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?

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

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

*

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.

###

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.

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.

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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

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