M3 Gerraint: Tara to Avalon, part 2 of 4

Gerraint led them through a door and they came to a Grotto carved out from beneath the rocks with only a cave that led out into a gentle bay.  There were several ships tied to a dock there, but none of them looked big enough to carry them all.

“Gobinu’s work,” Macreedy said.

“And we helped,” Luckless interjected.

“One will do,” Macreedy finished.

“For this great company?”  Arthur began, but then decided not to doubt.

“Will you be joining us?”  Gerraint asked the elf.

“Aye,” Macreedy said.  “But not the ladies.  They have decided to keep Tara for a time, with their Lord’s permission.”  Gerraint nodded slightly, but said nothing.

“Oh.”  Peredur sounded sad.  He had yet to let go of his elf maiden’s hand.  The other maidens backed to the door, but Peredur’s maid paused to kiss him as a lovely granddaughter might kiss her kindly grandfather.  Then she seemed to think about it, and planted one right on his lips.

Most smiled, and a couple of the men ooed and awed before the maiden finally let go and went to join the others.  Peredur could hardly shake himself free.

“Another kiss like that could kill this old man.”  Peredur mumbled and Macreedy grinned.

“So here we are,” Bedivere spoke at last.  “One Lady.  One elf, two dwarfs and nine men to invade Avalon.”

“Not much of a force at arms,” Lancelot said.  Like Bedivere, he was thinking in military terms.

“D-day, certainly,” Gerraint quipped, and invited them all aboard the first ship.  It had appeared no bigger than a lifeboat from the dock, but once aboard it was found to be spacious, with a central mast as big as an oak, and even a below deck to store their things.  They shoved off, and under Macreedy’s direction, the sailors, Trevor and Gwillim set the sail, with the help of Luckless who had sailed in the days of Festuscato.  The men said there was no purpose in raising the sail inside the cave.  All the same, the wind came and nudged them out into the bay.

“Well I’ll be,” Trevor said.  Only the sailors were surprised.  The others either knew what to expect or did not really understand that a normal sail would have been useless until they got out in the open where it could catch the wind.

“I feel sick.”  Bedivere complained almost immediately.  Gwynyvar looked green and Arthur and Lancelot appeared about to join her.  Uwaine laughed, because for once he did not feel the least bit sick.

“We have passed out of the world altogether.  Welcome to the endless sea in the second heavens.”  Gerraint held up his hand to forestall questions.  “It is that divide between the first heaven that covers the Earth like a blanket and the Third Heaven wherein is the throne of God.”  He pointed behind and all heads turned.  The hills, perhaps cliffs if not the cave that they expected to see were nowhere in evidence.  All they could see was the dark waters of the sea, stretching off to the horizon in every direction.

“Are we dead?”  Gwillim asked as the feeling caught up with him.

“Hardly,” Macreedy said as he checked the sail.  “But we may die if we lose the current.  This sea is boundless.  It has no shoreline, though there are shorelines everywhere.”  Macreedy went to stand with Trevor at the rudder.

“But say, that doesn’t make any sense.  Either there is a shoreline or not.”  Gwillim objected and tried to come out of the feeling of having died.

“There is and is not,” Gerraint said.  “Normal rules don’t apply here.  The place folds in and back on itself and even turns inside-out.  It is utterly unstable.”

“Apart from Lady Alice,” Macreedy spoke up from the helm.

Gerraint nodded.  “She tries to keep Avalon and the seven isles and the innumerable isles beyond in a more stable condition, but it is like living in the eye of a hurricane.”

“Olympus?”  Arthur said the word, but made it a question.

Gerraint nodded again.  “Aesgard, Vanheim, the Mountain Fastness and all.  All once found in the Second Heavens.  All gone now,” he said.

“All but Avalon,” Mesalwig said.  Gerraint looked at the man.  Mesalwig had been silent almost since arriving in Tara.  It was impossible to tell what the man might be thinking.

“Avalon of the Apples,” Bedivere corrected Mesalwig.  He started feeling better.

“Give it up.”  Uwaine teased Peredur who still stared at nothing in particular and touched his lips.  “She is undoubtedly too old for you.  May be five hundred years too old.”

Gerraint shook his head for a change.  “Only three hundred,” he said, and Gwynyvar giggled.

Gerraint went to stand at the bow.  It was not that his eyes could see any better than the others, though they could, but he was really getting anxious and trying hard not to show it.  He did not know if Rhiannon’s aura of protection around Enid and Guimier would hold up in the Second Heavens.  He did not know what Urien and Pelenor might have found on the island, nor where that Abraxas might be, nor where that most disobedient of all of his children, Talesin might be.  He tried not to think of these things, but he could not help it.  His stomach churned from worry.

“They will be all right,” Gwynyvar said.  She had come up alongside him and offered him a cup of water and a bit of bread and cheese.  Gerraint thanked her for the water, but turned down the solid food.  He did not think his stomach could handle it.  He turned and they looked together.  Arthur paced the deck.  Lancelot sat with his back to the mast and watched Arthur pace.  Peredur leaned on the railing to look out over the water, and Bedivere stood beside him.  Their conversation was quiet.

Gwynyvar nudged him.  Uwaine finally leaned over the opposite rail, responding to the sea in his accustomed manner.  Gwillim appeared to be supervising and offering his supposed cures.  Mesalwig sat apart.  Gerraint wondered about the man again, but again Gwynyvar nudged him and pointed to the stern.  Trevor appeared to be having a hard time keeping the rudder in the current and not touch the elf at the same time.  Macreedy enjoyed teasing the man.

“How long is the journey?”  Gwynyvar asked.

“Long as a wolf takes to finish howling at the moon.”  Luckless said as he came up alongside them.  They spied Lolly trying to get some flavor out of the bread and cheese.  Gwynyvar thought for a moment.

“But how does a wolf know when it is finished?”  She asked.

“When it stops howling,” Luckless said.

Gwynyvar turned a very confused face toward Gerraint.

“An instant, a week, a month?”  Gerraint shrugged and turned his eyes ahead.

“Then again,” Luckless said.  “We might have arrived ten minutes ago, only we haven’t realized it yet.”

It got dark.  They had no sundown, no dusk, and no chance for their eyes to adjust.  One minute it was light and the next it was dark apart from the infinite stars and a perfect full moon that appeared fully risen in the sky, directly ahead.  The moon seemed exceptionally large, like it rose a bit close to the earth.

“How lovely,” Gwynyvar said, once she got over the sudden change in the time of day.  She looked confused again when Gerraint pointed to the stern where a half moon followed them.  She shook her head and went back to Lancelot and Arthur.  Arthur needed to stop pacing.

“Better go see to bedding down,” Luckless said.  “It has been a tiring day today, or yesterday, or tomorrow, whichever it was or is.”  He wandered off and began to turn people toward sleep.

Gerraint could not sleep.  He knew it was foolish.  He would need to be well rested and more than likely he would need all of his strength and wits to deal with whatever they might find, but he could not sleep, no matter what.

Soon enough the others were dozing.  Luckless took a turn at the rudder and promised to wake Macreedy before long.  Gerraint was the only other one awake when an image appeared beside him.

“The woman is fine.  And the child,” the image said.

Gerraint paused before he spoke.  “Thank you.”

“I imagined you might want to rest after the Tor,” the image spoke again.

“I don’t think I can,” Gerraint answered honestly.  “I was thinking about having to kill Urien.  Such thoughts always twist my insides.”

The image manifested.  The god of the sea.  “Not your promise,” Manannan said.

“’Twas,” Gerraint insisted.  “Even if the words came from your Mother’s lips.”

Manannan nodded, slowly, and then the two just stood there for hours feeling the wind and the spray and watching the waves.  Gerraint could not be sure, but he suspected that under the hypnotic swells in the water, he may have slept for a while standing up.

M3 Gerraint: Winter Games, part 2 of 3

Hunting and tracking were her strongest abilities, thanks to her friend.  She knew she would have no trouble catching up with the others.  That did not prevent her from grousing, however.  “Gerraint obviously wants to freeze me to death,” she said.  She shortened her cape again to climb, but she kept it white, and that made her nearly invisible in the snow.

At the top of the hill, the Princess paused.  She found a rock face cliff on the other side.  The trail petered out.  She did not like the look of that cliff, even if it stood only about three stories tall.  “Diogenes,” she said his name.  Many of the lives of the Kairos were not enamored with heights, but the Macedonian had mastered his feelings more than some others.  She went home, and Diogenes stood there looking for the best way down.

He appeared to be the perfect reflection of the Princess, a male match to her female self.  The lives of the Kairos always came in pairs, no matter how far apart in time they might be separated.  As the Princess’ genetic reflection, Diogenes also shared, in a lesser degree, her gift of the Spirit of Artemis.  He, too, could find the others even in the storm; but first he needed off the cliff.  And he could hear the Scots behind, which meant they arrived at the base of the hill.

Diogenes shrugged and sat.  He slid himself slowly off the edge and held as tight as he could to the rocks that presented themselves.  Step by step, he carefully made his way down.  It was inevitable that he slip.  The fall to the ground was only about eight feet, and he was able to land easily in the snow, and without injury.

Diogenes did not pause.  He turned his white back to the cliff and began to run.  It was not far before he found his friends, only he forgot to change back to Gerraint before they saw him.

“My Lord.”  Uwaine knew him by his clothes right off.  He had his arms around Trevor who limped.  Gwillim fell into a panic, not thinking too clearly.  There were shouts behind and a temporary lull in the falling snow.  The Scots reached the top of the hill, and they got spotted before they could push into the woods.

“Damn it!  Damn it!”  Gwillim continued to swear.

“Q-q-quiet.”  Diogenes said, not from the cold but because he had a stutter which never really left him.  “Th-this way.”  He led them into the woods as the Scots began to navigate down the rocks behind.

Gerraint came back, even as Gwillim nudged him and pointed.  He saw a face in the distance that stuck out from behind a tree, and it beckoned them.  “A Scot.”  Gwillim sounded afraid.

“No.  A friend,” Gerraint said, and Uwaine saw it, too.  They hurried as well as they could and practically carried poor Trevor between them.  The face appeared again, just as far away as the first time, but in a slightly different direction.  They changed course, and again, a third time.  At last, they came to a place where the whole world changed.  The shouts behind them got cut off suddenly, as if someone closed a door.  They stood still, and listened, and took in the vision.  Even Trevor stood up, carefully.

They heard no sound and felt no wind in that part of the forest.  Curiously, it also stopped snowing in that place, though the ground appeared covered in a white blanket, and more.  A mist rose from the surface of the snow suggesting the ground beneath might be warm enough to cause some melt.  The mist obscured their sight, but it did not entirely blind them.

“A man could get lost in here and never find his way out,” Gwillim said.  His voice sounded strange as it broke the quiet.

“This way.”  A man’s voice echoed amongst the trees.  It felt hard to tell which way he meant, but Gerraint started out and the others were obliged to follow.  They saw lights of a sort to their left and right which appeared to flutter about, almost like floating light bugs only much bigger, and their makers always remained shrouded in the mist so they could not see exactly what they were.

“A little further.”  The man’s voice spoke.  After a moment, it spoke again.  “Just a little more.”

They came to see a light in front of them, much stronger than the lights that danced through the trees.  The ones around them were pale, nearly white as snowflakes.  The one before them looked warm amber, the light of a warming fire well lit.  Gwillim pushed ahead, and even Trevor tried to hurry up, though he could only go as fast as Uwaine on whom he leaned.

It indeed proved to be a fire, deep inside a cave, and it felt warm and so home like in their hearts, it seemed all anyone could see at first.  Gerraint alone, noted that the door closed behind them and shut them in as they gathered around to warm themselves.

“Ought to find some tepid water for Trevor,” Gwillim said.  “He looks frostbitten.”

“Already taken care of.”  The voice came from above them, but only Gerraint and Gwillim looked up.  Uwaine watched the elf maidens who brought shallow bowls of water to soak Trevor’s extremities.  Though Trevor looked frightened at their appearance, he did not resist them.

“Macreedy.”  Gerraint named the elf lord who looked at him with curiosity.  “Thank you, and be sure and thank Lord Evergreen, Queen Holly, Princess Ivy and their clan for guiding us to your safe haven as well.”

“So, it is true.  You are the one.”  Lord Macreedy needed no other evidence.  He started to rise, but Gerraint waved him back to his chair.

“Right now, I am simply a man, half frozen and starving,” he said.  “But tell me.  How did you know to look for us?”

He could see Macreedy wanted to tell some lie about the magic and mysteries of the spirits of the world, but that would not have impressed Gerraint at all.  And Macreedy knew it.  Instead, he looked aside and looked a little embarrassed.  “Runabout does tend to talk,” he said.

“Quite all right,” Gerraint assured him.

M3 Festuscato: Epilogue

When the time came, Festuscato borrowed Marguerite’s words.  He laid his hands on Mirowen’s head and said, “You have my permission and my blessing.”  In Mirowen’s case, she did not change, drastically.  She still looked elfish.  She still had the eldritch fire at her fingertips, and she could still draw her bow and arrows from nowhere and shoot with the best of them.  They both knew, however, from that day on she would age, not like her nature, but like a normal, mortal woman.

“I’m glad,” Beowulf said as he pushed her long black locks behind her little pointed ear.  “I think I like you this way best.

“I’m glad, too,” she said with only love in her eyes.  “I should hate to look in the mirror and not recognize myself.”

“Funny.”  Gregor said the word.

“I only hope your brother will understand,” Festuscato said.

“Macreedy will have trouble, but he will get over it,” Mirowen smiled.

In the morning, Festuscato, Bran, Gregor and Luckless the dwarf mounted up for the ride into Germany.  Wulfgar would guide them safely to the border.

“I’ll miss her,” Festuscato admitted.  “Especially first thing in the morning.  Every man should wake up to a vision like her.”

“Aye,” Gregor agreed.  “And I’ll miss that little scamp of a Mousden.”

“He did say going with her seemed the less dangerous course,” Luckless pointed out.

“Moi?”  Festuscato pointed to himself.  “I am a man of peace and comfort.”

“Yes,” Gregor agreed again.  “But then, danger does tend to swirl around you like a whirlwind.  Just because you like the calm at the center doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t get caught up.”

“I’ll miss the cleric,” Bran said.

“He will get the story straight, even to the end of Beowulf’s days, or his disciple will, and the story will work its’ way back to England, you know.”  Festuscato promised.  “Maybe your grandchildren will read it someday.”

“We need to go,” Wulfgar said.

“He said we need to go,” Luckless translated.

“Aye.”  Festuscato said in imitation of Gregor’s word, and they went.

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

Tomorrow

The tale of Gerraint, son of Erbin,  in the days of Arthur, Pendragon, begins.

When ghostly hands carry a cauldron across the round table, Gerraint has to act.  Arthur deftly turns all talk to the Holy Graal, but Gerraint knows he has to stop the older men from recovering the ancient treasures of the Celts and dredging up the past.  Christendom is only a thin veneer and if Abraxas is allowed to strip that away, history might be irrevocably changed.

Enjoy.

*

M3 Festuscato: To the Hall of Heorot, part 1 of 3

In the morning, everyone had to wait until Festuscato got up and about.  At one point, out of boredom, Gregor pointed behind Mousden and shouted, “Bear!”

“Where?” Mousden asked from half way down the street where he flew in the blink of an eye. Seamus laughed.  Even Bran smiled.

“Now come, little one.  Do you really think these Jutes would let a bear wander the streets?” Gregor asked.

Mousden shook his head after a moment’s thought.  “I suppose not, though mortal humans are still very strange to me.”

“Quite all right,” Seamus said.  “They are strange to me, too, and I am one of them.”

“Sorry.” Festuscato spoke up from the doorway. Without another word, he went straight to his horse and mounted.  “Lead on Macduff.”  He waved at Ingut who volunteered to lead them into Danish lands and to the hall of Hrothgar.  Ingut the shipbuilder, became one of the few, in those times of tension, who could continue to move freely across borders.  Ingut did not understand a word Festuscato said, but he understood the intent. He turned his horse into the lane, and everyone fell in behind, Luckless with his arms still full of breakfast.

Mirowen had her own horse then, and as soon as they passed through the city gate, she nudged up to ride beside Lord Agitus.  “Vingevourt had duties, but he said he might see us at Heorot.”

Festuscato said nothing.  He looked deep in thought.

“You missed breakfast, so Luckless ate your portion,” she tried again.

“Huh?”  She at least got that much before he said something that did not really make sense.  “My breakfast was eaten by a person you would least expect, but not find surprising, but it wasn’t me.”  He fell again to thinking.

“Will my Lord be having gloom for lunch as well?” Mirowen asked.

“Huh?” Festuscato looked up then, and seemed to focus.  “I’m sorry. I’ve been thinking about this monster. Twelve years is a long time not to have some lead on where the beast comes from.”

“From the place of the great swamps and dreaded pools,” Mirowen reported what she had heard.

Festuscato shook his head.  “Speculation. It has never been seen.  In fact, the tracks of the beast always disappear at the gate to the city, and not always the same gate.  You know, an animal, even a monster, can be tracked, and all animals, and especially monsters, cannot help leaving a trail of some kind.  But the trail of this beast apparently disappears at the edge of the city.  I know, because I stayed up most of the night bothering people and asking questions.

“But how?” Mirowen started to ask, but Festuscato caught the gist of the real question and answered before she could finish.

“The king found a girl who spoke the British tongue, a slave of sorts I guess, but a nice lass, as Patrick would say.”

Mirowen looked at him, as if the answer to her concern simply raised another whole series of questions.  “You overslept,” she confirmed.  Festuscato nodded slowly and Mirowen frowned and thought she could not have been that nice a girl, at least in the way Patrick would have meant it.  Then she had another thought.  “I know with the spirit of Diana inside your heart, the gift given to your reflection in the old days, you know more than most about tracking animals. I do not doubt what you say is true. A monster, certainly ought to be easy to follow.  But right now, I suspect it is the other gift shared with your reflection; it is the spirit of Justitia which is driving you.”

“Ah, yes.” Festuscato smiled.  “Your suspicious gland is functioning very well I see.  Every woman has a suspicious gland, you know, and you are exactly right.”

Mirowen ignored the insult, and after a pause, she spoke again.  “How so?  How am I right?”

Festuscato did not answer directly.  “Did you notice the monster always attends the hall, but he never seeks victims in their homes or apartments?”  He asked, though he made it a statement of fact.  “It might become evident, you see, if one house never got attacked, or the houses of friends, if any.”

“But is it not a monster?”  Luckless rode right behind them and he had been listening in with those excellent ears, at least between bites.  “Don’t monsters just go for blood and gore and that sort of thing?”

“If it is a monster, it is an intelligent monster,” Festuscato said.

“Like a Troll or Ogre?” Mirowen asked, but Festuscato shook his head.

“I said intelligent,” he joked.

At least Luckless laughed.  “If it is one of ours, it must be a dark elf to come only at night, like a Goblin,” he suggested.

“No.  It is not one of my little ones,” Festuscato said. “I checked that out first.”

“Surely you don’t think an ordinary man would do all I hear this Grendel has done,” Mirowen said.

Festuscato paused to look at her closely.  “Tell me. Do you know what a werewolf is?”

“I have only heard the word,” Mirowen admitted, while Luckless shook his head and wondered.

“It is a disease, actually,” Festuscato said.  “Of the few humans who are really susceptible, most carry the gene without ever knowing it.  But they pass it on through the generations, until it surfaces at some point.  It happens when the moon is full, like the pull on the tides, and the man, like the Were people of old, changes into a wolf and is driven half mad in the process because human people are not built to be transformed.  These people become mostly mindless killing machines, and I suspect this Grendel may be something like that, only with his mind still intact somehow.”

“Oh, I see,” Luckless said, not really seeing at all.  But Mirowen understood perfectly.

“So, you think the monster may be an ordinary person by day, and it may actually be a person in the hall itself, every day,” she said.

“Exactly. And I think if anyone figures this out, there are plans already set to see someone else, someone innocent, accused. I feel it in my gut, but then I may be wrong altogether.”

“No.” Mirowen shook her head.  “It is the only explanation I have heard that makes any sense at all.”  She dropped back to consider the problem in her own private world.  She said very little the rest of the day, and nothing at all about the monster.  Then again, no one said much that day, until just before night when they entered a village in the forest where they were refreshed and could be bedded for the night.

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.

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

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.

*

M3 Festuscato: Saved, part 1 of 3

It did not take long for Mousden to have the driest wood he could find stacked in a neat pile. Unfortunately, no one could get it started until Luckless came along from the opposite direction.  Dwarfs can nearly always get a fire started.

“Unless I’ve lost my tinder, too,” Luckless grumbled.  He had not, and in a moment, the flames rose with the sun.  The rain was over.  “I see you saved your books,” he added, with a nod to Seamus.

“It was Bran,” Seamus explained.  “We were able to stay aboard ship until there was nearly enough light to see.  The pounding of the waves made the ship lean more and more terribly to the weak side, where the hole was.”

“List,” Hrugen interrupted.  “Ships list, they don’t lean.  I don’t know why.”

“Yes, well, all that time, Bran kept tearing up boards and lashing them together with what rope he could find.  In the end, he said we were in danger of turning over altogether and he dropped the raft on the side closest to the water.  I got down with the books and Bran dove in and hauled the raft free of the ship, which by the way did turn over shortly after we escaped.  We came to shore, and it was a miracle the books are not more soaked.”

“Common sense.” That was all Bran called it.

“I don’t suppose you saw my tools?” Luckless asked.  The poor dwarf was still wringing buckets of water from his clothing. Dwarfs were not good swimmers in calm water.  Their legs and arms were too short.  They had a tendency to sink like stones.  The others all shook their heads, but Seamus turned and pointed to the sea.

“You’re welcome to take a look,” he said.  “The ship is not very far out.”  He pointed, and sure enough they could see the hull just above the water line in the distance.  It could not entirely sink, being grounded there on the rocks, but in time it would be broken to pieces by the relentless sea and become driftwood for someone else’s fire.

Luckless warmed his hands.  “What’s the point?” he asked.  “All is lost and it is all my fault.  If I hadn’t come along, you would have had clear sailing to the Danish coast where the Lord wanted to land.  I’m such a jinx.”

“No.” Everyone spoke together, but Luckless felt convinced.  The only reason they hit that storm had to be because he was a jinx, and he lost his precious tools as well, the last gift of his father, and now he would just sink into the rock until he was no more.  He felt miserable and he would not be talked out of it.

A couple of hours later, they caught sight of Mirowen.  They were hungry and just about to give up waiting and go in search of food, when she appeared, meandering sweetly down the coast.  She looked perfectly dry, her long black hair flowed in the light breeze, every hair in place, and her dress looked like it had just been cleaned and pressed.  By contrast, the men looked disheveled in their muddy, damp and wrinkled clothes. Hrugen’s blond head looked brown from the mud.

Gregor one eye was the first to notice that she was talking while she walked.  “I can’t hardly make out what it is, though, she is talking to,” he said.

Luckless squinted. His eyes in the day were barely better than Mousden’s.  “Water sprite.  I think.” He did not sound sure.

“Be back.” Mousden announced and flew off to greet the Lady.

Mirowen arrived with not one, but a whole train of water sprites in her trail.  They were true little ones, from eight to twelve inches tall and looked like a gelatinous mass roughly in the shape of a person, with a shimmer along the edge, which made a casing, like a nearly transparent exoskeleton that held them together.  The chief walked beside the elf and had a voice high pitched like a mouse, but sounded sweet as a baby.  The others, what Festuscato might have called liquid gingerbread men, carried all of the boxes and personal things that could be salvaged from the ship.  They also brought two more horses and a pony.

“Gentlemen.” Mirowen spoke when she got close enough. “May I present Lord Vingevourt, king of the water sprites and ruler of the Baltic.”

“The whole sea?” Hrugen asked, and looked ever so uncomfortable.

“No,” Vingevourt squeaked in Danish.  Mirowen had to translate.  “I’ve got a nephew in the North Sea, and a third cousin in the Channel.  I don’t know about the Arctic, what ice blob has that at present.”  Luckless and Mousden, of course, understood every word.  The little ones had the uncanny ability to understand each other regardless of the language, but even as Mirowen translated, the rest of the crew looked at Hrugen who shook his head.

“Not proper Danish,” Hrugen said.  “Jutland dialect which is difficult and has some strange soundings.”

“Odd pronunciations.”  Seamus returned the favor.  “Words are pronounced, not sounded,” he said.  “I don’t know why.”

Vingevourt continued while his train set down the cargo and dove back into the sea to disappear. “Imagine my horror when I came to discover through this fine Lady that I nearly drowned my own god in that storm.”

“Your god?” Hrugen asked.  He was the new member of the group and didn’t know the full story of Festuscato.

“Sure,” Gregor said with a sly grin.  “Didn’t you know your captain was one of the gods?”

“God only for the sprites of the earth,” Luckless said.

“God for us, too,” Vingevourt responded.  “Many sprites of the waters, the air, and the fires under the earth belong to him as well.”

“Mostly, you might think of him as the Watcher or a Traveler.”  Mirowen explained before the argument hardly started.  “But he is just an ordinary human to you.  That is inevitably how he or she is born.”

“She?” Hrugen raised an eyebrow.

“Of course.” Mirowen nodded.  “You don’t suppose he should always be born a male, do you?”

M3 Festuscato: Shipwreck, part 2 of 3

“Mousden!” Festuscato shouted to the top of the mast where the last member of the motley crew spent most of his time. “What do you see?”  The light seemed to be fading too fast and Festuscato started becoming concerned about the possible storm.  He wondered if he should turn the ship toward the shore to seek shelter.  Certainly, the sea began to turn rough.  Fortunately, the Cornish Pixie’s eyes were very sharp in the dark.

“I see the usual collection of lazy layabouts on the deck,” Mousden shouted down.

The men looked up. “Hawk!”  Gregor shouted and suddenly pointed.

“Hawk?” Hrugen looked up, but Mousden had already shrieked and flown to the deck faster than an eye could see.  He crawled under a coil of rope to hide, being only a foot and a half tall, altogether.

Gregor laughed with the others, and after a moment, even Hrugen thought it was funny. Mousden, however, got mad.

“How would you like a hot foot,” Mousden threatened Gregor for the millionth time, but everyone knew the old, one eyed Saxon really cared for the little winged man. Even Mousden could see that much.

“Ahem!”  Festuscato cleared his throat.  “I meant, what can you see at sea?”

“Oh.” Mousden nodded.  “Just some monsters spouting water and headed right for us.”

“Whales on the whale road.”  Hrugen jumped to the railing and Bran caught him before the pitch tossed him.  All the men, carefully strained in the growing darkness to catch a sight of the wonder.

“Ahem,” the captain said.  “I meant the clouds.  Is there a storm coming?  Should we seek the shelter of the shore?”

“Oh, yes, Lord,” Mousden said, frankly, but without the least comprehension of what he was saying.  He was just not very used to moving among men and did not fully understand human needs in the face of a hostile universe.  For that matter, most of his life got spent in caves and such, and he still just started learning about things like bad storms.  “There’s a big storm coming.  A monster storm.”  Festuscato had already turned toward the shore.

“When?” Festuscato asked.

It started to drizzle.  “About now. Why?”

At that moment, a giant swell washed the front of the boat, nearly swamped the whole bow. Mirowen held to her place, like a magnet to iron, but she got soaked head to foot and reacted as any woman would. Festuscato had one moment to view her glorious water soaked figure and the sheer vulnerability of her in her state, and the heavens opened up.

“Hrugen! Gregor!  Tear that sail.  Bran! Seamus!  Loose the horses.  Mousden to Mirowen.  We need your eyes in the dark.  Mirowen! Call out direction.”

“To port.” She spoke right from the beginning. “There are rocks to starboard.”

The lightning began and rapidly came in sheets like the driving rain.  It took only moments before Gregor and Hrugen cut the chords of the sail and the ropes began whipping in the wind.  They still had enough tension in the canvas to give the ship some real impetus and direction, but not enough to cause the mast to snap. That would have been a real danger. As for direction, Gregor and Hrugen quickly joined their captain at the tiller.

“To Port. We’re drifting,” Mirowen said.

“I see the land. I see it,” Mousden shouted, excited, though how the men at the tiller imagined he could see anything was beyond them. He bobbed up and down about a foot above Mirowen’s head, barely able to stay aloft in the wind.  He got hard blown toward the sea twice before a particularly close lightning strike made him quit his post and seek out his hiding ropes.  Luckless had already come back on deck with his precious bag of tools.  Seamus also came back up, his precious books in hand. He held the ropes across the deck from Luckless and hunkered down over his papers.  Bran came last, rubbing his shoulder where a terrified horse kicked and grazed him.  All the same, he joined the men at the tiller.

“More to port.” Mirowen shouted, her words somehow got through against the rain.  The swells came, and the little ship began to bob up and down like a cork in water. They began to take on water, but there seemed no point in bailing.  Everyone had to hang on for dear life as the sea took them for a ride.

For three hours Mirowen shouted, “To port!”

And Festuscato shouted back.  “She’s hard over already.”

For three hours, Mousden shivered under the ropes, Seamus and Luckless protected their priceless cargos and four men kept the ship turned hard to port, though whether they went to port or were driven to starboard in spite of everything, none could say.

“There are rocks to starboard!”

The lightning flashed, and the rain and thunder crashed, near deafening.

The sail ripped altogether in the third hour.  It flapped in the wind and the ropes flailed about and became dangerous for those amidships. That condition did not last long as the mast cracked in a snap as loud as the thunder.  When it broke altogether, it fell into the sea right over Luckless’ head.

“Luckless!” Seamus shouted.  The dwarf did not answer.  Leaving his books to the wind and rain, Seamus crawled toward the spot.

“I’m okay,” came the call.  “Mousden snatched me away in the nick.”  Seamus crawled quickly back to his spot by the railing.

“More to port! We’re getting too close to the rocks.” And they did get too close, first to hear the horrifying sound of an underwater ridge scrape up against the bottom before a boulder, taller than the rest, crunched into the ship’s side and caved in a portion of the deck below.  The ship jerked to a stop and Festuscato got thrown overboard.  He barely missed the rock itself as he plunged headlong into the cold waters of the Baltic.

M3 Festuscato: Shipwreck, part 1 of 3

Festuscato:  The Halls of Hrothgar

After 416 A. D., Outside the Western Roman Empire

Festuscato 1:  Shipwreck

The clouds gathered, gray and dark on the eastern horizon, but the evening was near and Festuscato was not sure if the darkness got caused by a storm or the slowly fading sun. He considered the problem when his eyes became utterly taken by another vision.  Mirowen came up from below where the seven horses, and two ponies sounded restless, even against the sound of the wind and the waves.

“Lord.”  She acknowledged him in the way she did ever since they left Rome on this impossible journey.  Long gone were the days of his childhood when she called him sweet names, and his teenage years when she called him spoiled brat.

“My Lady.” He responded and watched her walk to the bow to stand, statue-like; her habit of the past seven days.  Everyone else watched as well and only returned to their various distractions after she came to a stop.  Festuscato, held the tiller dead on and had nothing better to do than stare.

Mirowen’s long green dress flowed out beside her with the wind and made it seem as if any moment, the beauty might take to flight.  She appeared, not so much a beauty one could point to, Festuscato decided, but more of an unearthly kind of something that made her impossibly attractive. It could be seen in the perfection of her form and figure, in the grace of her every gesture, in her long black hair and pitch black eyes, in her elvish ears with those perfect little points. Festuscato decided she needed a mate, if one could be found to match her perfection.  Sadly, at present, all he could do was sigh for her and turn his eyes away.  Besides, Hrugen seemed much more interesting.

Hrugen claimed to be a great Danish sailor.  He volunteered to guide them safely through the waves, once he found out their proposed route would take them near his homeland.  He said he had nothing against living in exile in Britain, but secretly, Festuscato imagined the man just got homesick.  As Festuscato suspected, the man proved to be no sailor at all.  In fact, Festuscato had started calling the man Gilligan, from time to time, even if that made himself the Skipper. Presently, Hrugen tried again to tie down the sail in the corner where it came loose and flapped, furiously. Gregor One Eye, the old Saxon, finally got tired of watching him and did it himself.

“I was about to do that,” Hrugen said, defensively.

“Nothing compared to what I was about to do,” Gregor said.

“Yes,” Festuscato thought.  “Seven days at sea could be interminable.”

Gregor sauntered over to where Seamus, the Cleric and Bran the Sword sat quietly.  Seamus wrote in his book, and Bran leaned on his sword, contemplating the cross.  The first was a cleric in the true sense, a priest of the Irish, a present from Patrick. Bran was a puritan through and through, and also a present, given by Constantine whom Festuscato anointed as the first Pendragon to rule Britannia in the name of Rome until such time the Romans returned, if ever.  Bran had been charged to defend the Senator’s life until Festuscato could safely return to his home along the Appian Way.

“What is it you write in that book of yours, anyway?”  Gregor asked as he sat on the cleric’s other side where he could keep watch with his good eye.  “You’ve been writing for seven days now and I have not heard a word except out of that other book of yours, that Bible thing.”

“I am keeping a record of our journey and adventures,” Seamus said.

“Adventures?” Gregor let out a hearty laugh. “Haven’t had any yet.”  Bran, craned his neck a little as if to take a look, though he had not yet shown anyone reason to believe he knew how to read.

“If you must know.”  Seamus spoke fast, corked his ink and set it and his quill in the pouch he always carried. “I have just written how we came into the Baltic from the outer sea yesterday morning, rounded the height of Jutland and came within sight of the coast which ran from horizon to horizon.”

“That’s all there is at sea.  Just horizon every way you look.”  Hrugen spoke as he joined the group.  The others paused.  For one minute, it appeared as if Hrugen might be sick, again.  “I try not to think about it.”  He finished, and looked down at his shoes.

Bran still craned. “It’s poetry,” he said.  “It’s not supposed to make sense.”

Seamus shut the book even though the ink was not quite dry.  “It makes sense,” he said.  “It’s just poetic.”

“Latin?” Gregor asked.

“Of course,” Seamus said.  “Just because we were wise enough not to get entangled with Roman overlords, doesn’t mean every Irishman’s an uneducated lout.”

“Quite true,” Gregor said with a big, friendly grin.  “Well, partly anyway.”

Bran stifled a laugh and stood up for the cleric.  “David was a poet.  I’ll grant you that,” he said.

“A barbarian of high esteem?”  Hrugen asked.

“A king for God’s people,” Seamus said.

“God’s chosen,” Bran said, almost at the same time.

“Which god?” Gregor asked, and then relented.  “That’s right, you only have one, so you say.”

“The Danes know of the Alfadur.”  Hrugen suggested.

“Can he protect my tools from salt water?”  A new voice joined the group.  Luckless the dwarf had come up from below where he hourly checked on his precious possessions.  “Pray that they don’t all rust.  Some of them were my great-grandfather’s, brought all the way from the mines of Movan Mountain.”

“But I thought your father was in the thick of it when the dwarf lords drove you out?” Seamus said.

“I don’t blame him,” Luckless said, with half a heart.  “Got to seek my fortune.  Besides, what would you do with a bad luck charm?”

The two Christians shook their heads.  The other two, however, looked like they would throw the dwarf overboard in a minute if he was not under Lord Agitus’ protection.

Avalon 6.10 Alexander’s Eyes, part 4 of 6

Boston and Sukki rode out front, as usual.  Decker and Elder Stow still took the wings, but on this trip, Harpalus and one of his soldiers came behind Boston and Sukki.  Katie and Lockhart got relegated to the third place in line, with Lincoln and Alexis, and then Evan and Millie behind them.  Wallace rode at the back, next to the mule that drew the wagon full of the traveler’s things.  That would have been it, but Harpalus assigned his last two men to act as a rear guard.  They rode thirty paces back and passed the time with quiet conversation.

The group made good time, but they would not reach Thermopylae until afternoon on the second day.  Then, it would be a few days across the Thessalian plains, and they figured they would find the time gate just shy of the Macedonian border.

King Phillip had sent word to the Athenian garrison that had been assigned to block the pass.  Harpalus assumed the Athenians abandoned their position and returned to Athens and a Macedonian garrison now watched the narrow place.  He had an optimistic view on life, and his conversation came out as positive and complimentary.

“I can tell you folks are used to traveling in the wild,” Harpalus said over lunch on that second day.  They had stopped just shy of entering a copse of trees before the pass.  “You seemed uncertain at the inn, last night.  But here, out on the grass, under the blue sky, you seem perfectly at ease.”

“Lots of practice,” Elder Stow responded, absentmindedly.

“Plus, we have a few secret weapons, like a fire starter,” Alexis said, pointing at Boston.

“And a good cook to compliment the good hunters,” Lincoln agreed, and gave Alexis a pat on her shoulder as he leaned over to smell the roast.

“Everyone does their job and it works out,” Lockhart suggested.

“We go with our strengths,” Decker added, as Evan, Millie, Wallace, and two of the soldiers came from tending the horses.

“What?” Boston watched Katie who had her eyes turned toward where the road ahead entered the trees.

“Yes, what?” Millie looked up and echoed the question.  Sukki turned her head to look down the road to see if something might be coming.

Katie shook her head and appeared to come back to reality.  “It’s just… We have been a day and a half and haven’t run into a single trap set by the witch.”

“I hear that,” Decker mumbled.

“Maybe we went in an unexpected route,” Lockhart suggested.  “We came up to the coastal road, rather than traveling the one we were on.”  He made a space beside himself.

“Maybe,” Katie said, as she took that seat by the fire.  “But Thermopylae is a narrow place.  If she expected us to go this way, that is the place where we need to look out.”

“I’ve been looking out for traps this whole way,” Boston said.

“Me, too,” Sukki echoed.

“Me, too,” Lincoln whispered.

After lunch, the woods appeared darker and more foreboding than before.  The sky did not darken, and the woods did not crowd the road any more after lunch.  The travelers just spent lunch thinking about Katie’s words, and the witch, and they got wary.  Elder Stow scanned the little wooded area and saw no sign of people, but it did not prevent anyone from being careful.

Boston rode out front to where she could see the road exit the little woods.  The soldiers in the rear just moved fully into the woods.  Boston got ready to shout about the light at the end of the tunnel, when the trees moved.  They did not pull up their roots and move, but they bent over the road, like trees in a strong wind, and the branches grabbed at the people.

People shouted.  They panicked.  Swords and knives came out to hack at the branches.  People pushed their horses toward Boston and the edge of the woods.  Even as the rear guard closed the gap with the group, Sukki got snatched right out of her saddle.  The branches tried to close around the girl, but Sukki flexed her Gott-Druk muscles, grabbed one of the branches, and ripped it right off the tree.  She fell to the ground.

“Get out,” Lockhart yelled, though it was unnecessary.  After the initial shock, people rode for the exit from the woods as fast as they could. Boston rode back to Sukki, and shot flame from her wand, setting that tree on fire.  In true rodeo style, she reached down.  Sukki grabbed Boston’s hand and leapt up behind her.

The ground beneath their feet began to shake.  Boston and Sukki on Honey rode like wild women as the ground started to open up.  Honey had to leap over a tear in the ground at the end, but they made it to the grass beyond.  They got down right away to try and stand while the ground trembled.  It would not have been good to stay on horseback during an earthquake.  The people and horses protested, but it ended quickly.  People made sure everyone got out in one piece.

Katie and Lockhart stepped up, and Harpalus limped over to the edge of the road, while Elder Stow checked the readings on his scanner.  They examined the crack in the surface of the road which ran into the woods for as far as they could see.

“Strictly local,” Elder Stow reported. “Not really an earthquake.  No depth to it.”

“That crack in the ground would have ruined the horses if we hadn’t gotten out of it,” Lockhart said.

“We might have broken our own legs,” Katie agreed.

Harpalus smiled.  “Good thing I already have a limp.”

“Speaking of broken legs,” Lincoln joined them.  “Alexis says the mule is down.  Decker says the wagon is still in good shape.”

“Pioneer built for the Oregon Trail,” Lockhart said.

“They still make that game?” Katie asked.

“Thanks a lot,” Lincoln frowned. “Now I am going to have that song running through my head for the rest of the afternoon.”

Harpalus could not even imagine what they were talking about, but he could laugh with Katie and Lockhart.

Sukki found her horse Freedom, safe and sound.  The horse had followed the others when Sukki ended up in the tree.  She got right up, but then had to wait while they hitched Wallace’s horse to the wagon.  Wallace would still ride the horse as it pulled the wagon.

“Just don’t expect me to ride very fast,” he said.  The others understood, but up until then, the whole trip had been at a walking pace. Sukki got sent back to keep Wallace company, which neither minded.  Wallace liked the big girl, though he did not really grasp the concept that she was a Neanderthal wearing a magical, human-looking disguise.  He got shown back in Diana’s day, but he forgot. Katie suggested that the fact that Wallace did not remember details well could be why he was not a very good scholar.

“No,” Lockhart countered.  “He reminds me of lots of people I know.  He has a very narrow and limited view of reality. Anything that doesn’t fit with his pre-conceived notions he justifies or rationalizes away, or just erases from his memory.”

Lincoln butted into the conversation. “What a sad little way to go through life.”

Alexis nodded, sadly, but Katie added a thought.  “If we can get him back to Professor Fleming, we need to encourage him to stay there. He will never survive this journey.”

They all looked back.

Sukki, on the other hand, also liked Wallace well enough to talk to him, where she stayed shy around some of the others, so it worked out well for the moment.

Katie and Lockhart moved up to the front, and put Boston behind them.  They opted to keep to the road for the present, but Katie and Lockhart wanted to keep their eyes open.  Decker and Elder Stow sharpened their watch on the wings.

Boston extended her elf senses, trying to find any little spirits that might be in the area.  She sensed a dwarf village in a nearby mountain, but when she sent her thoughts ahead, the dwarfs, in typical fashion, had no interest in helping. One dwarf named Bogramus said he might meet them in Thermopylae.  Closer to the pass, she sensed a fairy camp well off the road and in a different section of woods.  Most of the fairies took the same stance as the dwarfs.  Boston felt their reluctance to get too close to the humans that seemed bent on killing each other at every turn.  Philoxes and Maren, a young fairy couple, thought they might look ahead, but they were not sure what they were supposed to be looking for, and Boston felt reluctant to mention the witch.

The travelers came to a rise in the road and Harpalus spoke as they started down the other side.  “Up ahead, there, where the mountain presses toward the sea, is Thermopylae.”  He expected them to stop and gawk, but the travelers pressed on.

“We have been here before,” Lincoln explained from behind.

Katie spoke from the front.  “Here, three hundred Spartans stood against all the hordes of Asia.”

“True enough,” Harpalus said, and nearly fell as his horse stopped suddenly.  Lockhart and Katie stopped, and Boston stopped short behind them all.  Lockhart pulled out his binoculars.  Katie grabbed the scope for her rifle.  They saw bodies of dead men up ahead, near a fortified position.

Elder Stow’s voice sounded out from the wristwatch communicators.  “Get to a defensive place,” he yelled.  They saw him riding hard, being chased by a troop of soldiers.  Though the soldiers were still some distance off. Lockhart turned his binoculars in that direction and saw one of the cowboys leading the pack.

Decker came up from the other direction, waving for them to join him.  He also got followed by a dozen riders, but these looked like Macedonians or Thessalians.  “Get off the road.  The road is mined.”  Even as he spoke, the two in the rear hit something.  It exploded between the two horses, and the horses went down while the riders got tossed to the ground.

Four of the Macedonians broke from the pack and bravely went to check on their compatriots.  The rest, with Decker, stopped short of the road, while the travelers quickly vacated the highway.  Wallace got the wagon to the grass, and wisely did not stop.  Sukki, Evan, Millie, Lincoln and Alexis stayed right with him and encouraged him in the direction from which the Macedonians had come.

Decker pulled his rifle.  As Elder Stow neared the road, Decker let loose with several streams of automatic fire.  The cowboy recognized the sound and backed off, letting the others get in front of him, even though he could outrace them all on his big mustang. Several men and horses in the attacking party went down before Elder Stow crossed the road, and Decker turned to ride with him.  Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device and let loose behind him.  He expected the pursuing horses to complain, but he managed to set off several of the explosives buried in the road.  They were large enough to damage anyone close, and while the enemy did not yet reach the road, they stopped short and looked hesitant.

The travelers found a sheltered hollow in the rocks that held nearly a hundred horses, nibbling on whatever they could find.  The Macedonians filled the rocks, and most had bows and arrows to defend their position. They had several wagons, but only had two tents set up, so clearly the men had slept in the rocks over the last two or three days.

Alexis found wounded men in one of the tents, so she, with Lincoln to assist, got right to work.

Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 5 of 6

“It is true,” Alexis said.  “Boston was born human and became a spirit of the day to marry my brother.  I was born a spirit of the day, but became human to marry Benjamin.” she reached for Lincoln, but he was studiously staying out of the conversation.  “I still have some magic, though.  On my bad days, Benjamin calls me his witch.”

“Like the witch we are following?” Felix asked.

Alexis shook her head.  “She is a very powerful sorceress.  She can do things I cannot imagine doing.”  Alexis slid back beside her husband, and Katie took up the telling.

“Lincoln and Alexis are especially worried about Evan and Millie.  Evan and Millie also belong in the future, and Lincoln and Alexis found Evan about three hundred and fifty years ago in what was going to become Rome.  Romulus and Remus were young boys then.”

“We met the wolf, Valencia,” Lockhart interjected.

“She was a woman,” Katie said. “She could turn into a wolf to suckle the boys when they were babies.”

“It wasn’t Rome yet,” Lockhart insisted.

“But it was getting there,” Katie said. “Anyway, Millie, Evan’s wife, got lost in Babylon.”  Felix did not know what Babylon was.  “But Evan went back to the founding of Rome.  Lincoln and Alexis were the ones who found him and saved him, so they kind of feel responsible for him, and for Millie.”

Felix understood that feeling of responsibility, but he said nothing as Boston and Sukki came riding back from the front.  Boston looked like a superb rider.  Felix expected that from the spirits of the earth, but Lockhart said that was not it. Boston rode in rodeo competitions when she was young.  Felix nodded, though he did not know what Rodeos were.

“Rome,” Boston shouted and pointed behind her.  The group saw the trees, but the glimmer of the city could be seen through the branches.

Decker and Elder Stow, who rode out from the edges of the road, came in to join the group.  They fell in behind where they could protect the rear. Boston and Sukki continued out front. Lockhart asked a question.

“You can take us to Diana?”

“Furi Camilla Claudia, or Claudia Camilla, however the names work in this part of the world,” Katie added, with a look at Lockhart.

This was something Felix could do. “I am an officer among the Romans, and counted a patrician among the Romans, even if my family is Etruscan rooted.  I don’t know where she is in the city, but we can find Furi Claudia Diana.”

Katie confessed.  “Roman naming conventions are hard to follow, and I studied them.”

“As long as we find her,” Lockhart said. “The Kairos will know what to do if there is any hope of saving Evan and Millie.”

“Yeah,” Boston spoke up, having heard with her good elf ears.  “It wasn’t me that got kidnapped, or shot, or anything for a change.  I even escaped the spiders, unscathed.”

“No,” Sukki said.  “I got stung instead.”

“I must be rubbing off,” Boston said, with a true elf grin.  Sukki did not look sure if that was a good idea or not.  “Anyway,” Boston continued.  “At least we got Alexis.  The best healer in the business.”

That much was true.  Sukki looked back and smiled at Alexis, whom she thought of as an aunt, even if Alexis did not see the smile.  She looked again at Boston, her best sister, and wondered. Who would have ever thought she would be sisters with an elf?

###

When they arrived at the house, Boston got right down and raced up to the gate.  She saw a girl through the gate, one becoming a young woman, but one with a cloth tied around her eyes.  An elder elf, with some gray in her hair, an unusual sight in an elf, stood next to the girl, whispering in the girl’s ear.  The girl looked uncertain, but smiled well enough.

By the time a servant came to the gate, the others joined Boston.  When the gate opened, Boston did not know what to do.  Katie and Alexis came to the front and smiled for the girl and the one they thought of as an old woman, though Alexis suspected.  Decker, Lockhart, and Lincoln kept back while Felix spoke.

“I am Lucius Falerna Felix.  Is Lady Diana home?”

Elder Stow and Sukki came in last. Elder Stow explained to Sukki that her familial feelings for the travelers was perfectly acceptable.  He said, “For now, they are the only family we have. And all things considered, they are a rather good family.  We just need to find your cousins, Evan and Millie.  That’s all.”

Suki smiled, as they heard a woman’s voice from inside the house.  “Lockhart. What’s wrong?”

“Diana?” Boston asked before Lincoln could mouth the words, but the woman came into the gate area with her arms open. The woman had red hair and light brown eyes, and Boston said, “You’re red, like me,” as she ran into the hug.  She added, “You hug like a mom.”

“We are evaluating the hugs now, are we?” Diana said.

Boston grimaced.  “You even sound like a mom.”

Diana laughed and held on to Boston with one hand while she opened her other arm and hand.  The blind girl smiled and slipped under Diana’s wing, though some wondered how she knew, not being able to see and all.

“My daughter, Justitia,” Diana said.

“Lucky girl,” Boston whispered, and Justitia nodded.

“The best mom.”

Diana turned to Justitia.  “These are the travelers I told you about.  The ones from the future.”

“Oh,” Justitia exclaimed.  “That makes sense.  They are hedged around by the gods.”

“Yes, sweet,” Diana hugged Justitia into her side.  “But that does not solve everything.”  Diana looked and Katie, and Lockhart who walked up beside her.

“We lost Evan and Millie,” Katie said.

“Oh!” Justitia exclaimed again as Decker spoke from behind.

“And all of the guns.”

“It was the witch,” Alexis explained. “She hypnotized Evan and Millie and had them steal our weapons when we slept.  Now she has them as prisoners, maybe hostages.”

“And the weapons,” Lockhart added. “Which we have needed far too often in our journey.”

“Nanette?”  A young man came from the house.  He heard something, and every eye turned toward him as he came into the light.  “Nanette is holding Evan and Millie hostage?”

“Charles Wallace Dodd,” Diana introduced the young man.  “Yes, Wallace.  The evil Nanette has taken Evan and Millie prisoner.”

Wallace shook his head, like he did not like the term, evil Nanette; but Justitia tapped her mom’s side and whispered. “He knows something.”

“Wallace?” Diana said, with some command in her voice.

Wallace reached up to scratch his beard before he nodded.  “I think I saw her, this morning.  She was surrounded by men, and with a wagon.  I don’t know the cargo.  It was covered with a blanket, but it looked heavy.  The other woman could have been Mildred, but I couldn’t be sure.  It was far away.”

“Where was that?”  Lincoln asked the intel question, not doubting the veracity of the report.

“A warehouse by the docks, down by the river,” He paused and glanced at Diana, who betrayed nothing on her face, but from the look on Wallace face, maybe he went somewhere he was not supposed to go.  “I didn’t see Publia and her friends,” he confessed.  Alexis, at least, imagined there was a story behind that.

“How did you know it was Nanette?” Lockhart asked the police question, not willing to run off on a rumor.

Wallace acted like it was obvious. “She was a darkie, like your friend there.”  Decker rolled his eyes as Wallace continued.  “There are not many negroes in Rome, if any.”  Alexis and Lincoln looked miffed, and about to speak. Boston opened her mouth in surprise, but waited to see what happened.  Lockhart covered his chuckle as Katie elbowed him in the stomach. Diana raised her hand for quiet.

“1905,” she said.  “Don’t forget Wallace came here from 1905.  Be gracious.”  She stared at the group and saw no objections, except Wallace who looked confused and wondered what he said wrong.  Diana continued.  “Alexis.  Justitia is learning to cook.  I would appreciate you sharing some thoughts on that with her.  The rest of you need to come with me.  Before you go running off, you need to be properly armed.  She led them to a big, open room where she had metal Roman helmets and breastplates, pikes, sears, and boxes of Roman short swords.  She also had several famous, big rectangular Roman shields that she was edging with metal. She explained.

“The Gauls are getting restless. Next time my father takes out the army, I am going to make sure the army is properly equipped to fend off those Celtic broadsword hammer blows.”

Katie told Lockhart.  “History imagines her father came up with all these innovations and outfitted his army overnight…”  Lockhart nodded that he knew better.

Meanwhile, Alexis asked about the scales in the kitchen.

“Oh, I have to weigh everything,” Justitia said.  “I even take the scale and weights with me when I shop.  Of course, no merchant in their right mind would dare cheat me at this point.”

“Your mother?” Alexis asked.

Justitia grinned.  “Mom lays down the law.”

“And your sister?”

Justitia’s smile turned to a frown. “Publia delights in breaking the law.”

Alexis took and patted Justitia’s hand gently.  “She is a teenager.  You will understand better in a year or two.”

###

The travelers still had their binoculars, along with the rest of their equipment.  They examined the warehouse from a distance and saw signs that the witch had indeed taken up residence.  Lockhart, Katie, Decker, and Elder Stow formulated a plan.  Boston listened in and explained it to Sukki.

Diana put in her two cents and then stepped back to let them argue.  She wore her armor, where she had a sword at her back and a long knife across the small of her back, but she looked more formidable than she felt, especially since Justitia insisted on tagging along.  She knew she need not worry about the girl, but she felt a mother’s worry all the same. Gaius, her son, was absolutely forbidden to be there.  She charged his nurse, Livia, with tying him to the front gate if she needed to. Then, who knew where Publia was? No doubt gallivanting with her friends in the market, and getting into trouble.

Diana looked at Justitia.  She had removed her blindfold.  She was not utterly blind, and could make out shadows and light well enough, but people expressed feeling awkward and uncomfortable looking at her eyes.  She got better reception when she wore the cloth around her eyes.  Diana once imagined making sunglasses for the girl, but obviously, she was there to keep history on track, not change history. The only reason she got to upgrade the Roman arms and armor is because that was going to happen anyway, and while she might have been the reason it happened, the point was, it happened.

Diana shook her head.  Her lives were much too complicated.

Diana kept the girl between herself and Lincoln.  Justitia ignored him, but showed great anticipation, wondering how events would unfold.  Of course, Lincoln would no doubt keep himself in reserve.  He would hopefully grab Justitia if she ran out in her excitement. She would have asked Alexis to take that position, but thought Alexis might be needed for her magic.  Lincoln seemed the right choice.  Diana knew Lincoln would not run out in excitement.