that they were supposed to be a dead idol, and she covered them again, picked them up carefully and headed toward the Great Hall.

R5 Greta: And Back Again, part 2 of 3

Greta looked up to see her escort of friends and the craftsmen waiting patiently.  They all stared at her, and she knew why. With each thought, she had been a different person of the Kairos.  She had been a different Traveler and without even realizing it.  She became Greta again, but she imagined the whole process had been something to watch.  It seemed something to experience.  She never skipped a beat in her thought processes.  It felt like she was only one person doing all of that thinking, which, of course, she was, regardless of who she appeared to be, outwardly.

“Master Burns,” she said.  “I need four fire sprites for a dangerous mission.  I cannot guarantee survival, so it must be purely voluntary.  If there are not four, I will understand.”  She outlined her problem and her plan to the craftsmen, and when she finished, Lord Madwick answered her.

“No problem with volunteers,” he said.  “Far too many, I would imagine.”  That settled things.

Greta made Berry come home for supper, even though Berry protested, vigorously.  She made Berry get big and get into her own bed to sleep.  Berry whined her teenage best, but barely hit the pillow before she fell fast asleep. It had been a long, tiring day.

Greta spent a little time trying to imagine what her confrontation with Lady Brunhild might be like, but soon enough, she too slept, and she rested.

In the morning, Berry had gone.  It took no insight to realize that she got up in the middle of the night and snuck out to frolic with her new friends under the moon.

That morning, Greta had a bite to eat in her room, and then she sat in the tub long enough to wizzle her toes while several elf maids made a fuss over her.  They painted her nails, trimmed her brows, fixed her hair, even added some fairy braids, and fixed her face just so.  Greta tried the mirror.  The elfs could do magic on nearly anything, but even they could not make her beautiful.  There did not seem to be much they could do about her freckles, either, so she stretched her fairy cloth to cover her shoulders and shaped it until it resembled the style of dresses she felt used to wearing.  She did indulge herself a little by making the dress conform a bit to her young figure rather than let it fall in the frumpy, one-size-fits-all pattern of her people.  She was just seventeen after all, even if she would soon be an old married woman.  She reminded herself that she had no room left in her life for childhood.  She was the woman of the ways.  She was a goddess to her little ones.  She was the Traveler in Time, the Watcher over History, and the Dacians got guns, and the Romans wanted them.  When she finally left her room, she felt older than time.

Lunch could have been an all-day affair, but Greta’s statuette got ready by one and she went immediately to examine the handiwork.  It proved very hard metal, and fireproof, and yet Greta thought it would have been extremely light if they had not studded it with gold and bits of emeralds, rubies and diamonds.  She decided it appeared a bit ostentacious, but then again, that might make it acceptable to Lady Brunhild.  She struck Greta as the kind of woman who went in for that sort of thing.  She felt sure at least the Priest, Vasen would appreciate it.

Greta toured another couple of guard posts in the afternoon.  Greta noticed that each home for a sprite in each place looked different. The craftsmen kept trying to make things appear as natural as possible and not make it appear as if they were guard posts at all.  For the water sprites, for example, one place had a fountain, a second, a simple fish pond and a third, a bubbling spring.  Greta praised the work.  She knew that would be important to hear praise from their goddess.  She felt glad it was easy to do.

During their last supper on Usgard, Berry yawned the whole time.  Greta said she had to stay and sleep that night because they would be leaving very early in the morning.  Berry did not think that would be a problem.  She remained more human than not, after all, and her human side started catching up to her.  She said her good-byes to Mab and her friends while Greta said good-bye to the assembly. Then they went to bed and slept very well.

The elf maids woke up Greta around four in the morning.  They seemed to delight in fixing her hair, her face, and helping her dress.  Greta thought she still looked exceptionally ordinary, but it could not be helped. She thanked the ladies and got ready to wake Berry, when Mrs. Kettleblack came banging in.

“Breakfast,” she announced in a very loud voice, and Berry sat straight up.  “I got pastries and sweet tarts this morning,” Mrs. Kettleblack said.  She did not mean to be loud.  It was just her normal way.  Honestly, she did not know any other way.

“Morning?” Berry mumbled.  “It’s still dark out.”  That was not strictly true.  The eastern horizon showed a touch of light.

“Can’t leave on an empty stomach.”  Mrs. Kettleblack finished her speech.

“Thank you Mrs. Kettleblack,” Greta said, and the old dwarf laughed and shooed everyone out of the room.  Greta and Berry got left alone.

“These sweet tarts are good, Lady,” Berry said.

Greta looked at her while she took one to try.

“What?” Berry asked at last.  She did not appear comfortable being stared at.  The truth, however, was Greta was still not quite awake herself.  She stared at nothing in particular

“You have to stay big, now, when we go back,” Greta said.

“I know, Lady,” Berry said.  “As big as my Hans.”

That brought something to mind.  “Berry, sweet.  It won’t do to call me lady anymore, unless you say Lady Greta.”  She paused.  She didn’t even know Darius’ family name.

Berry spoke into the silence.  “But Lady Kairos.  I have to call you something, and everyone knows you don’t like to be called goddess.”

“So just call me Greta,” she said.

R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 2 of 3

“You must be Bogus,” Greta said, while a quick image flashed through her mind. Basically, she thought if he took her home to where there were six others that looked just like him, she would hit him.

“And just who are you?”  Bogus asked. Danna had hidden the truth from him so he honestly did not know.

“Greta,” she said. “Plain old Greta.”  And she thought real hard at Berry to keep her big little mouth shut.

“Oh, no,” Berry said.  “I’m no tale teller.  No I’m not.”

“So, what exactly do you want?”  Bogus asked.

“I want you to take me to my brother, Hans.  I appreciate you looking after him, but it is time that he and I finish our journey.”

“I don’t know any Hans.”  Bogus sounded very sincere.

“Just take me to him,” Greta insisted before Fae could say a thing.

“All right,” Bogus said, as if he suddenly changed his mind.  He turned, but stopped in mid-step.  “Why am I doing this?”

“Just…” Greta started.

“Oh, I’ll do it,” Bogus said, and started to walk again.  “I just don’t know why, that’s all.”

They walked slowly because Fae could not walk very fast, and all the while, Bogus mumbled. “I protect my people.  I work out a fair deal, a fair deal, mind you.  And we take the wyvern, the bogie and all of the other not so nice on our side.  And then all we get is squeezed between the river and the road, but that’s all right because at least there is a little room for us to be free, and what happens?  A mere seventy years later, a measly seventy years, mind you, and the goddess shows up out of nowhere and Poof!  It’s all gone.  Then she says I gotta give this dumb girl her dumb brother back besides.  I tell you, what is the world coming to?”

Greta looked around briefly to see how Fae and Berry were getting along, but when she looked back, Bogus had gone.  Instead, there came a tremendous roar and a vision of horrible ugliness that towered before them.  It stood right in the path, and all three women screamed, and Fae at least feared that Bogus might have been eaten.  Greta jumped forward without thinking to get between Fae and the beast.  She was not sure how Fae’s old heart could stand it.

“Stop that!” She yelled at the beast without really thinking about what she did.  She just reacted.  “Bad, bad ogre!”  She yelled, and then she slapped the ogre in his outstretched arm, truly without thinking. Curiously, the ogre wilted under her scolding and, though he would not have felt a human slap, he howled in pain at Greta’s touch.  Then Greta remembered that ogres were included among her little ones, though they could hardly be called little.  “Bad, bad.” She said again, and the ogre winced as if under hammer blows.  Then Greta felt sorry for the beast.  Berry was hide-ed in Fae’s hair, and Fae, while clearly repulsed, at the same time, she seemed fascinated with the sight.

“You scared us badly,” Greta said, a bit more softly.  “You really are an ugly, scary ogre.  I bet if you saw your own reflection you would even scare yourself.”

“I did once,” the ogre proudly admitted, and he turned a little red from embarrassment.

Fae drew her breath in sharply as Greta stepped up and put her hand right up to the ogre’s mouth; but Greta had no fear.  “Oh, I knew it.”  Greta praised the creature and he turned ever redder as she began to scratch beneath the fold of his chin where his own hammy hands could not scratch.  Ogres develop a kind of moldy fungus there which otherwise only grows on rocks.  It is not painful, but it itches terribly and Greta imagined that might be why ogres were sometimes so mean.

“Have you always been this scary, or did you grow scary when you got older?”  She made polite conversation.  At the moment, he was thumping his leg against the ground like a puppy dog.  The ground shook a little and Greta felt obliged to stop scratching to let him answer.

“Always,” he said and stuck his chin out for more.

“What’s your name?” Greta asked, not offering any more scratches.

“Thunderhead.”

“Well, Thunderhead, you know you are not allowed to scare humans.”  She almost scolded again and that took his attention from his chin.

“Bogus said it was only fairies.  He said it was a prank.”  Thunderhead defended himself in the classic way.  He blamed someone else.

“No, Dunderhead.” Berry jumped out and began to scold him herself.  Evidently, she knew him.  “No hurting the humans.  It is not permitted.”  He listened, but at the same time he made a couple of slow attempts to grab the sprite darting in front of him.  It looked a bit like trying to swat a fly with a wrought iron lamppost.  Greta backed up a little to avoid the flailing arms. “Don’t make our goddess mad at you,” Berry said.  “You have had enough scratchies.”

“No telling,” Greta insisted.

“I’m no tale teller.”  Berry said, and she fluttered back to hover between Fae and Greta.

“What do you do, Thunderhead?”  Fae asked out of curiosity.

“I make sand,” the ogre said, frankly.  “I crush the rocks to make the soil good.”  He made a fist, like he was showing her how it was done.  “But sometimes my hands get tired so I crush them with my head.  But right now, I got terrible itches.  Maybe you scratch or I eat you, rule or no rule.”

Greta’s jaw dropped.  “Of all the nerve!”  She got a little angry, and the ogre wilted again under her lashing.  “You frighten my friends, but I make nice.  I compliment you and scratch under your chin, and what do I get?  You threaten to eat us anyway!  Serves me right for being nice to an ogre!  Now move, you big, ugly oaf!”  The ogre raised his arms as if to ward off her tongue, but she slapped his arm again, and this time he felt something electric in her touch.  Thunderhead howled and jumped back about eight feet.

“You sound like Bogus,” he confessed, while he sucked on his arm and eyed Greta with awe.

“Yes.” Greta started building up a good head of steam.  “Bogus! Bogus the Skin!”

“What? Who?”  He appeared right in front of her.  “What am I doing back here?”  He got confused, at first.

“The goddess said take me to my brother and she meant safely.  She did not say I should be threatened by an ogre!”

Bogus deflected her anger by turning on Thunderhead.  “Thunderhead.  What have you been doing?”  He began a scolding of his own, but Greta interrupted before the ogre could speak.

“He only did what you told him to do,” she said.  “Yes, I know the truth.”  She added before Bogus could lie about his innocence.  “Now get moving.  I want my Hans back, and Thunderhead.”

“Me?” Thunderhead paused in his sucking. He looked visibly shaken.

“Go make some sand, and maybe, if you are real good, just maybe your itchies will go away for a while.”

“Yes,” Thunderhead said.  “I will. I will.”  He did not know what to make of her, but he felt sure that she was one he ought to listen to.

“Move,” Greta said a bit more softly as the steam began to run its’ course.

“I’m moving,” Bogus said.  “What is the world coming to?  And who are you, anyway?”

R5 Festuscato: The Sword in the Stone, part 2 of 2

Someone shouted for Constantine, and many picked up on the thought.  Festuscato said, “Constantine,” but Dumfries spoke into his mind for a third time and said he was all set.  Constantine stepped up and looked around at all the anxious faces.

“I hope this works,” he confessed quietly to Festuscato, and put his hand to the sword. It came out easily.  People hushed.  Then the Germans said he should put it back.  Festuscato stalled.  He called over the Archbishop, Meryddin, and a Saxon Holy Man.  He talked about priests, temples, churches and sacred ground, and Constantine pledged to punish any man who harmed a priest or holy man going about their sacred duties and any man who desecrated the sacred places. Archbishop Guithelm said he accepted Constantine as high chief and war chief of Britannia, and he stepped forward to anoint the man.  Meryddin, aware of the political implications, also laid hands on Constantine. The German looked at his people and said nothing.  Then Dumfries gave the go ahead, and Festuscato urged Contantine to put the sword back, carefully.  Constantine clearly felt it when the stone sucked the sword out of his hand.

“And there it will stay until the next time it is needed,” Festuscato said quickly.

“Wait.” Gregor stepped up and put his hands to the hilt.  He pulled and let out a roar.  He pulled hard enough to move the boulder a smidgen, but the sword held fast.  “Just testing,” he said with a big grin.

“Who will pledge to Constantine?”  The Celts were all in.  Hellgard was right there with them, and Hrugen the Dane and a man named Cadal, a Pict, joined the Celts as well, though Cadal and Hrugen were more symbolic being able to speak only for themselves.  The Germans and Gorund the Jute were not interested.  Festuscato stopped them before they walked out.

“You understand what having a war chief mean?”  Several men nodded.  “Then listen close.  This is my island.  The Hun overstepped his place and got thrown off my island to never come back.  But I want peace, so here is the word.  Londinium will remain in British hands, but outside the walls will be neutral ground where men of good faith can trade and live in harmony.  Britain also claims five miles on either side of the Thames from Oxford to the sea.  Be careful not to settle along the river. Other than that, you can negotiate a fair boundary for your land.  Once that is settled, stay behind your boundary and live in peace.  Do you understand this?”  The men said they did.  “Do you accept this?”  All but Gorund agreed.  “The Hun will not be forgotten.”  He stared at Gorund.  “Do you accept this?”

“Yes,” the man said angrily as he walked out, and the Germans followed him.

“I see trouble in time,” Constantine said, as he stood beside Festuscato’s elbow.

“Don’t worry about the future,” Festuscato smiled.  “Today’s troubles are enough.”  He raised his voice.  “Where are the boys?”

The men got their boys and gathered around, and Festuscato explained what a squire was. To learn about the world, to hunt and fish and camp, and cook something on a campfire worth eating.  To learn about weapons, and about the care and feeding of horses, “Because the lords of Britannia should be mounted for battle.” To learn how to read and write in Latin. “Because the next generation of young lords ought to be able to communicate with each other no matter where they are from.”  He explained many things, and was surprised to find both Meryddin and the Archbishop thought it a wonderful idea.  Then Festuscato gave sons into the keeping of their neighbors and other Lords. Meryddin tried hard to suggest certain Christian boys be given into the charge of men who were strong believers in the old ways, but Festuscato would not have it.  He had his list written on paper.  When he had done, he reminded the men to visit home at least twice a year so the boys could visit their mom.  He did not worry about the Latin because there were still enough people of Roman decent around who conversed in the tongue.

When all got done, Festuscato hardly ate a thing.  It had been a long day, and he felt exhausted.  He hardly talked, even to Constantine, though he encouraged Constans who had Anwyn’s son from Caerdyf as squire.  The boy was fifteen, and Festuscato told Constans how terrible he was at that age.  He walked off, and Mirowen who just found him said, “Fifteen is a wonderful age.  Why don’t you take him to visit King Ban of Benwick?  He can learn how to respond properly to other lords and ladies.”  Of course, she knew Constans would really want an excuse to visit Ivy, but having spent time with the girl, she knew the girl felt the same way.

Father Gaius came up to Festuscato when things started winding down for the night.  He came with Bishop Lavius, newly ordained Bishop of Caerleon in Wales.  He also had a man in his thirties beside him who appeared to be a priest, but dressed more like a monk, like a priest ready to travel.  Gaius introduced him.

“This is Patrick. We were wondering if you might be tempted to go anywhere near Ireland.”

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

R5 Festuscato: The Sword in the Stone, part 1 of 2

It got closer to July fifteenth before everyone gathered.  The monks hoped to keep everyone housed and fed, but after the generous donation Lord Agitus gave for the building of Saint Paul’s Church, the Archbishop said it was the least they could do.

Festuscato spent that last month going over his list and checking it twice.  Pinewood gave him the list of young men and Lords that were expected.  After the success against the Huns and at York, quite a few were expected. Festuscato felt a little concerned about the Saxons, Angles and Hellgard’s older brother, the self-proclaimed King of the Jutes, but he tried to think positive.

All the men gathered around the courtyard that would be laid between the Church and the Monastery.  Right at the moment, it was just a big open space with a big stone in the middle.  A loadstone Bogus found and Dumfries provided proved a strong enough magnet to hold the sword.  The slot had been prepared, and Caliburn properly fixed so it would stick fast.

“But what if they want Contantine or his son to pull the sword?”  Festuscato got concerned.

Bogus the dwarf and Dumfries the Dark elf went off for a while to work on that problem. What they came up with was a spell to temporarily remove the spell that allowed Caliburn to be caught by the magnet. “But I don’t know if it will work more than once,” Bogus admitted.  It was not the way Festuscato remembered it in Gerraint’s time, but he dared not interfere with history.  It would have to do.

The first order of business became the sword.  Festuscato stood at the center of a circle of men and raised his hands.  Caliburn appeared in his hands, even as he glanced to the side and saw Meryddin eyeing him closely.  Gorund the Jute, Hellgard’s brother, scoffed and said he had a magician who could do better tricks than that.

“This is the sword of Britannia,” Festuscato ignored the Jute and went on with the program. “The one who wields this sword in the rightful high chief and dux bellorum of all Britannia.”  He spun and slipped the sword into the cut so it looked like he actually shoved the sword into the solid rock.  He felt it grab when it got about half-way in, and he got the message from Dunfries that it was all set.  No one would to pull it out if he had to reach up and hold on to it himself.

“Gentlemen. By all means, be my guest.”  He invited men to try it.

Cador and Ban could not pull it out, but someone said that was a set-up. and they were just pretending.  Gildas said, “I won’t pretend.”  He spit on his hands and hurt himself trying to tug on it.  Eudof, the Welshman also tried, and then Meryddin stepped up, and people paid attention.

“Trickery,” Meryddin announced.  He sprinkled some kind of dust on the stone and chanted.  Festuscato worried for a second, but he heard from Dumfries again, speaking right into his head, that he tried the wrong sort of spell and would not overcome the magnet.  Meryddin tugged, but the sword stayed stuck fast.

One of the Saxons stepped up.  “Can’t expect a Celt to do a man’s work.”  He laughed, but he couldn’t budge the sword.

“Weakling.” Gorund the Jute stepped up and got mad when he could not pull out the sword.  He pulled his own sword to hack at the sword in the stone, but a blue light hit him in the chest, knocked him back ten feet, and knocked him senseless.

Elect II—18 Spring Break, part 3 of 3

The women left the bodies of the men to their fate.  Those bodies would have just slowed them down.  When they were ready, they vacated the ledge at the top of the hill and rode hard down the hill.  Immediately, Melissa’s alarm went off.  It was a perfect imitation of a car alarm and made all those different annoying sounds.  But the orcs who decided against direct confrontation were not against hiding in the bushes and pelting the troop with arrows.

Jessica happened to turn her head so the arrow just scratched across her cheek.  Two elves were wounded, one in the arm where she held her shield and one in the leg just below her shield.  Most of the arrows fell short or hit the shields the women had pulled out against just this possibility.  ab-war-elf-4Emily’s horse took an arrow behind the saddle, but it did not penetrate deep and soon fell out on its own.  Fortunately, the horse did not balk.  It ran with the rest as hard as it could.

When the women got out of range and the alarm died down, they paused only long enough to examine their wounds.  The bloody one was Jessica’s cheek, but a bandage was about all they could do.  The bandage would turn red, but soon stop the bleeding.  The one most seriously injured was the elf with the arrow in her arm, but she broke off the shaft of the arrow and looked at her Captain with determination etched through the pain.

“Ride,” the elf said, and Riverbend, who was barely holding to her own horse did not argue.  They rode, perhaps not all out, but at a swift pace all along that valley.  Twice more they heard Melissa’s alarm, but they did not stop.  They rode through and saw no more arrows.  And they saw no more orcs until evening, just at sunset.

The trees were already back to normal.  The light was pure and untainted with the darkness.  Sara and some others hoped they were out of it, but Riverbend knew better even if no one else did.  Sure enough, there was a line of orcs directly in their path, and that line was three thick.  The whole troop came to a halt some distance away.

ab-war-wo-3“No way around,” Riverbend said.  The river to their right was too fast and deep, and the trees to their left would give them no chance of outrunning the enemy.  Emily did not pause.

“Wounded to the rear.  Everyone else form up like two sides of a triangle behind me.  We poke a hole to ride through.  Protect the wounded.”  To be sure, the line was ragged and would get more so once they started to ride, but the idea was there.

“Lances everyone,” Riverbend yelled.  “Tuck them tight under your arms and shields up.”

Emily began to trot, Riverbend beside her.  They all had fairy weave helmets since Jessica took that arrow in the face.  No doubt they looked as formidable as they could be.  The enemy began to shoot some arrows when they were still out of range, and there was some yelling and shoving among the orcs.  But then the women were in full charge mode, spears pointed forward like needles deadlier than any arrow.  Some orcs began to back away.

ab-war-elves-1Then they were within range.

Fifty arrows came at them all at once, followed by fifty more.  Some of the first fell short and some of the second overshot their targets.  But some struck hard on.  Many of the arrows were stopped by helmets, shields and armor, but a few penetrated.  Two horses went down, but the elf with an arrow in her leg reached down and picked up one of the elves without stopping.  Mindy was a bit more difficult.  Arwen had to slow considerably to bring her aboard.  Then they had to catch up, but by then Emily and Riverbend reached the enemy line and the orcs scattered, or died.  The hole was plenty wide when Arwen and Mindy went through last, and they were free.

Two hundred yards on and they stopped.  The orcs were not following them and there were wounded.  Just about everyone was hurt, or had an arrow somewhere.  The Kevlar proved effective, but not entirely so.  Melissa had an arrow in her thigh.  Maria had one in her side not unlike the one Jessica took all those ages ago in the gym.  At least that was how it felt apart from ab-war-wom-1the pain.  Mindy likely had a concussion to match Amina’s.  Jessica’s cheek was bleeding badly again, and Emily was sure her hand was broken this time.  Even Sara took an arrow, in her foot, but she was more embarrassed by it than otherwise.

They left two dead elves on the field, and Emily started the tears.  The elves cried with them, and then Sara started the hugging.  It was not long, though, before they all vanished from that place and found themselves in a courtyard of the castle where little ones of every shape and size stood ready with stretchers and elf medicine that Maria the healer and Emily the would-be nurse wished they knew how to make.

 

###

Once the Amazons were settled in the hospital, all in the same ward, Zoe came to visit them.  “At least none of you got killed,” she said with a smile.  Several of the women moaned.  “And I thank zoe-1you for retrieving the apples.  That was one of the things my elves could not retrieve.” she added as she turned to Amina.  “Any idea who the mysterious goddess might be?”

Amina started to shake her head, but it hurt so she said, “No.”  And it was a sad little no.

Zoe smiled again.  “Cheer up.  I have every confidence you will solve my mystery soon enough.  Now get well.  You still have a whole week of spring break.  No reason why you shouldn’t spend it here.”

Zoe left.  Nurses came and changed bandages and gave pills, just like back home.  Then they were told to rest, but Hilde, who had said nothing that whole time finally spoke up.

“So tell me again why I am doing this?”

“You said in Israel you would be doing the same thing,’ Greta said, seriously.  Several of the women looked at Greta like she had a loose screw, but Jessica remembered she was a psychology major.  She probably had several loose screws.

“Can you think of any better training?”  Emily asked

ac-sarah-3“I am not expecting Israel to be attacked by orcs anytime soon,” Hilde responded sharply.

“I don’t see why not,” Sara spoke up.  “Everyone else wants to attack Israel.”

Hilde nodded and pointed at the Priestess.  “One point for you.”

###

On the following Saturday the women sat around in the great hall where the dwarf lady, Ms Biggabut brought in some new treats for the buffet table and stayed to tend to what was already there.  Riverbend and a few of her troop sat with them.  Maria remarked that the week was far better than a trip to Florida if she did not gain a hundred pounds.  She meant it as a compliment.

Ms Biggabut shook her head.  “Young girls eat like birds.”  They all smiled

“Better than Disneyland,” Jessica commented.

“Disneyworld,” Mindy corrected the Californian.

“And Six Flags put together,” Maria added.

ac-sarah-a1Heads were nodding in agreement when Sara came in dressed only in a bikini.  Natasha was the one who verbalized the “Wow.”  They had only seen the Priestess in frumpy head to toe clothing, sometimes with a minister’s collar.  This was a sight, and in fact Sara was very good looking, if not beautiful.

“Who would have thunk it?” Jessica said.

“Are you girls going swimming today?  The mermaids said they would come up the river after lunch.”  Sara looked down, like she, herself, was a bit embarrassed by what little she was wearing.

“Paul should see you dressed like that,” Emily said with a little impish grin that she was learning to imitate from being in such close quarters to the real thing.

Sara shook her head when a golden fairy came in the door and fluttered right up to her.  “Are we ready?” the fairy asked.  “You look remarkably lovely.”

The women all knew that voice.  It was Commander Falcon.

Sara nodded and the fairy sprinkled her with some proverbial fairy dust.  Sara rose up into the air and followed the fairy out of the room in flight.

“Paul is going to be so jealous,” Maria decided.

“She better stay away from Brinkman,” Jessica decided something else.

“Robert could not handle my little bit of magic.  No way he could handle all this,” Melissa sighed.

“Bill would be freaking out, too,” Mindy responded.

ab-bigabut“I would like a boyfriend.”  It was Arwen, the elf who spoke up.

“I got mine,” Riverbend said with the biggest grin of all.

They all stopped when they heard the sharp crack of Ms Biggabut’s cooking spoon on the buffet table.  “Boyfriends,” the old dwarf said through her frown.  “All you get with them is the three Hs, heartaches, headaches and husbands, and husbands are usually the reason for the first two.”  She cracked her spoon sharply once more when Amina spoke up.

“I think I am going to go out on another date.”

“Got anyone in mind?” Jessica asked.