Reflections Flern-12 part 2 of 3

Flern and her friends looked across the river and into their village. It looked very different, but familiar at the same time. The houses, barns, workplaces, and market square looked much the same, as did the great hall in the village center, but all around stood a great wall that no one imagined would be there. It looked like the greatest fence ever constructed, made of whole trees driven into the ground, with mortar of some kind filling the little cracks between. It had a walkway all around which would put a man on the inside of the wall, able to see over, some twenty feet down on an enemy.

“I see why they only made those few little stabs at the men,” Flern mused out loud.

“Little stabs?” Karenski, Venislav and Vilder, speaking for the young people, were all amazed at her description. Good men fought, and good men died. But Diogenes knew, and both Mishka and the Princess confirmed, and so Flern knew that the attacks of the Jaccar were no more than sorties, meant to test the strength and determination of the opposing force, and to probe for weaknesses. If the enemy got driven off, all good and well; but it had not been expected. The Jaccar had the village fortified and showed that any confrontation would cost many lives. Now, the Jaccar counted on the attackers being unwilling to lose the lives it would take to break the wall. Only the riverside of the village had no wall. No doubt, the Jaccar assumed the river would act as a wall of its own.

Flern thought for some time. She had goblins, trolls, dwarfs and ogres who could tunnel under the wall before a single night was over. She could call up fire sprites from the deepest depths in the earth and burn the wall, and probably the village, so that would not be a good idea. If she wanted to destroy everyone, her sprites in the sky could bring torrents of rain, and her water sprites could overflow the river. She could flood the village, and the wall would act as a retaining wall to keep the flood waters rising. But she would not do these things. She would never put her little ones in danger if she had another way. And besides, they had every hope that their parents and families were still alive. They planned to save them, not get them killed.

Flern waved to the old woman in the chair that faced them across the river. Then she dismounted and everyone dismounted with her. She went first to Pinn and gave her a hug without a word. She hugged Vilder and then spoke. “Whatever you do, keep the people together.”

“Why? What do you have in mind?” That came from Kined, the smart one. Flern smiled and added a great kiss to her hug.

“I have in mind to face the Wicca first and keep both armies out of it,” Flern said, and stepped back. “All of this fighting is giving me a headache.”

“No. But wait. No.” Several people spoke at once, but Flern turned quickly toward the river.

“It is my job,” she shouted. “I just have to be who I am.” A water bridge formed instantly over the river and Dinester, the naiad stood an imposing twenty feet beside it. That vision made everyone pause just long enough. Flern started over, and as she did, the bridge collapsed behind her so no one could follow her. She had on her armor and weapons, but hoped she would not need any of it, though she might. The Wicca was a power to be reckoned with. She had a thousand Jaccar warriors enchanted to do her will. She had the power to enchant people hundreds of miles away. She had power over certain monsters, even night creatures. When Flern thought about it, she imagined she had little chance against this woman, but she had to try. It might be better not to think about it.

 The Jaccar kept a respectful distance as Flern stepped on land. She marched toward the woman in the chair and stopped some twenty feet away. This woman looked old. She looked fragile, with the brittle bones of age and that gaunt look that nevertheless got bloated with fat in certain places. She did not look long for this world. But with all that, Flern reminded herself that this woman remained a power to be reckoned with. She was half human and half god, and Flern thought she knew who that god might be, but thus far, she had only circumstantial evidence. Flern waited for the woman to speak.

“Do you dance?” the Wicca asked. Flern said nothing as the woman continued. “Circle, circle. We need a circle for the dance.” The Wicca raised a boney finger and slowly drew a circle in the air. The ground trembled and a circle, cleared of grass, slowly formed on the ground some forty feet in diameter with the chair just outside, but with Flern in the middle. “Let us see how my servants dance.” She clapped her hands, and a half-dozen imps appeared around Flern.

The imps immediately began to dance and chant. They reached down and pulled up grass and dirt to sprinkle at her as they danced. Flern put her hands to her hips and frowned. The imps were brought from the east, and like all the Wicca’s slaves, they were uprooted from their families. After a minute, the imps stopped, and one spoke to the Wicca.

“I doesn’t seem to be affecting her.” The Wicca did not look happy.

“Let’s see how you deal with their bigger companion.” She clapped again and an ogre appeared. The ogre needed a minute to get his bearings, and Flern covered her grinning mouth.

“Stonecrusher,” Flern named the beast. “Gods you are an ugly brute.”

“I am,” Stonecrusher said with a touch of pride. He reached for Flern, and he did not move slow, but Flern had some superspeed from one of the gifts given to Wlvn. She slapped that hand on the knuckle and the ogre yelped. “Ouch!” He pulled his hand back just as fast as he put it out and he stuck the whole finger in its mouth. He looked at Flern, dumbfounded.

Flern got tired of this game. “Stonecrusher, and all of you imps. You are free of the control of the Wicca. Now go home.” She did not clap her hands. She merely waved and they all vanished.

“No!” The Wicca stood in protest, but then sat again as she decided on another avenue. “Let us see how you dance with my pet,” she said, and with another clap, a great black bear appeared in the ring.

Flern immediately shot up some twenty feet in the air. Another gift to Wlvn, she remembered. The bear stood but it could not get at her. Flern pulled her sword and used the flat on the bear’s head, like she did once before in the wilderness. Even standing, the bear’s paws were too short to reach up at her. After a couple of good clonks on the head, the bear had enough. It whined, fell to all fours, and waddled off to the river where it swam around the village wall and headed for the wilderness.

Flern had her sword put itself away because she had not practiced doing that, and she figured it would be a good show for the watching Jaccar. The Wicca had something to say. “You cheat.” She clapped her hands again and ten ghouls surrounded her. “Try to cheat with these.” She laughed.

Flern only hesitated a moment before she began to run at super speed. But Flern did not run away. She ran in the circle, which made everyone watching her get dizzy, including the Wicca and the ghouls.

The ghouls tried to grab her, but they were too slow and awkward, a weakness. They began to bunch up, but eventually one thought to stick out his arm and let her run into it. Unfortunately for the ghoul, Flern saw, and she arrived filled with the strength of Thor. She grabbed the ghoul and dragged him around after her, before she ripped the arm right out of its socket. Flern had no sympathy for ghouls. They ate human souls.

Flern ran once around, slapping each ghoul in the face with the arm. The ghouls got knocked back, and she felt that gave her the room she needed. By the time the ghouls remembered their weapons, Flern already had her sword out. She did not use the flat side this time but cut a deep gash in the middle of every ghoul she passed until she came to a halt, once again in the center of the circle, now surrounded by ten puddles of purple and green puss. Flern, however, did not have time to amaze herself at the ease of overcoming ten ghouls since another creature already arrived on the field.

Flern took a step back. The night creature was the only thing she truly feared.

Reflections Flern-12 part 1 of 3

Three four wheeled, double-axle wagons, each drawn by a double team of horses—a terrible breach of the temporal order—stopped just outside the village beneath the mountain pass. Scores of gnomes of various sorts, some like imps and some like dwarfs, swarmed all over the wagons, greased every joint, checked all the stress points, tracked the cargo, and set the horses free to be groomed and fed.

Some hundred and twenty light elves: elves, brownies, kobold and various fairies came behind the wagons and camped at a distance beneath the village, along the Dnepr River. They would be joined by thirty elves from Miroven, the ones led by Laurel that Flern thought of as her own personal guardians. Fifty sturdy dwarfs with three ogres under Balken’s command would march beside them, down from Movan Mountain. In the night, more than a hundred dark elves, goblins mostly with a couple of trolls, would move down the mountain to guard the precious cargo in the hours of darkness.

That precious cargo in the wagons was the promised bronze, weapons in the first wagon – swords, spears and plenty of arrows. The second wagon carried mostly weapons as well, but on Flern’s insistence it also carried some plows, hoes and such tools that would benefit the people. The third wagon held the tools and pieces to put together their own forge along with enough raw material to get them started. Pinn and the boys had high hopes once they set their families free. Thrud and Vinnu were pregnant and just wanted to get home.

Eight young people and Riah the elf, wearing a glamour to make her appear human, with Goldenwing at rest and hidden in her horse’s mane, rode ahead to meet the village elders and the waiting travelers. The travelers spent six months moving down the Dinester and back up the Dnepr drumming up support in every town and village along the way. There were presently some four hundred people, mostly men and mostly hunters camped on the grasslands across the river to the east.

“Good to see you.” Venislav was the one who spoke for the village. “Our food stores are exhausted.”

Flern figured that. “I have people bringing game and bread from the Brugh and others bringing in a whole herd from the wilderness between the rivers.”

“Good to hear,” Tird said. He rode on horseback beside Venislav. Trell, hair greased down which made him almost unrecognizable, rode beside Karenski of the travelers.

“Where are the girls?” Pinn asked.

“Vincas and Arania?” Flern remembered.

“Measuring their tummies,” Trell said with a straight face before he grinned and gave a sideways glance at Tird who returned the grin.

“Vinnu and Thrud are pregnant, too,” Flern said

“Flern and I are still working on it,” Pinn added.

“Children.” That was all Karenski said before they turned to ride into the village. They were going to feast that night, pass out weapons in the morning, and from the way some of the elders acted, hopefully leave in the afternoon. Flern knew it would not be quite so easy.

It was Vilder who nudged Pinn and that got Flern’s attention. Venislav and Karenski also paid attention as it seemed they agreed to stick close to Flern. “There are campfires there at the foot of the pass.” Vilder pointed. Flern shook her head. It was not Movan or Miroven. She did not know who they might be. But it appeared as if three people headed their way.

“Ah,” Venislav made the sound before he spoke. “They came down the pass two days ago and claim to be from the other side of the mountain and the plateau, though I cannot imagine it. They say the plateau is full of monsters.”

“Hello!” One of the oncoming three waved and yelled. Vilder at least returned the wave. The other waited until they were close enough for Pinn to shout.

“Fritt!” When they got closer, Pinn’s word became a question. “Fritt?” Fat Fritt no longer looked fat.

“Nadia.” Flern recognized the girl and gave her a sisterly kiss in greeting before she remembered she never met the girl. Wlvn did. Nadia looked embarrassed, even if it had been explained to her. Fortunately, the third member of their party took everyone’s attention when he dropped to one knee.

“Mother of old,” he said.

Flern remembered the young man from her brief time on the plateau, or rather Faya’s time. “Horan. My name is Flern if you don’t mind. I’m not sure I like the old part.”

“From the plateau?” Pinn asked. She wanted to be sure.

Flern knew what she was asking. She nodded. He was Were, a shape shifter who had the good sense to appear human. “Come on,” she said. “We are going to eat food.”

At the door to the main building, which would not be nearly big enough for all the chiefs, Flern ran into Elluin. She also looked pregnant and very glad to see them. She made a point of saying that Drud had been good that whole time. Flern did not exactly believe her when she noticed that Drud stayed conspicuously absent from the festivities.

“I’m feeling left out,” Pinn complained. She did not have to spell it out that she wanted a baby. Flern took her arm as they went inside.

“We will just have to work at it harder,” she said, and got lost for a minute in her own thoughts.

In the morning took all day. They had a limited number of swords and spears to hand out and tried to get them into the right hands. They had the ungodly number of a thousand arrows with bronze tips. Everyone got two.

Miroven and Movan arrived in time for breakfast, which did wonders for the food supply. It also scared some of the locals and the travelers when they heard the food came from the Brugh. That great forest was seen as the land of ghosts and spirits and unnatural things. Flern wisely had the troops camp beside the Were, well away from the village and the sight of men.

It did not get much better when her gnomes brought in the herd from the land between the rivers that evening. Flern had a makeshift pen constructed that used a natural bend in the river. It gave all those men something to do other than sit around and gripe. But then, she insisted her gnomes stay invisible when they brought in the beasts, and it got hard for some of the men to watch the beasts they normally hunted willingly move into captivity unguided by any hands. Of course, some by then had settled on the idea that Flern was the witch. Curiously, that comforted many of the men, like they had a secret weapon.

As the sun set, Karenski took up speaking where Venislav left off. “I see you have men camped some distance below the wagons and have not brought them up to join the other men.” From a distance, they mostly looked like men.

Flern stood with Kined to watch the sunset and she took Kined’s hand while he spoke. “Not a good idea.”

“They don’t mix well,” Flern added.

Karenski looked thoughtful. “And also, I know the ones camped at the foot of the pass are more than we can see. We know them only by the fires they light in the night.”

“Best to leave them alone,” Kined said.

Karenski nodded. “But to be curious, may I ask how many fighters you have brought?”

“Enough to double the number of men camped on the grasses.”

“So many?” Karenski acted surprised, but it appeared to be an act. Venislav spoke then what was on his mind.

“So, what do we do next?”

“We leave in the morning,” Flern said, and squeezed Kined’s hand. “It will take the men close to a week to cross the land between here and our village. The ones by the pass will stay above them the whole way and the ones below the wagons will stay below them. That way the Jaccar will not be able to sneak around and surprise the men from the side or from the rear.”

“Such wisdom, and from children,” Karenski smiled.

“I almost wish the Jaccar would get around behind the men in the night,” Kined said, and he grinned as he thought about it.

Flern quickly explained. “There is a third group who will follow behind the men. It would be best if you did not ask about them at all.”

“I see,” Karenski sounded thoughtful again. “I think I better go tell my people to stay close to their homes in the night.”

“Yes, me too,” said Venislav

“Good idea,” Flern said. Vilder, Gunder and Tiren were presently telling the men in the camp that very thing.

Reflections Flern-8 part 3 of 3

Wlvn spent the afternoon riding out front, alone, as Fritt brought up the rear by himself. Kined and Riah rode side by side, and that was fine. It gave Wlvn some time to think things through.

This Wicca and her army of Jaccar warriors seemed a terrible thing to have to face, but in his heart, he knew it was something Flern might be able to handle on her own. He knew Flern had no business going up against a Titan, and he marveled at the revelation of how he was one person through time and yet many different people. Each life he lived not only had a different skill set and different abilities, they also had different personalities, and in some cases, they were very different. It might all still be just him, but the differences could be striking. Being male or female of course was the obvious one, but upbringing and culture were massive. In different places and times throughout history, he, or she saw and responded to the world in startlingly different ways. God, he hoped he was never content to be part of someone’s harem.

With that strange thought, he glanced back at Kined. He genuinely liked Kined, and he wondered if the reverse of what Kined said might also be true. He was not sure he could dislike, much less hate Kined as long as Flern felt the way she felt about the young man. Then again, he did not know exactly how Flern felt since she remained out of touch. That disturbed him. Maybe he still just vibrated the feelings she felt before they double traded. He supposed she might change her mind, given the chance, only he could not imagine a way she might have that chance. There had to be some way they could double trade back, but he could not imagine it, and none of his other lifetimes knew how either—at least the lives he could currently touch.

The night crept up on them and they almost stopped too late in the day. Riah found a roe deer that she said practically got handed to her. “The spirit of this forest, old Firblog was being kind, and I thanked him,” she said.

“Firblog?” Fritt asked. He still tried to fit into the group, though he told Vilder he felt a bit like a leftover.

Riah nodded as she swallowed her bit of liver and spoke. “These are dwarf woods, the woods of Movan Mountain. They run up to the Pert and the river bridge we came over. The elf woods of Miroven are the woods of Lord Oakvein. This side of the Pert belongs to Firblog. His woods rise up to the plateau itself and cover all the land between the Pert and Sware Rivers. Of course, the humans call the whole thing the Brugh, like they can’t see one side from the other.”

“You are right about these being dwarf woods,” a voice came out of the dark and startled everyone. “It makes me wonder why a young elf maid and these humans might be traipsing through my woods.”

“Firblog?” Vinnu asked.

Wlvn shook his head. “Show yourself,” he said, and just like his dwarfs, he smelled them all around. A very short looking creature stepped into the light. He might have looked like a man but for being just four feet tall, and he might have looked like an elf except his pointed ears folded down, his nose looked too bulbous, and he had far too much hair on his face. “Balken.” Wlvn named the creature but said no more as he waited for the dwarf chief to speak.

Balken looked around the circle of faces before he made his pronouncement. “You appear to be missing one. A girl with red hair, I believe.”

Wlvn nodded. “He is looking for Flern, as I suspected. I can feel the enchantment, can you?” He spoke to the others but looked at Kined and Riah. Riah shook her head. Kined did not seem sure. Wlvn spoke up, loud. “Put down your arrows and come into the firelight so we can see you all. Now. And stay by the fire until I give you leave.” Balken stared at Wlvn, and wonder crossed his face. Wlvn stared back and said one more thing while they waited. “You are free from your enchantment.” He did not speak it loudly, or wave his hand, or flash a wand, or anything associated with magic, but both Riah, and in a lesser way Kined felt a power beyond calculating. The only way to describe it would be to say this was not a derived power like magic, but a source power, the kind of power from which all other magic is derived.

Balken responded by rolling up his eyes and collapsing.

“Hey!” More than one incoming dwarfs reacted, but Wlvn reassured them. “Your chief is fine. Just come here so we can see you.” There were eleven so Balken made it an even dozen. These others were all clearly dwarfs.  Their ears were more normal, but their noses were extra large. The tallest stood a bit less than four feet tall, and their stocky builds and long beards completed the look.

Wlvn knew exactly who he was looking at, by name and family history if he cared to look. He found one who stood shorter than most, barely topping three feet, but who had an uncanny nose. He could track and find about anything with that nose, and the dwarf only hesitated a second when Wlvn said, “Come here Bricklebrains.”

“L-lord?” Bricklebrains certainly smelled something.

“The rest of you are free of the enchantment.” Wlvn waved his arm that time, and all of the dwarfs collapsed even as Balken got up, rubbing the back of his neck.

“What hit me?” The dwarf chief asked. No one answered because they were too busy watching.

“Can you smell the enchantment?” Wlvn asked Bricklebrains.

“Y-yes,” Bricklebrains stuttered as he whipped off his hat and worried it in his stubby fingered hands. He looked frightened, and Wlvn responded to that. “Don’t be afraid.” He smiled for the dwarf.

“Your Lordship, yes. I smell it, but I can’t do nothing about it. I want to kill the red headed girl and I can’t help it. Please, I don’t want to kill anybody.”

“The Wicca?” Pinn asked. She and Vilder were beginning to get it. This was not all about a Jaccar army.

Wlvn nodded but kept his attention on Bricklebrains. “Be free of the enchantment,” he said softly. “But be able to still smell it on others.”

Bricklebrains stumbled. Riah and Kined caught him, and he turned his head farther than any human could and said, “Thanks other Lord,” to Kined and, “Creepers, I got elf cooties,” to Riah.

“Balken.” Wlvn spoke to the dwarf chief. “Tell your father I am sorry our path does not take us to Movan Mountain, but I hope when we return he will send any who are willing to volunteer for the fight against the Jaccar. I am going to borrow Bricklebrains for a while, but I plan to return him in one piece.”

“Good to know,” Bricklebrains whispered quietly to Kined who started practicing his elf grin.

Balken meanwhile stared at Riah. “So Lord, you are traveling freely with the one who stole my mother’s name?”

Riah reacted. “My mother and yours were best friends.”

“So I heard,” Balken said, but clearly, he did not appear pleased with Riah being named Moriah. “I didn’t recognize you at first. You have grown.”

“You haven’t,” Riah shot back.

“Thank you,” Balken responded, much to the surprise of the others, but then Wlvn spoke up.

“I have given Moriah the name Riah for this journey, and you must remember she is innocent. She was given her name as you were given yours. She had no say over what her name would be.”

Balken put his hand to his beard and stroked it. He had not looked at it in that way. “The Lady Laurel and I may speak one day.”

“And it better be a nice talk,” Wlvn said, sternly. “Meanwhile, please take yourself and your fellow warriors home.”

One of the dwarfs spoke up. “Can’t we stay for a bit?”

“There is too much deer for this group,” another interjected.

“We could like help them fix it proper.”

“And build this pitiful fire into a real fire.”

Wlvn looked around at the others and saw no serious objection. “They are immune to fairy food and no tricks or stealing but treat these like your friends and I have no objection.”

Balken nodded slowly before he sent his people here and there to gather wood and food for a real feast. Then they partied, and Wlvn eventually had to sneak off to get some sleep. That was about the time the humans realized that two of these dwarfs were women.



With Bricklebrains along to sniff out any enchantment, they visit a village beneath the mountain pass and find a couple of key players swayed by the distant Wicca. Until Monday, Happy Reading


Reflections Flern-8 part 2 of 3

Wlvn and Riah brought the group to the Pert River bridge, a fine-looking stone bridge with high sides for horses. Wlvn asked who built it. “Dwarfs,” Riah explained for whomever might be listening. “They trade with us and with the villages upriver and are not great on horseback. They have trouble crossing this fast-running river at certain times of year.”

“Like now.” Thrud said, and they all took a good look at the late spring rush which was both fast and deep.

“Well, good for them,” Wlvn concluded and started across the bridge with another thought. “Let us hope no trolls have taken up residence beneath.” That caused Vinnu, Tiren and Fritt to all glance out over the edge of the bridge, but Wlvn knew it was too small for a troll.

Once beyond the Pert, the forest changed subtly. There were more fir and pine trees and the hills seemed steeper, closer to the mountains, while the lowland between the Pert and the river that Riah called the Sware bogged down into swampy and soggy places. An overcast day might have brought nothing to cheer about, but with the sun shining, spring stayed heavy throughout the day. Thrud and Vinnu still talked, but now they included Tiren and Gunder. If the boys responded, it had to be too soft for Wlvn to hear. Vilder and Pinn also rode side by side, and while they said nothing, the vibe of desire between them pulsated strong enough for Wlvn to feel.

At lunch, Wlvn put his back to a tree where he faced the fire and watched Riah prepare some of the food brought from the elf camp. Kined and Fritt finally came to corner Wlvn while everyone else wandered out into the spring among the trees and meadow flowers. Wlvn expected the boys on the first day, especially Kined. He did not exactly understand what took them so long, but he sat, game to their presence, willing to listen to what they had to say.

“Flern and I have always been close, since we were children.” Kined started things before he looked at the ground and pulled up a handful of grass to watch the wind take it. “I do not understand you and the other people she has been or why she cannot come back, but I have to ask. Will I see her again?”

“That is my hope,” Wlvn responded as he turned to look at Fritt.

Fritt looked startled for a moment, like no one ever asked his opinion about anything, but he opened up. “I have never made a secret about how I feel about Flern. For years, I fought Trell and Tird for her attention and I started thinking that now that they have settled down, I might have a chance with her, to tell her how I feel.” Fritt clearly fought the anger that came up into his face. “But now you are here, and you say you don’t know if you can get her back and I don’t understand where she has gone, and I might never be able to tell her; and it isn’t fair.”

“You can tell me. Even if I can’t reach her right now, I am not cut off from the Princess and the others you have met. She will hear your words, eventually.”

Fritt looked at first like he wanted to say something, but instead his face contorted to keep his tears at bay. “I hate you,” he shouted as he stood and ran off.

“No, stay!” Wlvn spoke quickly to Riah and made it a command. The elf stopped in her tracks. In the empathy of the little ones, Riah had in mind to comfort the boy, but Wlvn knew the complications that could lead to. He could not afford to have an elf and human fall in love. “Finish what you are doing here. Fritt will have to work though his feelings on his own.”

“Lord.” Riah lowered her eyes in submission and went back to the fire, but there were tears in her eyes.

Kined spoke again. “I don’t hate you. I don’t think I could ever hate anyone who is as close to Flern as you are. It is true, I cannot look at you without seeing her. I believe you when you say that you and Flern are really the same person, though I don’t understand how that could be. You are very different.”

“I grew up a slave under the eye of a Titan. It was a harder life than you can imagine. And from the day Poseidon brought me those horses, I got thrust into a leadership position that Flern would never accept. I had no choice but to learn to lead. She wants no part of leading.”

Kined smiled. “I understand. She is a young fawn, like her name, a gentle flower with a soft and tender heart. It is one of the things I love about her.”

Wlvn smiled but repeated himself. “You know; whatever you tell me she will hear eventually.”

Kined just returned the smile. “I understand. I don’t care. Flern and I have always been straight with each other.” Wlvn cocked one eyebrow and stared down the young man. “Okay, in every way except how I feel about her.” Kined smiled again. “You know, you and Flern are very different in some ways, but very much alike in others. She would never let me lie to her, either.”

“So, what honest thing do you want to tell me?” Wlvn knew he had to get to the point. Riah finished her preparations and stood ready to call the others to lunch.

“That I have loved her since we were babies. That she is the only person I want to be with for all of my days. That I was always afraid to tell her because I knew in my heart that she was special.” Kined raised his own eyebrows at that thought. “Of course, I had no idea how special.”

“You know,” Wlvn interrupted. “If you marry her, it will only be her you are marrying. The rest of my lives will not be there to fix everything for you or her. If you have a baby that dies in childhood, Doctor Mishka will not be able to fix that. If you have a bad year with the crops, Nameless cannot come and fix it. If you ever have a confrontation with a stranger, Diogenes cannot step in and fight your fight for you. If you ever have lustful thoughts about the Princess, Flern will beat you up.” Wlvn paused to scratch his chin. “Though I suppose lustful thoughts about the Princess might be hard to avoid.” He knew the Princess was attractive almost beyond reason. “Still, if you ever hit Flern… Well, in that case I might be tempted to beat the crap out of you, but you know what I mean.”

“I understand.” Kined nodded his head, vigorously. “So Flern, will you marry me?”

Wlvn froze like a statue for a second before he answered, and not without a smile. “I will pass on the message when I can, but I am sure she would prefer you ask her directly.”

Vinnu heard, and she shouted with glee as Thrud arrived. “Kined just asked Flern to marry him.”

“Well, it’s about time,” Thrud responded with a look at Kined that made him turn his head in embarrassment.

Tiren and Gunder were there, and Tiren spoke. “You owe me one.” Gunder nodded and braced himself while Tiren hit him in the upper arm, hard.

“Ouch.” Gunder rubbed his arm. “Now we are even again?” Gunder wanted to be sure, and Tiren nodded.

Vilder and Pinn came in and said, “Congratulations,” but looked at Wlvn who merely shrugged. Vilder saw Fritt by the horses and went to him. The others left Fritt alone. They knew it was something Fritt would have to deal with in his own way.

After lunch, Kined felt too good to sit still. He helped Riah clean up and got a surprise when he handed the pot to her and she responded with, “Thank you, Lord.”


“If you are going to marry my Lady, that makes you my Lord by extension. I feel it. I cannot help it. And that will probably include any children you have, too.”

Kined paused to search his own feelings. He had to pause at the thought of children, but then he responded. “I feel it, too,” he admitted. He suddenly felt very protective about this elf maid and loved her like she was his own in some way. He grinned more broadly than he had before. “Do you think that means she might say yes?”

Riah looked up at the man and matched his grin and then some with her elf grin. “Oh, I hope so.”

Reflections Flern-7 part 3 of 3

In the morning, Wlvn rode out front with Riah close beside him. He needed Riah to show the way, but he also wanted to keep a close eye on her. The more he learned about his many lives throughout time, the more he learned that prolonged interactions between humans and his little ones were not recommended.

Vilder and Pinn rode behind and stayed very quiet the whole day. They only passed occasional whispers between them, and while Wlvn knew full well Riah listened in with those good elf ears, he refused to hear what he assumed was private. Meanwhile, Thrud and Vinnu became very talkative and animated the whole day. It had to do with the terrain, the weather, men and women, husbands, babies, and whatever else came to mind. Tiren and Gunder came next and said nothing, being content to let their women do all the talking. Wlvn only hoped that Kined and Fritt were paying attention at the rear of the column. He felt a little concerned that neither Kined nor Fritt had yet expressed their feelings about Flern’s disappearance and his arrival in her place, but he could not worry about that just yet. It would happen.

In the meanwhile, Wlvn instinctively kept his ears open for the sound of a baby cry, a sound seldom, if ever heard when the sun came up bright. They were night creatures after all. Of course, he knew he had fallen into another time altogether and he had no reason to suppose the Wicca would follow Loki’s pattern. He did not imagine the woman, powerful as she might be, would even have access to night creatures. It would take a god to bring them from their world of origin, wherever that might be. Still, he listened all the same, and the more so as the sun began to set.

He called for an early camp and let Riah practice her hunting skills while the couples built a fine fire. Wlvn sat and occasionally stared at Kined and Fritt. He did not know what to tell them. He knew that Flern started seriously falling for Kined, if not already fallen, and he got the impression the feelings were mutual, poor Fritt. Sadly, there seemed absolutely nothing he could do about it but stare at them now and then and sigh. Things generally stayed calm and quiet in the camp until he heard a voice instruct Tiren.

“Please take only the fallen and dead branches, if you don’t mind.”

He heard Fritt fall over. He imagined Tiren fainted as well. He heard Gunder shout and Vinnu scream, and he sighed and got to his feet. He found a tree-man, a dryad some eight feet tall, well back from them all, and posing no threat to anyone. In the perfect timing that the little ones show now and then, Riah came into the camp at that very moment, a roe deer slung over her shoulders.

“Hello, Lord Oakvein,” Riah said. “An honor to see you again.”

“My pleasure, young daughter of Laurel the Wise.” Lord Oakvein smiled at the elf as Riah walked to a small clearing downwind from the camp where she could butcher the deer for their supper. “You are not the young woman I expected,” Lord Oakvein turned his eyes on Wlvn. “But unless my old memory is failing me, I would say you look exactly like her in a masculine sort of way. Besides, I recognize the sword.” Lord Oakvein lifted the ivy that hung like a vest around his shoulders and showed a scar in his right side. He continued to smile and appeared to consider the scar something like a badge of honor.

Wlvn returned the dryad’s smile and invited him in. “Come to the fire, though not too close, of course. Fritt, get up. Kined, help Tiren. Gunder, why don’t you go help Riah butcher the deer. Ladies, I believe the water is boiling to make the elf bread. Vilder and Pinn, you might want to stick with me. I imagine this good gentleman has some news for us.”

“Not entirely good news, I’m afraid.” Lord Oakvein shook his head as he stepped up to walk beside Wlvn.

They passed pleasantries for a time, until the deer got cooked. Strips of meat started being smoked to take on the road. The bread also got made and some tubers, not unlike potatoes that Lord Oakvein pointed out. They cooked quickly. By then, the company had become comfortable with the dryad’s presence and found him to be a kind and caring soul. But by then, it had also become dark in the woods, and the travelers were inclined to keep close to the light of the fire.

Finally, Lord Oakvein told something of himself. “I am the spirit of the forest,” he said. “I feed the birds and animals that live in my place, and I know that they, in turn, feed others. Even those that die of age feed my roots and help me reach for the light.” He paused to nod at Riah. “The elves of Miroven take the dead and fallen wood. They also cut the trees I mark, the diseased, broken, and stunted ones.”

“Does that hurt?” Vinnu interrupted with the question.

“Like a haircut,” Wlvn responded. “Go on.”

“The elves do me much good when the fires come.” Lord Oakvein took a breath. “But the men by the rivers have no restraints. They take what they will and cut down what they would have. I am the one who is restrained from interfering, but then I have seen the homes and wagons and great things they have done with my wood. I am not unhappy that they nibble at my edges.”

“Good to know,” Vilder said, and he explained when the others looked at him. “We have cut many trees from the forest around our home, but I never thought of it as cutting into someone who was alive.”

Lord Oakvein smiled again for the young man. “All of creation is alive in one form or another. It would be very sad if men began to think that all the world was dead and empty.”



After a visit with the Dryad, Wlvn and Flern’s friends follow their elf guide into dwarf territory. And Kined proposes to Flern, which is strange.  Too bad Flern is not there… Until Monday, Happy Reading.


Reflections Wlvn-11 part 2 of 3

Moriah came up beside Laurel. “We did it,” Moriah announced. She looked covered in blood and held a hunter’s knife in her hand that still dripped purplish puss from the blade. Flern turned her head and went away from that place. Nameless came to fill her shoes. Laurel looked to the ground on recognizing the god. Moriah gasped, but Nameless smiled for her before he walked the village square and made certain that all of the ghouls in the village were dead.

Twenty ghouls had died, and none of them were merely wounded. They melted and left a purple-greenish puddle of puss on the ground. The village defenders had already made certain of that. Nameless sensed a half-dozen ghouls running for their lives, headed back to their home in the north, and he knew they would not come that way again, so he let them go. “Take the wounded to the house of the village chief,” Nameless ordered. “Carefully.” He underlined the word. “I will be along shortly to help.” He looked at his feet. The body of the village chief lay there beside the body of the chief dwarf. “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid,” he said softly, as he knelt down to close the poor dwarf’s eyes. Then he called, and everyone stopped for a moment to hear as the sound vibrated in their souls before it left that place and scattered to the wind. It crossed over the mountains, even to the Great River, and sped north through the limitless forests, to the North Sea and beyond to the great peninsulas that hung down over the world like fingers from the ice cap. The call pushed across the east and south to the shores of the Black Sea, over the waves of the Crimea and to the wilderness beyond. And it went north, even to the Ural Mountains where more than one man lifted his head from the hunt to listen and wonder. There was one. She heard. She appeared in a flash of light and dropped to one knee without even looking up.

“Hilde.” Nameless knew her name and said it tenderly. Then the angelic-like form looked and saw the smile on his face and became very curious. “Hilde. First sister of many, I have a task for you which you alone can do.”

“I will, my Lord. But how is it that I know you and do not know you? How is it that I love you so dearly though I love no man? And how may I be the first of sisters when I have no sisters?”

“These mysteries will resolve in time. Be patient, only for now you have work to do.” Nameless pointed to the chief at his feet.

“The dwarf is gone beyond my reaching,” Hilde said. “It is so with all of the people of the spirit, from the littlest up to the gods themselves, yet this man is within my grasp should I choose him.”

Nameless nodded. “The valiant should not suffer in the pit with the wicked. I charge you, Hilde, and all of the sisters that follow after you to take the spirits of the valiant to the house and halls of Odin so that the Alfader may decide where to keep such men for eternity.”

“And the women?”

“Take them to my mother, to the House of Vrya and let her care for them as she will.”

“I will do this thing,” Hilde said as she stood. “It feels right, like I have been sleeping all of my days and have been waiting for this moment to come awake.” She returned Nameless’ smile at last, vanished from that place, and took the souls of the dead with her.

“Who was that?” Laurel still stood by his side, though Moriah had gone in search of Badl.

“The first Valkyr,” Nameless told her, and then he made her wait there a minute while he took two steps forward. Skinny Wilken ended up among the wounded and needed Doctor Mishka, but he had one more thing to do first.

Nameless reached out with his thoughts. “Loki. Play your games, do your tricks, make you mischief through your surrogates as you will. That is your business, not mine. I only want to remind you of the penalty for killing a god.”

After a pause, there came a response, one that felt cold in the mind. “I am in no danger, foolish boy. I would say it is that little girl of yours that is at risk if she should come up against the Titan.”

“Yes, but I kill more than one over the next several thousand years, so it is too late for me.” Nameless thought the words with a little coldness of his own. “But you should remember that the little girl is the Kairos, and the Kairos is counted among the gods.”

Another pause, but Nameless knew that Loki was still there. “But no one knows exactly what that means,” the response came.

“Even so, a little friendly advice. The Kairos will be coming for your big friend, and I would not recommend getting in the way.”

“That girl has a long way to go yet.” Loki responded more quickly that time.

“Just so we understand each other,” Nameless thought, and he cut the connection. He watched the escaping ghouls for a minute before something else caught his attention. Badl talked with the remaining dwarfs who were now leaderless. He took Laurel by the arm and walked to the meeting.

“Your mother was the daughter of a chief, and your father, though not strictly a dwarf, he was beloved by the goddess, and we need no better recognition than that. You could come with us and be our chief.”

“And if the Halfling can cook like you say, she can come, too.” A second dwarf interjected, and no one seemed to have an objection.

Nameless arrived and took Badl by the other arm. “Sorry friends,” he said. “I need him first. He can come to Movan Mountain after we are done.” He turned to Badl. “Time to go see Skinny Wilken,” he said, and he became Doctor Mishka as she walked toward a nearby house.

“How did we do?” Those were Wlkn’s first words, once Elleya took a breath. She mothered him, terribly, and told over and over how he saved her life. Apparently, a ghoul busted down the door to escape the carnage, but Wlkn got there first and sent a knife into the creature’s throat. The ghoul slammed Wlkn against the wall before it collapsed, and Elleya proceeded to beat the poor dead ghoul senseless with a frying pan, and no, she did not otherwise know what a frying pan was for.

“I’m not as young as I was, you know.” Wlkn pointed out, though he had no gray hair. “It felt like he tried to eat my youth with magic, if you know what I mean. I think the bite of apple I ate might have been too much for him, though.” Wlkn quieted as Mishka worked. She examined Wlkn and was pleased to find no broken bones, but then she had another duty.

Nameless returned and he told them all that he would be right back. He touched the dead ghoul at his feet, and both vanished to reappear in the woods outside of town. Nameless pulled his sword, and in a swift move, chopped the ghoul’s head off. Sure enough, he heard a moan as he did it. The ghoul had been trying to live off of Wlkn’s youth, and the last thing the village needed would be a ghoul resurrecting itself. Nameless threw the head into the mountains and left the body where it lay. It quickly shriveled and shrank until only a small greenish-purple stain remained. That was the way of ghouls, unless they were eaten. Nameless cleaned his sword, returned it to its place, and reappeared in the room to change immediately with Mishka once again.

Mishka said nothing as she finished examining Wlkn’s wounds, then she finally answered Wlkn’s question as she bandaged Wlkn’s head. “Even with the surprise turned to our side, and the arrows that decimated the ghouls before the fighting started, and an extra surprise of nearly as many dwarfs as there were ghouls, the ghouls managed to take as many with them as we killed. Twenty ghouls fell in the battle, and fifteen men and five dwarfs died. Plus, we have many wounded besides.”

No one spoke. That seemed a terrible toll, and Mishka knew that when Flern came home, she would be in tears because, in a real sense, all of those lives were given to protect and defend her, even if it was not the only reason for fighting. Mishka wiped her own eye and took Laurel and Moriah to check on the others. Badl stayed with Wlkn and Elleya until he needed to go out for a breath of fresh air and a bit of quiet.

Reflections Wlvn-11 part 1 of 3

Flern spent most of the day listening to everything that Diogenes, the Princess, the Storyteller and Doctor Mishka had to offer concerning the defense of the village. One of the first things would be to move the women and children up on to the ridge, a place from which they could escape up into the mountains if necessary. A few of the women stayed, but most, even those who wanted or were willing to stay, understood that their first duty was to the children. Of course, the children wanted to stay too, or at least some of the older boys, but for the most part the village elders said no. They said those boys had to watch out for the women and children in case they had to flee. Andrea stayed with Boritz and Moriah stayed with Badl. It seemed hard to tell exactly what Moriah might be thinking, because she seemed anxious for the fighting to start. That felt curious to many; but in truth, Flern understood that Moriah felt anxious for the fighting to be over, and she did not blame her for that. Wlkn volunteered to help the women and children on the ridge, but he got told, absolutely not. He got handed a bow and a hunting knife, both of which he knew how to use perfectly well, and he got told where to stay, and Elleya stayed right there with him.

Around two o’clock, a troop of twenty dwarfs came marching into the village, armed with axes with sharp copper heads. Flern told them that this was not their affair and she only wanted them to stay if they truly wanted to volunteer. “No pressure,” she said.

The chief dwarf looked at her and his first words were a great relief. “Don’t worry,” he said, and Flern relaxed a little. “We had a run-in with some of these ghoulish creatures a few years ago and everyone here is anxious for get backs.”

“Oh, but revenge is not a good thing.”

“Don’t worry.” The dwarf repeated himself with a fatherly tone that crept into his words. “Now, what’s the plan?”

A couple of hours later, Laurel had a question. “But will it work?” Flern knew the elf was not afraid, young as she looked and in elf terms truly was. Of course, she thought Laurel asked about all of their preparations and she could only shrug in response. “No, I mean do you think we can get in and out without getting caught?”

Flern paused before she shrugged again. “You can’t go invisible or immaterial with ghouls like you can with humans, and a glamour won’t fool them for long, either. You don’t have to come.”

“I’m coming.” Laurel said with the sound that it was already a settled matter. “They are fast, but not elf fast. Once I get moving, they won’t be able to catch me.”

“As for me, I don’t know how fast I might be, or not, but I can go up out of reach and maybe fly back, sort of, I think.”

“But you are the one they are after. What if they catch you?”

Flern shrugged again. “I’m not a red headed boy. Anyway, the village will probably be saved. It won’t be the worst thing.”

“Except for you.” Laurel generally did not like the idea.

Flern suddenly looked serious. “You didn’t tell anyone our plans?” Laurel shook her head and Flern relaxed. “Good.” Flern felt sure if the others knew they would either try to stop them or insist on going with them, or both.

An hour before sundown, Laurel and Flern went out from the village. They ran to the tree line. Laurel got surprised. Flern kept up, but Laurel said nothing as they moved more slowly and carefully through the woods. Laurel made no sound at all, and Flern made virtually no sound. She generally kept herself an inch or so from the ground and pushed herself along through the trees. When they got close, Laurel stopped. She turned up her nose, and then Flern smelled it, too. It smelled like the ghouls had roasted and eaten the two that she had wounded, maybe killed. Anyway, those ghouls were certainly dead now.

Flern put her finger to her lips and floated high into a tree. She caught a branch and pulled herself along, dancing from tree to tree like a squirrel until she was right over the camp, but well hidden in the branches and leaves. The cooking smelled nauseating from that vantage, wafting up as it did from the campfires below. Flern almost threw up, which would have ruined everything. Then again, she imagined the ghouls might not have noticed, or might have thought of it as manna from heaven. That thought did not help her stomach, so she decided to concentrate on her ears instead. She found it was not like in the movies. She heard no plans about how they were going to attack the village, and only knew they were planning an attack because she heard two in the grass talking about how much they were looking forward to eating some living, human flesh and sucking out the souls.

Flern backed out the way she came in, moving from upper tree branch to upper branch like a confused robin. When she reached the place where she left Laurel, she got miffed. Laurel was nowhere to be found, so she waited, but not for long. She heard where Laurel went before she saw her.

“It’s the elf! I knew I smelled something! Get her!” Laurel came running, and Flern stayed right on her heels. They soon left the ghouls well behind, but they did not stop running until they reached the barricade around the village. In fact, Laurel ran right over the barricade, and though Flern had to use a little flying lift, she followed right behind. Then she needed to breathe, and they were deep, heavy breaths. She might be fast, but that still made a long way to run. Laurel did not have nearly the recovery problem.

“Where did you go? Where were you?” People came running up including Boritz and Badl. Flern waved to Laurel because she could not talk yet. Laurel simply made an announcement.

“They are coming.”

“Are you crazy?” Badl started to yell at them, but Flern stopped his mouth when she put a hand on his shoulder.

“I was hoping they would go away. We just wanted to be sure.” Flern gasped, and then she felt better.

Two hours later, after the sun had set and before the moon came up, the village streets looked deserted. Several figures moved through the shadows. Several more figures appeared from another direction, and several more from a third place. They moved slowly toward the center of the village where a big open area, like a village square centered around a spring. The spring soon became a little stream that trickled off in the direction of the river. Flern stood completely still, nearly invisible in the darkness, her cape with the black side out, her hood up, her fingers twitching ever so slightly with nervous tension. She waited as long as she could, but then the ghouls spotted her, having perfect night vision. One shouted. Several shouted. But Flern already started rising like the moon, and she concentrated on letting out every ounce of glow Nanna the Moon gave to Wlvn. She felt like a little moon herself, thirty yards above the village, she bathed the square and the houses beyond in a soft but certain light. The ghouls were revealed. The people could see, and at once, arrows shot out from house windows and cracked doorways all around. Perhaps half the ghouls were killed or wounded in those few moments. Then the people came out with spears, axes, knives and clubs, and they came in threes and fours against each ghoul that still stood beneath the glowing girl. Boritz broke one in the back of the head with his spiked club. He smashed a second in the face, before he picked one up right off the ground and threw it against two more. Those three fell on their backs and became easy targets for the crowding men.

Flern shut her eyes and focused on the glow—float and glow, that was all she had to do. With light, the major advantage of the ghouls got stripped away, and the village had a chance, but screams of death came from every direction, and Flern could not shut her ears. She also could not do anything if a ghoul took a shot at her. She felt vulnerable in her legs, arms and face where she had to be naked to properly glow.

It felt like forever before Flern dared to open her eyes once more. The screaming became subdued, and some people milled about, no doubt wondering what just happened. The blood ran everywhere, and much of it looked like slimy, greenish purple in color, but plenty of it ran red. Flern preferred not to look, so she let her glow diminish as she floated back to the earth. The real moon rose in the late fall sky, and though the sky soon filled with heavy gray clouds moving in from the north, there came significantly more natural light than before. When Flern touched down, she fell to shivering. She had never been so scared in her life, and she could barely keep her head up when Laurel came running up.

“It worked, but barely.” Laurel said.

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 6 of 6

Elder Stow arrived at about the same time as the lead dwarf reached the group.  Elder Stow got right up on Mudd.

“Welcome travelers,” the dwarf said.  “Sanyas has been informed of your presence. Chief Pavhara is talking to the Princess, there.”  He pointed toward Boston.  “I think Sanyas wants us to escort you to her, but first, you should come inside for the night.  The grub-diggers won’t find you in the underground.”

“Grub-diggers?” Lockhart asked.

“Humans,” Alexis said.

“You got a name?” Katie asked.

“Yu Me,” a second dwarf said.  “His family is all immigrants, but Yu know how immigration works.  Get it?  Yu knows?”

“Got it,” Katie said, and managed a smile.

“Can I give it back?” Decker asked.

“Underground?” Lincoln complained, but it was not so bad.  The dwarfs had a big cavern, well lit by fires and plenty of torchlight.  They also had plenty of food, as might have been expected.  Best of all, they had a long tunnel, big enough for the horses and wagon, that led to the far end of the pass and the hills of Gandhara.  The Swat River was not far.  There, on the first hilltop, they found Sanyas and her camp.  She had roughly three hundred soldiers hidden among the trees.

The travelers moved slowly into the camp.  Soldiers saw them, but also saw the dwarfs, so they waited for orders from higher up to make a move.  When it appeared that the dwarfs were leading these strange people straight toward the command tents, a large number of soldiers got in their way.

A woman in her fifties pushed through the line of soldiers and yelled that these were old friends, and the soldiers should go back to whatever they were doing.  The soldiers parted, without question, and more than a few bowed as they walked off.  The travelers figured this had to be Sanyas.

“Boston,” Sanyas said, with a happy smile, as the red head jumped into her grandmotherly embrace.

“Shan-eye-ash-ra-devi?” Lincoln carefully pronounced the name.  He had to ask, just to be sure.

Sanyas frowned.  “Roughly translated, that name means I renounce being ruler or goddess.  As for Ruler, my older sister Yasomati is queen, and her husband is king, and that is as close as I want to get to running things.  As for goddess, I cannot deny the sprites of the earth, air, fire, and water, but I will never be counted as a goddess over people.  Never over people.  The gods have gone and what is done is done.”  Sanyas smiled.

“And yet, here you are with several hundred soldiers who obviously take your orders,” Lockhart pointed out.

Sanyas frowned again.  “My husband, Brahmagupta is supposed to be in charge, but he has no military heart or mind.  I love him for that, but someone has to be in charge.  Come, I will show you.”  She yelled and men hurried to collect the horses, the mule and wagon, so all the travelers could follow her.  Several soldiers also followed, old friends or not.

They came to a ledge and a fifty-foot drop that gave a view clear of trees.  To their right, they saw a camp in the valley, and men on horses.  When they got the binoculars out, way in the distance on their left, they saw what looked like a city.

“Peschawar,” Sanyas named the city.  “The valley is made by the river from the Khyber.  It joins the Swat not too far from here.  The Alchon Huns still rule in Gandhara, though they have pulled back from the Punjab.”

“We saw Huns fighting on the other side of the Khyber,” Katie said.

Sanyas nodded.  “I managed to get the Nezak and Alchon to fight each other, but after the Alchon from the Punjab returned to their capital in Kabul, the Afridi moved back into the pass and now the Alchon that are still here on this side of the pass are cut off from their home.”

“We got held prisoner by the people in the pass for a while,” Lincoln said.

“Tell me,” Sanyas turned to Lincoln, and he gave a fair telling of the story.  Lockhart interrupted to tell the important part.

“The chief worked for the Masters.  He wanted our guns, not necessarily us.  I shot him.”

“You were right to kill him,” Sanyas said, even as she looked down, and would not look in Lockhart’s eyes.  “There is no telling what damage he might have done if he lived, and if he lived and had your weapons…”  She did not finish the sentence.

“Huns in the valley?” Katie asked.

“Yes,” Sanyas said.  “I had hoped trouble in Kabul might have encouraged them to abandon this side of the pass altogether and go home.  They are cruel and intolerant toward the people.  They make great demands and show neither grace nor mercy.  Now, if I can’t get them to abandon Gandhara because the pass is blocked, I don’t know what I can do.  They might not even know there is trouble in Kabul if the messengers can’t get through.”

Lockhart noticed again and pointed before he stared through the binoculars.  That same alien ship they had seen a few days earlier rose into the sky not far from the city.  Lincoln had the other pair of binoculars while Katie and Decker used the scopes for their rifles.  The ship quickly entered the clouds and disappeared from sight.

“Not your concern,” Sanyas said.  “They have been told and will leave this world alone.”

As she finished speaking, a troop of roughly thirty men rode up.  One of them turned out to be a fourteen or fifteen-year-old boy, who came running to Sanyas to meet the strangers.  One of whom looked Sanays’ age, or maybe sixty.  He walked.

“The Huna are leaving their camp and going back to the city,” the boy reported in an excited voice, as he hugged Sanyas and took in the travelers from the safety of her arms.

“The thing is,” Sanyas finished her thought.  “With the Huna fighting each other, if I can get these last ones to go back through the pass, I might be able to help the local Afridi people close down the pass to all but merchant caravans.  Then we can have peace.”

“Peace is a good thing,” Alexis said, and looked at the young man.

Sanyas introduced him.  “This is my nephew, Harsha.”

“Good to meet you,” Lockhart said, as the older man arrived.

“My husband, Brahmagupta,” Sanyas introduced the man.

“They are headed back to the city,” Brahmagupta said.  “The way should be clear tomorrow.  We should be able to leave in the morning.”

“Lockhart.  I need you and the travelers to escort my husband, my nephew, and thirty assigned men as far as you are going.  They are going to Magadha.”

“Must I go?” Harsha asked.

“You must learn more than just military matters.  Yes,” Sanyas said.

Boston pulled out her amulet to take a look and offered a thought.  “But, if you go with us, that will just push the time gate further and further away.”

“I will not be joining you.  Brahmagupta wishes to see his family and where he grew up one last time before he dies.  Harsha has many things to learn, and Brahmagupta can teach him, if he will listen.  And I will stay here and deal with the Huna.”  She looked once again at the sky.  “But there is time before the morning.  Let us eat and rest and tell stories until then.”



8.1 Rain and Fire The travelers find themselves in the Yucatán and among the Mayan people, all of whom seem to want to cut their hearts out.  Until next time.  Happy Reading



M4 Margueritte: Banners of Christendom, part 3 of 3

Charles moved at the beginning of September.  Abdul Rahman had groups of men looting and pillaging all over western Aquitaine.  He met Odo at the river Garrone and defeated Odo a second time.  Odo limped north and begged Charles for help.  Charles moved and expected to meet the Wali at some point in early October.  He noted that Abdul Rahman’s men had not moved into eastern Aquitaine, had avoided Tolouse, and had not come up to Bourges, but the rest of the duchy was being burned.

Margueritte and her family, and all the horsemen and footmen they could muster went to Tours.  She made a note of the flags and coats of arms on display.  Flags and painted shields became yet another relatively new thing, not well displayed in the past, if the lord even had a flag to display.  Then there were tunics with symbols worn over the armor so men could better tell the good guys from the bad guys.  But they were becoming the Middle Ages, leaving the old Roman world well behind, like ancient history, and making a new way of living and doing business.  Margueritte felt saddened by the fact that she could not build any public schools for all the children of the Franks, and Bretons for that matter, but she dared not.  She had introduced enough innovations and was already in danger of going too far.  Besides, the first university of sorts would not be built until Charlemagne and that monk, what’s-his-name, got around to it.

When Charles arrived in Tours he was impressed by her turnout, but he said something that Margueritte had forgotten.  “Do you think this is what that assassin meant when he mentioned the battle of Tours?”

Margueritte shrugged.  “It may be, and he said he wanted to change the outcome.  Too bad he did not say how the battle came out.”

“I know,” Charles agreed.  “And it has bothered me for these ten or so years.”

“Not yet.  The ten years are not up.”

“And I know this too.  I am fully convinced of the great potential of your heavy cavalry, but they are still like a half-cooked meal.  You need to keep them here with yourself in reserve.  If my veterans break, we may need them to defend Tours.”

“Between Tomberlain, Owien, Wulfram, Walaric and Peppin, we have over a thousand veterans, though not veterans who fought with a lance.”

“Keep them here.  I will take your footmen, and Tomberlain, Owien, Childemund and Wulfram.  You keep Walaric and Peppin with you.”

Roland came into the tent and Margueritte turned on him.  “You put him up to this, didn’t you?” she accused.

Roland wanted to say no, but he nodded.  “You are still weak from your wound.  The battlefield is not where you belong.”

Margueritte frowned.  “But maybe I do belong.  I have no doubt Abd al-Makti has come out of his isolation and is with Abdul Rahman.  In fact, it has been confirmed for me.  No doubt Odo’s men were affected by the man’s sorcery, and I fear your men, veterans though they be, may be affected in the same way unless you have some extraordinary protection.”  Margueritte got as blunt as she could.

“I will overlook the aberration in your defense of Pouance.  You once said we humans have to fight our own battles, and this we have done.  My men need to stand on their own feet or not, as God will decide.”

Margueritte looked down before she nodded.  “You are right.  The Almighty will decide.”

“Besides,” Roland added, though he almost started it up again.  “I suspect Abd al-Makti was behind your attempted assassination in the Vergen forest.”

“You need to live long enough to finish training the men,” Charles said, thought for a second, and added, “And hopefully a long and happy life.”

“Abd al-Makti was behind the attempt, but not for the reasons you think.  The man is a scholar, not a general.  For all his time hanging around armies and military men, I doubt he has learned anything and has no idea how it works, and he does not care.  He is a man who is so enamored with his own bits of power, he does not have room for such a strange subject.  He has others to do that work for him.  No, it is simple.  He has been told I am a danger to the plan, and for that reason he has tried for years to remove me or have me removed from the playing field.  The attempted assassination was desperation on his part.  But will he warn Abdul Rahman about our cavalry?  I doubt he could tell heavy cavalry from plow horses or describe the difference between a sword and a sheath.”

Charles’ hand went to his side.  “Caliburn served me well,” he said.

“And this battle may be the reason I gave it to you,” Margueritte said, and she took Roland out from the tent to have a little private time before he rushed off again to war.

Two days later, Charles, Roland and all their officers and lords, including Tomberlain, Owien and Count Amager of Tours, sat around a great fire with the Bishop of Tours who came to offer a blessing for the troops. That done, they sat and relaxed, and took an early lunch.  They would be moving out in the morning.

“It would be wonderful to know God’s will in all of this, to hear his voice, but that would be too much to ask,” the bishop said.

“I would like to know what pit of Hell these Saracens came from so I can put them back where they belong,” Charles suggested.

“To actually hear God’s voice would certainly be something,” Count Amager said.

Roland saw Margueritte come up to talk a moment with Tomberlain, and he spoke up.  “I don’t see why that should be so special.  I talk to God every morning when I wake up, and God talks to me and reminds me of everything I need to do that day, and how I need to set a good example for my children and the people in my care, how I always need to consider grace and mercy, and justice, and how peace is better than war.  Let me tell you, talking to God sends shivers down my spine.”  The others looked at him with staring, open-mouthed expressions.  “Yes,” he continued.  “What is most remarkable, however, is how much God sounds like my wife.”

The men paused before the laughter broke out.  Their eyes turned toward Margueritte, who had turned and heard enough.  She felt a response was necessary, so she said, “In the immortal words of my sister, Elsbeth,” and she gave Roland her best raspberries before walking off.  Of course, the men merely laughed harder.


When Charles moved down from Tours, he put Saint Catherine’s behind him and took a position off the road to Poitiers.  He set his men behind a wood at the top of a slight rise and waited.  Charles had ten thousand men in his army, and another five thousand veterans from various campaigns.  He also had five thousand conscripts whom he sent off to gather the necessary food stuff from the countryside, and while twenty thousand was not the largest army in the world, he was confident that his was the best

Abdul Rahman would have to travel up the road with his main force if he wanted to get at Tours and the abbey of Marmoutier, which was Saint Martin’s.  The abbey was said to have riches beyond dreams, which it did not have, and Christian relics, which the Muslims loved to destroy.

“He could sidestep in this area and go across country,” Wulfram pointed out.

“We need to hope he does not,” Charles said.  “There is no better position for what we are facing between here and Tours.”

“Let me see if I can do anything,” Roland said, and he left Charles’ tent to talk to Margueritte’s people.

Since our Lady is in Tours,” Birch spoke.  “She said it would be best to help you here, but it is for you to decide how we may best serve.”

Roland considered the elves, brownies and kobold, the hundreds of gnomes and dwarfs, and the goblins who waited his command.  Hammerhead the ogre even brought his whole family to help, if they could, and there were trolls and hobgoblins and others that he had never seen, but he knew them all, being married to Margueritte.  It became a heady experience, but he felt a deep, abiding love for every one of them and he hated the idea that any of them should be hurt. Then he had a thought.

“Can you make yourselves appear to be Frankish soldiers?” he asked.

“What did he ask?”

“He wants us to pretend to be human beanings?”

“Eww,” the little ones objected.

“It’s a terrible idea, Lord,” Grimly said.  “You ask a lot”

“Just pretend,” Roland said.  “To trick the enemy is all.  I thought you liked to trick people.”

“What us?”

“No, never.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” the little ones said.

“Well, just do it,” Roland responded.  “And here is what I want you to do.”  He explained his plan, and they understood right away.  Roland thought, for people who did not like tricking people, they took to the idea without a second thought.

“Right Lord,” Luckless said at last.  “Now where do you want us when the battle starts?”

“Nowhere near the battle,” Roland answered, and some of the dwarfs and some others threw a fit, until a hobgoblin named Ringwater stepped up with a proposal.

“Since you are forcing us to do terrible, nasty tricks on the Saracens, the least we can do is set a haunting in the woods to scare them when they move through to attack the Franks.”

“As long as you don’t have to stay in the woods,” Roland said.  “Margueritte would be very upset if I let any of you folks get hurt.”  The little ones all nodded and smiled at how much they loved their goddess and how much she loved them.

Roland finished by sending Larchmont’s men to scout the Muslims and keep Margueritte informed as to their progress. The very next day, Larchmont himself came in with Duke Odo, Hunald and five thousand men of Aquitaine.  Charles shook his head, but since this was their land, he could hardy tell them to go away.  He set them on his right where the hill went steeply up.  He figured there they would be less likely to break and run

The men of Aquitaine made the old duke stay at the back of the formation.  Hunald took command and placed two dozen horsemen around the duke.  They were to whisk him away if the Muslims broke through the line.  Charles said the Muslims were not going to break the line, so he had no need to worry.

“We have been practicing for this very engagement over the last ten plus years,” he said.  “I think we know our business by now,” but he had some private concerns.  He figured he could count on fifteen thousand men, while the men from Aquitaine and his conscripts could help, but he could not count on them.  Abdul Rahman came up the road with twenty-five thousand men in tow, and Charles figured they were all battle-hardened veterans.



Tours.  There is a battle to be fought.  Until Monday, Happy Reading


M4 Margueritte: Watch and Rescue, part 3 of 3

Luckless and his dwarfs started milling around the courtyard, waiting impatiently for someone to break in.  Grimly and his gnomes were still moving livestock back into the makeshift pens in the collapsed barn.  Goldenrod went down there.  The dogs got free when the kennels busted and the fence got knocked down, and now Goldenrod rode on Puppy’s back trying to corral the chickens that were still running wild all over the yard.  Margueritte almost laughed.  Then she caught sight of the boys.  Somehow, they escaped the underground and the clutches of Lolly and the dwarf wives.

Margueritte jumped up.  Her mind raced.  In seconds, every little one in the area had Pepin, Cotton, Weldig Junior and Martin corralled.  Somehow, the boys talked them into letting them climb the back wall, to watch the battle. Margueritte thought extra hard, though she hoped it did not come across as yelling.

“Heurst.  If you let them watch, you better make sure they don’t escape and try to join the fight.  If your men are needed, you better send sufficient men to escort them back underground, safely.”  Then she had a headache and imagined if she did much more of that she would get a migraine.

Margueritte refused to watch the battle.  She heard enough commentary from Elsbeth and Margo. She heard nothing from Calista and Melanie, but inside she understood they were both disappointed at not being allowed to be down in it.  Still, they did not mind guarding the women.  They understood the women, and children needed to be kept safe.

At the same time, Margueritte wondered what made certain elf maidens so bloodthirsty.  She hoped there was not some subtle influence she gave off or had given off through the centuries.  She had to admit, it was probably her fault.  Even without looking, she understood what happened down on the battlefield better than Margo or Elsbeth, who watched and explained.  Both Gerraint and Festuscato said it was not their fault.  The Princess and Diogenes both begged off responsibility.  Both Greta and Doctor Mishka said they were in the business of trying to save lives, and the storyteller said, peace baby, though no one laughed.  Margueritte answered them all.  It is all of my fault, and something terrible about the human race.  Sin, as Patrick or Boniface would say, and there will be no avoiding it until the Lord returns.

Margueritte finally looked when the big charge was due to come.  Ragenfrid tried several smaller attacks, individually, and several at once, but they got beaten back.  He tried sneaking men closer by using the cover Michael and David so conveniently put out, but that just got his men picked off by the elf archers on the wall.  Now it became time for the all-out attack.  Margueritte looked, hoping David and Michael had the good sense to pull back into the castle.  she squinted, but she could not send mental messages to Michael and David as she could to her little ones.  Just as well.  She was not down there and maybe they had an idea she did not think of.

“Hey,” Elsbeth shouted.  “Whose men are those?”

“What?” Margo asked and tried to see where Elsbeth pointed.

Margueritte saw and sighed a great sigh of relief.  “Hunald,” she said.  “From Aquitaine.  Probably advanced units on the point.  I hope Michael and David can hold the fort.  It would be terrible to have the enemy break in at the last second.”

“The charge came, but David and Michael apparently got the word, and so did Peppin and duBois.  Their men came out of the gates and struck the charge on each side.  Ragenfrid got boxed in, and did not advance, though the fighting got bloody.  As Hunald’s men moved more and more into the town on Ragenfrid’s rear, he finally gave up and squirted past duBois and back down the Paris Road.  He left his wounded where they lay, and now he had to think hard on how he would possibly break into the castle.  He still was not ready to concede defeat, even if Amager got ready to go home to Tours and Bouchart stayed frozen with indecision.


Hunald moved his five thousand men up into the half-burned town before dark.  David, Michael, duBois, and Peppin brought their men inside the castle.  There were lots of wounded to tend and Doctor Mishka took the first shift.  The elves, kobold, brownies, fairies, local dwarfs, and gnomes all went back into the woods.  Luckless and his smiths stayed, as did Grimly and his horse breeders, but they stayed to their place and tasks and otherwise made themselves scarce.

At sundown, having treated the worst that she reasonably felt she could save, Doctor Mishka checked with Doctor Pincher who treated the wounded among the little ones.  Doctor Pincher did not hide the fact that there were casualties, though being confined to bowshot distance, outside of a few hardheaded dwarfs, the casualties were slight.  Even so, Doctor Mishka cried for each one, and when Margueritte returned, she cried some more.

Margueritte went out to meet Hunald, followed by the ever-present Calista and Melanie, and a dozen men assigned by Childemund and Peppin.  King David, Michael of Nantes and Childemund himself went with her.  Walaric had the young men guarding the stables, the forges, and the horses they had to care for.  Peppin walked with Elsbeth and Margo and had one of the castle clerics write down everything they could find that needed repair.  He was still compiling the list at sundown when Margueritte went out.

Hunald waited for her, and spoke up right away, even waving to her from a distance, and smiled in a most pleasant way.  Margueritte came up to him and right in front of his captains, her hand flew up to his cheek, and stopped short.  Hunald squinted but did nothing to stop her.  His captains gasped, but then she touched his cheek gently, while he spoke.

“Sorry it took us so long.”

“Your timing was our salvation,” she said, and got on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek and then hugged him.  The captains relaxed when she said, “Your father is one of my best friends in the world.  Thank you for coming,” and she turned to those captains.  “And make sure you let Odo know how grateful I am.”  The captains smiled and nodded and assured her they would.

“I was glad to do it,” Hunald said as she let go of him.  “After that business in Tours, I need the penance.”

“Amager is here,” Margueritte said.  “On the other side, but he has not attacked us and is packing to leave.  I don’t think Ragenfrid was honest about the situation here and got him to come under false pretenses.”

“Well, I’m glad,” Hunald said.  “I thought he was a nice man.”

“As did I,” Margueritte said and turned Hunald by taking his arm.  “Now let me introduce you to some more nice men.”  Michael, Childemund, and David all looked like they had been through the wars, which they had.

“We have met,” Hunald said as he shook Michael’s hand, and Michael confirmed as much.

“Childemund came here escorting Charles’ wife, Rotrude.  He has represented Charles in our talks with Ragenfrid.”

“Pleased to meet you.  You talked with Ragenfrid?”  Hunald looked surprised.

“For three days,” Margueritte admitted.  “We were hoping to stall him until you got here, and once you arrived, we hoped he would think twice about attacking us.”

“I see.”

“But please, let me introduce David, King of Amorica, what you might call Little Britain.

“David?”  Hunald looked confused.  “Bogart?”

“His mother calls him David, and so do I.  He is my cousin, you know.”

“Either name will do,” David said, and in such a friendly manner, Hunald swallowed the words, “Your majesty.”

“And this, is Prince Hunald, son of Duke Odo the Great of Aquitaine.”

Hunald also swallowed his guffaw.  “Odo the Great?”

Margueritte shrugged.  “But we must get back to the great hall, and you must come to supper.  The dwarf wives are cooking something special in the way of pork, and applesauce.  Bring any men you want.  Your captains are welcome.  I am sure there will be enough for all.  Please ignore the hole in the ceiling, and the courtyard where so many men are resting.  And there are wounded, so if you have a physician with you, it would be greatly appreciated.

“Of course,” one of the older captains said.

“Oh, my apologies.  I should have thought of that right away.”

They returned to the castle, and Hunald and his captains got a good look at the damage, but the pork supper turned out as great as promised.  There were no complaints there.

One of the captains said the courtyard looked like a small scale of what they had after the battle of Toulouse when they drove the Saracens from their land.

“Hold that thought,” Margueritte said.  “I am sure Charles will want to hear all about it.”

“Charles?” Hunald asked.

“By my best estimate, he should be here with the Frankish army about the same time tomorrow that you came today.”

“That will end the rebellion,” Childemund stated flatly.

“Yes, but that does not mean Ragenfrid will not try something foolish in the morning.”

“Sadly, you may be right,” King David said.

“This is an excellent apple pie,” Hunald said.  “My compliments to the cook.”

“Sadly, I did not make this pie,” Margueritte said.

“Did your lovely sister make it?” he asked, looking at Elsbeth.

Margueritte, Margo, and Jennifer started to laugh, loud.  Elsbeth showed her tongue and gave them all her best raspberries.



Margueritte feels pulled back to Roland’s home, but she has to settle things on the Breton March first.  Until next time, Happy Reading