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?”

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.”

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