R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 1 of 3

The travelers spent the next three days moving through the woods that Greta called the Brugh.  They were mixed fir and pine at the higher elevations, but deciduous further down the slopes.  It did not look like a forest of fire to anyone, especially when it rained on the second day.  Much less did they expect to find a lake of gold.

“Believe me,” Bogus declared.  “If there was a lake of gold, the dwarves would be mining it right now.”

On that first night, Greta finally sat down with Bogus and let him speak what stayed on his mind and in his heart.  “I dearly love my granddaughter, Berry,” he said. “When she was just a baby, three-quarters human and all, so many of us worked so hard and with every ounce of magic we could muster to release the fairy within her.  And we succeeded.  She found her wings, and though she could not fly as fast or as far, or reach as high as a real fairy, like my mother could, and though she had no magic of her own to speak of, I loved her dearly and took the very best care of her I could.  I did.”

“I know you did.”

Mavis and Nudd finished caring for Stinky and came to sit and listen while Vedix and Hermes tried to put together something edible without a fire.

“And her twin sister, Fae, though she found a small bit of magic in her one-quarter spirit blood and despite her three-quarters human blood, I kept the agreement and never sought her out, and never knew her at all.  Berry was given to us and Fae was given to the humans, and I left Fae to her own people, though it broke my heart every day to know she was out there, but I would never know her”

“I know that is true.”

Lucius came in from the south and sat.  He picked at a bit of dried beef that they brought from the village of the Dragon Clan and had left over from their time in Movan Mountain.

“But then, Lady, when you came along after seventy years, and Berry as a fairy was just a teenager of maybe thirteen or twelve human years in looks, and Fae as a human was a poor, old woman of the full seventy years, I thought something might be done, even if I could only have both of my granddaughters together for a short time.  I was determined to be content to love them for however brief a time I had, but then you made a miracle, you did.  Poor Fae, when she was struck by that arrow in the battle, she was sure to die, being as old and frail as she was.  But you took all of Berry’s fairy blood and gave it to Fae, and filled Berry with Fae’s human blood, so Berry became a one hundred percent human, poor child, and Fae became half-fee, like her father.  And then, as easy as a blink of your eye, you healed Fae and brought the fullness of her spirit blood out, so seventy was suddenly not so old, and Fae was a happy dwarf.”

“I know that she is happy.”

Alesander and Briana came in together from the north where they scouted out the land and saw no sign of the Wolv.  They were not holding hands, but they might as well have been.

Bogus took off his hat and laid it gently in his lap before he continued.  “I’ve never been so honest and straight-forward in all my whole life. Normally, for spirit folk it goes against every fiber to be pure honest, but I honestly don’t mind telling all of this to you.  It is like a confession those humans talk about, and a great, life-long burden lifted from my heart.”

“Go on.”

Vedix and Hermes joined them so everyone began to listen, and everyone had the good sense not to interrupt.

“Well, I can’t say I am happy that Fae has taken up with that old curmudgeon, Hobknot the Hobgoblin of the Hardwood, but Berry being married to your own brother I don’t mind at all.  He is a fine young man, human though he is, and I will tell anyone the same.”  Bogus paused and looked down at his hat.  “It is not my place to question the way of the gods, but I don’t know what might have possessed you to let those four go off on such a daft errand.”

“They wanted to find their father,” Greta said quietly.  “It is not my place to say what my little ones do.  I can encourage, inspire, enthuse and ask, but I will not control. Ultimately, what you decide to do will be up to you.  You make your own choices, and have to live with them.”

Bogus nodded slowly.  “It was still daft,” he said.

“But you have not spoken of their father, your son.”

Bogus nodded again and began to worry his hat. “Damn stubborn and stupid boy.  He went off in search of his grandmother, my mother, and got himself trapped in the Land of the Lost.  And now Berry and Fae have followed him into the same stupid place.”

“Softly,” Greta said, and she touched Bogus and calmed the hands on his poor imp hat.

“I loved her, you know.  Sweet Clarissa.  She was so young and vulnerable when the Romans came stomping into the forest. She was hurt and cried so softly, like a bird with a hurt wing.  I hid her and cared for her as well as anyone could.”

“And you fell in love with her.”

Bogus paused at that stark statement.  He stared at Greta before he looked down and began to worry his hat again.  “I would have kept her, enchanted, you know, but she was so sweet and fragile I knew keeping her in a cage would kill her, so I let her go, knowing I could not go with her.  She ran, I tell you.  She ran into the arms of that man from the Eagle Clan, but she was with child, and the son she had was mine as he proved many times.  Oren was a beautiful child.  When he was older, he began to spend some time with me and some of the others, which I felt was only fair, him being half mine. He found out his grandfather was an old imp who ran off at the ripe old age of eight hundred and fifty-two, about the time Oren was born, and he cried for his grandfather, though he never met the old bastard.  But when he found out his grandmother, my mother Willow, was the sweetest fairy of light this world has ever known, he became obsessed.  There was no living with him.  He began to range far and wide through the land, calling her name, even though he knew, some two hundred years earlier, her troop had migrated into the north and would not likely be found by any means.”

“I tried to stop him,” Bogus’ words burst out.  “I tried to tell him not to go, but his younger brother, my Clarissa’s human son was old enough to help keep and raise the family, and he said he was free to go.  Stupid and stubborn, I tell you.”  Bogus let his words trail off and thought the rest quietly to himself. Greta felt glad for that.  He did not need to say some of those words out loud.

“Fae and Berry found their father,” Greta took up the telling.  “But they are all prisoners in the Land of the Lost.  We have to go and set them free.”  With that, she laid down, turned her back on them all and pulled her blanket up to her shoulder.  She feigned sleep until sleep finally came for her, and she would not answer any questions, though she did hear some of the conversation.  Lucius, of all people, got it right.  They were headed right into the jaws of the Wolv and the home of the goddess.

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 3 of 3

Portent looked up and looked worried for a second. “I was going to give you the tour, but I think we best get back to our families and move on.”

“But what is this place?” Hermes asked.

“Movan Mountain,” Portent said, as he picked up the pace and they started moving.  “It was a dwarf home ages ago, but abandoned when the gold and silver and copper finally gave out.  That was about two thousand years ago.”  Briana whistled, but Greta explained.

“That is only a few generations ago for dwarfs. Two thousand years is not that long when you live to be six to eight hundred.”  Greta paused when she heard Hermes whisper to Mavis.

“And how old are you?”

Portent picked up the story.  “About ten years ago, Piebottom got the notion that there has been a lot of earthshaking here in the last thousand years.  He thought maybe the goodies in Movan filled up again. I don’t know.  My great-great grandfather said they left because they struck water and the water got too deep to dig, but Redmold said that now that we know how to pump out the water, maybe there are more goodies, just underneath all that wet.  Then King Diggerclaw said the place where we were, over in the Alps, started running dry, and some already moved into Gaul and some all the way to Britannia, but me and mine figured we would check out old Movan to see what we could find.”

“Redmold?  Diggerclaw? Piebottom?” Briana asked.

“Nicknames, mostly.  But it is hard to translate dwarfish into a human tongue.  Some names are ludicrous, even hilarious to human ears, but the nicknames are easier to remember than Gleffondre, Porledwert and Ableminisco.”  Portent stopped and stared at Greta.  The dwarves stopped with Portent, so the others stopped as well.

“You must be the one,” Portent said.  “I never would have guessed.  You look like ordinary flesh and mud to me.”

“I am ordinary flesh and blood,” Greta responded. “And getting tired of these tunnels.”

“Just coming to that,” Portent said, with a grin, and led them into yet another great chamber, only this one still had some furniture, a stone table and stone chairs, and a big stone ring waiting for a cooking fire.

“How far do these tunnels go on?” Alesander wondered.

“Through the whole mountain.  We are half-way to the northeast door at the foot of the ogre’s pass.”

“You mean a real ogre,” Briana said.  It did not sound like a question.

Portent nodded.  “They used to charge a fee to go through,” he said, while the other dwarves and dwarf women magically found some lumber and started a fire.  No one saw where the food came from, but it soon smelled wonderful.

“It is mostly not magic,” Mavis explained to Hermes. “It is the design and ventilation that draws the smoke away from the chamber and into deep chimneys.”

Bogus explained to Vedix.  “It is pixies and Hobgoblins and such who live near the surface. They play the middle men between the light elves and dark.  Now, light elves prefer to work in simples, like wood and cloth.  Dark elves, what some call goblins dig deep, far below the scratches men put into the earth, and even below what the dwarves normally dig. Hobgobs make a good living keeping light elves and goblins on edge with each other, but dwarves, now they keep to themselves.  They hold on to their homes and mind their own business, mostly.”  He shrugged.  “But the concern is most times dwarves abandon their homes because they dug something up that isn’t so nice.  Goblins deal with that mostly, though they got a sense about it and know when to leave certain places alone.  Dwarves got no sense and sometimes don’t leave enough ceiling to keep it from collapsing.”

Briana took Nudd’s hand and made him let go of Greta’s cloak.  “You can open your eyes now,” she told him.  He blinked a few times, but mostly he did not want to see.

The food got ready at the same time they heard another boom.  It sounded very loud, but the roof of that cavern seemed solid enough.  Then there was another boom, and another, and every eye looked at Greta to explain.

“If they arrived in a troop shuttle or transport, there may be as many as a hundred Wolv, and they would have access to several smaller vehicles, like fighter-bombers.”  They did not understand, so she simplified it as much as she could.  “They can fly in a machine and shoot explosives at the rock and fire bigger and stronger heat rays than these little pistols you carry.  If they don’t break open the door, they could melt it.”

“Melt the rock?” Lucius had to think about that.

“One way or another they will get in, and soon,” Greta said.

“And we must be moving.”  Portent did not sound like he liked that idea.  “Eat up,” he hollered, while his fellow dwarves extinguished the fire.

A good hour, they heard a distant howl in the echo of the caves.  Only Mavis heard anything earlier with her good elf ears.  Portent stopped to sniff the air and announced that the Wolv had indeed gotten in, but they were a long way off.  Everyone wanted to panic, but held tight to their courage, until they heard a roar behind them, between them and the Wolv.  The roar sounded much deeper and more earth-shattering than any Wolv roar.

“Bogie beast, or worse,” Bogus mumbled, as Portent started to run.  Everyone else raced after him.  A couple of runners tried to pass him.

After an hour, they all huffed and puffed, and stopped in a grand hall where two dozen more dwarves were waiting patiently for Portent and his crew.  Mavis shivered, and her feet kept stomping, like she had not finished running, but Hermes stood right there to comfort her.  He turned her to poor Stinky who sweated and stunk up the whole place like only a mule can do.  Mavis hugged the mule in sympathy.

Alesander and Briana had their swords drawn and stared into the dark passage they just exited.  Lucius stood there to back them up, but he only fingered the hilt of his sword, like a man waiting to see the whites of his enemy’s eyes.  Nudd kept clinging to Greta’s cloak, his eyes closed and weeping.  Bogus once again explained to Vedix as the two huffed and puffed for air.

“Of course, after two thousand years or more, other things, dark things that avoid the light, tend to find their way in to abandoned Dwarf homes and set up housekeeping.”

“But what was that?” Vedix asked.  Bogus just shook his head since Portent started yelling.

“Ring around the May pole, make a right, sweet merry-go-round.”

The dwarves made a circle around the room and began a soft chant.  The chant rose in volume until it became a shout and something ghostly, like a wraith moving fast in the night, shot off down the ten corridors that emptied into the room.

“Our scent and signs of our passage will be found down each of these halls and tunnels.  Some go to living quarters, some to mining operations.  Four go to outside doors from this antechamber.  We take the second tunnel, to the northeast door that lets out at the foot of the mountains below the ogre’s pass.”

“But how will we get through the pass?” Hermes wondered.

“We won’t have to,” Greta said.  “We traveled to the other side of the mountain in a day.”

“Quite right,” Portent said.  “And we best move before we hear more roars in the distance.”

It still took an hour or more to the door, and then they had to wait another hour while Portent sent dwarves to the portholes and spy nooks to be sure nothing lurked just outside.  Once they opened the door, a string of wraith-like ghosts sped off in every direction.

“The scent and signs will give out in a mile or so, but at least if your enemies make it to this spot it will make them pause to decide which way you actually went.”

“Thank you, Portent.  Thanks to all of you,” Greta said, and waved and smiled for her dwarves.  They smiled back, but clearly, they had their own path to go.

“I think maybe the Roman side of the Alps.  I hear there are rich veins waiting to be discovered.”

“There is gold in them thar hills,” Greta said, and she took her people into the woods that covered the foothills on the north side of the Carpathian Mountains.  They walked for several miles, until dusk, and then had a cold supper before bed since they were not willing to light a fire.

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

MONDAY

Now on the trail, the next direction is to go through the forest of fire.  See you Monday.

*

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 2 of 3

Hermes grabbed Stinky’s reigns with one hand and Mavis with his other hand and backed them away from that spot.  Nudd awkwardly drew his sword, and no doubt would have foolishly charged the Wolv, but Bogus had the good sense to magically glue the boy’s feet to the ground.  Alesander, Lucius and Briana remembered their shields and drew their guns as the Wolv came bounding out of the trees on all fours.

It paused and sniffed, then it stood on its back legs and pulled its own weapon.  It opened its mouth and began to drool.

“Ready,” Greta said with as calm a voice as she could muster.  “Aim.” She was not especially good in panic situations.  “Fire.”

Briana and Alesander fired together.  Lucius seemed a second slow.  The Wolv returned fire, but one weapon had little effect on the shield wearing humans, while their three weapons together caused the Wolv shield to glow orange, then red, and then with a great crackle, burn out altogether.  The Wolv wrist burned badly, its chest caught fire and one leg looked burned to the bone. With a great howl, the Wolv returned to all fours and bounded back into the woods.

Alesander, Briana, and Vedix, now that he turned around and had others at his back, all started after the Wolv.  They stopped short when Greta screamed, “Stop!  You don’t follow a wounded Wolv into the trees. What, are you crazy?  We need to move on while we can.”  And she started down the side of the ridge into the valley of the winds.  The others followed, but they were not even fully down the hill before they heard great howls, barks, and yip-yips coming from the trees and the wounded Wolv.

“They have our location pinpointed.”  Greta continued to yell, this time against the wind. “They are expecting us to head for the pass.  We are going to have to climb the rumbling ridge and try to get to the ledge.   The only way we will get clear to the north side of the mountains is to go around their traps.”

“I don’t recommend it,” Alesander said.

“It is the only way,” Greta repeated, as she tried to hurry everyone along.

“Oh, I know that.  I just don’t recommend it,” Alesander also repeated himself, as he and Briana stepped to the front to lead the way.

Bogus finished yelling at Nudd.  “You are not supposed to get yourself killed as soon as possible.”  He went out to the wing, in the direction of the pass.  Vedix tended to stay closer to the group and clearly did not like the continuing howls and yips coming from the ridge.

Greta counted it an act of grace and mercy that they reached the boulder-covered ridge on the other side of the valley without incident.  There, they heard a pack of Wolv not far from their heels.

Hermes, Vedix and Mavis all struggled to find footing for the mule and dragged the beast from boulder to boulder.  Briana followed Alesander.  Nudd followed Bogus who kept yelling at him to be careful. Greta found herself behind Lucius, and did her best not to panic when the Wolv reached the spot beneath them.

The climb proved slow and laborious, but fortunately, the Wolv were even more poorly designed to make the climb, and had to move more slowly.  Stones regularly came loose in their hands and by their feet.  The ones above tried not to crush the ones following them, though everyone hoped they might knock a Wolv, even if by accident.

By luck, a little elf magic, and because Stinky decided to be afraid of the Wolv; Hermes, Vedix, Mavis and the mule got to the ledge first.  Alesander and Briana were not far behind.  Bogus and Nudd were slower, even with Bogus helping Nudd in ways Nudd was not aware.  Lucius topped the ridge, but his foot slipped, either by accident or on purpose, and that whole section of the ridge began to avalanche.  Greta screamed, but Nudd reached out and grabbed her hand. He pulled her to the side, to safety, as she watched the avalanche strike the Wolv.  She had not counted them, but she determined at least two had to be as good as dead.

“They are on the ledge, coming from the pass,” Alesander yelled as Greta hauled herself to safety.

“Damn.”  Greta could hear them roaring and coming on fast.  She looked at the others and saw a strange little man gleefully watching the collapse of that portion of the ridge.  She did not hesitate to take advantage of the situation. “Portent.  We need to escape the Wolv.  Quickly, open the way to Movan Mountain.”

The little man gave Greta the strangest look before he offered a bow and waved his hand to the wall of rock.  They found an opening no one noticed before, and the man spoke, “This way.”  The people saw the Wolv climbing again, and heard the others just around a corner on the ledge, so they ran into the dim light of the cave.  One moment they could see well enough to move into the dark, the next minute they heard a slam, like a big, stone door closing, and they stood in absolute darkness.

###

“Not funny Portent,” Greta said, softly.  “We need some light.”

“Just getting to that,” the word came back, and three torches flared at once.

They found themselves in a big cavern with a vaulted ceiling that rose into the dark, beyond the torchlight.  There were six dwarfs present besides Portent which added up to three males, two females, though the humans could hardly tell the difference, and two children.  Mavis made a fairy light, a floating globe of light which she let rise up above the group to give more general light.  To be fair, only Nudd screamed, and only once, even if a few others clearly looked uncomfortable.

“I was told to fetch you, that you would need our help,” Portent said.  “Though I must say, I have never been asked to help human flesh and mud before.  I suppose the light elf and the other, breed though he be, but mortal humans seems strange.”

“What about the Wolv?” Alesander asked, but Greta hushed him.

“Who told you to help us?” she asked.

“Mithras.  Didn’t you know?”

“Mithrasis?”

“No.”  Portent shook his head.  “Not that woman.  She doesn’t ask.  She has a bad attitude.  No, Mithras himself, stuck as he is in the place of the unknown.”

Greta breathed and Alesander tried again. “What about the Wolv?”

A dwarf woman whispered in Portent’s ear and his eyes got big for a moment as he turned to Briana.  “Well, well. An elect.  I haven’t seen one of your kind since, well, since I’ve never seen an elect before. You are very rare, you know, one-in-a-million.  Some say there are not more than a hundred elect in the whole world.”

Briana spoke with Alesander this time.  “What about the Wolv?”

“Oh, they won’t get in here.  Nasty brutes, those.  Still, I suppose we better get moving on.”  Portent and all the dwarfs with him turned and began to walk away. The others followed, but Nudd had some questions, now that he got reminded of the Wolv, and now that he settled in his mind that these were just little people and not dwarves at all.

“Lady, I don’t understand.  How could animals be smart enough to set traps.”  He evidently heard what she said, but his mind could not process it.

“Because the Wolv are not animals.  They are not wolves like we have in the mountains and the forest.  They are Wolv, a people who just look something like wolves, and they are smart and talk in their own language and they are clever, very clever, and hungry all the time as far as I can tell.”

“Are they like man-wolves?  I heard tell that back in the days when we were hidden from the Dacians and Romans they had a man-wolf near the Bear Clan.  I heard he was a person most of the time, but he became a wolf under the full moon.”

“No, Nudd,” Greta said gently, as they paused to get Stinky through a rough spot in the path.  “Liam was a good man before he caught the wolf disease.  It drove him mad, so he could not help the terrible things he did, but he stayed mostly a man and as you say, he only became the werewolf under the full moon.  These Wolv are Wolv all the time, and they are smart and clever and very capable warriors. This is not a good time for them if they should invade.  I believe the Roman legions and the armies of the Han would give them a good fight. But these are not invaders.  I think these came here by accident and have fallen under the sway of Mithrasis.  Our only real hope is for them to lose the scent.”

Everyone paused as they heard a great boom in the distance.  “Explosives,” Greta said.  “They are trying to blow a hole in your door.”  The sound echoed through the halls, caverns, and tunnels underground. Dust and pebbles fell from overhead.

R6 Greta: The Quest, part 2 of 3

“Hobknot.”  Greta called him and gently compelled him to come to be sure he did not run away and hide for the next fifty years.  “You are also the eldest,” she said.  “And a little one with a good, sensible brain.  Use it.  I expect you to think clearly if the way gets muddled, and speak sense, even if the way appears nonsense.”  Greta took off the ring of Avalon.  It had the seal of the Kairos.  She put it on Hobknot’s thumb and it fitted itself snugly there so it would not come off. “I am trusting you to speak in my name. Just make sure it would be words I would actually say.  I want you helped, not hindered along the way.”

“Hear that, all of you?” Hobknot said, proudly. “My lady says you got to listen now when I talk sense.  I speak for the lady.”

“Fae.”  She called her over.  “Don’t let it go to his head.”

“Never worry,” Fae said.  “If his head swells up, I’ll just knock him down and sit on him until the swelling goes away, I will.”

“Listen everyone,” Greta said.  “Don’t forget Fae knows truth from lies.  Listen to her carefully, especially when she warns that someone is lying.”

“I wish I was there when the messenger came,” Fae said. Greta agreed.

“Fae, dear.  I made a small bag for you.  It has salves, physics, bandages and potions in it.  Everything is labeled, and since you served your people for seventy years as their druid, I know that you know the good they may do.”

“Thanks, my lady,” Fae said, as Greta fitted the bag over her shoulder.

“I do not know your future,” she told her.  “I don’t know what all you will face.  I had to guess what you might need.  There are no miracles in the bag.”  Greta felt very inadequate.

“Quite all right, Lady.”  Fae answered graciously.  “You would think after all of those years I would have thought of this for myself, but I didn’t.  So, you see? I had nothing, but now I have everything.”

“Hans.”  She made him repeat his three words again.

“But what do they mean?”  Hans asked.

“Stop.  Do no harm. Friend.”  Greta told him.  “They are Agdaline words.  Very hard for the human tongue.”  Greta paused to look at the fading stars above.  She supposed they did not need to know who the Agdaline were, nor that those strange people never expected their little pets to get loose, get big, and go wild. She spoke again.  “They are Dragon-speak,” she said.  “They are in the ancient tongue to which all dragons are bound to obey,” she said, hopefully.  Sometimes when dragons went wild, they got mighty slow in the obedience department. Still, it had been bred into the beasts. It was genetic, and even if they only paused on hearing the words, it might be enough time to let the quest get to safety.

Hans said the words once more and Greta felt satisfied that he said them well enough.  Agdaline was not easy.  Then she gave Hans a gift.

“Here,” she said.  “Take good care of it.  It is the sword of Avalon.”

“You have more than one sword?”  Hans looked surprised, though when he thought about it, he decided he should not have been surprised.

“I have had several,” Greta said.  “My very first got broken when Sekhmet took it and started to wipe out every living thing in Egypt.  Then I lost one up the nose of the wolf.”

“The wolf?” Berry asked.  She slid closer to Hans.

“Fenrus.”  Greta nodded like no big deal.  “Loki’s son. Then there is Wyrd, and Salvation, swords that you know.  This one is special.  It usually hangs over the fireplace at home and has not been used very much since the days of Alexander the Great.”

“Why is it special?”  Fae asked.

“It was made by little ones, not actually by the gods, but under contract, if you know what I mean.  The same crew that made Thor’s hammer.”

“Does it have a name?” Hans asked.

Greta nodded again.  “Excalibur,” she named it.

Hans drew it out and even in the dim light of the dawn, it glowed and glistened, almost as if it had a fire of its’ own.  “Wow.”

“Don’t cut yourself,” Greta intoned.

“We must go,” Berry said, stepped up and took Greta’s hands.  Berry had become a strikingly beautiful human woman.

“You are very young,” Greta said.  “As is Hans.”

“Older than you when you stepped into the haunted forest,” Berry reminded her.

“Yes, but I had encouragement and help that you do not have.  I am only twenty-two even now, but in a special way, I may be the oldest person presently on this earth.  You, on the other hand, have only your hope, faith, and wits to guide you.”

“We will find him,” Berry said and squeezed Greta’s hands.  She firmly believed what she said.

“And I believe you too.”  Greta smiled for her.  “But here, let me give you my heart.”  Greta wore a small, Celtic cross on a simple gold chain.  She had two made four years earlier in anticipation. Vasen, the old priest of Odin never took his off, and now she gave hers to Berry.  “Let my God be your God.  Look to the source to guide you and be your shield.  He is an ever-present help in time of trouble.”  Berry placed it around her own neck and then hugged Greta.

“I love you Mother,” Berry said.

“Oh look,” Greta interrupted and placed Berry’s hand on her tummy.  “Little Marta is saying good luck.”

“I feel her moving,” Berry said with delight. Her eyes went straight to Hans. He did not catch it, but then everyone crowded in close.

“Tight in there,” Greta said.  “Not much room to move around.”  Greta looked once more at the four.  “Go on,” she said, “before I change my mind.”  She turned without looking again and went into the inn to rest. Alesander sat waiting for her there, and Darius sat with him.  She had not told Darius, but somehow, he found out.  He always did.

“Will Berry be all right?” he asked.  He had become like a father to her, and Greta smiled because she knew he would be a good father to all of their children.

“I pray that she will,” Greta said.  “But who can know the future.  It isn’t written yet, more or less.”

Darius hugged her and they kissed and hugged some more while Greta’s eyes caught sight of a Celt who walked straight up to the Dacian innkeeper.  The Celt held out his hand and the innkeeper grasped it in a strange handshake while the Celt said, “Pater.”  Greta knew they were Mithraites, members of that ultra-secretive cult, and something in her heart turned cold, but then Darius finished with his hug.

“And you.”  He stared into her eyes and his eyes were dancing with joy.  “You should not be running off this close to delivery. I worry about our son.”

“Daughter,” Greta said, and tried to shake the image of coldness from her heart.  “And there is another month yet, at least.”

“And how is my son today.’  Darius spoke to the baby.

“Daughter, Marta,” Greta said.

“Son, Marcus,” Darius said, and Greta let him have the last word because she knew a month or so later she would have a little girl, and she did.

R6 Greta: The Quest, part 1 of 3

Only four years married, and Greta already started sneaking away from the house in the dark.  Her husband Darius, the roman governor of the province of Dacia would go looking for her, but by the time he found her, she should be finished with her task and on the road home.  Greta pulled the hood of her cloak over her face.  She was the woman of the ways for the Dacians, called a druid among the Celts, and the wise woman of Dacia for the Romans as declared by Marcus Aurelius himself. It was a triple whammy which meant she could not hide in a crowd, any crowd.  But this task felt important, so she covered herself as well as she could with her red cloak and hood, and tried to go unseen through the early hours before dawn.  She feared Darius might try to stop the others if he found out what they were planning. He would certainly try to stop Greta if she had any thoughts about going with them.

Greta had no such thoughts.  She just entered her eighth month with child number two.  A daughter to go with her son.  She smiled about that the whole way, and to her credit, she only once thought the others could have timed things better.  She also tried concentrating on what was to come as her faithful Centurion Alesander led the ox cart along the new forest road. He would follow her to hell if that was where she was going.

They arrived late in the afternoon at the Celtic village of the Bear Clan.  Greta rested at Mayor Baran’s house, as was her custom.  Several men came to pay their respects, but Baran’s wife turned the rest away.  The woman knew full well what the eighth month could be like.

In the wee hours before dawn, Greta got up and went out to the new stables beside the new inn.  The Dacian who ran the place made a home brewed ale which seemed very popular with his Gaelic patrons.  This was a good thing, Greta thought.  Dacians, Celts, and Romans needed to mingle and not be so divided.

She made herself as comfortable as she could on a small stool.  She waited, but she did not have to wait long.  She heard a bang.

“Shhh! Quiet.”  She heard a woman’s voice, one that Greta knew very well.

“Oh shush yourself, you old biddy,” the response came out of the dark.

“Old goat,” the woman came right back.  “I hope that was your head and it knocked some sense into you.”

“It was my toe,” the man responded.  “And if it wasn’t hurting I would use it to kick your butt.”

“Quiet, both of you,” a young woman spoke.  “If you two don’t stop making love we’ll never get anywhere.”  She called it right, and Greta heard a young man laugh.

“Ahem!”  Greta cleared her throat.  “Over here,” she said.  She just turned twenty-two, a young mother in her prime.  She could have easily gone to them, eighth month or not, but why?  Let them find her.  “Over here,” she repeated.  They knew her voice, too.

Berry and Fae were the first to come out of the shadows.  They came timidly, holding hands as sisters should.  The odd thing was no one looking at them would imagine they were sisters, much less twins.  Berry looked to be seventeen, and though fully human, she still reflected the beauty of the fairy blood she once bore.  Fae now had all of the fairy blood, the inheritance of their half-blood father, which made her much smaller, but a fine-looking dwarf woman in her way, and a bit of an imp besides, a match for Hobknot, the grumpy old hobgoblin of the hardwood.  She was seventy years old.  They both were, but that is a very long story.

Hans and Hobknot came behind with Hobknot’s mouth running.  “I told you it was no good sneaking off.”

“And I told you I was not going without saying goodbye to my sister,” Hans said.  “But I was not worried.  I knew I would see her.”

“Oh, you did?”  Greta got up slowly.  “Hansel.” She reached out and Hans came quickly to help her to her feet.  She hugged him and whispered three words in his ear.  She made him repeat the words over and over until he could say them perfectly.  Meanwhile, she hugged all of the others, including Hobknot who turned a perfect red and covered his face with his hands in case she thought of giving him a kiss.

“So, where is your father?” Greta asked Fae and Berry.

“She knows,” Berry said with surprise.

“Of course she knows,” Fae said with certainty.

“From the dragon village we go north.”  Berry spoke as if repeating a lesson.  “We must go over the Toothless Mountain and beyond the Way of the Winds.  Through the pass called the Ogre’s Jaw which is the only way through the Rumbling Ridge. Down the other side, we go through the Forest of Fire and pass the Lake of Gold which must be on our left hand. We must go through the Swamp of Sorrows until we reach the river called Heartbreak.  From there we travel down the river beyond the Giant Rock and the Troll’s Eyes until we see the Mouth of the Dragon.  The Mouth will take us under the Heart of the Goddess by the Road of Dreams and at last, at the end of the road, we will find the Broken Dome of the Ancient Master.  It is there that a secret door leads to the Land of the Lost, and our father is there, still living among the lost.

“North over the Transylvanian Alps and plateau to the Ukraine.  How far, then?  To Kiev? All the way to Moscva?” Greta translated.  “Sounds exciting, and complicated,” she said.  “You will remember all that?”

“Oh, yes, Mother Greta.  I will not forget,” Berry said.

“We will remember,” Fae insisted.  “We seek our father’s blessing on our marriages.”

“You and Hobknot,” Greta teased, and Hobknot spun around several times in embarrassment before he settled on a spot with his back to them all.  He turned scarlet.

“You didn’t have to tell her that part,” Hobknot protested.  “Make me sound like a love-sick puppy.”

“But you are.”  Fae, Berry and Hans all said more or less the same thing in near unison and then laughed.

R6 Festuscato: 9 For Peace, part 3 of 3

They arrived in the woods and held the men back so the chiefs and lords could get a good look.  Saxons covered the grass below the fort, looking as numerous as the blades of grass themselves.  Festuscato wondered how Pinewood came up with the number of five thousand, unless he counted everyone.  It mostly looked like a lot, and several men whistled softly at the sight.  It looked for the moment that the Saxons were stymied by Cadbury Hill.  They had to overcome the three or four terraces that ran all the way around the hill before they could get to the fort itself.  Presently they had no easy way up, but the Saxons had catapults and slings so it would only be a matter of time before the wall came tumbling down.

Festuscato grabbed a handful of grass and let it fall. He felt the wind in his face, and it felt strong, but he knew in Somerset it could be changeable.  He looked at the grass which felt dry, perhaps dangerously dry, and tall where it still stood despite the Saxon footprint. As far as Festuscato knew, it had not rained in the three weeks since he had been back on the island.  He called to his little ones.  Yes, they could keep the wind at ground level blowing in the right direction and could easily set fire to the grass.  He explained what he wanted them to do, and then divided his men.

He had five hundred horse and added five hundred foot men to the count.  He sent them through the trees to the head of the open fields.  Their job would be to prevent any Saxons from escaping, especially horsemen.  The other fifteen hundred men had bows, or prepared themselves with long spears to protect the bowmen.  When things started, they would happen fast.

“Not a very good siege to leave these woods unprotected,” Mirowen commented.

“It isn’t a siege,” Festuscato said.  “They figure the Welsh are busy fighting the Irish, and York and North Britain are too far away to bother, and even if York sends some men, they still have the advantage in numbers.  Obviously, they have their men concentrated in these fields because they have brought the necessary equipment to smash down the walls. Once that onager, that primitive trebuchet makes a big enough hole in the wall, a concentrated charge with massive numbers of men will get the Saxons inside well enough.”

“And now?” Dibs asked.  He knew what an onager was.

“Now I want the siege engines burned along with as many Saxons as possible.  I expect the Saxons to try and escape out from the line of fire.  So we have a thousand men, half on horseback to hunt them down.  I expect most to make for these woods, and we might not survive such an attack, but we should take most of them with us, and the ones who break through will find Dumdiddle and his dwarfs waiting.  I expect some will try to jump the line of fire, but they won’t live long.”  He did not repeat the part about their not surviving, and no one asked, so he gave the signal to begin.

A long line of fire rose up on the other side of the fields and started to move across the field like disciplined soldiers on parade. The Saxons fought the flames, but fire sprites kept it burning and the wind stayed relentless, blowing smoke in the Saxon faces.  When the fighting got fierce on the edge of the woods with all those Saxons that slowly decided to try to escape, Festuscato got word that Constantine and Cador of Cornwall were ready to come out of the fort and attack the Saxons head-on if Festuscato could stop the moving fire.  He did, and sent word to his foot soldiers on the end of the fields to hit the Saxons from behind when those Saxons turned to fight off the men from the fort.  The elves stayed behind the fire line, so any Saxons who tried to jump the fire would be picked off.   Festuscato brought up his dwarfs to hold the trees while he organized a charge of his own.

When the men with the dragon tunics and the men with the lion of Cornwall tunics poured from the fort, the Saxons turned to meet the threat, as expected   The fire hemmed them in, but there remained plenty of room to fight.  When the five hundred fell on the Saxon rear, the Saxons were shaken. When Festuscato lead a thousand men from the woods to hit the Saxon flank and push the enemy into the fire, the Saxon resistance fell apart.  Some tried to force past the five hundred and escape south, back to Sussex, but the Welsh and British horsemen tracked them and caught many.  Others still found the woods their best bet, if they could make it past the dwarfs.  Not many escaped, but some did.  When the Saxons found enemies pressing in on every side, one great line of Saxons jumped the fire at once with the plan to make for the far woods and turn south under cover.  Some got passed the elfish archers, but only by sheer numbers, and they got tracked by Pinewood and his fairies in the late afternoon, and the goblins and trolls after dark.

Only dribs and drabs of Saxons returned to Saxon lands tell the tales, and they were tales to frighten the children, tales of the Roman and his sorcery, of elfin magic and demon terrors in the night. One tale that made it back to Saxony on the continent, and from there up into Danish lands and across the water to the Swedes and Geats was the tale of miraculous dwarfish armor, magical, made with such skill and cunning no sword or ax could break it.  In truth, six dwarfs caught sixty Saxons trying to escape through a gully near the fort.  Six Saxons survived and four made it home alive.  Of course, the tale got stretched, in a literal sense, and expanded until the chain of armor came with a whole trove of cursed treasure, but that came later.  In the near term, the chain of Weland showed up again, but that is a different story.

In truth, Luckless found his Uncle Weland in a pool of blood.  The unbroken chain did not protect everything.  Weland was missing a hand and a foot and leaking from innumerable cuts around his face and neck.  “The jinx of the family,” he breathed out his recognition of his nephew.  “Make your way well in the world.  I never believed in that unlucky stuff.  Here, take the chain.  It may protect you and bring you luck.”  That was all he said when he died, and Luckless cried in the night and said his Uncle was the only one who ever believed in him, and what was he going to do now?

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MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 10 Londugnum:  After the battle is cleaned up, and the people of Britain, Wales, and Cornwall are convinced that this Pendragon idea might work after all, Festuscato and his crew escape to London…and then, from London.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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R6 Festuscato: 9 For Peace, part 1 of 3

Festuscato stood on the small hill where he could look out over the activity around Caerdyf.  The wall around the village looked unfinished and the village looked burned and smoldering.  The walls of the fort looked to be holding, but even with every man from the village added, there could not have been more than three hundred human defenders. Luckily, Hywel from Caerleon got there first with two hundred additional men, and Festuscato sent Pinewood and a hundred fairy archers to help.  That put six hundred against some two thousand wild Irishmen under Sean Fen.

Leinster must have sent his whole army.  Sean Fen must have convinced him that now would be the time to strike, with the dragon in Ireland with Patrick.  Festuscato understood well enough.  Caerdyf represented a strong Wales shutting the door against the Irish.  If they could tear down the fort, they could keep the Welsh weak and Wales easy pickings. Sean Fen, the pirate wanted easy pickings, but overall, the Irish benefited from keeping the Welsh weak. It could not have been a hard argument to make.  Sadly, six hundred against over two thousand did not make good odds, even if the six hundred were behind stout walls.

“Addaon.”  Festuscato called the young man to the front.  Dyrnwch stayed with his men as did Bryn.  They had four hundred men from the midlands and three hundred more from the north under Ogryvan.  Roughly another four hundred came from the coasts, but they were mostly disorganized and in small groups, including thirty men and monks from Branwen’s Cove.  The monks Cedrych and Madog smiled when they said they wanted to see that their horses were getting proper care.

“Sir?”  Addaon did not know what to call Festuscato.

“What do you see the Irish building there, over there on the west side of the fort?”

“That is a very long way,” Addaon said.  He squinted and stumbled when he felt a sharp slap on his back.

“Look with your fairy eyes, man,” Festuscato said. “You don’t have to play ordinary human with me.”  Addaon turned his head to stare at Festuscato, so Festuscato used his finger to point and his other hand to turn Addaon’s head to the task.  “There.  Over there. What are they building?”

“They look like towers.  I would say several, and nearly complete.”  Addaon wrenched his head free of Festuscato’s hand and spouted. “How did you know?”

“I know your sire, that disobedient son of a mother. He is a full blood fairy but with a little spark of the goddess Amonette in him so he is immortal, and I can’t get rid of him, God bless him.  He knows full well fairies are not supposed to mate with humans, but how can I punish McKraken when my own son disobeys me?”  Festuscato shook his head.

“Wait.  My father is your son?  How is that possible?  You can’t be more than a few years older than me.”  Addaon was bright.

“I’m not, and if you call me Grandad I’ll hit you. He is Danna’s son, but explaining that is a bit complicated.”

“A woman?  Danna?”

“The goddess Danna.  The Mother goddess.”

“So, I should call you Granma?”  Addaon grinned.

“You do and she will hit you, and she hits harder than I do.  All of her children and grandchildren and so on just call her Mother, and so you understand, I don’t answer to the name Mother.”

“I’m confused,” Addaon admitted.

“Lord Agitus,” Mirowen stepped up and interrupted before she inserted a note for the young man.  “Confusion is what the Lord does best.”

“What?” Festuscato kept looking back at the troops, trying to figure out how to deploy them so they didn’t trip over each other or start killing each other by accident, thinking the unfamiliar face was the enemy.

“Lord.  The wood elves and dwarfs under Weland, and the hundred fairies Pinewood left on our side of the fort have all volunteered to take down the towers on your command.”

“Hold that thought.  I want to try something else first.  For now, tell them to keep to the woods.  If the Irish try to flee the battlefield, it will be important to stop them before we end up with hundreds of wild Irishmen roaming the wilderness.”

“Lord Pyre an Nog suggested we wait until dark when he and his can sneak up on the Irish, unprepared.”  Mirowen made a face.  “He means when the Irish are unprepared.”

“No, but I imagine some Irish may try for the woods in the dusk and dark.  He and his will not lack for targets, as long as they stick to Irish targets and avoid the innocent Welsh.  Now, let me see what I can do.  What?” Festuscato appeared to be talking to himself.  Mirowen waited patiently, as did Dibs and Bran.  Addaon did not know what to think.  “But this is not a job for you.  I’m surprised you are even accessible.  You god types usually hide when it is strictly a human event.  I understand Gerraint and Greta because they are close, and maybe the princess or one of the others around the storyteller, but … No, now wait a minute.  You showed up with Patrick.  You practically took over with the wraiths.  Now you want … I don’t care if he is your grandson … oh bother.” Festuscato went away and Danna took his place.  She smiled and laid a hand on an astounded Addaon’s cheek.  Then she told him to be good for a moment.

“Talesin!” she shouted, and a fairy appeared, took one look and would have vanished again if Danna did not keep him there. “Big.”  It was all Danna had to say, and Talesin got big, and whistled, and looked at the sky.  “Your son, you naughty boy.  Where is his mother?” she asked, but the moment the question formed in her mind she knew the answer.

“He is with his mother.  Dyrnwch doesn’t know.  He went on a trading expedition and was gone sixteen months.  Poor Caru said he could not give her children.  I felt her sorrow so deeply, I could not help myself.  Really. I couldn’t help it.”

“And now you see the results of your infidelity,” Danna tapped her foot, impatiently.

“He seems a fine lad,” Talesin said with a hopeful grin.

“You see the results of you refusing to go over to the other side.”

“Mother?”

“Turn around.”

“But Mother.  People are watching.”

“Turn around,” Danna repeated herself, and Talesin reluctantly turned.

R6 Gerraint: Shaking the Earth, part 2 of 2

The horses panicked.  Many stampeded with the mules, fortunately straight at the Saxons. Many men got stepped on, and many more Saxons got stepped on as well.  The quake felt strong.  Gerraint half expected the Earth itself to split wide open in a magma chasm and explosion. He could only picture bombs by the gigaton.   He tried to estimate the time in his mind, but the quake never stopped.  It seemed forever, and all the counting of seconds in Gerraint’s head meant nothing.  He lost track.  He rolled on the ground and tried to keep his face free from slamming into any rocks. He expected giant boulders of granite to strike up through the ground at any minute.  Then finally, the quaking subsided.

Martok, a lifetime Gerraint would not live until several thousand years in the future spoke into his head, like it was his own head thinking.  “An unbelievable four hundred and thirty-two seconds, and the epicenter was west…” Martok’s voice faded because Gerraint did not have time for that.  Ten of the twelve small catapults were salvaged.  The flammable balls were fetched from wherever they rolled.  All of his horsemen were now horseless, and some had lost all their weapons in the process.  Bows and arrows were the first concern.  A strong line, three deep was established against the Saxons in case they did charge.  Men were sent back to the hill camp to fetch whatever weapons they could find.  Some men had only the knife at their belt. Gerraint set the weaponless men to carting the wounded back to the camp.  Some of the men who were stepped on by horse or mule refused to leave the battlefield, but some had broken arms or legs and had no choice.

The Saxons were slower to recover since most of Gerraint’s men were trained to battle, while most of the Saxons were not. When the first flaming ball hit the Saxon line, some of them were still just standing up. Soon enough, balls of fire started splattering everywhere in the Saxon line, and the Saxons were near panic. Even then, their commanders refused to attack.  Most of the fires could be avoided and went out when their fuel was spent, but added to the Saxon broken arms and legs, some were badly burned, and this did not raise the Saxon morale.

The Saxon line backed up, slowly, determined to hold their ground and wait for the British to attack.  Gerraint took that opening to walk down the line and repeat his orders.  “On the signal, run forward a hundred paces.  Fire three volleys into the enemy and then return here.”  He said it about ten times as he walked down the four hundred men, three deep line.  When he got good and hoarse, he stepped to the front, raised his sword and yelled, “Now!” as he lowered his sword.  The men performed well, though not without flaws.  On the third volley, there were some arrows in answer, but not many.  The Saxons looked to be having a hard time getting organized, but they were perfectly capable of backing up further toward the trees that ran right up the ridge.

Gerraint’s eyes were distracted for a moment as the three thousand or so Saxons who filled the flat gap between the two ridges turned and attacked Bedwyr.  Whoever was in charge there clearly judged Gerraint as the lesser threat, or maybe he wrote off Gerraint’s Saxons as lost.  Arthur got bogged down at the top fighting on foot against the Saxon cavalry, also on foot.  He was in no position to protect Bedwyr’s flank with his horsemen as had been the plan. Meanwhile, the influx of as many new troops as the British started with would devastate the British, whether the Saxons were fighting uphill or not.

Gerraint could not worry about that just yet.  He suddenly got a clear picture in his mind, and he imagined that earthquake must have shaken something loose in his brain. He saw Deerrunner and a host of little ones right at the edge of the trees.  All he thought was now, and the Saxons in front of him started to fall as they were pelted by arrows from behind

“Spears in the center line,” Gerraint yelled. “Bedivere.”

“Here, Lord.”  The boy stood right beside him.

“Help get what spears we have to the men in the center line.”  He ran off. “Uwaine.”

“Here.”

“You take the other side.  The men need to walk in formation and hold the formation to be effective.”  Uwaine nodded but Gerraint felt unsure if Uwaine really understood.  “Spears to the center line and point them at the enemy. Swords in the front.  Bows in the back line.”  The men took a little time getting adjusted, and Gerraint waited as patiently as he could.  Then he shouted again.  “Walk.” He heard Bedivere and then Brian and finally Uwaine repeat the word down the line.  “Walk them into the woods.  They won’t escape from the woods.”  Walk them into the woods at least got repeated.

Gerraint heard a giggle by his feet.  The Little King imagined what might be in the woods.

“Stay in formation.”  Gerraint yelled that several times and it got repeated several times. Then Gerraint mumbled, “Where’s a good Roman phalanx when you need one?”  The Little King giggled again.

The Saxons, still with twice Gerraint’s twelve hundred men, did not like the look of that formation.  Some fought, and lost.  Some of the British simply could not wait and ran out to engage individual Saxons, and sometimes won.  Many of the Saxons broke for the woods, and as promised, they did not come back out of the woods.  Some of the Saxons finally surrendered and Gerraint heard a loud “pssst!”

Lemuel the gnome stood there, and his people had gathered and calmed five hundred of Gerraint’s horses so they were ready to be ridden.  “Last one up is a rotten egg,” Gerraint yelled and mounted the nearest steed.  The cavalry of Cornwall raced to the horses, but by then the foot soldiers had come up, picked up fallen Saxon weaponry where needed, and they could easily handle the surrenders, with the help of some dwarfs and elves who should have known better than to expose themselves.

Only then did Gerraint allow himself to look at the other side of the battle.  Bedwyr’s men were being driven back to the woods.  Arthur’s men appeared to be gaining the upper hand, but looked in trouble as some of the Saxons at the back of the pack down below decided to help out their horseless cavalry.  Two things happened then that would validate history for years to come.  Over that ridge came twenty-five hundred men from the north under Kai, Loth and Captain Croyden.  They swept over Arthur’s position and slammed into the Saxons, once again gaining the upper ground for the British.  Then Gerraint called for lances even as he took an arrow in the leg. He spied the archer, and that man became a pin cushion so by the time the man fell, it was hard to see the man beneath all the arrows.  The dozen Saxon bowmen who were with him instantly discarded their bows and fell to their knees, trembling.

“Ready.”  Gerraint yelled as he reached down and broke the shaft of the arrow in his leg.  He decided he had one more shout in him. “For Arthur!”  The riders responded.  “For Arthur!”  and that charge broke the back of the Saxons for good.

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Very little quarter was given that day.  With Kai and Loth’s men added, some ninety-five hundred men fought for Arthur.  Roughly half of them would never go home, and a third of the ones who made it home, died in their beds from wounds sustained on the battlefield.  Of the twelve thousand Saxons who fought in the campaign, less than two thousand survived for any length of time.  The Saxons and Angles from East Anglia to Wessex were devastated.  Even with further immigration from the Germanies, it would be a generation before they could mount any sort of serious offensive.

After that generation, though, some enterprising Angles exploited the animosity between the Scotts and Danes and move into the wide land between the two.  That land was called Bernicia before they joined with the Saxons in Deira to form Northumbria.  The Danes stopped coming to Britain for a time, though when the Vikings started coming three hundred years later, they were surprised to find people who knew their customs and ways and who claimed to be of Danish descent.

Loth’s family moved full time to Edinburgh and ruled over many of the Scots there.  Kai’s descendants held on to Caerlisle and made a pact with some Scots in the west to form the kingdom of Rheged.  York stayed independent for a time as the Kingdom of Elmet before it became tributary to Northumbria or Mercia at one time or another.

The British Midlands became Mercia surprisingly quickly, as the Saxons finally moved out of the coastal fens and alluvium to farm the bountiful land.  Likewise, the Saxons in Wessex slowly took more and more of the west, taking Southampton, Dorset and Somerset, and finally swallowing a large chunk of Devon itself. But like the Romans, they never really went further west than the old Roman town of Exeter.  Cornwall remained proudly independent, if not entirely free. Wales also remained free of Anglo-Saxon influence for centuries.

Most of this is now in the history books, but not all. There were aftershocks from that devastating earthquake, but they only amounted to ten or fifteen seconds of mild tremors.  The damage had already been done.  On the day of the Battle of Badon Hill, Lyoness sank into the sea.  One part of the sea bed pushed up in a peninsula, but the main part of Lyoness, that great forest covered land. got swallowed by the ocean.  Her great wood-built towns and villages were broken up and floated off in every direction. The Scilly islands sank a bit more so some became too small for even a single small farm. The center of Cornwall itself pushed up with granite until it became like a spine through the land. But mostly, the people of Lyoness, including Geraint’s sister, did not survive.

Bedivere did not know about his mother when he fought on the battlefield.  He thought he was weeping only for his father, Melwas, who sustained a terrible belly wound and counted himself lucky to die in a few hours instead of lingering for days or even weeks.  Gerraint comforted the boy, as did Uwaine, even while Uwaine yelled at Gerraint for being so stupid as to get himself shot.  The Little King tended Gerraint’s wound and got the arrowhead out cleanly. He said he had done this many times for his own men, and was expert at it.

“You must keep it clean and with clean bandages,” he said.  “And it should heal without infection.”

“Yes, doctor,” Gerraint slurred his response through the alcohol anesthetic, now that his leg went completely numb, and for that matter, so was the rest of him.  He only felt able to smile when Arthur found him and yelled at him.  Then Percival did the same.  Last of all, he came face to face with Pelenor, his old master, and Pelenor lit into him.  Gerraint had only one thing to say to the man when the man paused to take a breath.

“Aren’t you getting too old for this?”  His smile broadened as Pelenor nodded.  “Because I am getting too old for this, so you must really be feeling it.”  Then Pelenor relaxed and joined Gerraint in a drink.

END

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TOMORROW

Don’t miss the preview of coming attractions…

 

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R6 Gerraint: Fort Guinnon, part 3 of 3

The Scots had plenty of archers to fire cover as men dragged up a great battering ram.  They tried to use their shields to protect themselves from overhead, but had limited success.  Arthur’s men wasted some arrows and soon turned to rocks.  They had some success with rocks.  Mostly, the fairy archers who crowded at the corners of the fort where they would not violate the orders to stay at the sides of the fighting, found a very easy shot into the side of the men on the ram.  It took some time and a hundred or more dead Scots before someone figured out to bring in a line of men with their shields held out to protect the sides.  They, of course, were then vulnerable from overhead, so it did not make the perfect solution.

The bang inside the fort sounded horrendous.  Men had to be forced to stay at their posts at the rear of the fort, because that was where the real action was going to take place.

The men at the back had three more catapults, and these dispensed with the pine and went straight to stone.  Every time a great stone hit the wall, some of the trees or a tree would chip away and that whole section of wall would shake, but the fort had been well built and would take some serious pounding.

The men at the back also had a battering ram, but the men there had much more trouble than they did out front, just getting it to the door.  Pinewood got his people to strike from the sides as soon as it rolled within range, and the men on the wall learned from the front and had big stones stockpiled by the time they arrived.

The difference between the front assault and the assault at the back seemed the numbers of men involved, and the ladders. The three towers got brought up on sleds over the mud and thin snow that covered the ground.  Pelenor confessed he had not thought of that.  And the men charged, and they had twenty-foot tall ladders, easily tall enough to reach the top.

Arthur’s men became hard pressed to keep the men and their ladders off the wall.  Some Scots broke through in a couple of places, at least temporarily.  Some made it down into the fort, but they did not last long.  Arthur had the men from the town, mostly farmers, merchants and craftsmen standing in reserve to defend their own women and children who were cowering in the Great Hall, the barn and barracks.  Kai’s young wife, Lisel, showed great courage in keeping up everyone’s spirits.  They sang hymns and spiritual songs and prayed.

Pinewood finally could not help himself.  He gathered his people on the back wall, facing the three towers.  As soon as they came within range, Pinewood sent barrage after barrage of flaming arrows into the green wood structures.  One burned and collapsed before it reached the wall. Men jumped for their lives.  One reached the wall, but it became a burning, unusable husk.  All it did was set that portion of the wall on fire.  The third reached the wall and spewed out some men, but it had also been set on fire and would not last long.  Some brave Scots climbed up the ladders and followed the first out of the tower door, but soon enough, that became impossible.  Pinewood and his fairies got small and zoomed back to their posts on the side, at the corners, only now they had to fire sometimes down into the fort itself, when they found a good target.

Gerraint waited until the main force of Scots charged. He had eight hundred men on horseback, ready.  Pelenor swore, ready to attack the Scots from the rear, but Peredur and Tristam kept him in check.  Gerraint took the three hundred footmen in their group and charged the catapults. It did not take long to end the resistance, and then he turned the Scottish catapults against their own men who got all bunched up beneath the wall, trying to scale ladders and get up the towers.

Boulder after boulder smashed into the Scotts while the majority of Gerraint’s footmen erected some quick entrenchments against footmen and possible cavalry, as the Scottish horsemen finally figured it out. They were holding back, ready to rush the gate once the gate got broken, so they had a more objective look at the whole battle.  They turned as a group, about five hundred, and prepared to rush the catapults.  They only had a second thought when they heard a resounding shout, “For Arthur!” and eight hundred lancers came pouring out of the woods.

Up front, the wood walls of the fort were in flames everywhere, and despite the years of weathering and flame retardant stains, the flames looked to be spreading.  The front wall had to be abandoned in most places.  With that, it looked certain that the Scots would break down the gate.  Kai got his men ready for the inrush of the enemy, and he rounded up as many horses as he could, not an easy task.  The horses were in a panic over the flames and smoke.  The great stables were untouched, but the barn was burning and there looked to be holes in the roof of the Great Hall where the fires got put out. When Arthur met Kai at the stables, he looked excited.

“Tristam is out back with maybe a thousand riders.”

“But I fear they may break in the front door,” Kai countered even as a fairy zoomed up to their faces with a message.

“Percival is out front.”

Kai danced for a moment before he gathered what horsemen he could.  Arthur did not dance, but he gathered his own.

Percival, having seen the smoke, charged from nearly two miles down the road.  He never stopped, sliced through the line of Scotts waiting to charge the fort once the front gate opened, trampled the Scottish archers who were drawn up originally to keep Arthur’s men pinned down on the wall but who were being picked off one by one by the fairy archers in the corners, and stopped, temporarily, when he sent the men on the battering ram running off in panic.  In fact, the whole thousand Scotsmen in the frontal attack decided that escape would be preferable to death, and ran.  Death looked certain with Percival’s arrival and no one stopped to count and see that they outnumbered the lancers three to one.

The front and back gates opened at once. Arthur and Kai rode out with more than a hundred each at their backs.  While a band of RDF rode to shut down the catapults out front and accept the surrender of whatever remained of the Scottish command group after the Elves finished with them, Kai and the rest joined Percival in driving the Scots back toward the wall, and they showed no mercy to any Scots who were slow.

Out back. the Scottish army started to withdraw, but it became a route when they saw their horsemen downed everywhere they looked.  They lost their towers, made little progress with the ladders, the gate held up to their pounding, while they were being pounded from above.  Now, with their cavalry destroyed, and Arthur and more enemies pouring out of the fort, they gave up.  Out back, it became nearly a thousand men on horseback chasing almost three thousand on foot, and they also showed no mercy on the slow.

Gerraint, meanwhile, had figured out where the Scottish commanders were.  They were on horse, at the back of their cavalry where they could keep an eye on the progress of the battle.  When Deerrunner got contacted by the fairy scout Gerraint had assigned to Percival’s traveling troop, he sent word to Bogus, lest the dwarf be upset at being left out of the fun.  Deerrunner and his elves knew it was not fun.  It was serious business, but dwarfs were strange ones.

Once Gerraint ascertained where the commanders were, he set Bogus and his dwarfs to encircle them, using whatever glamours and disguises they needed to get in close.  He did not want the Scots to get away, and became willing to use the phrase, dead or alive.  When the Scots began the withdrawal that became a route, the commanders were the first who tried to ride off and escape.  Bogus sprang into action.  Dwarf axes chopped off most of the horses at the knees, which Gerraint later called a great waste of horse flesh.  He felt less concerned about the twenty men who died to those same dwarf axes, and actually felt pleased with the five that the dwarfs let surrender.  He never knew how dead or alive might be interpreted, but he suspected goblins and ogres and trolls would rather interpret that as dead.

When Ederyn and his foot soldiers showed up around four that afternoon, he set his men immediately to help put out any remaining fires, check on the survivors, and in small groups, scour the immediate countryside for any lingering Scots.  Arthur, Kai, Percival, Tristam, Bedwyr, Pelenor and Peredur would not return until the following evening.  When they did, they found everything in as good an order as possible, and Gerraint and Ederyn had almost a hundred prisoners, including the leaders of the Scots. Fort Guinnon had sufficiently burned to where Arthur suggested tearing it down and starting over.  Kai agreed, and then he found Lisel among the dead. Three Scots broke into the Great Hall, and she stood in the way so the women and children behind her could escape into the back rooms and out the back door.

Arthur considered several ways of dealing with the prisoners, but in the end, he left that decision in Kai’s hands, knowing full well what Kai would do.  Kai had them hung and left on the one standing wall of the fort, the wall that faced north, and the Scots stayed there for weeks for any Scots who might be tempted to know what happened to their commanders.  Then he said he was going to build a true Caer, like Caerleon, big enough to hold a whole legion.  And he was going to build it out of stone, not like the wooden disaster the Saxon pirate Hueil built at Cambuslang.  He went to a growing port on the bay made by the Clyde river, and he thought he might name the Caer after his wife.  That building would take him the rest of his life.

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MONDAY

A misunderstanding with the Saxons need to be settled before the challenge of meeting the Scots and Danes, who appear to be working together.  Until then, Happy Reading

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R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 1 of 3

After lunch on a Thursday, Percival took Uwaine, Gawain, Bohort and his brother Lionel up the road to the port to check on the little fleet Thomas had assembled in case things went badly and Arthur needed a quick getaway.  They would spend the night in an inn and probably talk into the wee hours since they had a lot of stories and catching up to do.

Arthur took Gerraint across the road just before dark and dragged him into the woods.  Gerraint felt obliged to say he did not think it a good idea, but then he closed his mouth; because like Arthur, he had been anxious to see this mysterious lake ever since he first heard about it.  Neither felt the need for troops, because like the forest of Bringloren, the land around the lake had a reputation for ghosts and other bump-in-the-night things.  People avoided the lake, but for Arthur and Gerraint, that only made the pull that much stronger.

With the sun set, the moon came out and so did the owls. The forest did have a haunted feel to it, especially with the mist from the snow that looked to be finally giving up to the spring rains and warmer weather.  Neither talked, because the forest seemed to require silence and who knew what might be attracted by the sound?  When they saw the lake, it appeared shimmering, calm and crystal clear under the moon and stars.  The waters looked perfectly tranquil and serene, but somewhere out in the middle of all that splendor, there appeared to be an island, and on top of the island, they saw the first genuine stone castle in Europe.  The stones themselves glistened like the water in the moonlight and spoke of great mysteries beyond the gate.

Arthur and Gerraint found an enormous oak standing between them and a full view of the lake.  Arthur stepped around one side.  Gerraint stepped around the other, and he immediately noticed Arthur vanished. He called softly, “Arthur.”  He heard no response.  He turned toward the big, old oak, except it vanished.  Only a few saplings stood where the old tree should have been.  Gerraint raised his voice a little.  “Arthur.” No response.  He imagined that he must have been transported, somehow, away from the big tree, but when he checked his view of the lake, and especially his view of the distant castle, everything seemed the same.   He yelled, “Arthur!” and startled several things in the upper branches of the trees, birds and small animals, he hoped.  He took a couple of steps in the soft leaves and found himself getting dizzy.  Swamp gas, he thought, as he fell to the leaves, fast asleep.  His last thought was to wonder if Enid would have to come and find him and kiss him to wake him up.

A woman appeared and bent down to touch Gerraint’s cheek.  A host of little ones and lesser spirits along with the Naiad of the lake and the Dryad of the oak appeared with her.  “If he is the man of honor you say, he is not going to like this,” the woman said, but she duplicated some of the things the little ones willingly gave her and placed them gently in Gerraint’s heart.  Then the host vanished, all but one young man, and the woman stood back while Gerraint woke.

“What?  What happened?  Arthur!”

“Hush,” the woman said.  “Let the sleeper sleep.”

Gerraint stood up to get a good look at his visitors. The young man looked like a big one, about Gerraint’s size, and looked strong and well made.  He appeared dressed in armor that could only have been crafted by dwarfs, and the sword at his side had something of the dark elves about it.  All of this got taken in with one glance, since the woman took all of his attention. She looked far too beautiful for an ordinary mortal, and what is more, he saw something very familiar about her. It came to Gerraint after a moment, and what came out of his mouth even startled him.

“Rhiannon, what are you doing here?  You naughty girl.”

The young man reached for his sword.  “How dare you speak to the Lady Nimue in such a manner.  Apologize, or I will make you apologize.”

“Wait,” the Lady said.  “I think I may be in trouble.”  Gerraint had his hands to his hips and frowned.  The Lady Nimue was in fact the goddess Rhiannon, one of the multitude of ancient gods of the Celts.  “Mother?” she said.  And Gerraint indeed went away so Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts, could come to stand in his place.  Her hands were still on her hips and the frown still on her face.

The young man fell to his knees and looked down as Danna scolded her many times great-granddaughter.  “The time of dissolution came and went centuries ago. You should be over on the other side with your brothers and sisters.  What are you doing here?”

Rhiannon looked down humbly at her feet.  “I did not realize it was you, but Mother, I still have work to do.  I still have this young man, Lancelot, whom I have raised, and I am certain there will be another in a breath of years from now.  I feel there may even be one more after, and I have a part to play in the days of Arthur the King, though it is not fully known to me yet.”

Danna tapped her foot and paused before she reached out to hug her daughter.  “If you still have work to do, I will not interfere.  But Rhiannon, all of the others have gone.  I will worry about you being so alone.”

“Not all,” Rhiannon hedged.

“Yes, I know the stubborn offspring of Lyr and Pendaron is around.  He keeps telling me soon, but his is not an example to follow.”  Rhiannon shut her mouth.  “What?” Danna wondered as she took a step back.  “But Talesin does not count,” Danna said.  “That unfortunate offspring of a fee may be immortal, but he is mostly fairy by blood.”  She interpreted Rhiannon’s silence correctly, but could think of no others, and Rhiannon would not say.  Instead, she changed the subject.

“Oh, but Mother.  Your fee and dwarfs and elves dark and light prevailed on me to gift your young man.  They said like Althea of old watched over Herakles, so the Lion of Cornwall would have to watch over Arthur.  I should have guessed it was you.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

Danna went back to frowning and tapping her foot gently.  “What did you give him?”

“Only things your little ones freely offered. They said he was one human worthy of such gifts.  They said they were afraid for him because a terrible man with great power had evil plans for the future.  I’m sorry. I didn’t know.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

“Rhiannon, Rhiannon,” Danna said, and she left so Gerraint could return and finish the sentence.  “What am I going to do with you, you naughty girl?”  He stepped up and kissed the goddess on the cheek before she could stop him, and then spoke to her again.  “Please try to be more careful in the future.  You need to not be such a patsy for every sad and pleading face.”

Rhiannon dropped her eyes again.  “I know.  I will do better.”

“I know you will do better,” Gerraint said, and he added, “Soon,” with a smile. Rhiannon returned the smile before she vanished.