M3 Margueritte: Roland, part 2 of 3

Roland looked up and Marguerite turned, both having rather silly smiles, just as Hammerhead stuck all six potatoes in his mouth at once and chewed and announced.  “These are good to eat.”  Margueritte barely stopped him before he disgorged his chewed bits into the good bin.

She thanked the little ones and asked them to see if Luckless or Tomberlain might need their assistance.

“Always glad to be of service,” Grimly said, and Roland rolled up his sleeves and helped.

“That gnome still has a lot of imp in him,” Margueritte said, and that sparked a good discussion, but the kiss they both thought about never got mentioned.

When the evening came. Marta came to Margueritte’s room where she helped brush Margueritte’s hair.  That near black hair, when taken down, now fell to the floor which made it more than five feet long.  Marta had begun to help her care for it, though she also bore the brunt of nearly every other duty in the house.  Margueritte was grateful, and they were both rather giddy that night, though Margueritte became a bit miffed by bedtime.  She could hardly get a word in about Roland.  Marta kept talking about her Weldig, the potter, whom she called, Mister Potter.  And every time Margueritte did mention something, it only reminded Marta of something else.  Marta was not long for this world, Margueritte reminded herself, and she reconciled herself to having good dreams, which she did.

By the time they reached Vergenville that next day, Margueritte felt rather grumpy.  She knew what was going on, physically, but she thought the timing rather poor.  While she waited at the inn for Roland to deliver his letters to the king, all the talk around her was of the dragon.  The people hoped that now that the king had come from his western court, something might be done about this scourge.

“I heard it was as big as a tower,” one said.

“Big as the whole village,” another countered.

“I heard it ate a whole fishing boat in one gulp, fisherman and all,” one said.

“A whole fishing fleet,” yet another spoke.

“It’s big, but not that big,” Lord Bartholomew turned to the table.

“You’ve seen it then,” the baron concluded.

“I have,” Sir Barth nodded, and stopped Margueritte’s hand.  “No,” he said.

“Father.”  She complained, rolled her eyes, but acquiescing in the end.  She contented herself with unfermented cider, though she thought she ought to be able to try the harder stuff.

“Bartholomew.”  Lady Brianna called from the doorway.  Owien stood there, and Elsbeth was going, too.  Bartholomew stood and downed his drink at once.

“Coming,” he said.  “Time for the Fens.”

“But I thought the king said you were not supposed to do that anymore,” Baron Bernard questioned, with a smile.

Bartholomew shrugged.  “Young Owien has so been looking forward to handing out the soap, I hate to disappoint the boy,” he said.

“You’re not going this year?”  The Baron asked after they left.  Margueritte shook her head.  “Oh, that’s right.  Your young man.”

“I bet he gets to drink the real stuff,” she said, in an attempt to not turn red at the thought of her young man.

“You had better wish he doesn’t like the stuff,” the baron suggested, as Constantus came crashing in the door, all but swearing.

“Don’t bother,” Baron Bernard said.  “Bartholomew’s gone to the Fens.”

Constantus calmed down instantly, got a drink and took a seat with his friend.  “That dragon got my Gray Ghost.”

“Ah!”  The Baron smiled, knowingly.

“It didn’t.”  Margueritte felt concerned.  Constantus looked up and patted her hand reassuringly.

“It was the Gray Ghost number two,” he said.  “And really too old to be racing again.  The truth is Gray Ghost number three is not ready.  Still too young.”

“Too young?”  The Baron asked.

“Yes, and not a true gray in any case.”

“Too bad,” Margueritte said.  “Father has been breeding Arabians to get a winner, and now he’ll never know.”  They all had a little chuckle at that thought.

Not long after that, Roland returned with the bard, Thomas of Evandell.  Margueritte slid down the bench so Roland could sit comfortably beside her, and then he, the bard, the baron and Lord Constantus had a grand old time all around her.

At last, Marguerite sighed, and Roland got the hint.  “I think it would be good to see this fair of yours, Thomas,” he said.  He rose-up and put his empty tankard which had been full of ale on the bar counter, and Thomas rose with him.  “And would my lady like to accompany us?”  Roland added.

Margueritte rose immediately.  She said nothing but merely took Roland’s arm, and then Thomas’ arm as well for balance.  Together, they went into the market fair.  Thomas said, “Well I’ll be,” more than once, because as long as he held Margueritte’s arm, he saw what she and Roland saw.  Every little one, every sprite, elf, dwarf and fee in the market area, though otherwise invisible to the people, came and paid their respects to the girl before they began to pilfer their little bits.  Odd, though, that Thomas was not truly amazed, nor the least bit frightened by it all.  He said he could not tell all those stories for all of those years without believing at least some of them.  He did ask, however, why they could see the sprites when no one else could and why the little spirits were so careful to pay their respects to Margueritte.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Roland teased.  “Clearly my lady’s charms surpass those of other, ordinary mortals.”

Margueritte struggled and at last produced the littlest burp.  “Excuse me, Gentlemen,” she said, and Roland fell over for laughing.

When they came to the end of the royal fair, they found a small gypsy camp had been set up.  Margueritte thought it odd that there were no little ones among the gypsies, but she said nothing to the others.  She felt reluctant to enter the area herself, but with some persuasion she came along, and the first place they came to, was a tent with an older woman who claimed she could tell fortunes in a man’s palm.

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 3 of 3

Sir Bartholomew stepped back a step on seeing the doctor disappear, but quickly recovered and turned to Grimly and Luckless the Dwarf.  He tried hard not to look up at the ogre.  “And what can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked.

Luckless stepped up again.  “Actually,” he said.  “We were kind of hoping we could stick around for a while.”  He looked at Grimly who nodded vigorously, and at Hammerhead, who was not sure what was happening.

Sir Barth took another step back and looked to the girls and to his wife.  Surprisingly, Lady Brianna did not seem to have any objections, while Elsbeth quickly said, “Please.”

“Pleasy,” Little White Flower echoed.

“But.”  Bartholomew hardly knew what to say.  “Where will they stay?” he asked.

“Under the hill, under the barn,” Margueritte suggested quickly.  “They dig fast and well, and no one need ever know they are there.”

“Aha!  But what will we feed them?”  Bartholomew thought he had the right idea.  “We can’t possibly feed the lot of them for free.”

“I understand fairies need only a little milk and some bread for sustenance,” Lady Brianna said, and Sir Barth knew he was already outvoted.

“And berries.”  Little White Flower spoke up from Elsbeth’s hair and shoulder.  Elsbeth giggled because it tickled.  “I like berries.”

“I can cook a bit,” Lolly chimed in.  “I been practicing, er, ‘bout four hundred years.  I ought to be pretty good by now, so wouldn’t be for free.”

“You ought to be good,” Luckless mumbled.

“Never heard you complaining yet,” Lolly shot at him and Lady Brianna covered her grin.

“M’lord.”  Redux the blacksmith stepped forward.  “I would be pleased to learn from this good dwarf, all of whom are known to be experts in the smithy crafts.”

“I’m no expert,” Luckless said, as he straightened his helmet which was a bit large and had begun to slip to one side.  He paused, but then rubbed his hands.  “Still, it would be good to get my hands on a good furnace again.  All play and no work makes for a fat dwarf.”

“No.  It’s my good cookin’,” Lolly said and smiled from ear to ear, literally.

“And Grimly the brownie.”  Margueritte gave him the Breton name rather than the Frankish “hobgoblin.”  “He can help in the fields.  Gnomes are known to be very good with crops and bring bounty and blessing.”

“So, it would not be feeding them for free.”  Brianna summed it up.

Bartholomew put his hand to his chin.  “Ah!” he said at last.  “But what about this big one.  He looks like he could eat a horse for breakfast.”

Grimly stepped straight up to the lord who had to look straight down to pay attention.  “You got a problem with rocks and boulders in your fields?  Like who doesn’t in these parts?  You got a problem with sandy soil and needing tons of fertilizer?  Like who doesn’t around here?  You got stumps and things to clear, and sink holes and little hillocks and the like?  Well, my friend can fix all that, and better than a whole herd of oxen and bunches of you human beans.”

“Beings,” Margueritte corrected, then held her tongue.

Sir Barth thought a minute longer before he turned to Margueritte.  “Can you guarantee their good behavior?  I’ve heard some pretty strange stories, as have you.”

“Well.”  Margueritte hesitated.  “No, father, I cannot promise.”

“That’s right.”  Lolly stuck up for her Great Lady.  “The gods never make promises.”

“’sright.”  Luckless confirmed.

“But they will be loyal and faithful and won’t hurt anybody.  Isn’t that right?”  All the little ones agreed to that and swore mightily.

Sir Barth looked around at his men, and especially at Marta and Maven.  “If any one of you ever says anything about this to anyone at any time, I will not rest until I find out who did the telling and it will be worse for them than if they had never been born.”  His men and women also swore they would keep it all a secret, though they did not swear nearly as colorfully as the little ones.  Margueritte knew the Franks, and even Marta and Maven would keep their word, at least up to a point.  She also knew the little one’s word was hardly worth the breath it took to say it, but her father seemed satisfied.

“Let’s go home,” he said.

They rounded up the horses and found a half dozen Arabians added to the spoils.  Those horses carried the dead who would be buried by the chapel, but already Lord Bartholomew’s mind turned to breeding.  He thought the right combination of Arabian and Frankish charger would be a horse that could finally beat the Gray Ghost.

Luckless, constantly straightened his helmet and walked beside Redux.  “Got a wife?”  Margueritte heard him ask.

“No,” Redux answered.

“Lucky man,” Luckless said.  “I can see maybe there’s a thing or two I could learn myself.”

Margueritte, knew how good the ears of a lady dwarf really were and felt surprised Lolly had no comment to shout.  Then she saw her in the cart with Marta and Maven.  Marta reached out to touch the dwarf like one might fear to touch a leper.  Maven was already looking for a comfortable spot for twenty more winks.

“Lady.”  Margueritte heard and almost answered before she realized Little White Flower was speaking to her mother.  “Can I spend the night in Elsbeth’s room?  Pleasy?”

Lady Brianna laughed and nodded.  She understood this would become a regular thing.  Both Elsbeth and Little White Flower cheered.

Margueritte then looked back to the end of the small procession, just past the third wagon.  Hammerhead walked slowly to keep from accidentally kicking the last wagon.  He grinned ever so broadly, and Margueritte felt glad no one else looked back.  The sight of an ogre grinning was not something normal people would ever want to see.

“So, it’s you and me.”  Margueritte heard Grimly’s voice, but the brownie was obscured by the wagon where she could not see him.  When the ogre did not respond, probably because he did not hear the little voice, being lost in his own though, in the singular, Grimly floated up until he got to ear level.  He leaned in, spoke right into the ogre’s ear and cupped his hands for the extra volume.  “I said, so it’s you and me.”

Hammerhead dumbly turned his head in the direction of the sound and bumped Grimly who flew back and down and landed smack in a mud puddle.  “Sorry,” Hammerhead said, sincerely.  He tried to whisper so as not to frighten the beasts or the people.  Margueritte laughed.

Come evening, Margueritte could not help dreaming of little ones, but oddly, she also dreamed of Gerraint, son of Erbin that Thomas of Evandell sang so well about.  At least it seemed like a dream, at first.

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MONDAY

Beltane, because, you know, for every fall festival there has to be a spring festival.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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M3 Gerraint: Tara to Avalon, part 3 of 4

Gerraint came around when the sun returned, but this time it came as a more normal sunrise.  Granted, the sun reached near noon in only a couple of hours, but it appeared relatively normal all the same.

“Land!”  Lolly was the first to shout.

“Land!”  Trevor echoed from the helm.

“Make ready to come ashore,” Macreedy shouted.  “Lower the sail, and be quick.”  Everyone helped, and not especially quick, but from the way the land grew in their sight, it seemed as if they were in a speed boat.  Before then, no one knew how fast they were really going.

“We’re going to crash.”  Gwynyvar hid her face in her hands.

“Keep her dead on.”  Macreedy ordered.  Trevor did not argue, but he closed his eyes.  Gwillim already started praying.  Arthur and Lancelot had Gwynyvar between them in case they were needed to cushion her fall when they crashed.  Uwaine came up to stand in the bow beside Gerraint.  Bedivere and old Peredur followed.  Gerraint, however, turned and got Luckless’ attention.

“Keep watch over your charge,” he said and made sure that Lolly also heard.  Arthur and Lancelot were both hard in battle, but they were fish out of water themselves, and could hardly be counted on to protect the Lady.

“Lord,” Luckless acknowledged the reminder.

The dock came up fast.  Uwaine and Peredur involuntarily squinted, expecting a terrible crash.  Bedivere had to look to the side, but as it turned out, they missed the dock and it now looked as if they were going to crash right up on the shore.  Everyone held on to whatever they could grab, but the ship came to an instant and absolute stop, their momentum and inertia rose up in something like a bubble and rushed into the sky, while not one of them so much as leaned forward at the stop.

“You missed the dock.”  Gerraint pointed out that they landed nearly a foot away.

Macreedy and Gerraint went to throw ropes around the posts and heave the boat closer to the planks.  “Amateur at the rudder,” Macreedy said.  “And don’t rub it in.”

Gerraint laughed, while the others came up to help, and soon enough they were up on the dock and headed toward the shore.

“Keep together and watch your back.”  Arthur gave some general instructions as they began to walk down the dock.  They stopped a few feet before the end.  Two men waited there.  One looked blond, middle aged and dressed like a king.  The other looked dark, dressed in black, and as old as Peredur.  No one knew them until Gerraint squinted.

“Gwyn?”  He guessed at the younger one.

“And Pwyll.”  The older man gave his name.  Gerraint would have never guessed since he had aged so much.

“Enid?”  Gerraint asked

“At the house.”  Gwyn smiled.  “Safe enough.”  He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.

“The treasures?”  Arthur asked.

“Safe,” Pwyll answered.

“That Formor wanna-be, Abraxas left when he knew you were coming,” Gwyn said, and he added a word.  “Coward.”

“And Talesin has gone into hiding,” Pwyll said, but he smiled.

“The ghostly hands and cauldron.”  Uwaine put two and two together.  Arthur and Lancelot looked up, stern anger on their faces.  But Pwyll and Gwyn laughed.

“Fat lotta good it will do him,” Gerraint said.  He began to walk up toward the house and everyone followed.

“How many are there?”  Bedivere asked.  Lancelot looked.  He should have thought to ask that question.

“Well young squire,” Gwyn said, affably.  “I should say eight, but I suppose you mean six.  There is old Pelenor and his friend Ederyn, the Raven and his druid, and two men at arms who follow the Raven.”

“Nine on six is not bad,” Arthur said.

“Eleven,” Macreedy corrected him.

“Ten,” Luckless said without explanation, but he and Lolly were side by side with Gwynyvar, and Luckless fingered his ax.

The house appeared a simple thatched cottage from the outside.  It seemed an idyllic scene, like the home of a gentle fisherman and his wife, set out to overlook the sea.  There were even flowers in the garden.  Gerraint knew better.  He opened the door without knocking, and they stepped into a vast hall where they saw row after row of great oak tables and a vast, distant fire burning in a great stone fireplace in the center of the room.

Enid looked tied to a chair at a nearby table, and gagged.  Guimier was allowed to play at her mother’s feet.  Four men sat around the table on all four sides, like men arguing four different propositions, which they were.  The two men at arms held back, but kept an eye on the mother and child.

As the company entered, Pelenor looked up, but his eyes looked defeated already.  Ederyn smiled, briefly.  The druid stood suddenly, having been seated across from the lady. His chair fell back and clattered to the floor while the druid fingered his sword, but he did not draw it.  Urien quickly drew his knife and placed it at Enid’s throat.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Urien said through his teeth.

Arthur and his men spread out.  Luckless and Lolly kept Gwynyvar by the door.  Her impulse had been to run to her friend, but of course, that would have been foolish.

Gwyn and Pwyll stepped up beside Gerraint.  “Cannot interfere, you know,” Gwyn whispered in Gerraint’s ear.

“I would like a visit with this lovely child, though,” Pwyll said.  Guimier began to rise from the floor.  The men at arms looked at each other, but did not know what to do.  Gummier giggled and floated into Pwyll’s arms.  Everyone stared, but Guimier shouted.

“Daddy!”  Gerraint touched his daughter and smiled.

“Thank you Pwyll,” Gerraint said, and Pwyll nodded, tickled Guimier in the stomach and looked on her like a grandfather might look on a favorite grandchild.

“Now tell me about this doll of yours,” Pwyll said, as the stepped back outside.

“Yes,” Gwyn said, eyeing his brother god.  “Now that he mentions it, I would like a little talk with this woman of yours.”  He winked at Gerraint.  “Maybe she can tell me how to blunt a mother’s anger.”

Urien grabbed Enid by the hair and pressed his knife close to the throat, but it did no good.  Enid simply vanished out of his hand and appeared beside the blonde God.  He whispered in Enid’s ear, and Enid giggled with a look at Gerraint.  Then they walked out, Enid and Gwynyvar hugging, and Luckless and Lolly following.  Luckless alone glanced back once.  He was going to miss it.

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

MONDAY

Don’t you miss it.  The end of the story… Until Then, Happy Reading

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M3 Gerraint: Glastonbury Tor, part 2 of 3

“Mmm.”  Gerraint nodded before Luckless said too much about the Lady’s virtues to trigger a jealous spell in Lolly.  “We don’t know what we will find on the other side.  This whole thing smells of intrigue and powers at work.”

“Yes, I heard that Abraxas fellow has been poking around this area.”  Luckless pulled his beard.  “I hope we don’t have to tangle with him again.”

“I think Talesin may be tangled up here as well.”  Gerraint finally admitted what he felt way back in Arthur’s court when those ghostly hands carried the ghostly cauldron across the room.

“That breed child of the Danna-Fee has been no end of trouble.”  Luckless shook his head to give Gerraint all his sympathy.

“Yes, you would think after four thousand years he would grow out of that teenage rebellious stage,” Gerraint said.  “But the point is, I don’t know what we will find in Tara when we arrive, or on Avalon of the Apples if we must go there.  Your job is to stay with the Lady, no matter what, and be sure no harm comes to her.”

“Yes.”  Luckless thought about it.  “I see what you mean by hard duty.”

“You understand?”  Gerraint asked.

Luckless nodded and they were introduced and paired up, ready at last for the journey.

“Bear to the left,” Macreedy said at the stone of starting, and they began the seven-fold path to the top.

Gerraint had to concentrate a little to make the magic work.  It was magic given to him; not natural like for the others.  Then again, the others had to concentrate a little as well to bring their charges along with them.  The result was most of the conversation ran between the humans, and little else got said.

The morning began spring beautiful, but after the first turn, it felt like they walked into an oven.  Everyone began to sweat, except the elf maidens, and the people began to think that perhaps they should have packed less thoroughly.  They told a few jokes about what they did not need to bring, but no one complained, yet.

After the second turn, the wind picked up.  Not far along, the dust began to blow up in their faces.

“Can’t hardly see where we’re going,” Gwillim said.

“Yes, you would think after all the rain we had it would be too muddy to blow dust,” Mesalwig responded.

“I’ve a feeling things are just beginning,” Uwaine said, softly.

“Don’t look at me,” Bedivere said.  “I’m practicing keeping my mouth shut this time.”

“Ours is not to reason why,” Lancelot started again.

“Knock it off,” Gerraint interrupted.

“Ooo, the bugs!”  Gwynyvar objected for everyone.  As they made the third turn, the bugs came with the dust and heat.  They flew up in their faces, like the people were race cars and the bugs were trying to splatter against the windshields, though they had no windshields.

“What do you mean you have a recipe for spite bugs?”  Everyone heard Trevor’s objection, and it did sound rather awful.  Everyone tried to keep their mouths closed, and as far as possible, their eyes as well.  Some of the flies were rather large, and some were rather bloody when they splattered against the arms and legs.

“Now, it is a pleasant journey,” Peredur said, held tight to his elf maiden, and smiled as much as he could.  No one could tell if he was serious or not, so no one responded.

“I must say, this never happened when we were working on the fort,” Mesalwig added, but by then they reached the fourth turn.

They all heard a loud crack of thunder. No one saw the lightning, but at once the sky opened up in torrents of rain.  The sky had been virtually clear of clouds only moments earlier.  No one could see but a few feet ahead, and they had to shout to be heard above the crash of the water.

Macreedy tried to pick up the pace as much as possible, but they were slow going against the squall.

“At least it might lessen the damn heat,” Lancelot yelled.

“God willing.”  Gwillim puffed a little from the climb.

They began to feel the water at their feet.  It cascaded down the path, and the water started rising.  “It will only get worse if we don’t hurry,” Macreedy spoke at last.

It got ankle deep at the half-way point, and at their knees by the time they neared the turn.  No flash flood ever bore such strength as it seemed to want to push them from the path and keep them from completing the journey.

“Ah!”  Gwynyvar shrieked and would have been washed away if Luckless had not held tight to her hand.  Lancelot grabbed her other hand, and they pulled her ahead, and lifted her at the last and pushed through the water by sheer determination.  Neither the elf maidens nor Luckless let go that whole time.  They did not seem as effected by the flood as the others.  Then they rounded turn five, and the rain stopped as suddenly as it started.

“Beware the quick mud,” Macreedy warned.  “Once it grips you, it won’t let go as easily as quicksand.”

Everyone paused.  Without a word, they all felt it prudent to let Gerraint, Arthur and Macreedy pick out the safe way, and they followed in their steps.  Without the heat, the dust, the bugs and the rain, this leg did not seem so bad, provided they were careful.  The elf maidens guided their charges well, and only Trevor became temporarily stuck when his foot slipped on a wet rock and landed in the mud.

“Help.”  He yelled briefly before he thought to pull his foot from his boot.  They watched the boot get sucked under in only a few seconds and it made all sorts of disgusting gurgling sounds in the process.

They were nearing the top when they made turn six.  It looked from the turn like a pleasant walk.  They even found some trees at this level, and with the shade they felt that at last the heat might not be too oppressive; but then everything returned with a vengeance—the wind, the dust, the bugs and the rain, and this time the lightning came with it.

M3 Gerraint: Glastonbury Tor, part 1 of 3

They did not leave as early in the morning as Gerraint would have liked.  Despite Rhiannon’s claim of protection, he started getting very worried.  All the same, they arrived at Glastonbury before nightfall, and Mesalwig made them a great feast.  No telling exactly what the old man thought of Arthur and his companions at that point, or how he might respond to the presence of Gwynyvar, whom he once held captive for nearly a year, but there was no doubt of his interest in adventuring on the quest, once the details had been explained to him.

“The old fort at the top has been torn down,” Mesalwig explained.  “I must tell you, after a series of terrible dreams I took great pains not to ruin the spirals.  Apparently, it worked the same for my father when he built the fort after the Romans left.  I had no idea the paths went anywhere, though.  But say, how can we climb a hill in the marshes and end up in Ireland?  It makes no sense to me.”

“Me, either,” Gwillim admitted.

“Ours is not to reason why.”  Lancelot started, having heard Gerraint use the expression often enough; but this time Gerraint interrupted him.

“It is part of the old ways itself,” he said.  “I am still reluctant to travel that way, but there appears to be no other choice.”

“But will they be there?”  Arthur generally questioned everything.  It was one of his talents, to help men find the way for themselves and take their own ownership of the results.

Gerraint nodded slowly.  “We should arrive just before or just after them if I calculated correctly.”

“After?”  Arthur wondered.

“The way to Avalon from Tara is hidden and difficult.  Even after should be sufficient to catch them.  I can’t imagine they can get the kind of help that would move them along quickly from Tara,” Gerraint said.

“That would be a betrayal of the first order,” Macreedy agreed.  He looked at Gerraint.  Both knew it was possible, but neither was willing to speculate further on the matter.

“So, will you be building a new fort at the top?”  Lancelot got curious and always thought in military terms.

Mesalwig shook his head.  “Not with the Saxons cowed.  All I see is peace.  Maybe I’ll give it to the church.”

“Not a bad choice,” Peredur said.

“What a waste,” Macreedy mumbled at about the same time.

Mesalwig looked at his ale and then smiled.  “As for me, I would like to know about these maids you have taken for you hand.”  He turned the conversation in Gwynyvar’s direction.

“Not mine,” Gwynyvar said, though the maids sat around her and to some extent behind her, depending on the Lady’s protection in this strange land.  “These are Macreedy’s daughters, if the report is true.”  She did not doubt Macreedy, exactly, but like Arthur, she knew enough to know the little ones sometimes played loose with relationships and were not inclined to complete truthfulness in any case.

“True enough,” Macreedy said and looked at Gerraint again.  He wrinkled his face where Mesalwig could not see, took a deep breath and another swig of Mesalwig’s home brew.  Gerraint caught the thought from Macreedy who wondered how humans could survive on such bile.  Macreedy imagined it was one reason why humans lived such a short lifetime.  In this case, though, the rest of the crew had an equally hard time swallowing the stuff, except for Peredur, who seemed to have had his taste buds blunted with age, and Gwillim, who seemed a man who could wring pleasure out of almost anything he could get past his lips.  Finally, Gerraint’s answer to the problem was a simple one.

“If you don’t mind, I would like to bed down,” he said.  “I would appreciate an early start in the morning.”  He started off, but Gwynyvar reached for his hand.

“I am sure they are all right,” she said.  “I am believing and praying with all of my heart.”

“Here, here.”  Several agreed.

Gerraint just smiled and went to bed.

After a nearly sleepless night, Gerraint woke everyone at dawn.  They made him wait for a good breakfast, and then wait again while they packed such supplies as they imagined they might need.  The elf maidens packed nothing, of course, and looked as fresh as the springtime they inhabited.  Macreedy waited patiently and only Gerraint understood how difficult that was for him.  Bedivere got impatient for the both of them.  Uwaine learned to be more sensible about such matters.

At last they traveled the short way to the hill.  The marshes seemed especially soggy from all of the spring rains and winter melt, but they walked a wood plank path that led to the base of the oval hill.

“The stone of starting is just a little way up,” Macreedy said.  He held Arthur’s arm.  Arthur joked that he wasn’t that old yet, but he understood.  Besides, it seemed Macreedy had things he wanted to discuss with the Christian Lord, and Arthur knew any conversation would be better than none on a long, dreary climb.

The six elf maidens had others by the hand.  They were Uwaine, Bedivere, Peredur, Gwillim, Mesalwig and Lancelot.  Gerraint looked around for his other escorts, but did not have to look hard.

“Well met,” Macreedy called out as they climbed.  His sharp elf eyes saw the hidden couple well in advance of the others.  Luckless and Lolly waited by the stone of starting.  Gerraint immediately took them aside.

“Lolly, I apologize, but you will have to escort Trevor.  He is a would-be sailor, but in truth he is a cook, and a rather good one as far as humans go.”

Lolly’s eyes brightened.  She wondered how this man knew her so well, Kairos though he might be.  “Maybe we could share some recipes along the way,” she thought out loud.

“I knew I could count on you,” Gerraint said, with a smile, and he turned to Luckless.

“True to your name, you will have the hard duty,” he said.

“Wouldn’t expect less.”  Luckless sighed.  “It is my lot in life, you know.”

“Yes, well, you will have to escort the Lady Gwynyvar,” Gerraint said.

“I am honored,” Luckless said, and he looked genuinely pleased, almost too pleased for Lolly.  “But I thought you said hard duty.”  He knew the Kairos well enough to squint and wait for the other shoe to drop.

M3 Gerraint: Captives, part 3 of 3

Greta looked up and saw a big man carrying his little six-year-old daughter to the roundhouse.  The daughter cried because of the pain.  Her lungs sounded full of fluid.  The man cried as well.  Aw, hell, Greta thought Gerraint’s words.

Greta found her way to the fish house well after dark.  The others were already snoring, having spent a hard afternoon felling and trimming trees and without any sleep at all the night before.  It was not hard to find Uwaine in the dark.  She recognized his breathing.  She curled up beside him, not touching, but close enough to touch, and shortly went to sleep.  She felt tired.

The next morning, she threw the boys out and took over the fish house for a work space.  They would have to sleep outdoors.  They said they did not mind sleeping around the fire, but she knew the days were closing in.  She satisfied herself by thinking that they would be so tired after a hard day, they would probably sleep anywhere, and she collected Lucan and went to work.

Three days later, she threw her hands up in frustration.  No one had died or even gotten worse in that time, but no one had gotten better, either.  There were two new cases, besides, and more houses to burn.  For her part, Greta had no incubator, her Petri dishes were wooden bowls, her microscope was a roman magnifying glass she had in her bag, and she could not produce anything approximating penicillin to save her life.

“Manannan!”  Greta ran to the shore and cried out.  “Manannan!”  The god did not answer.  She called again and again, and Lucan stood by, shocked at first, but patient thereafter.  Greta opened her mind and her ears before she shouted herself hoarse, and then she had a thought; or perhaps Manannan gave her the thought.

“Pincher!”  Greta called, not knowing if the dwarf might even be alive yet.  “And Pincher’s mother,” she added.  “Runabout!”  The name came to her.  They were hers, after all, and she could command their presence, though whether they could help or not felt uncertain.

A mother dwarf and her young son appeared, sure enough.  The dwarf shrieked.  Lucan screamed.  Son of the Cow dropped his sword and ran for his life.  The dwarf child, Pincher, looked at Greta and smiled.

“It’s all right.  Don’t be afraid,” Greta said hastily to whoever listened.  “I just need your help for a little bit.”

“What.  Me?”  Runabout asked

“Me?”  Pincher echoed.

“Yes, both,” Greta said, and she coaxed them toward the fish house figuring Lucan would recover soon enough.  Greta explained what she was trying to do.  “If I can distill it to liquid form where it can be taken internally, it should kill the invading bacteria and the people could be healed.”

“Yes, I see,” Runabout said.  “But what makes you think that I can do anything you can’t do?”  Greta frowned before she answered, and then she had to choose her words carefully.

“Because I have a feeling about young Pincher, that he may be a healer one day,” she said.

“Why?”  Runabout asked.  “We never get sick.”  She spoke of the little spirits of the world, the dwarfs, elves, light and dark, the fee, and generally the sprites of the four elements, and for the most part, what she said was true.

“But he is not entirely a spiritual creature, is he?”  Greta countered.  Runabout said nothing.  She looked around, embarrassed to speak the truth.  “He is half human, is he not?”  Greta pressed.

“He might be,” Runabout admitted sheepishly.  “But, how would you know that?”

“I also know what Runabout means,” Greta said.  “But that is not important right now.  Producing the right stuff to heal this pneumonia outbreak is.  People are suffering, terribly.”

“Well, I suppose it would not hurt to have a look.”  Runabout eyed Greta with great suspicion.

“Can we?”  Pincher asked with some enthusiasm, and Greta took the young one by the hand and dragged him inside.  Runabout became obliged to follow, and Lucan came in a short time later.

After three more days, they had a mixture which Greta thought might have a good effect.  One man died in the meanwhile, but word of the dwarf, and the assumption of magical help, stayed the anger of the Picts.  Then it would all be in the delivery, and Greta took the mixture to the little girl, personally.  After six days of waiting, the girl and a number of others were at death’s door.

It seemed touch and go at first, but not really more than a day or two before people began to breathe, literally.  Gerraint’s crew went happily to work after that, knowing they would live.  The Picts even began to smile now and then, and the women laughed a little.

Greta almost let Gerraint come home, but excused her staying on by saying she wanted to be sure there were no relapses.  No new cases had come forward once the houses were burned, however, so it was really to see the little girl back on her feet and watch the young Pincher at work.  He did, indeed, pinch his patients at times to get their attention.  Runabout stayed in the fish house, smelly as she said it was.  She claimed to be naturally shy in front of humans, as most little ones are, though Greta noticed she was not especially shy in front of Son of the Cow, once he got over his fright.

Pincher, on the other hand, became fascinated with this whole medical process.  He insisted on accompanying Greta and Lucan to the Roundhouse to administer the drug and watch its’ effect.  Fortunately, the people there saw him as a young boy, short, but not dwarfish in particular.  That grace, Greta allowed him, and in the years to come it would permit him to move freely between human and dwarfish worlds.

“But can’t I see the dwarf?”  Ellia, the little girl asked when she felt much better.  She had told Greta her real name and her father made no objection seeing as how Greta saved the girl’s life.

“But you do see him,” Greta said and set Pincher beside herself.

“Him?”  Ellia turned up her nose.  “He is just a grubby little boy.”

“Here.”  Greta took Ellia’s hand.  Suddenly, Ellia became able to see as if through Greta’s eyes and the little girl’s eyes got big as she took in Pincher’s dwarfish half.  “Now rest.”  Greta let go.  “Doctor Pincher and his mother need to go home now, and you need sleep.  Sleep is still the best medicine.”  She said that last to Lucan, but Lucan dutifully translated it anyway.

“What do you mean, go home?”  Lucan asked when she caught up.

“Do we have to?”  Pincher asked.

Greta merely nodded as they walked to the fish house.  Runabout sat there, waiting, and anxious for her own part.

“Something you should know first.”  Runabout spoke when they were ready.  She looked down as she added, “Son of the Cow told me all about it.”  Greta waited patiently until Runabout swallowed her embarrassment and got ready to go on.  “The chief, Moonshadow, is against making peace with the Scots.  He has been very strong about it and has won many chiefs to his way of thinking.  He says the Ulsterites, as he calls them, were not invited into the land, and yet they have spread like a plague until the whole of the lowlands are now in their hands.  He says if they make peace, more Scots will find a pretext to move north until there is no room left and the Picts will vanish altogether from the face of the earth.”

“This is true,” Lucan confirmed.  “Moonshadow is unbending on this.”

“Yes,” Runabout continued.  “But last spring the god of fire and water came here and spoke all kindly about peace and love between the two peoples.  When Moonshadow refused to listen, however, the god threatened.  He said Moonshadow called the Scots a plague, then so be it, and he vanished.”

“And the summer turned as dry and hot as fire,” Lucan picked up the story.  “And the fall has been as wet as the sea, and people began to get sick.  We feared.  We might have all died if you had not come along.”

“I do not like the idea of working against the god,” Runabout said frankly, and then she had a moment of complete honesty which was utterly uncharacteristic of her kind.  She almost came to tears as she spoke.  “I tried to ruin the cure, but my magic seems ineffective in this place.”

“Just a precaution,” Greta said, and she kissed Pincher on the forehead, squeezed Lucan’s hand and went home.  Gerraint returned, clothed in his armor, his weapons in their proper place at his back, and the cloak of Athena over all.  Lucan gasped.  She had forgotten.  “And now it is time for you to go home,” Gerraint said.

Runabout also gasped.  “No wonder,” she said.  She finally realized in whose presence she stood and tried to bow, but Gerraint spoke quickly.

“I will see you again, no doubt.”  He laid a hand on each head.  “Go home.”  And they did.

“Is it over?”  Lucan asked.  Her eyes were shut.  She had decided the magic would not be so shocking if she did not see it.  She shrieked all the same when she saw Gerraint face to face.  He seemed her age now, and surprisingly, she did not look as old as she did before.  He sighed and lead her back to the roundhouse, totally confusing poor Son of the Cow.

“Ellia,” he called the girl.

“How do you know my name?”  The girl asked.

“Oh, I know all about you,” he said.  “Even where you giggle.”  He tickled her a little and she responded.  The little girl paused, then, and looked deeply into Gerraint’s eyes.

“My lady.”  Ellia guessed at last.  “But where is she?”

“She has gone home, my dear, and so must I.”  He drew her smile to his heart.  “I have a little girl myself.  Her name is Guimier, and I miss her, terribly, and Enid, my love.”  Ellia suddenly bound up and threw her arms around Gerraint, much to Lucan’s surprise.

“Thank you for saving my life,” she said.  Indeed, she recognized him, and her lady in him.

“Use your life wisely,” he answered, and let her go.

Gerraint and Lucan went out to the woods where the chopping and shaping of the trees was in full swing.  He got a rousing welcome from his fellow travelers.

“Decided to pull your weight at last,” Urien said.

“She went home?” Uwaine asked.

“Where she should be, in her own time and place,” Gerraint answered.

Moonshadow and a number of Picts came running up then and they did not look too happy about the weapons at Gerraint’s back.  Gerraint merely shrugged and put out his hand.

“You’re welcome,” he said. Both Lucan and Dayclimber translated.

Moonshadow slowly put his hand out.  “Thank you,” he said, and they shook.  Then Gerraint removed his weapons and set them aside.  They had several houses yet to build.

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

MONDAY

One potential disaster is averted, but that does not mean they are out of the woods yet.  It is still a long way to safe ground.  Next Monday, Gerraint and his company are Winter Bound.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 1 of 3

Gerraint awoke to the smell of fried eggs, biscuits and plenty of bacon.  They slept on the grass not far from the lake, but it felt quite comfortable, all things considered.  He opened his eyes, slowly.  Uwaine and Kvendelig were already up and by the fire.

“Lolly!”  Gerraint shouted and woke the rest of the crew.

“Lord.”  Lolly said without looking.  Her eyes were focused hard on the pair trying to snitch bits of breakfast before it was ready.  Kvendelig, the less experienced of the two, had already felt the rap of her cooking spoon on his knuckles more than once.

“Here.  Gerraint.”  Kvendelig protested.  “Uwaine says this dwarf female is one of yours, whatever that means.”

“And if I am?”  Lolly was also not one to take back talk or be maligned in any way.

Kvendelig drew his hand up and away from the spoon.  “I was just going to ask his majesty if perhaps he could convince you to let me have my breakfast now.  A man could starve to death waiting to be fed around here.”

“Chief Kvendelig!”  Gerraint pretended offence but he clearly smiled on the inside.  “I would not dream of asking the good woman for such a thing.  She will feed you when it is good and ready, and not one moment sooner.”

“Trouble is,” Uwaine pointed out.  “You haven’t eaten anything in four days.”

Lolly’s spoon snapped out and everyone heard Menw yelp.  “Give it up,” Gerraint said.  He imagined he could just make out the outline of the man, but then it might have been a trick of the rising sun.  Menw became visible.

“But I’m with Kvendelig,” Menw complained, as he became visible in a place Gerraint had not guessed.  “I’m starving.”  Menw sucked his wrist.

Gerraint smiled but while the others laughed his eyes snapped back to the place where he had imagined the outline of a man.  It appeared gone, but Gerraint wondered.  He might be a little slower and less agile than in his youth, but his senses were not diminished.  In some ways, they were sharper.  He had felt someone there, looking at him.  But then, he could not be sure if perhaps it was not the light after all.  He said nothing about it.

“No nun ever snapped a better ruler,” Gerraint said instead, to everyone’s incomprehension, but by then, Lolly started serving up, and in typical dwarf fashion, they had twice as much as they could possibly eat, even with three of them half starved.

“I don’t understand,” Menw said.  “My legs are like rubber, and I’m so tired.”

“I have a terrible headache,” Gwarhyr admitted.

“I remember,” Kvendelig said, plainly, and it became clear in that moment that all three remembered all at once, and they were embarrassed beyond words.

Gerraint stared them down, one by one.  “There is no way to Melwas through the lake.”

“Gwynwas,” Gwarhyr said.  “In the Welsh, its’ Gwynwas for Gwyn who guards the gate to the island.”

“It has many names,” Uwaine suggested.

“But is that certain?” Bedivere said his first words of the morning.  He still seemed a little uncomfortable, being so near the dwarf.

“Does any doubt the word of Rhiannon?”  Gerraint asked.

“The Lady Nimue?”  Kvendelig asked and Gerraint nodded.  They had imagined she was a spirit or a fairy of sorts.  They did not know going in that it was the goddess, herself.  Slowly, Kvendelig nodded, and Gwarhyr and Menw nodded with him.  “No point in arguing with a goddess once she has her mind set,” Kvendelig said, and that seemed to settle the matter.

“Now we seem to be missing someone.”  Gerraint looked around.

“No sir.”  Bedivere counted.  “All present and accounted for.”

“Ah, Luckless!”  Gerraint shouted.

“My Lord,” Luckless said as he brought in their horses, saddled and loaded with precious gifts, blankets of elfin weave, small saddlebags of silver and gold, and not a few jewels, and the weapons of the three Welsh Lords all made like new, if not replaced by better.

Luckless cleared his throat.  “The Lady of the Lake says let this be a gift for your trouble and the fine entertainment you provided for the court.  Do not return, however, or the fine things will all turn to dust.”  The dwarf did not like speeches, and immediately turned to his dwarf wife.  “Got any seconds?  Leftovers?”  He looked famished, but Gerraint felt sure he had eaten his fill before the men awoke.

“Always for you, my sweet.”  Lolly handed him the most enormous plate of all.

“Young love?”  Uwaine asked.

Gerraint nodded again.  “Quite young.  She’s only about two hundred years old.  Luckless is about three hundred.”  Bedivere swallowed on their ages and nearly choked in the process.  A sharp slap on the back by Gwarhyr was needed.

“Perhaps they are yours after all,” Kvendelig concluded.  “Always thought there was something odd about you.”

“And vice versa,” Gerraint said, but he did not explain as he got up and turned toward Luckless and Lolly.  “Many thanks,” he said.  “Will you be traveling with us?”  He asked and found himself a little disappointed when they declined.

“Little ones,” Lolly said, a little embarrassed, and Luckless puffed out his chest.

“I got me a young one to hand down the family treasure,” Luckless said, proudly.

Gerraint quickly turned to the Welshmen.  “He means iron tools, like a blacksmith or tinsmith might use, not real dragon-type treasure.”  The three Welsh faces drooped, but they understood and did not doubt.

Soon enough, the six men were off on the road, headed toward Howel’s castle and the coast.

“That was easy enough.”  Bedivere whispered when he had the chance.

“Not home yet.”  Uwaine pointed out.

That afternoon, they crossed a trail which Kvendelig said was freshly made by troops of some sort.

“Romans?”  Uwaine wondered.

“In search of what?”  Gwarhyr asked.

Gerraint looked around at those with him and shrugged.  He turned to the trail and put Kvendelig in front.  Despite his enchantment at the Lake, Kvendelig really was a first-rate hunter and tracker.

Not much further along, Kvendelig signaled them to be quiet.  He and Gerraint pushed up ahead to look and dismounted just before they came to the edge of the trees.  Howel stood there, with Lionel and three guards of Amorica.  Two other guards appeared to be dead along with three Romans, but twenty more Romans had them prisoner.  Odyar had led the king and Lionel into a trap and Odyar clearly commanded the Romans.  Neither Gerraint nor Kvendelig could hear what they were saying.  A shallow hill covered with meadow grass stood before the clearing in which the men stood.  But then, Gerraint did not need to hear what they were saying.

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 3 of 3

“The lake?”  Bedivere barely got it out when they were there, in the courtyard of a great castle such as would not be seen in that part of the world for another three to five hundred years or more.  The horses were all there too, and looked to have been just groomed.  And their own clothes were also fresh, as if they had not just ridden for several days, and sweated as prisoners or been in a fight.

“Nice trick Goreu,” Uwaine said.

“Thank the Lady,” Gerraint said, and then everyone came out of the palace to greet them.  Many looked like great men and women apart from the fact that they were nearly all young and beautiful.  These were the fairy lords and ladies and certain kings and queens among the elves.  Some looked less and less like men and women, such as the dwarf lords and gnomes, hobgoblins and the like.  These were the subjects of Gerraint in his guise as the Kairos, but there were also many present who were not his.  Many were sprites, of the water, the air, the earth and from under the earth.  Some were little spirits and lesser spirits and even a couple of lesser Gods.  The Naiad of the lake herself was there, but she looked old and said she was ready to go over to the other side.

Bedivere kept passing back and forth between utter delight and abject fear.  He nearly ran at the sight of the ogre, but Uwaine, who had some experience, steadied him.  Uwaine got frightened, himself, by some of the people, and for that matter, Gerraint did not exactly feel comfortable even though he knew that all present were subject to Rhiannon.

Shortly, they were escorted inside where, like it or not, a great feast had been prepared for them.  Gerraint quietly made sure the fairy food would not have an ill effect on his friends.  When a normal mortal eats fairy food, they become subject to the fairies, like men and women who no longer have a will of their own.

Bedivere fell to the feast like a starving man.  His every favorite dish sat in front of his place and that did away with his fears once and for all.

“But where are the Welshmen?”  Uwaine whispered to Bedivere after a few minutes.

“A fair question,” Rhiannon said from half the distance of the enormous hall away.  Through all the talk and noise in the hall, Rhiannon knew everything, every word and virtually every thought that passed by.

“Ears like Math,” Gerraint quipped while a holograph-like image appeared in the center of the hall.  Somehow, everyone could see.

The first picture was Kvendelig the hunter.  He appeared to be tracking something around a rock.  It looked like a big rock and the anticipation grew as he came all the way around and stopped.  He looked up and around and then knelt down to examine the dirt.  “Good Lord!”  Kvendelig expostulated.  “Now there are two of them.”  He started out again to uproarious laughter.

“Round and round,” Gerraint said.  “I saw that one in Winnie the Pooh.”

Rhiannon smirked and changed the picture.  This time they saw Gwarhyr, the linguist.  He sat beside a different boulder where a branch, beyond his sight, periodically scraped up against the rock and another tree every time the wind blew.  “Say that again?”  Gwarhyr was saying.  “I did not quite catch it.”  The wind blew.  The branch scraped, and Gwarhyr tried to imitate the sounds.  “I’m going to learn the language of the little people if it takes all night.”  He looked determined.

“How long has all night been so far?” Gerraint asked.

“Four days,” she answered.

“Boring!”  The noise from the crowd rose.  Rhiannon waved again and the room filled with the lively sound of music.

This was true fairy music, highly contagious to anything mortal, and Rhiannon had to immunize Uwaine and Bedivere, quickly, before they started dancing, uncontrollably.  Once they were safe, Gerraint looked and saw Menw, trapped in a stone circle, dancing up a storm.  He kept smiling, but it was clear to see he danced utterly under the spell of the music.  Suddenly, he went invisible and all they could see was the footprints and dust being kicked up.

“He has the power of invisibility, you know,” Rhiannon said.

“Ah, yes.  Quite an accomplishment for a normal mortal,” Gerraint agreed.

“Yes, he thought to sneak up on us without our knowing it,” Rhiannon said seriously, and then she laughed, deeply.

Various groups in the room began to join in the dance as Menw once again became visible.  Some placed bets on the side, and Gerraint could hardly imagine what they were betting on.  Then Menw’s head went invisible and some of the gold got picked up.  Once, Menw was visible, except in the middle, like head and shoulders hovering over a set of legs.  The dwarfs in the room especially liked when he got down to nothing showing but feet.

“Shoes!  Shoes!”  The dwarfs shouted, and a great deal of gold exchanged hands.

“Good enough.”  Rhiannon stood and clapped her hands and all the noise, the pictures, the whole crowd and the banquet disappeared altogether.  Bedivere, Uwaine, Gerraint and Rhiannon seemed the only persons in a big, empty hall.

“When can we have them back?” Gerraint asked.

“Surely not before morning,” Rhiannon said and took Gerraint by the arm and lead the three men out through a door at the back of the hall.  There were stairs, and fairy lights spaced every third step or so.  At the top, they found rooms with big featherbeds, clean sheets and plenty of blankets to crawl under.

“Is it safe?”  Bedivere wondered out loud.

“It is not safe to question the hospitality of the lady,” Uwaine responded, wisely.  “Any lady.”  He added for good measure.

“See you in the morning.”  Gerraint noticed the fairies fluttering about, beginning to dim the lights.  Rhiannon kissed his cheek with a word of love for dear Enid, and he slept well that night.

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

MONDAY

The Welshmen  may have been stopped, but that does not mean Gerraint, Uwaine, and Bedivere are home free  Until Monday, Happy Reading

 

*

M3 Festuscato: The Jutes, part 1 of 3

The so-called city of Thorengard sat on the bank of a broad river that emptied into the sea. It got surrounded, more or less, by a stockade, which had been partly built of stone and partly of whole trees planted deep in the earth, lashed together with rope, and caulked with mud. Ingut called them to halt on a small hill which gave a good view of the city below, and he pointed out certain features including the docks, the market area, and the roof of Yut-Heim, the hall of the king.  Festuscato noted that the man did not speak like a proud native.  He said it all just matter of fact.  As they began to descend toward the main gate, Luckless turned to the Roman.

“And what is on your mind?” he asked.

Festuscato turned up one corner of his mouth.  “I was just understanding once again why people like these would fall on their faces in fear and trembling at the sight of the city of Rome with her tremendous walls, broad avenues and thousands of alleyways, dozens of great ships in the harbor from all over the Mediterranean, and a half million people all bustling about on important business.  This city should barely be called a town, and even that word is generous.”

“Rome must really be something,” Luckless said.

“It is,” Festuscato confirmed.  “But even Londugnum would give these people pause and it is nothing compared to the Great City.”

“So you have said,” Luckless reminded him.

“Yes, but your Rome has become like a fat cow.”  Gregor nudged into the conversation.  “It may be great in size and beauty, but it is subject to the butcher knife.”

Festuscato grew silent.  He knew in his heart that Gregor was more or less right.  He had a commission from the Emperor and the Imperial Senate which stated that after he established peace in Britain, he was to seek out the reason the Germanic tribes were pushing so violently and permanently into the west. He was to resolve the problem, or at least find a way that Rome could counter those migrations and thus preserve itself.  Such thinking, however, was foolishness.  Before he even arrived in Germany, he understood that all he would likely find were people who were glad to take advantage of Roman weakness.

To discover the reason Roman power was waning and collapsing in the West, the Emperor Valentinian III needed to look in the mirror.  Indeed, all Romans needed to look in the mirror, but this they would never do.  One of the surest signs of civilization’s collapse was when the prevailing wisdom turned away from personal responsibility and toward blaming others for every ill.  When people stopped depending on themselves to make their lives as good as they could and hand to their children better than they got, and they turned instead to government to give it to them, as if government acted like some living god independent of the people governed, then civilization became doomed.

“What ho!” Vingevourt’s pipsqueak voice came up from the ground ahead.  “I came up the river and have waited here a long time for your arrival.”

“And here we are.”  Mirowen smiled for the little one.

“Ungh!” Ingut grunted at him.

“Good to see you,” Festuscato said to turn his mind from his depression.

“Come aboard, Majesty,” Gregor said with a big smile.  “See?  I have set a clean cloth just for you to leak on.”

Vingevourt climbed up.  “I will say, you are a thoughtful mudder.”

Gregor guffawed. “No.  I’m just an old fart.”

“Smells like a new one if you ask me,” Mousden mumbled before he flew ahead to get a closer look at the city.

When they came to the gate, they found a half dozen men laying about in the late afternoon. They came somewhat to attention on the sight of such a big party, but any semblance of order fell apart when they saw the contents of the party.  The men were strange enough in their dress, though they probably recognized the German and perhaps even the Britain.  The Roman and the Irish cleric might as well have been from China, but then the little ones really grabbed their attention.

Dwarfs were not yet strangers in the world, but they were not common, while elves, like trolls and gnomes were often heard of, but rarely seen.  Fairies had always been shy of humans, but this Cornish pixie with the slight greenish tint to his skin, his bat-like wings and claw-like hands and feet with their prehensile toes hardly fit the pattern.  They did not know what to make of Mousden, but Vingevourt they knew, at least in type.  They were astonished, however, to see the water sprite out of the water.

If Ingut had not been leading them into the city, there might have been some question as to whether or not they would have been allowed in.  Some believed the sighting of any little one was a sign of good fortune to come, but many more firmly believed they were an ill omen, and Festuscato felt sure he heard Odin’s name used as a curse as much as in prayer.

The trip through the town and its’ terribly muddy and garbage-laden streets did nothing to raise Festuscato’s impression of the place.  He found the royal stables hardly worth the name.  The hall of Yut-Heim at least appeared to be well built, a solid log construction with a kind of shingled roof found on a number of buildings and houses in the town.  It looked to be a marked improvement over the thatch they found elsewhere.

“Ingut.” His name came easily to the group of men inside the hall.  Everyone knew the ship builder, and because so much of their lives and livelihood depended on their ships, whether for fishing or war, Ingut seemed to have the run of the place.  In this instance, his first duty was to march up to the king’s table and nod his respect for the king before he spoke.  Mirowen quietly translated for the group who followed in Ingut’s train.

“He’s telling the king about your wreck at sea during the great storm and how he found you washed up on his shore.”

“His shore?” Festuscato mouthed, but listened.

“You are the Roman, and we are your companions, sworn in allegiance to you, and there is great power of magic in us all, as can plainly be seen in the Roman’s choice of companions.  When the ship got driven to the rocks of Heyglund, Ingut realized it must be because the gods decided we must be a gift for the people of this war-torn land.”

“Didn’t know I was a magician.”  Gregor muttered.  Mirowen kicked him to be quiet.

“Naturally, Ingut thought of his great king, Hroden, and brought the Roman here first of all, knowing that the king would understand these things far better than the lowly ship maker.”

King Hroden eyed them with an eye of serious consideration and another eye of amusement. A couple of men at a table laughed at the sight of the strangers, but the king quickly raised his hand for silence.

M3 Festuscato: Saved, part 3 of 3

It did not take long before they began to pass people—the huts of the workers.  Women were fixing the leaks while children ran amok. A group of children ran and played alongside the train for a while, but they gave it up when the travelers came to a hill.  The house of Ingut stood on the high ground, but when they reached it, it hardly looked like the house of a prosperous and successful man.  In fact, it hardly looked different than the huts of the workers.

The old man sat outside on the front stoop, whittling with a wicked looking knife, and having a rather wicked look on his face.  That he had been there most of the night seemed evident from the number of wood chips piled around.

Luckless got down, and the old man did not even bat an eye in the face of the dwarf. Vingevourt raised the man’s brows a little, but he knew and respected the sprite, even if he did not particularly like him.  It seemed hard to say exactly what their relationship might be.  It also seemed hard to say what he thought Mousden might be. He batted at the Pixie like Mousden was a giant insect or bat until Mousden confronted him, face to face.  The man blinked and took a step back.  Seamus came up, having fallen to the back of the pack, and Mirowen slipped off the back of the beast and stepped straight for the door.  At this, the old man took a big step out of the way, and bowed.  He might not care for Dwarfs, or Vingevourt, or giant insects, but he knew a light elf when he saw one.

Bran, Gregor and Hrugen kept a wary eye on the workers who appeared at the top of the hill. Mirowen opened the door, followed by Seamus, Luckless, Vingevourt, and Mousden.  Festuscato still lay in bed with Inga, and though covered, it was evident that both were stark naked.  Inga let out a little embarrassed peep and covered herself further.  Festuscato put down his plate.

“I can’t eat another bite,” he said.  His clothes were dry, but he could hardly stand naked in front of the ones staring, open-mouthed.  He let his heart and spirit reach out to his place, the place of the Kairos, the island that stayed forever in the Second Heavens.  He caught hold of his armor, the chain and leather which had been the gift of Hephaestus, and the elf spun cloth that shaped itself to whatever life he was living.  In an instant, he became clothed in that glorious armor and stood, even as Mirowen spoke.

“He is only human, after all,” she said, meaning it as a simple fact and not entirely as an insult.  All the little ones bowed, to Ingut’s surprise.  Ingut had been watching from the doorway.  He pushed his way into the room and stepped up to Festuscato with a most curious expression.  He held one hand over one of Festuscato’s eyes.  Perhaps Gregor had given him the idea.

Festuscato shook his head, hid his left hand behind his back and pointed to his wrist as if his arm ended there.  Ingut’s eyes got wide as he imagined which god Festuscato might be, until Festuscato revealed his hand with a broad grin.  Then Ingut guessed.  He spat.

“Loki,” he said.

“Loki!?” Festuscato felt insulted, while Mirowen giggled.

“Who is Loki?” Seamus asked.

“Trickster,” Luckless said.  “Not a nice fellow, I understand.”

“He wasn’t,” Vingevourt said, as he pushed himself forward while Ingut stepped back. Vingevourt fell to his wobbly knees and begged forgiveness for his inaction and innocence in not knowing who was aboard the fateful ship.  He said the whole little speech in the language of Jutland, reverting from the British without thinking; but Festuscato understood it all, though he did not speak the tongue of the Jutes, because he heard it in the heart.

“Do not worry, great king,” he said, and resisted the urge to kneel which would have insulted the little one.  “You have no power over the storms, and I did not call out for help.  Perhaps it was my time to die.”  Festuscato had to pause on that thought.  “You never know.”

“All the same,” Vingevourt began, but Festuscato cut him off.

“Will you travel with us for a time?” he asked.

“I will,” Vingevourt said, without hesitation.  “But where are we going?” he asked.

“Thorengard.” Ingut said.  He had been listening in.  “Yut-heim.  Thorengard.”

Festuscato looked at his host and lifesaver.  He pulled a big ruby ring from his finger and gave it to the man.  “Would you tell him thanks for saving my life.”  Vingevourt hesitated.  Mirowen told him.  Ingut looked at Festuscato with some shrewdness in his eyes.

“And where is Yut-Heim?”  Festuscato asked.  Mirowen asked Ingut and then translated the response.  “In Thorengard.”  She shrugged.

Ingut stepped outside and began to bellow orders to the gathered crowd like a man accustomed to being obeyed.  Some of the men peeled away and came back in a very short time with two saddled horses and some bread, cheese, some smoked fish and watered down mead.  Bran, Gregor, Hrugen, Seamus and the little ones had little time to eat, however.  Ingut said something to Festuscato who had come outside with the others while Inga dressed.

Vingevourt translated this time.  “He says he assumes this is your horse he found wandering down by the beach.” Festuscato looked and nodded.  He mounted as Inga came running out of the house, calling his name.  He leaned over and gave her a long kiss and lifted her gently off the ground to do it, but then he set her down.

“Thorengard?” he asked.  Ingut pointed, and Festuscato started out without waiting for the others.

“But I’m not finished eating,” Luckless complained.

“So what else is new?”  Gregor said and nudged the dwarf as he got back on his horse to follow.  Fortunately, Vingevourt had run back to the sea as fast as the gingerbread man could run.  He promised he would be waiting for them in the city.

“For a small one, you eat more than anyone I’ve ever known,” Seamus said to the dwarf.

“High metabolism,” Festuscato shouted back.

“I’ll explain,” Mirowen promised, as she took her place behind the cleric.

“But I’m not done!”  Luckless shouted and realized he was last.  He grabbed as much bread and cheese as he could carry and climbed up on his pony.  “Wait up!” He kicked the animal to a trot and cursed for dropping half his booty.

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MONDAY

The Jutes.  Ingut, the ship builder, takes Festuscato and his crew to the Jute capital to meet the king.  No telling what kind of reception they might get.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

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