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.

R5 Gerraint: Picts and Pirates, part 2 of 3

One time, Uwaine got kidnapped and all of their equipment taken by a Saxon raiding party of about thirty men.  They thought to hold the squire hostage for gold, believing that all British Lords were covered with gold.  Gerraint had gone into the village to trade, but when he got back, he soon realized what happened, and he became terribly worried even as he got terribly angry.  The Princess tracked the raiding party for three days.  Gerraint admitted the Princess, being specially gifted by Artemis herself, could track a man across linoleum with her eyes shut.  No one knew what he was talking about, but they got the idea.

After three days, she found Uwaine hold up in a cave, his hands holding tight to his sword.  Deerrunner and a half-dozen elves were with him and had their bows out. Half of the raiding party died, shot through with only one arrow each, such was the skill of the elves, but the other half hunkered down behind some boulders at the bottom of the hill of the cave. They appeared to be arguing about whether to burn the boy out or just wait until he starved.

The Princess arrived in time to find Bogus and two dozen dwarfs sneaking up from behind.  The Princess had no doubt they meant to finish the job the elves started. She put her hands to her hips, tapped her foot sharply and let out an “Ahem!” to clear her throat.  The dwarfs turned around, whipped off their hats, or in this case helmets, and looked down, shy.  A few shuffled one foot or the other against the dirt.

When the Princess stepped forward, Gerraint came home and shouted to the Saxons to get everyone’s attention.  “Go home.”  He thought that sounded nice and succinct.  “Gather up your dead and go back to Sussex, poorer, but hopefully wiser.”

One man stood and reached for his sword, but Gerraint had taken to wearing his sword across his back, Kairos style, and he could draw it fast as a gunslinger, and without cutting his own ear, he was pleased to say.  He had Salvation out and at the man’s throat before the man got a full grip on his hilt.

“Go home,” Gerraint repeated, and two dozen well-armed dwarfs, helmets back on, came to the edge of the woods and gave the meanest stares they could muster.  Gerraint struggled not to laugh at some of the faces.  The Saxons did not laugh at all.  They gathered their dead as quickly as they could and rode off into the distance even as Bedwyr, Gawain, Percival and his squire, Agravain and a dozen men, Arthur’s men from the local village, came riding up led by Pinewood, of all people, and on horseback.  Granted, it was all an illusion, but still, in Gerraint’s mind he seemed a tiny little fairy riding a great big warhorse.

“Gerraint,” Bedwyr spouted.  “We heard you were in trouble, that Uwaine got kidnapped by Saxons.”

“All fixed now,” Gerraint said, and went into his litany.  “I have wings to fly you know nothing of.  Eyes that see farther, ears that hear better, and a reach longer than ordinary men.”  Percival almost joined him on the last line, but Gerraint said wait here and he climbed to the cave.  Uwaine stood there and Deerrunner had his hand on the young man’s shoulder.  Uwaine turned quickly and hugged the Elf King.

“Thank you,” Uwaine whispered, and Deerrunner smiled before he looked over Uwaine’s shoulder.

“I thought you misplaced him,” Deerrunner said, as a kind of excuse.

“Yes, thank you,” Gerraint said, not unkindly, and he took Uwaine’s hand and brought him down to the others where they found a deer already cooking and a big keg of very fine dwarf-made ale.

“I see they abandoned their supper,” Percival smiled.

Gerraint grumped and found their horses, cleaned and saddled and in wonderful shape.  “Thank you Gumblittle,” he said, to nobody.  He also found all of their things in a stack along with a bunch of Saxon equipment.  He put his arm around Uwaine’s shoulder to explain, quietly.

“The little ones normally don’t pay much attention to human affairs.  They were probably not certain about what was ours and what was Saxon.  They tend to overcompensate.”  Uwaine nodded as they rejoined the group.

“They grow up fast.”  Bedwyr, already breaking into the keg, was good at stating the obvious.

Gerraint looked up at the sky and shouted in better spirits, “Thank you.  Now, go home.”

“What was that about?” Young Agravain asked.

“Better not to ask,” Gawain said.

“You don’t want to know,” Uwaine added.

Gerraint and Uwaine went north along with everybody else to celebrate Loth and Gwenhwyfach’s wedding.  Gawain went, of course, Loth being his father.  He was not sure about his new mother, in part because she was only about four years older than him, but he stayed good about it and never said anything except to Bedwyr, Gerraint and his friend, Uwaine.

During the wedding, Kai caught Arthur’s attention. The Saxon Pirate, Hueil, had been raiding the Welsh coast for years, all the way from the channel that separated Wales and Cornwall, to the tip of the North Irish Sea.  Now, rumor said he started talking with Pictish raiders who had long since given up their coastal watch and had become something like pirates themselves.

“Such a union would be a disaster,” Kai noted.

“We do not have a fleet of ships,” Arthur said.

“Maybe we need a fleet of ships,” Kai responded.

Early in 504, Thomas of Dorset got drafted to Admiral Arthur’s six new ships.  He also brought a dozen ships from the English Channel, all solid sea going vessels, though admittedly fat and slow merchant ships.  They were to sail up the coast of Wales, looking out for Hueil along the way, and arrive in the bay of the Clyde by September first.  Arthur would cross north of Hadrian’s wall on the same date and eventually link up with his fleet.  Hueil and his Saxons had made a bargain with Caw, whom Arthur had not realized had survived the destruction of the army of the Picts and Scots several years earlier.  Those two scoundrels had built their own fort at Cambuslang, just on the River Clyde, and Arthur determined to end that threat.

Arthur housed a thousand men at Kai’s Fort Guinnon, the anchor to the wall, to act as reserves and to protect the north lands should things go awry.  He feared the Picts might invade south, thinking Arthur was occupied.  Arthur took a second thousand men with him, mostly RDF and trained men, and then he prayed a lot more than usual.

R5 Greta: The End of the Day, part 2 of 3

“Anything else?”  Greta stood.

“No.  I need to finish these correspondences now.  I want the couriers to leave for Rome in the morning,” he said.

“I suppose I had better go prepare myself to go to Rome,” she said.  “To meet Darius’ father, and probably your father, too.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Marcus said. He looked up one last time.  “A sweet barbarian girl like you with all of your special talents.  Lady goddess.”  He smiled and half saluted in Greta’s direction.

Greta returned his smile.  “Big oaf.”  And she returned his half salute before she stepped into the hallway.  She heard Marcus ask the General.  “What is an oaf?”  She almost felt the General shrug as she traded places through time with Salacia and Salacia caused the two men to freeze where they stood.  She felt sorry for what she had to do, but it got decided the day before when Greta had to call on the good Doctor Mishka to dig a few bullets out of the wounded.  She felt especially sorry for Marcus.  He had become so human, so alive in these back woods.  She felt sure it would kill him.

Salacia floated out over the battlefield.  A full day later, and there were still bodies littered all around.  Nearly a thousand men had been killed in the battle.  That number would triple, perhaps quadruple in the days and weeks ahead. Salacia was not authorized to simply heal everyone.  Generally, sparing people from the consequences of their actions was the worst thing a goddess could do.  There were rare exceptions, but this was not one of them, and Salacia felt sorry for that as well.

Salacia floated to earth and materialized beside the main stream which flowed out of the remains of the mount.  She supposed her appearance looked like the appearance of Glinda, the good witch of the north.  She did not mean for it to be that way, but she did not really pay attention.  She imagined some men saw her appear and fell to their faces.  She felt sorry to ignore them, too.

Her attention stayed riveted on the top part of the great statue of Odin.  The head, one arm upraised in blessing, and the chest were planted firmly in the mud beside the new stream.  It looked very much like the top of the statue of liberty at the end of the original Planet of the Apes movie.

Vasen stood there, staring at the statue, weeping softly.  Apparently, Marcus decided to leave the Priest alone.  When Salacia walked up beside the man, she became fully manifest but had toned down her awesome nature to near human levels.  She might have passed for an ordinary lady out for a stroll apart from being so inhumanly beautiful and attractive.

Vasen looked up.  “It’s all gone, you know.”  He spoke through his tears.

“Nonsense,” she said.  “It has not yet begun.”  With a mere thought, she pushed the edges of the mount into the deep until it truly became a large lake, fed by underground springs.  Her mind followed the stream as it ran through the forest, and she only altered the course slightly to make it meet the Sylvan River at the swamps.  She wanted the stream to clean out some of the horrors of that area, and she made it so.

Vasen stood up.  He watched her, curious.  She lifted her arms.  All of the guns, the bullets and everything that did not belong in that time floated up in the air, and in a wink, she sent it to Avalon.  They were museum pieces now.

“Excuse me, my Lady,” Vasen spoke.  “Do I know you?”

“After a fashion,” she said.  “My name is Amphitrite, but the Romans call me Salacia in their tongue.”

“I’m sorry?”  Vasen looked confused.  “But a fine lady such as yourself should not be out here on the battlefield.  There are still things about that a lady should not see.”

“Nonsense,” Salacia said again.  “But I really came only to say goodbye to Granfather Woden.” She blew a gentle kiss to the statue, and the statue quietly crumbled to so much gravel.  She made the gravel line the bed of the new stream.

Vasen went to his knees.  He began to weep again.  “goddess.”  He called her rightly.  “Why did the temple have to be destroyed?  It is all gone now.”

“Hush,” she said and brushed his hair with her hand. “I told you once already.  Men will come, from the Greeks, the Macedonians, from Byzantium and the East, and they will be clothed in power from the Most-High.  They will speak of the one who was raised up on the third day, and all of the people will be drawn to them, to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Salacia kissed the top of Vasen’s head, and he forgot all about the weapons of Trajan.  An earthquake released the water from below and that destroyed both the temple and the mount.  The people were in plain rebellion, but the Romans and the people with them won the day, and turned back the invasion of the Quadi, besides.  She let that thought ripple out from that place like one stone thrown into a calm pool.  The circle of forgetfulness spread until it reached for miles and miles.

Vasen calmed when she kissed him a second time.  He forgot all about the little ones, about Thorn and Thissle, about Avalon, and Greta’s place among them.  She let this also spread, but certain ones she protected. The Romans, Dacians and Celts all thought the knights of the lance belonged to the others, and that, she felt, might help keep some in line.  Vasen even forgot his vision of the goddess hovering over him that moment, but Salacia left the vision of Danna among the Celts.  She hoped that vision would promote peace.  Then like the ripples from the pebble, she let that fading of the memory spread out from there until it touched all whom it needed to touch.

Salacia vanished from that place and appeared in the secret place in the forest.

Bogus the Skin, Gorse, Ragwart and Thunderhead all appeared.  They had no choice, though Thunderhead kept sleeping.

Bogus uncovered his head and nudged Ragwart to do the same.  “It’s not our lady, Greta,” he whispered to Gorse.  “It’s out great lady herself.”

“I can see that,” Gorse whispered back, and whipped off his hat.

“What?”  Ragwart did not quite catch it.

“We’ve stopped all eleven riders,” Bogus said, and took a very humble step forward.  “I don’t believe any got through.”  He pointed to a great pile of things.  There were a couple of guns, but mostly spears, swords, a couple of tents, several cooking pots minus the ones the little ones kept, one wagon load of mason tools, and so on.  And there were only three riders.

“Thank you,” Salacia said, and smiled, and loved them dearly.  She sent the pile to Avalon and sent Thunderhead back to his bed, never to know he had not been there the whole time.  “Berry is fully human now,” she told Bogus.  “But if you have Fae for a time, be content.  Only try not to corrupt her.  She is a sweet woman, and remember she is still half human.”

“Too late,” Bogus said.  “If she has taken up with that old bachelor, Hobknot, you can be sure she’s been corrupted already.”  Bogus shook his head.

Salacia laughed a merry little laugh.  “Be good boys.  No more stealing,” she said, and disappeared to appear instantly where Fae, Hobknot, Thorn and Thissle were celebrating their survival.

“Oh, dear,” Fae said.

“Great Lady.”  Thissle curtsied, fairy style, as well as she could.

Thorn and Hobknot were quiet, but Salacia knew why.

“No.”  She said, simply.  “You cannot go to Greta’s wedding.  You know the rule.  You may have a celebration apart, but you are not allowed to mingle with humans.”  She got firm and sounded like the roar of thunderous waters crashing against the rocks.  Such interactions caused no end of trouble and caused her no end of headaches. “Now Fae.”  She went on a little less firm.  “You may visit your sister from time to time, but make sure you are not seen.  Your work may still be in this world, but your place is now separate and apart.”

Hobknot lifted his hand and looked so uncharacteristically meek, Salacia almost laughed again.  She handed him two bags of grain and seed, and two containers of milk and one of sweet honey.  She gave the same to Thorn and Thissle, though they claimed they needed nothing.

“Remember Nameless in the spring, and the Don, the mother goddess in the fall.”  Salacia said.  “Remember Junior whenever the north wind blows, and me in the long, hot summer. Think of me wherever the waters run cool and clean.”  She vanished. She went to see Hans and Berry.

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 3 of 3

Gregor confirmed that Kunther was a fool and Lady Brunhild wielded the real power behind the rebellion.  She had presumably bewitched most of the rebels, but he was no longer fooled.  He had lost family up by Porolissum to Quadi raiders.  He said there were others who felt the way he did and Greta felt glad to hear that Bragi was among them.

“What I don’t understand is what she intends to gain,” Gregor said.

“Obviously, the people did not rise up in support of Kunther’s rebellion, so she had no choice but to look for help from the outside.”

“Yes,” he said. “But if the Quadi overrun the land, what place will there be for her?”

“I don’t know.” Greta wondered that, herself.

After about an hour, she heard Bragi at the door demanding to see his sister.  The guard did not sound unsympathetic, and said he could go in as long as it was brief.  Bragi and Greta hugged for a long time, and Greta cried just a little. Despite her outward bravado, Greta still felt very scared and everything about her, her face, her shoulder and her hip throbbed with a kind of dull pain.

Soon, Bragi and Gregor started exchanging notes and planning.  They must have mentioned two dozen men who were firmly with them and the only disagreement became whether to effect a rebellion within the ranks and sue for peace, or to contact the Romans first and bring them into the Temple for a surprise attack on Kunther.  Bragi saw the political implications and imagined the penalty the Romans might require for traitors.  He argued for bringing the Romans in as early as possible.  Gregor, however, argued for rebellion within the ranks. A successful rebellion would convince the Romans whose side they were really on more than any talk, he said. Greta imagined the man might have a personal grudge, though she never asked what that might be.

“No.”  Greta pulled herself together at last and stood to gain everyone’s attention.  “Priest. I take it you have not been cooperating of late.”

“Not since Boarshag,” Vasen said, and the others confirmed this.

“You know where the weapons of Trajan are stored?”  She shot straight to the point.

“Yes, good Mother,” Vasen said, but he wondered what she was after.

“They are in the cavern and diggings beneath the Temple,” Gregor said.  “But it is very damp down there.”

“Most of the weapons are rusty and useless,” Bragi added.  “And the powder is not dry enough to use, either.”

“Is any of it any good?” Greta asked.

“Some.” Bragi shrugged.  “But not enough of it to turn the tide of battle, even if our people got all of the good stuff.”

Greta closed her eyes and cleared her heart before she spoke.  “Thorn and Thissle.”  She commanded, and they appeared a few feet away.  It took them a few moments to orient themselves.  Then they hugged as if they had not seen each other lately, and they turned together to face Greta.

“My gracious, lovely lady,” Thorn said, with a bow, and Thissle curtsied as well as she could in her new form.  Bragi jumped in fright, but stayed beside his sister.  Vasen looked delighted as if, like Fae, they represented something he had longed to see all of his life.  Finbear looked curious.  He had seen Berry fluttering around and had also seen the goddess, so he did not get especially surprised.  Gregor let out a short shout and jumped to the wall, but he made no other noise for fear that the guard might hear.

“Thorn, how far away is General Pontius?”

“He should be here by morning,” Thorn reported.  “And Gumbeater the Hobgoblin of the lower hills says the Celts are moving through the woods in great numbers.  They should also be here by morning.”

“Thissle. Can you make yourself invisible so only Bragi can see you?” Greta asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  “That is very hard to do.”

“Bragi is my brother.”  Greta explained, and Thissle brightened.

“Sir Bragi,” she said with a little bow.  “For family of the goddess, if his heart is true to you as with your brother Hans, he will be able to see me.”  She vanished from the sight of the others.

Bragi looked up after a minute to see everyone staring at him.  “Is she?  Oh.  I still see her, but there is a glow about her that I did not notice before.”

“The invisible spectrum, some call it,” Greta said, and Bragi understood.

“Thorn.  Can you open this door when the time comes?” Greta asked.

Thorn examined the door.  He made himself small enough to squeeze through a mouse crack, and then he came right back.  “There is a guard,” Thorn said.  “But the door should be easy to open.”

“I’ll deal with the guard,” Gregor growled while Greta explained things to Finbear. Finbear also pledged to help with the guard and extended his hand to Gregor.  It made Gregor pause, but then he accepted Finbear’s hand and Greta smiled for them.  They were all in it together, now.

“When the time comes and Thorn opens the door, you must follow the Priest.  I am sure he knows the quickest and safest way down the Mount.  Do you all understand, Thorn?”

“Yes, Lady,” Thorn said and looked at the floor.

“Good,” she said. “Now Bragi and Thissle, here is what you must do.  As soon as you can, you must take the statue to where the good powder is and leave it there. Put it as close as you can to the dry powder, and leave it there.”

“The statue?” Bragi asked.  “The one you brought?  Is it safe?”

“You won’t be hurt,” Greta said.  “I have told them, I think.  But just to be sure, Thissle, tell Burns and Madwick they are not to harm Bragi.”

“Scorch and Sparky too?”  She asked.

“Scorch and Sparky, too,” Greta answered.

“I’ll make triple sure,” Thissle said, and there came an interruption.

Vasen had finally moved close to Thorn.  “Do you live in Elfhome?” he asked.

“No,” Thorn answered.  “Thissle and I live in the forest.  Her family is from Elfhome, but my people all come from Mid-elf-land.”

“Quiet.” Greta insisted.  She turned again to her brother.  “Don’t bury the statue or put it under anything, but hide it behind something, behind the powder if you can.”
“Who are Spark and those others?” Bragi asked.

“Fire sprites.” Thissle started to speak, but Greta hushed her.

“Never mind, just trust me and do what I ask,” Greta said.  “And when the statue is in place, gather your friends, the ones who have had a change of heart, and wait until Thissle gives the signal.”

“What signal? For what?”  Bragi asked.

“It will probably be something like, “Get Out!”  You must hurry down the Mount as fast as you can and head for the Roman outpost and surrender yourselves.  Don’t worry about Gregor and these others.  Thorn will get them out all right, and they will have the same message. Do you understand?”  She looked at Thorn and Thissle, but everyone nodded, including Finbear who had no idea what he nodded for.

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

MONDAY

Greta has been lucky so far, in one sense.  That terrible, powerful witch, Lady Brunhild, has been missing.  Hopefully, plans can be put in motion before she returns, but she will return.  Next week: Confrontation.  Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: The Way Things Are, part 3 of 3

“My lord.” Berry interrupted.  “If you are going to marry my lady, it is important that I do what you say.  That makes you our lord, and all of us need to pay attention to what you say.”

“All of us?” Darius asked.  Greta took his arm again and turned him back toward the tents.

“I have a kind of special relationship with the little ones,” she said.  “It is kind of hard to explain.”  And she tried to explain as well as she could, doing everything in her power to avoid using the word, “goddess.”  She ended by begging him not to tell anyone, especially Marcus. “I know you and Marcus grew up together and you are very close, but I would be so afraid that Marcus might take advantage of them and they might end up slaves, or worse.”

“Marcus wouldn’t,” he assured her.  “But don’t worry.  I won’t say a thing.  This will be our little secret known only by you, me and Berry.”

They heard a wild party going on in the tent.  Baggins beat the drums and Fidget stroked his fiddle.  The visible Hobknot danced a jig and Fae clapped delightedly to the rhythm. Gaius stood by the door, also clapping, while Hersecles both clapped and tapped his feet.  Vilam kept bobbing up and down, keeping time.  Vedix and Cecil circled arm in arm like a couple of hicks at a square dance, while Marcus, worst of all, looked doubled up on the ground, laughing so hard he appeared to be in pain.

“Baggins!” The drums stopped beating. “Fidget!”  The fiddler stopped fiddling.  “Hobknot!” Greta did not sound happy. “Right here, right now!”  The little ones vanished and reappeared instantly outside the tent.  “You call that staying invisible?”  Greta turned on Hobknot.

“They were just passing by,” Hobknot said.  Even Darius rolled his eyes as he picked up on the fact that “Just passing by” was ten or twelve miles away.  “And I figured one more wouldn’t matter,” Hobknot went on. “There’s plenty of humans that think we all look alike, anyway.  Besides.”  He played his hole card.  “I haven’t been paid yet.”

“How would you like no teeth and have to mush the grain and take it through a straw?” she asked.

“Oh Lady, you wouldn’t,” Hobknot protested.

“Miss Fae is a frail, old woman,” Greta pleaded.  “I need someone with a brain to watch over her and tell me if I am needed. You claim to have a brain.”

Hobknot quickly changed the subject.  “Who’s the beef?”

“Lord Darius is my betrothed,” Greta said and reached for his hand though she did not really focus on Darius.

“Oh.” Hobknot got down on one knee and pulled the other two down with him.  “Great Lord Darius, on behalf of all the little ones from the Great Trolls of the mountains to the littlest of smidgens, I hereby pledge our eternal loyalty and devotion ‘till death do us part.  Your word is our command.”

“Ya-di, ya-di, ya-di,” Greta interrupted.  “You swell his head and you will get a lot worse than no teeth.  Now tell the truth.”

Hobknot stood up again.  “Of course, the odds are good we might not follow your commands, exactly, or even one for that matter.  We are all natural liars, you know, and good for nothing thieves, besides.  Hey!  I didn’t intend to tell him that.”

“I think I knew that already,” Darius said, and eyed the dwarfish imp with a look that was not fooled and not going to be fooled.

“Miss Fae,” Greta said.  “Or do I get someone else?”  Greta knew he really wanted to be with her, but he just was not going to make it easy.

“It’s a dirty job watching over that old bat,” he said.  “But I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.  I better do it myself.”  He walked back into the tent.

“Baggins and Fidget!”  Greta’s words thundered.  “You two helped Ragwart and Gorse keep my poor brother prisoner for three days.” This did not come out as an allegation. The goddess knew the reality, and they knew that she knew.  “Do you know what punishment they got?”

“Oh, no, Lady. Please not that,” Baggins began to weep. “The Mrs and the little ones. What will become of them? Anything but that.”  Then Fidget hit him on the head.

“They didn’t get no punishment,” Fidget said.  “In fact, the Lady gave them permission to steal some things.”

“That’s right,” Baggins suddenly perked up. “How did they get so lucky?”

“Do you want the same punishment they got?” Greta asked.

“Oh, no, please.” Baggins started again so Fidget hit him again.  “I mean, yes, please.”  Baggins finished.

“Then here is what you must do,” Greta said.  “Go over to the Quadi camp.  Take as many other musicians as want to go.  Throw a big party.  Keep the Quadi up all night dancing and singing.  Only one condition.  I don’t want you or any of my little ones to get hurt.  Do you understand?  Party all you want, only no little ones get hurt.”

“Party, but no one gets hurt.”  Baggins nodded.

Fidget stood and knocked Baggins on the shoulder to follow.  “Yes, ma’am.  Thank you ma’am.”  Fidget said quickly.  They bowed several times and vanished before Greta might change her mind.  Only three words floated back to their ears.  “We do weddings.”

Darius looked at her.  “I’m afraid to ask what that means,” he said, and he laughed; but to Greta it sounded like nervous laughter.

“What will they do to the Quadi?”  Marcus stood right there to ask.

“Probably not much,” Greta answered.  “Despite the bravado, they really have no interest in humans or human affairs. They will party.  I only hope it will keep enough of the Quadi up and prevent them from making a serious, full scale attack in the morning.  Give you and Darius another day to argue.”  Greta meant that as a joke, but Marcus looked serious and Darius looked at her with an uncertain eye.  Greta stepped into the tent and found Gaius and Vedix already beginning the arguments.

“Excuse me.” Darius said.  He stepped from the tent, found his horse, and rode back toward the city.

“What’s with him?” Marcus did not really ask.

“I have a terrible headache,” Greta said, and she went back to where she, Darius and Berry had spoken privately.  Damn it! It felt true enough.  She did love him.  And she had to cry about it because she felt sure he was lost to her.

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

MONDAY

Greta needs to think.  The rebels have the guns and are fortified on the temple mount.  The Roman numbers are small for the moment, and the legion is days away. And the Germanic Quadi invaders are arriving in their thousands.  Greta needs to get away, to think.  She will go to Avalon, her real home, the home of the Kairos, or as she calls it her her Dacian tongue, Usgard above Midgard…

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 2 of 3

Ragwart cried, Gorse blew his nose, and Bogus hit them with his hat.  “You see, I told you,” he said, and he finished with a knock on Gorse’s noggin.

“Go on,” Greta said.  “Have lots of prickly babies.”

“That was lovely,” Fae said.  Berry got teary eyed.  She had her arms around Hans and started kissing the back of his head.  He stayed face down, asleep on the table, a half-eaten baked potato by his mouth.

It started getting late.

“Thunderhead!” Greta called.  “How are the itchies?”  She asked when he appeared.

“Better.” Thunderhead admitted in his gravel, deep voice.  He swallowed hard and added, “My lady.”  He must have figured it out and Greta knew that meant he had a tremendous headache.

“Ahem.” Bogus the Skin, still hat in hand wanted Greta’s attention once more.

“What!”  She shot him a look which on retrospect might have been harsher than it needed to be.  Bogus winced like he had been hit with a hammer.  Gorse stiffened and Ragwart hid his face in Gorse’s shirt. “You mated with a human woman which is strictly forbidden.”  Greta said. “And the child, your son, you let him run off to be lost in the wilds of the Dragon Mountains.  Now, your granddaughters have been kept apart all of these years, and that was unkind, too.  I tell you, if you like humans that much, how would you like to be one?” This was the worst of all threats for a little one, and Bogus understood.

“Oh, please.” Bogus fell to his knees and almost worried his hat to death.  “Not that. Anything but that.  I loved the lady fair and square as long as she lived. She took up with that human herself, but I never deserted her. I was faithful.  And I begged our son not to go away.  You don’t know how hard I begged him.  But I could not stop him because a young man of that age needs to make his own way in the world.   And my granddaughters, as precious to me as my own skin, I wanted them with me, but by great and noble sacrifice I let them stay with the humans, theirs being only one quarter spirit.  But when the humans gave one back to me, how I rejoiced.  And we made great magic, and all the best of us joined together so we could release the spirit within Berry so she could truly live among us as one of us. And I loved her.  And I always took best care of her.  And I’ve never been so honest in my life, but please, you must believe me.”

Greta knew he did more or less speak the truth.

“He does not lie.” Berry said, and she and Fae looked at each other with startled expressions.  Berry put her hand to her mouth as if she had said something very strange.

“But you know since the dissolution, the days for separate places is over,” Greta said.

“Yes, Lady. But I thought in this sparsely populated corner of the world we might yet have a little place for freedom, even if only for a short time.  I meant no harm.”  His voice trailed off.  His hat finally stilled, and he knelt like a condemned man waiting judgment.

“There is one thing you could do for me,” Greta said.  “You and your cohorts.”

“Anything,” Bogus said sincerely.  “Anything.”

“Make sure no guns escape,” she said, thinking fast.  “No guns, no bullets, powder or nothing else from the future must escape, either by the North road or by the South, or by any other way.  Can you do this?”

Bogus looked at her for a minute and some of his sly self began to bubble up again to the surface.  “How far can I go?” he asked.

“I prefer no one die,” Greta said plainly.  “But by hook or by crook, you must be sure none escape.  You must hide them for me, to be taken to Usgard above Midgard.”

“I think we can deal,” Bogus said.

“No deals,” Greta shot at him and his whole countenance sank.  “I am asking yes or no.”  She said it, and it was a genuine choice.  He knew he could say no with no ill effect, but he also knew he could not haggle over the job.  At last he decided.

“Yes,” he said.

“Thank you,” Greta smiled.  “Now, your granddaughters will be with me for a while, and maybe, just maybe I will let them come visit you one day.”

Bogus understood that, too, but he nodded his head.  “We will do what you ask.”  Before he could move, Greta bent over and kissed his grubby bald spot.  His face lit up like the fourth of July and he spun around with great gusto and a big smile.

“Come on, dimwits,” he said to Gorse and Ragwart.  “We got a job to do.”

“Did you mean it?” Berry asked about staying with her for a while, but Greta did not answer right off.

“Thunderhead.” Greta regained the ogre’s attention from whatever planet it had wandered to.  Actually, Thunderhead thought of nothing in particular, and likely nothing at all.  “Please pick up my brother very carefully and carry him as you would the Fairy Queen’s own baby.  I do not want him damaged, but you will have to carry him to the river.”

“Yes, Lady,” the ogre said, and with a gentleness that could hardly be believed in the rock hard, dim witted brute, he picked up Hans and they started back to the river. Thunderhead knew the way, and he was not inclined to lead them in circles.

“Did you mean that?”  Berry asked again as soon as she could.

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.  “You must stay with me for a while, but you must stay big.  I hope that won’t be a hardship for you.”

“That’s Okay,” Berry said.  “I’m big a lot.  It doesn’t bother me.  Thissle said she was never comfortable being big and did not get big very often, but it doesn’t bother me.”

“Hush,” Fae said. “You’re going on like a teenager.”

“But I’m seventy just like you,” Berry said.

“Actually.” Greta interrupted.  “In human terms, she is about thirteen.  I know it hardly seems fair, but it is true.”

“And my twin sister,” Fae said.  “And I know that is true, too, with all my heart.”

“Me too,” Berry said, and she gave her sister a little kiss and squeeze.  “Tell me more about mother,” she said, and Greta tuned them out to give them their privacy.

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 1 of 3

Greta and Berry helped Hans to the table, and then Fae and Berry worked on waking him enough to feed him while Greta had her fill.  The food tasted very good, full of cold fruit, steaming vegetables and plenty of sweets, not unlike the hag’s table, but this was substantial and would fill the body to satisfaction.  Then, something else came up about the food of the little ones which Greta did not remember at first because she felt much too hungry to think.  Besides, Bogus distracted her by mumbling again.

“I was trying to bump her off,” he said.  “I sent her to the hag, pushed the wolf in her direction, and drew her into the wyvern swamp so they could suck the life out of her.  When all that failed, and it makes sense now, I put her into the hands of the clunker humans.  Those brutes like to kill everything they can get their hands on, but even they failed to do her in.  Bee stings and locust plagues!  Then when she comes for the boy, I figure if I can’t get her killed, at least maybe I can scare her away, but no!  She scolds the ogre, sends the disembodied home and gets her boy, and all on the same day. I can’t even make time fly by!  But no wonder.  I’ve been trying to kill my own goddess and scare the beeswax out of my own granddaughter.  Why, I’ll be the laughingest spirit in forever plus two!”

“Excuse me.”  Gorse spoke up.  Greta felt nearly full by the time he approached, temporarily sating her ravenous appetite.  “Excuse me.” He repeated and touched her sleeve.

“Yes Gorse,” she said, and she took the liberty to smile and stroke his red beard which made him turn crimson.  With his hat in his hand he did look rather like Snow White’s Bashful with a red beard.

“It was me and Ragwart who convinced Bogus to save your brother.  She’s a woman who ought to know better, we said, um, if you follow me, but he is just a boy child and ought not to get killed yet.”

“Ragwart?” Greta looked up.

“That’s mostly true.”  Ragwart confirmed.  “But then Bogus thought he ought to dance for months, or maybe as much as a week and think it no more than a few minutes.  Why, he would have been no more than an old bag of bones by the time he got done if Bogus had his way.”

“Say!” Gorse just thought of something. “How did you get Bogus to change his mind?  That is powerful hard to do, you know.”

“But since you have been eating our food, I guess it really does not matter.”  Ragwart said, and he and Gorse began an excited little dance of their own, as if they had played a great trick on the humans and were very proud of themselves.

“That’s it,” Greta said out loud.  “Once you eat the food of life, the food of the little spirits of the earth, you are their captive forever, or until they tire of you.”  Gorse and Ragwart looked delighted, but Greta merely looked at the others.  “I guess that means Hans will just have to stay with me, is all.”

The imps stopped dancing and Bogus stopped mumbling long enough to come over and begin whispering to them.  Fae spoke up while she and Berry, big sized, helped Hans.

“I don’t mind,” she said.

“Don’t mind what?” Berry asked before she realized Fae was not talking to her.

“I don’t mind being captive to the Vee Villy,” Fae said.  “If I can spend whatever precious time I have left with them, well, I always wanted to know and that part of me always felt empty.”

“But you are one quarter Fee.”  Greta said. “I don’t know if the food will affect you like that, though it may fill some of the empty part.”

Fae looked sad for a moment.  “But what about you and Hans.” she asked.

“Me?”  Greta laughed.  “I am about as captive to the little ones as anyone can get, and I have been for about forty-six hundred years.”

“Yes, of course.” Fae understood.

“As for Hans,” Greta started, but Berry interrupted.

“Oh, can I keep him?” she asked.  “I like him much, a lot, and he is very handsome, too.”

Fae and Greta looked at each other.  “We’ll see,” Greta said.  “Only right now we need to get back to the village.  It will be dark soon enough.”  Fae nodded in agreement.

At that moment, there came a sudden flash of light and a real fairy appeared by the table. The difference between her and Berry, when Berry got small, was striking.  This fairy had the veritable glow of life about her, shining in gold and silver sparkles which danced free of her wings, hair and finger tips.  Her every feature looked sharply distinguished, and yet she remained hard to see in some sense.  Every time Hans focused on her she seemed to move. She actually stayed quite still.  The human eyes had the problem, and even Fae had to squint to keep the fairy in focus

“My Lady.” The fairy curtsied in mid-air. Greta, of course, could see her perfectly.

“Please get big, Thissle.”  She knew the fairy’s name without thinking about it, and indeed, when she thought about it, she found she knew all about this lovely fee.  Thissle got big, but Bogus and the boys removed their hats and took a step back.  She appeared a beautiful woman of twenty-nine, so to speak.  “Where is your troop?”  Greta asked, knowing the answer full well.

“They have moved on, a hundred mortal years ago, to green the snows of the North.”  Thissle explained softly in her full-grown woman’s voice.  “Oh, my Lady.”  Thissle tried hard not to cry and everyone felt it.  Gorse had to blow his nose, twice.

“I don’t know if I can give you what you want.”  Greta said, but her own heart started breaking and she knew she had to try. “Thornbottom!”  She called, and the little sprite appeared because he had to. He looked smaller than Bogus, though not nearly as small as Thissle in her normal size.  Bogus and his boys obviously thought little of the sprite, but Thissle clearly loved him with all her heart, and he loved her with equal fervor. He appeared very cute.  Greta wanted to invite him to sit on her knee, but Thornbottom thought to speak first.

“That would be a great honor,” he said.  “But my name is not accidental.”  And indeed, he looked covered with thorns and prickles, much like a porcuipine.

“And that little thing has kept you apart all of these years?” Greta asked.

“Not so little, Lady,” Thornbottom said.  “But I won’t horrify you with the details.”

“Do you love him?” Greta asked and Thissle said, absolutely, and no one needed Fae to tell them that she was speaking the truth. “And will you be a good wife for him.”

“Yes, I will do my very best,” Thissle said.

“And do you love her?”  She asked Thonbottom.

“More than all my life,” he answered.

“And will you be a good husband?”  Greta asked.

“I will be the best I can,” Thonbottom answered plainly and as true as anyone ever spoke.

“Hold hands.” Greta told them.  “I will try.  I cannot promise.”

“We understand,” Thornbottom said.  “The gods never make promises.”

Thissle got on her knees and Greta saw that even holding hands could be hard.  She got pricked by one little spike on the back of Thornbottom’s hand and a small drop of precious fairy blood formed there, but she looked brave.

Greta, meanwhile heard advice that came on the time wind.  “Imagine ordering the colors of the rainbow.”  The voice said.  “Show the bats how to see without seeing and teach the waters to make sculptures in lime. Paint the sky at sunset and sing to the moon to raise the tide.”  Greta understood and stilled her mind.  She did not strain or stress or try to do anything at all.  She simply understood or perhaps decided how things needed to be, and she decided that was how they were, and when she opened her eyes, she saw Thornbottom and Thissle exactly as she decided.

Thornbottom got a little bigger, and Thissle got very much smaller, though again, not nearly as small as she used to be in her normal fairy size.  They had qull-like hair, still prickly, but not nearly the deadly spikes of before, and the backs of their hands and tops of their feet were more like rounded knobs and not at all sharp to the touch.  Both were richly dressed as if for a wedding, which it was, and Thornbottom looked as cute as ever, while Thissle looked no less beautiful.

Thissle and Thornbottom let out squeals of delight and began to dance, hand in hand and arm in arm.  Fae became full of tears and Berry spoke.  “I hope I am that beautiful when I marry Hans,” she said.

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

Greta did not answer.  She got busy helping Fae up the little hill.  Berry also got preoccupied, back on Greta’s shoulder, sticking her head out behind and sticking her tongue out at the receding ogre.

“Fascinating,” Fae said.  “Such a big and frightening brute.”

“Yes, I know,” Greta said.  “I’m sorry.” As if she was personally responsible.

“And yet, very child-like in a way,” Fae concluded.

“In a way,” Greta agreed.  “After a fashion.  Oh, let’s face it, most ogres are not even the sharpest spoon in the drawer.”

“Fascinating,” Fae said again.  “And I know what you say is true.”

When they reached more level ground, Greta ventured a question.

“Bogus, you are Berry’s uncle?”

“Yes, I am,” Bogus said.

“He lies.” Fae got right on him.  Greta, Berry and Bogus all looked at her.

“Well, no.” Bogus took a side step.  “Actually, I am more like her great uncle.”

“He lies.” Fae said, and Bogus looked very uncomfortable.  He looked inclined to say no more, but Greta felt curious.  They all were.

“What, exactly is your relationship to Berry?”  Greta asked.

“Yes, what?” Berry wanted to know.

“It is kind of complicated,” Bogus hedged.

“He—” That was all Fae could get out before Bogus yelled.

“All right! I’m her grandfather.  Got it?”

Greta could tell this came as news to Berry.  “You are her grandfather,” Greta confirmed.

“Yes, look. We need to stop here a minute.” Bogus quickly changed the subject. “You can rest and I will be back in a minute, I promise,” he said, and looked at Fae, pleading.

“He does not lie,” Fae said, so Greta nodded.  She would not mind a minute’s rest.  She felt sure Fae would not mind.  Berry quickly jumped to Fae’s lap.  She knew Greta had questions.

“So, who was the flyer in your family?”  Greta asked.

Berry shook her head, and then perked up.  “Bogus has wings, but he never uses them.  I don’t think they work right,” she said.  She thought some more.  “Bogus said his mother was a flyer.”  She looked proud to have remembered that.

Greta nodded. It did not make sense to look at them, but it made perfect sense in the folded, convoluted universe of the little ones. She got ready to say something when Fae spoke.

“There is a chill in the air.”  Greta felt the same, and it caused her to look around.

“It’s a bodiless.”  Berry named it, and Greta shrieked as the ghost came out of the tree right beside her. She had to stand and scoot back to keep the ghost from walking right through her.  It looked like a Roman, and an officer at that.  They all saw him well enough, but oddly, he did not seem to see them.

“Roman,” Berry said.  “I should have remembered this was his place.  Roman!”  She called to the ghost and the ghost stopped.  At first the ghost looked around as if something did not quite penetrate. “Roman.  Why are you here?  You frightened us.”

“Little mistress?” The Roman communicated after a fashion.

“Where are you going, Roman?”  Berry asked.

“Round and round. I do not know.  I cannot find my way.  It is so dark.”  The ghost seemed to look at Greta, and then more nearly looked through Greta.  “Do you know the way out?” he asked.

Greta let go of her little prayer and spoke.  “The rebellion is over.  Rome has won. The emperor says to come home, now. You are ordered to come home.”

The Roman took off his helmet and appeared to put his hand through his hair.  It appeared as only a slight wind.  Berry flew back beside Fae.  This seemed new to her.

The ghost smiled for a minute and they all caught the sense of home.  Then the ghost vanished altogether.

“What did you do?” Berry asked, and leapt for the protection of Fae’s hair.  “Where did he go?”

“She sent him home,” Fae answered, even as Bogus showed up.

“Back like I promised.”  Bogus said, but he eyed Greta harder than ever.  “You must be made of stronger stuff than most humans.”

“No,” Greta said. “Same stuff, just a little more experienced is all.”

“So, who are you?” he asked.

“A sister who wants her brother,” she answered.  “You know the instructions of the goddess.  Now, no more tricks.”

“Oh sure.” Bogus almost sneered as the sarcasm crept into his voice.  “And I suppose you always do what your god tells you.”

Greta could not fairly answer that with Fae around.  “All the same,” she said.  “I want my brother back and the day is drawing on.”

“Little do you know,” Bogus chuckled and rubbed his hands.

“Bogus,” Greta got through fooling around.  “You must take me to my brother, right now.”  She compelled him.

“Well, if I must I must,” he said, and he started to walk.  “Though my better nature asks why?”  He mumbled again.  “If I were in my right mind I wouldn’t do it.  Not in a million years.  So that’s it, then.  I’ve gone completely bonkers.  Lock me up and throw away the key.  See, my feet are moving, and in the right direction, too.  I must be mad.  Well, here we are.”

Greta stepped up and saw Hans dancing with a woodwife while two little imps made wild music on a pipe and a drum.  Several woodwives stood around, clapping and waiting to take their turn at the dance. Hans had been dancing for nearly three days and three nights.

“Greta.” Hans saw her.  “I’m sorry I left the camp, but isn’t this wonderful?”

“Stop.  Stop the music,” Greta insisted, and the music stopped.  “And how long have you been dancing?”

“Not more than a few minutes,” Hans said.  “I was about to come back.”  He collapsed. Greta rushed up to put his head in her lap, but he had already fallen asleep.

“Hey Bogus.” Greta heard one of the imps. “What happened?  It’s still today.”

“What?  Not possible,” Bogus said.  “I’ve been walking them in circles for days.  It must be the day after tomorrow at least.”

“No, it’s still today, I tell you.”

“Ragwart.” Bogus called for a second opinion. “How many days since we left the river?”

“Same day,” Ragwart said.  “Just like Gorse told you.”  Gorse nodded and Bogus turned to face Greta but Greta spoke first.

“We need food,” she said.  “Hans must be absolutely starving.  And then I want to go straight back to the river without tricks.  I want to be back in the village before dark.”  She did not want to spend another night in the haunted woods.  Gorse and Ragwart volunteered to fetch the food while Bogus tried one last time.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am the Traveler, Greta,” she finally told him.

“The Kairos, the goddess,” Bogus said.  “Pots and kranky bits!”  He started to swear, though he had actually figured it out, but he stopped as Greta held up her hand, having more to say.

“More important,” she said.  “Fae and Berry are both your granddaughters.”

“What?” Bogus jumped about four feet straight up.

“Not possible,” Fae said.  “I am seventy years old and Berry can’t be more than thirteen.”

Greta shook her head while Berry spoke up.  “I’m seventy,” Berry said.

“It’s true,” Greta said.  “The little ones age much more slowly, but twins were born and Fae stayed with the humans while Berry was given to the fee.”

“Honkin beans!” Bogus yelled.  “Great horned butt headed goblins and ogre snot!  I’ll be the laughing stock of every spirit between here and Davy Jones.”  His language got rather colorful after that as Ragwart returned.

“Eats is ready,” Ragwart said, having missed everything up to that point.

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

MONDAY

Playing with the sprites is all fine and well, but at some point, Greta has to return to reality.  he has guns to deal with, and a rebellion getting out of hand in Ravenshold.  Next week, Back to the World.  Until then…

*

Avalon 5.3 Perseverance, part 3 of 6

The volume felt unbearable.  Padrama regretted inviting the dwarf family to dinner, even if he felt he had no choice. The only good thing was it guaranteed no tiger would come within a hundred miles of that noise.  Bobo and Rinna argued and complained about the deer, and the cooking, and whatever else crossed their minds.  The boys sang.  At least Padrama imagined it was supposed to be singing.  Their volume was probably intended to drown out the sound of their parents fighting.  Poor little Rita sat quietly and rubbed the stubble on her chin, not counting the half-dozen times she mentioned that her mama told her that one day she would have a beard down to her knees.

“Good for you,” Padrama always responded, and Rita grinned with pride and went back to rubbing her stubble.

Raja sat close to Padrama at first, and eyed these spirits that he called Yaksha.  He said they were known to practice strange and powerful magic.  But Padrama assured his servant that these would not be any trouble, and after about an hour of the boys singing, the little girl rubbing, and the parents arguing, Raja threw his hands up with a comment.

“They might as well be human.”

Somehow, Bobo managed to slip something into the tea to make it alcoholic.  Padrama was surprised for all of a second, before he shrugged and decided it was just as well.  Maybe the group would eventually pass out in a drunken stupor.

Padrama did not imagine how bad it could get until he saw them eat.  They hardly chewed, but showed everything when they talked, and they all talked at the same time through the meal.  They stuffed more in before they swallowed, and more than once, one or the other of the boy had to lean over, gag, and throw something up.  One time it was a rib bone.  And the boy picked up the bone to chew on.

They ate through a whole deer, and half of the second one, leaving half for the morning, which for himself and Raja would have been breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It would be just a slim breakfast if the dwarf did not go home by first light.

Raja had a hard time holding his hands over his ears and eating anything at all.  Padrama finally had to secretly compel the dwarfs a little, to quiet them down after the meal.  He thought to get their attention with a story, and he made them listen and not interrupt.  Unfortunately, the only story that came to mind was the story of the three dwarfs at the bottom of the well.  It was a well-worn story with hysterical twists and turns throughout.  Padrama knew Bobo and Rinna had heard it before.  He knew they once told the story to the boys.  Little Rita was the only one who had not heard it, but Padrama imagined he could get away with a few laughs and a good night’s sleep.

He glanced at Raja.  Of course, Raja had not heard the story.  It was not the kind of story one shared with humans.  He imagined it would be all right.  Raja was a serious-minded soul and did not have much of a sense of humor.  So he told the story, and later regretted it.  Little Rita giggled all night long.  That was punctuated with Raja’s snorting laugh, which sounded worse than his snoring.  That was drowned out now and then by great guffaws from one boy or the other, not to mention the occasional snicker from Rinna.  Only Bobo appeared to be immune, but suffice to say, Padrama did not get much rest.

Padrama heard them get up in the morning, before dawn.  He heard them trying to be quiet, though they sounded like buffalos in a coffee shop.  They also laughed now and then, especially Bobo, who seemed to have saved up his laughter for the morning.  They left.

When Padrama opened his eyes, he saw that the half of the deer was gone.  He expected that.  Beside him, Raja’s voice whispered.

“Are they gone?”

“They are gone,” Padrama said, and he got up to make sure they did not tinker with the chariot, and the horses were okay.  He found a small stack of wood beside the fire and assumed it was their way of making payment for the half a deer.  He knew by morning they would all conveniently forget that he was the Kairos, their own personal god, given to the little ones by the gods in the most ancient times.  He would not remind them.  He would look out across the way and think about where he was proposing to go.

“Nothing left to cook,” Raja said.  “I’m glad to still have my skin.”

Padrama laughed.  He prepared himself to hunt, but a pot appeared on the miraculously built up fire, and a man appeared, sitting, and staring into the fire.  Raja leapt up and ran several steps from the fire.  Padrama squinted and then sat.

“Mita.  Why are you here?”  Padrama deliberately used a name for the god that Raja did not know.  He did not want his servant freaking out more than necessary.

“Several reasons,” Mita responded.  “Breakfast is a good one.”

It was rabbit and actual vegetables in the stew, and Raja quickly retrieved their bowls and spoons from his backpack.  “Sorry,” he said.  “We only carry the two.”

“Quite all right,” Mita said.  He lifted his hand that had been hidden by the pot and held a bowl in it, with a spoon in the bowl.  “Here,” he said and reached out.  Raja gave him the two bowls and he filled them.  It smelled wonderful, and from the sounds Raja made, Padrama was sure it would taste wonderful, too.  Unfortunately, he had sudden, serious concerns on his mind.

“You know you are needed,” Mita said.

Padrama glanced at Raja, and Mita, who was, in fact, Mithras, did something so Raja could not hear and thought of nothing but his breakfast.  Padrama spoke.  “Are Brahma and Varuna having trouble?”

Mita shrugged.  “Things have gone well up to this point, but they appear to have reached an impasse.  Varuna has only been king…well for some time, since Dayus stepped down, but it is asking a lot to give that up.  At least, I think so.”

“I didn’t think being king was that important to Varuna.”

“It isn’t.  He is prepared to give up the kingship, but who will take the responsibility?  Brahma seems a reasonably stable and good person, but as chief negotiator for the other side, he can’t exactly negotiate himself into the position.  Shiva wants it.  Vishnu won’t let him take it.  Indra suggested Vishnu might take it, but Vishnu is like Varuna in that respect and wants no part of it.”  Mita shrugged.

“How about Devi?”  Padrama said.  “She would be a great king.”

“She’s a woman.”

“So why can’t a woman be king?”

Mita just shook his head.  “You have to go there.  Both Brahma and Varuna would listen to you, if you don’t offer stupid suggestions.”

Padrama thought about it.  He knew the history and the way things supposedly worked out, but he would have to be careful how he presented it.”  Then something Mita said caught up with him.  “What do you mean, I have to go there?  Don’t you mean we have to go there?”

Mita shook his head.  “I suppose I will have to take you, but you will have to get back on your own.  I’m getting while the getting is good.  You know I have worked with Scythians, and the people all around Bactra for centuries.  It was Varuna’s idea to stall the invasion.  I am known by the people of this land, but I also have a connection to the Aryans.”

“Who are now also in this land.”

“Not all,” Mita said.  “Some Asuras, or I should say, Ahuras will cross the divide and move down with the people into the mostly empty no-man’s land, what you call Iran.  We will be gods for the Iranians, the Avestan Magi.”

“Medes and Persians, and I suppose you will still play with the Scythians, too.”  Mita shrugged, but Padrama had another thought.  “Tough luck on your brother, you running out on him and all.”

Mita shrugged again.  “You know I am not a fighter, and I am a glutton.  I would not do well around ascetics.”

Padrama looked across the river where Mohini had gone.  “You know I have only one desire in this life.  My soul mate is in the hands of a demon and I will save her.”

“Very noble, but if you don’t come, there may be nothing left to save.”

Padrama nodded very sadly.  “Raja,” he said.  “Raja.”  He got the man’s attention.  “You need to stay here and watch our things.  I have to run an errand, and I will be back as soon as possible.”

Raja nodded slightly, and when Padrama and the stranger both disappeared, he swallowed.

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

Happy Thanksgiving

Be sure to chew with your mouth closed and swallow.

And Happy Reading.