Avalon 7.3 Down to Egypt, part 5 of 6

Lockhart, Katie, and Decker took an hour to ride out of their way.  When they cut towards the back end of the wadi, they watched the enemy through their binoculars.  Fortunately, the same ridge that kept the horsemen from being seen by the defenders on the road, also quickly cut off sight of the travelers.  Some of the men sneaking up on the roadblock with their rifles might have seen them, but they figured those men were far enough away to make the picture unclear to the naked eye, and by the time the riflemen reported back, they would be among the trees, sparse as they were.  As long as Elder Stow and Boston kept the men on horseback busy, so if they were seen, the men could not give chase, they should make it to the roadblock in one piece.

Lockhart felt the creep climb up his back as they moved.  He kept nearly seeing something—movement of a sort in the corner of his eye.  From the beginning of their journey, he felt uncomfortable around the nature spirits, including fairies, dwarfs, elves, and especially dark elves, a name he preferred over goblins.  He could not describe it well, except to say these purely natural spirits felt unnatural.  Alexis had been one who became human to marry Lincoln.  She still showed some creepy attributes now and then, though the others insisted that was not the case.  Boston became one.  What was wrong with that girl?  She was starting to get regularly creepy.  That probably just meant she was starting to fit in with her elf kind.

“We got company,” Katie said, clearly having noticed the same movement Lockhart noticed.

“Invisible, mostly,” Decker said.

Invisible.  Lockhart felt the chill in his spine.  He couldn’t help it.  Oddly enough, he had no problem with Elder Stow going invisible.  Traveling with a Neanderthal did not bother him.  And if the man had access to technologies well beyond his understanding; he could accept that.  The man had a device that let him go invisible.  Okay.  Boston, on the other hand, had no device.  She just went invisible on a whim.  She went creepy invisible, like by magic.

“They seem to be gathering,” Decker noticed.

Magic was another thing, and both Boston and Alexis had that, and Nanette would have magic when they came to a time period where the other earth came close.  He tried to remember.  The other earth, in another dimension, had an energy of sorts the Earth, his Earth—universe, did not have.  They called it creative and variable energy.  He understood it as magic energy, which empowered a rare number of individuals.  But the other earth, for some reason, cycled closer and further away, like the cycles of the moon went from full to dark and back again.  For three hundred years, the other earth leaked magic energy into his world.  For three hundred years, it moved too far away.  Lockhart checked with Lincoln in the database.  The other earth was presently out of phase, as Lincoln said.  It would be out in the next time zone as well.  It would come into phase in the zone after that.  Then Nanette would discover she could do magic.  That seemed scary.

“I think we need to stop,” Katie said. They stopped, and Lockhart felt glad Katie was paying attention.

The clone of Nanette, the one Minerva-Athena made, became a monster once she discovered she could do magic.  They said it was because in the spiritual world identical twins sometimes produced a good twin and a bad twin.  The clone Nanette had been the bad one, so logically, that said the real Nanette should be the good one.  Lockhart was not so sure.  He imagined that kind of power would corrupt absolutely.

“Howdy folks,” a little one manifested in front of the group, and he had a dozen more like him in attendance.  Lockhart guessed they were desert imps, or gnomes, or maybe dwarfs come down from the hills.  He could not call them elves, but he was not sure.  To his eyes, they all looked alike, and they all looked unique at the same time, which did not make sense.  Mainly, they did not fit well into neat categories.

“Howdy,” Katie returned the greeting.  And she smiled.  Katie smiled!  Lockhart pulled himself together.

“We are trying to get to the roadblock to reinforce the defenders,” he said.  “Any chance you can help?”  Lockhart bit his tongue the minute the words escaped his mouth.

“Well, let’s see,” the imp said.  “We might help, but we might not.  That sort of depends on what you might be willing to pay for…”

“We are going to find Candace,” Katie interrupted.  “How much should I tell her you asked for your services?”

“Er…” the imps smiled, and two even removed their hats.  “A token.  Just a token to feed our poor families, mind you.  Not for us, personally.  No.”

Katie did not mind.  She had a small purse.  They all carried one since they entered the days when money mattered.  “Here are three gold pieces for us, and five silver for the horses.”

The imps looked pleased, but the speaker for the group had to say something.  Lockhart figured it was an instinctive compulsion.  “Mind you, we have very big families.”

“Don’t push it,” Decker said, and every head turned as they heard several explosions back behind the ridge.  The smoke poured high into the sky.

###

Boston and Elder Stow easily snuck up to the back of the horsemen.  The gunmen were arguing.  Several wanted to ride right over the Romans, and they got loud.  They did not look behind and would not have seen two invisible people if they did.

Elder Stow stopped them when there was still some distance between them and the horsemen.  He did not want Boston trampled by panicked horses.  Each of the horsemen had the reigns of at least one other horse, so there were twenty-five or so horses, but only twelve with riders.

“I thought you were working on letting me see you,” Elder Stow whispered.

“I will,” Boston said.  “Maybe not right now.”  She got busy turning her magic on three arrows, the way her husband showed her.  She thought she was getting good at making explosive arrows.  She paused.  Maybe she was getting too good at it.

“Are you ready?” Elder Stow sounded impatient.

Boston put the first arrow on her string and said, “Ready.”

Elder Stow had his sonic device on the right frequency.  He let it rip, and the horses bucked.  Some threw their riders.  Other riders held on for their life.  The free horses broke free of their handlers and bolted to get away from that sound.  Boston fired her three arrows.  They exploded on contact.  Men got tossed.  Horses staggered from the concussive blast.  Boston felt she did a good job, but found her hand grabbed by Elder Stow.  Maybe he could not see her, but the arrows became visible as soon as they left her person, and he could guess.

Elder Stow lifted the two of them ten feet in the air, and just in time.  Three horses, in their panic, raced right at the source of the squealing sound that scared them so much.  They would have run over Boston without realizing it, her being invisible and all.  She did not notice, concentrating as she was on making her explosions.

“That is quite enough,” Elder Stow said, with his gruff voice.  Boston did not argue as he flew her invisible self to the roadblock.

###

Lockhart, Katie, and Decker walked their horses behind the imps for an hour, until the imps vanished, and the travelers found themselves surrounded by Roman soldiers.

“We have come to help defend the road,” Lockhart said, quickly.

“Where did that gnome go?” Decker asked.

“Is that what it was—he was?  I guessed imp,” Lockhart said.

“Or dwarf,” Katie said, and shrugged.  “But cute.”

Lockhart made a disgusted face as the imp came back with a centurion.  “And I am cute,” the imp said.  “Lord Gaius will take it from here.  I got work to do.”  He walked off and vanished among the trees.

“Come,” Lord Gaius said.  “Boston and Elder Stow flew into the road camp some time ago.  They appeared out of nowhere, like the gods, though they claim to not be gods.  They are strange ones, though.  Your Boston I know to be one of the little ones of my lady Candace.  The elder.  I don’t know what he is.  He is a strange one.  When he appeared out of nowhere, I know he scared the skirt off Tiberius here.”

“Did not,” Tiberius protested, but several soldiers around him heard and chuckled.

“You seem informed of something,” Lockhart responded.  “But I hardly know what to say.  I don’t know what they told you.”

“Not them,” Gaius said.  “We expected you, if you got here in time.

“What?” Katie asked.

“The goddess, Astarte.  She came to the camp of the children.  She said she wanted to say goodbye to her friend, Princess Candace.  She brought your fellow travelers.  No.  Don’t tell me.  Lincoln, Alexis, Anthony, Nanette, and that big girl… Sukki.  They warned us what was coming.”

“We barely got the road blocked in time,” one man said.

Gaius continued.  “Marcus here says that Sukki looks very strong.  He would not want to wrestle her, but Tiberius said he would not mind a tussle with the girl.”

“Lord,” Tiberius complained.  The man turned red, obviously thinking about it.

“I’m surprised Lincoln did not come with you,” Lockhart said.

“Oh, he did,” Gaius said.  “He is at the road, and so are we.”

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 4 of 6

Boston and Sukki sat quietly in the alley where they could watch the warehouse side door and keep one eye on the brigand horses tied there.  The sun passed the midpoint in the sky a couple of hours earlier, and the afternoon felt hot, and boring.  Boston looked at her watch and saw it was after three.

“Hurry up,” she whispered.  “It is going to be dark soon. We don’t want them to get away.”  Immediately, she heard the voice of Lockhart come from her wristwatch communicator.  Boston grinned.  It was just the sort of coincidental, perfect timing the little spirits of the earth tend to do without any effort.

“Decker. Any movement?” Lockhart asked.

“Nothing on the docks,” Althea spoke into the communicator she borrowed from Lincoln.

“No movement,” Decker spoke over top.  “Since Alexis mentioned it, Elder Stow decided he wants to go invisible and sneak into the building.  If he can isolate Millie and Evan, he has two more discs tuned to the invisibility spectrum.”

“Sukki,” Elder Stow spoke.  “You still have an invisibility disc.”

Sukki took Boston’s wrist and spoke into the watch.  “Yes.”

Elder Stow meant to tell Sukki to stay out of the warehouse, invisible or not, but Lockhart interrupted.  “Elder Stow.  Go ahead inside but take your screen device.  There should be a couple of young Amazon girls in there that we did not know about before now.  See if you can isolate them all behind your force field.”

“You got a screen device, one small enough to carry around?” Althea spouted her excitement over the radio.

Elder Stow huffed.  “My father.  It is not a force field.  That description is so wrong, I cannot tell you.”

“Just go,” Katie spoke.  “We will be there in five or ten minutes, and Leodis is bringing a hundred guardsmen.  We want our friends safe, and don’t want them used as hostages.  Out.”

“Going,” Elder Stow responded, and added, “Out, as you say.”

“Boston?”  Alexis’ voice followed.  “You are not allowed to go invisible and follow Elder Stow into the building.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes, mom,” Boston said, in her best sarcastic voice.

Alexis turned off her wristwatch device and spoke to the others, looking only slightly embarrassed.  “As long as she listens…”

“Are you going in anyway?” Sukki asked Boston.

“Absolutely,” Boston responded.

Sukki pulled her knife and made sure Elder Stow’s invisibility disc stayed in the pocket in her belt.  After a minute, Sukki turned invisible.  Boston immediately went invisible, the way elves do, especially when they are working around humans.  Sukki could not see Boston, but Boston could still see Sukki, so she took Sukki’s hand, cautioned her to quiet, and took her in the side door.

Boston and Sukki stepped to the back as a man came to poke his head out the door, looked at the horses, and shut the door again with a shrug, like maybe the door blew open.  Boston counted twenty men in the warehouse, all standing lazily by the windows, looking out, occasionally, and waiting for something.  Boston figured they were waiting for the sun to go down.

“Millie,” Sukki whispered and pointed.  She seemed to want to drag Boston in that direction.  Millie and Evan appeared to be unhurt, but sitting quietly on chairs, while two young girls sat on the floor behind them.  She wondered how many young girls the brigands carried off originally from that village.  She would find out later.  She tried hard to wait, patiently.

“Hush,” Boston said.  “Wait for Elder Stow.”

Boston watched and listened to the two that sat at a table.  She caught the names, Mylo and Philocrates.  They looked like the ones in charge, if only because they were not standing beside a door or window.  She thought of all kinds of things she could do to spook them.  The thoughts came to her, instinctively.  Some of her notions, the true imps might describe as trixie-fixies.  She had to force herself to refrain, but she did pass the time thinking what she could do to get the two men to draw swords on each other.

Finally, Elder Stow came in the front door.  Sukki started right out across the warehouse floor.  Elder Stow saw her and frowned.  Sukki and Elder Stow could see each other, even if no one else could see them.  Boston, on the other hand, stayed invisible to everybody, though she might have been seen if there were other spirits around, at least little spirits.  Lesser and greater spirits and, of course, the gods would see her, and she might not see them.  She could not worry about that.  She had to catch up to Sukki.

“Millie. And Evan,” Sukki gave it her best whisper.  She clutched her knife and turned to see if any of the men heard.

“Hold the girls,” Boston said.  “We don’t want to frighten them.”

“Boston?” Evan spoke softly as he took Libra’s hand and Millie hugged Chloe.  A few of the men’s heads turned toward them.  “Is Elder Stow with you?”

“Right here,” Elder Stow said in his normal voice.

As he got close, he got ready to turn on his screen device, but Boston yelled, “Hey.”  She got knocked over from behind.  Elder Stow nearly dropped his screen device in a sudden wind.  The wind coalesced in mid-air.  A wraith appeared in the image of a zombie-like woman with flesh rotting off her body.  The wraith floated six feet off the ground.  She turned her head all the way around to grin wickedly at the travelers and Amazon girls, then finished turning her head the rest of the distance to face the two men at the table and the men against the walls.

“Your enemies have found you,” the wraith spoke in an eerie, chilling voice.  “Now, you will all die.”  The wraith laughed, and a number of people in the room threw their hands to their ears to not have to hear that laugh.

Boston got mad.  She whipped out her wand and lost her concentration on staying invisible.  Fortunately, when she became visible again, she came with her glamour of humanity in place.  Boston aimed her wand at the wraith, and a stream of fire, like a miniature flame-thrower came out of the end.  The wraith shrieked and managed to side-step in mid-air.  Then, because Boston and Elder Stow might hurt her, or because she finished making her dastardly prophecy, she raced to the ceiling.

“Die,” she yelled, and laughed again as she went right through the roof and out into the afternoon sun.

Elder Stow turned on his screen and turned off his invisibility disc so he and Sukki became visible again, looking human enough.  Elder Stow looked like a bearded fifty-year-old, which was plenty old for that day and age.  Sukki looked like a big, broad-shouldered girl, like maybe an Olympic weightlifter, or wrestler, or some such thing.

The screen made a bubble, covering overhead, as well as beneath the floor.  Boston got caught outside the screen, but she knew how to get through the screen, and quickly phased through to get behind the protection.  All at once, the men around the room appeared to wake up from their shock.  They all moved.

The two at the table ran straight for the side door where their horses were tied up.  Three men followed them.  Ten burst out the warehouse double-doors that faced the docks.  They ran into the dozen Amazons who were ready for them, and well hidden.  The rest raised their bows and tried to shoot the intruders, only to see their arrows bounce off Elder Stow’s screen.

A couple of them shouted, and two joined the others on the dock, to be cut down by the Amazons.  The rest tried for the front door where Decker played turkey shoot.

Inside the screen, the Amazon girls pushed past Millie and Evan to get at Sukki and Boston.  “You are a spell caster,” both said to Boston, more or less together.  The awe in their voices could not be hidden.

“I wish I was a spell caster,” Chloe said, while Libra turned to Sukki.

“You look really strong.  I wish I was really strong.”  Libra touched Sukki’s muscled arm and Sukki smiled but did not know what to say.

“She is stronger than you might imagine,” Elder Stow said, and the two young girls bowed their heads slightly to the old man as a sign of respect.  “And Boston here was the first spell caster in the Amazon nation, back when Zoe was queen of the people.  They called her Little Fire.”  Elder Stow looked at Boston.  “I remember, even if I spent most of that time passed out in a drunken stupor from that Amazon beer.”

Chloe’s eyes got big, but Libra did not buy it.  “Can’t be.  That was a gamillion years ago.”  She looked at Millie for adult confirmation.  Millie smiled with her response and responded gently.

“I wasn’t there at the time, but I believe it.”  Libra still looked uncertain, but Millie turned to Evan and said something not entirely unexpected.  “I want to have a daughter.”

Evan opened his eyes, wide.  While he did not say no, he looked glad when Elder Stow interrupted.

“We have prisoners.”

Three men threw down their weapons, put their hands on their heads, and knelt, one with his eyes closed like he started praying.  Decker came in and shouted.  “Lie down on your faces.  Hands over your head.”  The men did not argue.

Elder Stow turned off the screen device as Althea and three Amazons came rushing in the warehouse double-doors.  Boston walked up to the corner of the building where her flame-thrower started the wall on fire.  She had to think, and that felt hard to do with Chloe clinging to her side and walking in her steps.  Finally, she pulled out her wand and pointed at the building fire.  The flames appeared to suck back into the wand, though the wooden wall still smoldered, and the fire looked like it might start up again any minute.

“Amazing,” Chloe said.  “I wish I could do that.”

Boston smiled for the girl and patted her head.  “You are an Amazon.  You can do whatever you want.”

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 3 of 6

“They are off the scanner,” Elder Stow admitted in the morning.  He gave the scanner a little shake, but it did not help.

“They must have moved in the night,” Lockhart said, what many thought.

“I should have anticipated this,” Arias scolded herself.

“With luck, they went into Larissa at first light,” Althea suggested, trying to sound positive.

“Not lucky,” Arias countered.  “Larissa is a real city, with a number of gates and a number of roads that lead off in every direction.”

“I wish the Princess was here,” Sophia said.

“Why is that?” Alexis asked.

“Hunting and tracking is what Princesses do best,” Sophia responded with a big grin.

“Gifted by Artemis,” Arias explained.

“Artemis would help,” Katie said.

“Can’t,” Arias said.  “The gods can’t interfere in that way, you know.”

The travelers and Amazons crossed the river bridge at Metropolis where they picked up some food for the journey.  Only Boston looked for the Daily Planet building.  When they actually stopped for lunch on the path they called a road, Elder Stow got excited.

“I got them.  They are in the city ahead of us.”

“Great.  Wonderful,” people said.

“They appear to be alive, as far as I can tell.”

“Thank God,” Alexis said.

“Have they stopped moving?” Lockhart wondered.

‘Let me bring this up,” Elder Stow said, and the scanner projected a three-dimensional map of light.  He zoomed into the city, but when he got to the street level, the map became fuzzy to look at.  Only two red dots stood out against the cityscape.  Arias and Sophia looked as carefully as they could and agreed.

“They are in the warehouse section by the river,” Arias said.  “We need to enter the city and bypass them to talk to Leodis first.”

“Rachel will help,” Sophia said.

“Leodis?” Alexis asked, and Lincoln got out the database to see what he could find out.

Arias nodded.  “Larissa is a democracy with a king.  The legislature is the city assembly, but the executive is the king.  That would be Leodis’ ancient father, but Leodis and his wife, Rachel, run most of the operations these days.”

Decker shared his thought.  “If they are in a river warehouse, they might be looking for riverboats to lose us on the water.”

Lockhart agreed.  “If we bypass them to go through channels, they might escape.”

“We can set some guards while the rest of us go to the palace,” Arias said, and they spent the rest of their lunchtime planning to do that.  The only interruption came when Arias asked Althea a question.  Althea did not answer the question.

“I’m drooling over that scanner.  We don’t have anything nearly so capable or sophisticated, even in 2160.”

“This toy?”  Elder Stow shook his head.  “This is only a little thing such as a ship’s officer might carry on his person to play with when he is bored.”

“Where on Earth did you get that?” Althea asked.

“Not on Earth.  It came from the Gott-Druk new home world.  My planet.”

“You are Gott-Druk?” Althea’s eyes widened.  “I—Erica me—has only heard rumors.  You are like legends.”

“Gott-Druk?” Sophia asked.

“Neanderthals,” Lockhart said and left it at that, but Katie thought she better explain.

“Elder Stow and Sukki’s people were taken into space at the time of the flood.  They were given a new home world where they could survive and prosper.”

“The flood?” Sophia asked, but quickly figured it out.  “Oh.  Noah.  The flood.”

“Yes,” Elder Stow huffed.  “And it has only taken us ten thousand years to figure out the new home world is a good place, and we were not cursed by being taken away from Earth.”

“And Sukki?” Sophia asked.  “They don’t look Neanderthal.”

“Thanks,” Sukki said.  “I was practicing being human.”

“And you do it well,” Alexis said.  “They wear a glamour.”

“And Boston?” Arias asked.

Everyone paused.  Boston also wore a glamour to make her appear human, but clearly, Arias noticed something.  Boston did not mind.

“I’m an elf.”  Boston lifted her glamour briefly to show her pointed ears and all, but put it back on after a few seconds.

“Little one,” Althea said in a reverential tone, and lowered her eyes.  “The little ones have always been a sign of good fortune for the Amazon nation.”

Boston grinned.

“Fair enough,” Lockhart said.  “But now we need to figure out how to divide our forces and make sure the brigands don’t escape down the river.”

###

Inside the warehouse, Evan and Millie sat beside each other and nibbled on the bread Philocrates procured for their sustenance.  Chloe and Libra, ten and twelve-year-old girls, sat behind them for protection.  They did not talk much, but mostly they encouraged each other to hold on.  Have faith.  The others would find them.  Chloe and Libra insisted Queen Arias would save them.  Evan and Millie felt sure the travelers would find them, and Elder Stow might already have them on his scanner.

Mylo stared at Millie from across the room, but Philocrates slapped him in the arm.  “Hands off,” Philocrates said.  “You know used goods don’t fetch nearly so much in market.”

“If they catch us, we may never get to market,” Mylo countered.  “And I will have left a prime female untouched.”

“Chief,” one of the men spoke.  “Why are we dragging around the man?”

“He will fetch something at market,” Philocrates hedged.  “Besides, if they catch us, as Mylo suggests, we may need him for bargaining.”

“I don’t like hurting a servant of the gods,” a second man spoke, and several men nodded in agreement.  When Philocrates looked at him, the man explained.  “Where else would they get those Seleucid weapons? I heard after Athens, they all got rounded up and destroyed.”

“Gumbs,” one of the men tried to remember the name of the weapons.

“A quick strike to steal the temple gold and race out of town did not work too well,” Mylo teased a little, and Philocrates slapped his arm again.

“We had no idea those people would be there, or the Amazons.”

“Maybe that village was not such a good idea,” one man dared to say it.

“We had no idea it was an Amazon village,” Philocrates raised his voice.

“But now we got no money.”

“We are going to be caught,” one of the men said.

“Now, just hold on,” Philocrates raised his hands to calm the men.  “No one knows we are here.  And since Phillip V and the Romans made peace, the whole city has relaxed.  The prince of the city isn’t out looking for spies or enemies.  Larissa is a big place, with plenty of gates and roads.  We just need to keep quiet, and by the time they get done checking all the ways out of the city, it will be dusk, and we can steal a riverboat and be gone.  They don’t know we are here.  Just don’t be loud and stupid today, and we will get away in the dark.”

“Then what?” Mylo asked.

“Then…”  Philocrates had to think a minute.  “We take the road off the river and make our way to Herakleion, where we can sell our wares and get some new horses.  Then we just follow the coast road around to Chalkidiki.  I have some family there and we should be safe enough.”

The men grumbled, but no one objected to the plan.  As the men returned to their lookout duty, Philocrates slapped Mylo’s arm again.  “Hands off,” he said.

At that same time, Althea, Meriope, and some thirteen Amazons climbed on to boats and scrunched down behind ropes, barrels and boxes of merchandise on the dock where they could cut off the brigands from the riverboats.  Decker watched the front door, while Elder Stow kept one eye on his scanner. Boston and Sukki found a side door, where all the brigand horses had been tied up, out in the sun.

“We found the horses,” Boston spoke into her wristwatch communicator.

“Front door covered,” Decker said.  “Amazons have the river.”

“Good,” Lockhart responded through his wristwatch.  “Hopefully, we won’t be long.”

“Boston,” Alexis spoke into her own wristwatch.  “You are not allowed to go invisible and try to sneak in to see Evan and Millie.  You need to wait until we get there, or until we get the go ahead.”

“Oh, puts,” Boston said, but into her wristwatch she said. “Roger.  Out.”

They sat in silence for a minute before Sukki asked, “Are you going to do it anyway?”

“I’m thinking about it,” Boston answered.

At the palace, Lockhart grabbed his shotgun and Katie grabbed her rifle.  They did not expect trouble, but they did not want the palace guards playing with the equipment.  Lincoln carried the database, and Alexis carried her medical bag, and her own wand, if she needed it.  Arias and Sophia got down, and with an honor guard of six Amazons, they all marched into the palace.

A woman ran to Sophia and gave her a hug.  “Leodis was just asking about you.”  The woman appeared obviously pregnant.  Alexis and Katie wondered about Sophia, and Katie especially wondered about Arias, because Arias did not appear to be in the kind of perfect shape Katie expected from an elect.  Sophia could not keep her mouth closed.  She explained.

“Rachel is in her sixth month.  I’m just starting my second.  Arias is in her third.”

“The Princess is in her seventh month,” Arias said.  “She is ahead of us all.”

“No,” Sophia said.  “Rachel is ahead.  She has a three-year-old son.”

“Jacob.”  A man down the hall yelled for the three-year-old boy that escaped his hand and went running to his mother.  Rachel paused, and moaned while she picked up the boy who wanted to hide his face in his mother’s shoulder in front of all these strangers.

The man, Leodis, Prince of Larissa arrived, and Arias immediately began to explain their situation.

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

MONDAY

Millie and Evan appear to be safe, but the brigands have them prisoners in a warehouse, so nothing is for certain.

*

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.