R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 1 of 3

Festuscato waved good-bye to the shore, though no one stood there to wave back.  Mirowen stayed beside him and Mousden shoved up between them, though he could hardly see over the railing.  Mousden spent the past two weeks in Cornwall and Lyoness, clinging to Mirowen’s skirt. He felt afraid of humans, especially so many big ones, but he started learning and limiting his screams to more serious concerns.

Festuscato could at least imagine Heini waving.  She seemed a fine young maid, hidden away in Weldig’s fort by the sea, and pleasant company over the last few, lonely days while they waited for the storm to pass in order to take ship for Ireland.  He remembered the way she made the bed, and tucked everything in so perfectly.  Mirowen took Mousden by the hand and walked him away when Father Gaius stepped up to the rail beside Festuscato.  Festuscato just thought how Heini’s name suited her when Gaius coughed.

“Forgive me father for I have sinned.”  Festuscato lost his smile.  Gaius simply nodded and Festuscato thought to change the subject, quickly.  “But, hey. I thought you were in a prayer marathon with Patrick.”

It became Gaius’ turn to look up with a bit of guilt on his face.  “My knees can only take so much,” he said.  “That Patrick is unstoppable.”

“He is going into battle,” Festuscato suggested. “I don’t blame him.”

Gaius nodded, put his hand to his lower back and stretched backwards while Bran came up and snickered.  No telling what Bran imagined might be going on, but Festuscato had begun to realize that the big man was bright, so he probably had a very good idea what made Gaius so stiff.

Gaius frowned and gave voice to his complaint. “Whoever decided that prayer had to be done on one’s knees?”

“Rome,” Bran offered, and it sounded like he thought it a silly idea.

“I thought prayer was inspired in a man’s heart,” Festuscato rubbed his chin.  “I was not aware the heart had knees.”  Before Gaius or Bran could answer, Mousden, in his pixie form, came flying up, screaming. He squeezed between Festuscato and the railing and clung with both hands and feet to Festucato’s robe.  Mirowen came chasing after the boy, followed by Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve.

Mirowen got down to comfort the boy and the Captain apologized.  “Lady, I am sorry.  Gerens doesn’t know when to hold his tongue.  He was just teasing.”

Festuscato turned his head while Gaius asked, “What happened?”

Treeve shrugged, but Captain Breok explained. “Gerens told the boy that the coiled ropes around the ship were really sleeping serpents that would wake and come out at night.  It is from an old tale, but there is no truth in it.”

“I heard that tale,” Mousden wailed from Festuscato’s feet and Mirowen hushed him.

“Frankly, I think your young person scared Gerens worse. He has locked himself in my cabin, and I hate having to wrench it open.”

“Get big and go with Mirowen.  She will protect you,” Festuscato insisted before he turned to face the Captain.  “Children. You never know how they are going to react.”

“No offense meant,” the Captain responded. “But that is no child.  Some of the men are going to wonder why we don’t throw the thing off the ship.”

“What’s the trouble?”  Patrick came up from below.  “Mousden, come here.”  Mousden came slowly from the railing, looking again like a young boy.  He held Mirowen’s hand until he saw Patrick hold out his arms.  Then he ran and leapt into the Bishop’s hug.  “I have spent these weeks in prayer, learning a great deal.  You would be surprised.  But above all I have learned that people come in all shapes and sizes, and I mean all shapes and sizes, and I have come to understand that the Almighty will not judge us on our outward appearance, but on the content of our hearts. This lad is a good and kind soul, and you dare to harm him at the risk of your own soul in the face of eternity.”

Festuscato spoke while Bran, Gaius and Mirowen stepped over beside Patrick and the boy.  “That a man should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  He shook his head, because he did not get the voice right.

“Besides,” Bran spoke up with the slightest grin on his face.  “You throw him overboard and he will just fly back to the ship.”

Mousden nodded his head and patted the big man on the shoulder before Mirowen took him from Patrick’s arms.  Mousden honestly made more like a teenager in age and only appeared eight or nine in big form because pixies aged more slowly and lived longer than ordinary humans.  But in his first real human contact, with Denzel and Elowen, he learned that he received better treatment when he acted as young as he looked; not that it would be hard for a pixie of whatever age to act like a child.

Mirowen took Mousden off to the cabin the Captain provided for the Lady and her son, as he had imagined them to be.  Bran also wander up to the foredeck to find Dibs for a little martial practice.  They were keeping each other in shape and teaching what they knew about their weapons. Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve stepped up to one side of Festuscato while Patrick and Gaius stepped up to the other side.  Festuscato turned them to face the sea before the Captain spoke.

“So, your woman?”  It was a question.

“My governess.  Now my housekeeper, but well-practiced at raising boys,” Festuscato answered and Gaius grinned and nodded.

“But she is not a, whatever.”  Captain Breok honestly did not know.

“A pixie?”

“She’s an elf,” Gaius said.  “A house elf.”

“And as fine a woman as you will ever find this side of Heaven,” Patrick added.

“And I suppose that makes you?”  It was another question.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris, Senator of Rome, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and Comes Britannia, and a normal, mortal human being who will one day grow old and die like any other human person.”

“But you don’t really die,” Gaius understood that much.

“No.”  Festuscato frowned.  “I feel all the pain and heartache of death, but I don’t get to the joy of Heaven part before I get shoved back into a new birth.  I start all over again as a baby, but as I have confessed, I think I could live a thousand lifetimes and still not get it right.  Patrick, don’t underestimate the power of sin in this broken old world.”

“I don’t,” Patrick confirmed.  “And I confess, while I have every confidence in Mirowen and young Mousden, I still have my doubts about you.

“I do my job.”

“And what is your job?”

“Right now, it is delivering a stubborn Bishop alive, into the hands of a bunch of mad Irishmen.  Then you will have your job to do, and I think it won’t be easy, and I don’t know if I can help you.”

“I think I should thank God you can’t help me.” Patrick said, with an honest smile and a friendly pat on Festuscato’s shoulder. “But I will pray for you.”  He turned to go back to his place for prayer.

“I figured you were already doing that, hopeless cad that I am.”

Patrick said nothing, but Gaius thought to answer. “Only as needed,” he said.  “Which for you is about every minute of every day.” Gaius also thought to give Festuscato an encouraging pat on the shoulder.

“Come along, Treeve,” the Captain spoke up as he turned from the railing.  “Let’s go pry Gerens out of my cabin.  I plan to sleep well tonight, and in my own bed.”

###

That evening, Treeve said he expected Mousden to sleep in the cabin, maybe upside down like a bat.  Gaius thought he might prefer to sleep in the darkness down in the hold, but Mousden said it smelled too much of pine trees and strange animal droppings, and besides, he already caught the only rat on board for lunch. Festuscato kindly asked him to not go into the details.  It turned out Mousden slept up in the nest at the top of the mast. He said it was a wonder to see all the stars overhead, and in its own way, not unlike the roof of a cavern, or being in a fairy circle.  It reminded him of the many times his tribe roamed the meadows at night and danced and played in the circles of the moon.

“He probably won’t sleep much in any case,” Mirowen said, with a yawn.  “Sorry. I find the sea much like a cradle. It really tires me out.”

The Captain and his mate both looked at Festuscato to explain.  “Mousden is a night creature.  Pixies in general prefer the darkness, or I should say the moon and stars.  They live underground, in caves and caverns, and find the sun glaring bright.  I’m surprised Mousden doesn’t have a headache from the sun shining off the surface of the sea all day.”

“He slept for much of the day,” Mirowen added before she excused herself and went to her cabin.

Everyone slept well that night, as is often the case at sea.  Mousden stayed up top and observed the changes in watch through the night.  Most of the time he simply looked at the unchanging sea, the horizon and counted the stars in the sky.  When Colan, the skinny young man who had the morning watch climbed up to join him in the nest, Mousden casually mentioned that he noticed a sail on the horizon.

“I can’t see anything,” Colan said, as he squinted off into the dim light before dawn.

“Right there,” Mousden pointed, but Colan shook his head.

“How far?”

Mousden did not know.  Growing up in caves allowed him no chance to learn how to judge distances in the great outdoors.  They waited in the quiet, Colan squinting now and then until the sun seemed to burst above the horizon all at once and he saw a ship much closer than he imagined.  It headed straight toward them and no doubt had seen their watch lights in the night.

“Ship off the port side,” Colan shouted.  “And it is headed right for us.”

R6 Festuscato: 2 Cornwall, part 3 of 3

Festuscato called, “Mousden,” and he put enough compulsion in his voice so Mousden appeared as if out of nowhere.  He looked no more than a foot and a half tall, covered in mottled green-gray skin, and sported two bat-like wings which were pumping to keep him aloft.  His hands had nails which made them appear claw-like and his naked feet were certainly claws with a prehensile big toe that could cling to the nearest tree branch, or stalactite.

“Harpy-like,” Festuscato mused.  “I don’t know why I didn’t think of that earlier.”

Mousden spun around several times before he focused on all the new human faces and screamed over and over.  Denzel muttered, “Well I’ll be,” while Elowen stared and shook her head like she did not believe what she saw.  Festuscato did not even glance at Dibs and Gaius, but he worried about Bran and Patrick.  Bran appeared stoic and stood as still as a statue.  Perhaps he was in shock.  Patrick got more animated

“Father in Heaven, Hail Mary, In Jesus’ name.” Patrick started to say a dozen things while Gaius held him, but eventually curiosity overcame the fear on his face and he felt his heart go out to the young thing that seemed so obviously in distress.  Mirowen already got within a foot of the hovering, howling pixie.

“There, there.  No one is going to hurt you.  Calm down. Stop screaming.  You will be all right.”  Nothing helped until Mirowen yelled, “Shut-up!”  Mirowen threw her hands out and some magic forced Mousden’s lips to close.  Mousden’s eyes got bigger than human eyes and they still heard the “Mmmph, mmph,” sounds, but they otherwise had quiet.

“Stay,” Festuscato spoke quickly, sensing that the pixie was about to fly off.  Mousden stayed, but against his will, and that made his eyes get really extra big until he turned them on Mirowen who kept saying soothing words.  “Please get big,” Festuscato added.

Mousden shook his head, but Festuscato just stared at the pixie until he floated to the ground and changed.  He got big, which in his case doubled his size to all of three feet. He appeared as an eight or nine-year-old boy, with pale skin and a few freckles.  His brown hair had a slight touch of green when seen in a certain light, but otherwise he looked human enough.

“There you are,” Elowen said suddenly, as a big smile sprang to her lips.  It seemed as if seeing Mousden in his natural pixie state did not penetrate her brain. She stepped up to hold and maybe pick up the boy, but Denzel stopped her.  He took Elowen’s hand and shook his head.

“I think these people may know where Mousden’s parents may be.  It is best to let the boy go.”

“Oh?”  Elowen sounded disappointed

“Yes, about your parents,” Festuscato started to speak, but Mousden broke down and began to weep.  Mirowen got to her knees and held and comforted him while Festuscato caught the vision from the little one’s mind.  Mousden’s tribe got decimated in the Fairy War and he got separated from his family.  His parents died, and in fact his whole family got killed in battle, and Mousden just found them a few hours ago, miles away, buried deep in the land.  Pixies are very family oriented people.  They take a spouse and are faithful as opposed to many humans who only give lip service to the notion of fidelity.  But with his family gone, Mousden had no one to look after him.  The tribe would not turn him out, but he would remain very much on his own until he came of age.

“He needs to come with us,” Festuscato said, and Mirowen looked up at him with a look that said she thought much the same thing. “So now you have another young boy to raise.”

Mirowen lost her smile as she got out her handkerchief to dry the boy’s tears.  “Let’s hope this time I get it right.”

“I don’t understand,” Patrick admitted.  “But that Mirowen is certainly a brave woman.”

Festuscato explained a bit of what happened to Mousden’s parents after Mirowen and Elowen took the boy into the house for a tall glass of milk.  Then he explained how the fairies like the untarnished woods and soft grasses that go to grain and the flowers.  “Fairies generally live in the woods, in the green under the sun.  Pixies prefer the fens and ferns, the briars and brambles and thistle grasses that grow in the meadows.  They live underground, in the dark, but in the night, they come out and build so-called fairy circles in those meadows, where they make music and dance under the stars and the moon.  They are all good people and usually work things out in time, over the centuries, but sometimes they fight.  Think weeds in the garden.”

“Still,” Patrick said.  “That Mirowen is a remarkable woman.”

“She’s an elf,” Gaius said.  “A house elf as I understand it.”

“She was my governess when I was eight, and raised me and Gaius and Dibs and another friend, Felix.”  Festuscato rubbed his chin.  “She claims now she is my housekeeper, but she still treats me like an eight-year-old now and then.”

Mirowen came out the door to fetch the water bucket and could not resist the response.  “Only when you act like and eight-year-old.”  she went back inside.

“She has good ears too.  Excellent hearing.  Did I mention that?”

Patrick patted Festuscato on the shoulder.  “I can see I will have to pray for you.”

“What?”  Festuscato glanced at Gaius.  “I assumed you already were.”

“As needed,” Gaius responded.  “Like every day.”

“Oh, you mean because now you know I consort with devils and demons.”

“Not a chance,” Patrick said.  “I saw no devil in that poor innocent boy’s tears.  And as for your governess, I have thought several times how fortunate you are to have found a woman so pure and true.”

“No demon would dare,” Dibs said, and looked up at Bran.

They all looked at Bran, but all he said was, “That was very interesting,” and he turned and began to gather the things to set their camp beside the cottage for the night, and the others helped.

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: Leinster.  Festuscato takes Patrick to the heart of Ireland.  He stays at the inn and leaves Patrick alone to get on with his work, but there is a fly in the ointment, a certain unhappy pirate.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: Caerdyf, part 1 of 3

Festuscato got up on the half-finished wall of the fort of Caerdyf, sat in an oversized chair, dressed only in his shorts, and sunned himself in the afternoon.  “I’m going for a golden tan,” he said, and thought this felt much better than riding like a mad woman down a dusty road in the dark.

Mirowen, his house elf who appeared much too beautiful to be human, who raised Festuscato and his friends, Gaius, Dibs and Felix since they were eight and nine-years-old, sat on the wall in the shade and trotted out her motherly voice to scold him.  “You are a red head with very pale skin.  The only thing you will do is make freckles.”

“You should get a chair and turn your fairy weave clothing into a bikini and join me.”  Festuscato spoke like he made a reasonable suggestion.  He tried not to smile as he imagined what the sight of Mirowen in a bikini would do to the poor guardsmen who watched them.  Festuscato sighed as he saw Father Gaius approach. “Forgive me Father for I have sinned,” Festuscato said, as he closed his eyes to soak up some more sun.

“So, what else is new?” Gaius asked as he approached.

“I am thinking of changing your name to Father-forgive-me-for-I-have-sinned.”

“For you, that would make sense,” Gaius began, but Festuscato interrupted.

“How are the bishops getting along?”

Gaius shook his head.  “Patrick is the only one with any common sense, but they don’t much listen to him.  Lavius keeps trying to mediate the arguments, but it is hopeless.”  Lavius just became the newly ordained Bishop of Wales. “Palladius and Germanus disagree about everything.  Palladius keep saying they can’t do anything about the Palagian scourge, so they ought to be about converting the heathen.”

“Hey!  Palladius is not a Dominican and this is not Mexico.”

“As you say,” Gaius responded.  Festuscato’s friends learned to ignore him when he said things like that, things where they had no idea what he was talking about. “Germanus reminds me of that Cornish fellow, Gildas.”

Festuscato nodded and applied Gildas’ famous line, “Kill the bastards.  It must irk him that I have made the killing of priests, christian or druid off limits. A crucifixion offense.”

“He says it will be hard to kill all the Pelagian heretics by himself.”

“You might tell him I will crucify him as easily as any other murderer.”

“A bishop of the church?  Festuscato, I sometimes don’t know when you are joking.”

Festuscato opened his eyes and showed by their glare that he was not joking.  “Tell him until I hear from Pope Xystus or the Emperor Valentinian, I speak for both the pope and the emperor in this place.  Tell him a sword condemns a heretic to Hell but gentle persuasion can save a soul for Heaven.  Tell him whatever you like.”  Festuscato stood to walk off.  “Now I am overheated.”  Mirowen rolled her eyes and got up to follow him, so he told her, “And my hair is amber, not red.”  He walked off to the stairs down from the wall, and Gaius followed a few steps behind.

Festuscato walked to a pool of water just outside the courtyard.  The land fell away after a short distance, but a fairly large area had been dug out during the construction of the fort.  There were some grasses growing in the shallow end, but there was also a deep end where Festuscato stopped and thought out loud.  “I wonder if the water is cold.”  Mirowen stepped up beside him and shrugged, so he shoved her in.  “Is it cold?”

“Oh!”  She did not sound happy, but Festuscato noticed she changed her fairy weave dress into something more suitable for a swim.  Festuscato shrugged and jumped in after her.  Gaius came up, thinking hard, but did not hesitate to take off his robe. He laid it out carefully on the stones by the court and followed.

After a while, Sergeant Dibs came looking for them. Gaius and Mirowen shouted together, “Dibs!”  Dibs ignored them.  He came on a mission.

“Festuscato.  The bishops have a question that apparently only you can answer.  Lord Anwyn said he dare not answer in your place.”

Festuscato sighed and reached up a hand for Dibs to help him out.  As soon as they clasped hands, Festuscato shouted, “Now,” and Mirowen leapt up to grab the other hand.  They pulled him in.  He came up sputtering.  Then he shrugged, stepped into the shallows to remove his armor and weapons before he promptly splashed Mirowen, a good one right in the face.

Sometime later, the bishops arrived, wondering what happened to their messenger.  Patrick did not hesitate to peel off his robe and yell.  Festuscato knew a cannon ball when he saw one, though gunpowder and cannons were not invented yet.  He even called it a cannon ball, out loud, but did not explain.

Palladius, Germanus and Lavius looked more hesitant. Lavius at least laid his robe gently beside Father Gaius’ robe and waded in the shallows, complaining how cold it was the whole way.  Palladius finally disrobed and slipped into the deep end with a comment that it was not so bad if a person got over the shock of the cold all at once.  Germanus refused, though everyone encouraged him. He had that look that said it was undignified.  In the end, it took Patrick and Gaius getting out and dragging the poor old man in, and to be sure, once he got in, he even laughed for the first time that anyone knew.

Finally, the four elf warriors Festuscato called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse showed up with towels.  No one asked where the towels came from, or where they went after they served their purpose.  The Four Horsemen were covered with strong glamours to appear human, but no one really imagined that they were.

“All we need now is a good warm supper and a soft bed,” Festuscato said after the swim, and the bishops agreed.  They seemed to be getting along perfectly well after the cooling down in the hot afternoon.  Festuscato himself started yawning half-way through the evening meal, and he remarked that he did not even need a fine looking young woman to help him relax and sleep.  Naturally, at that moment, a messenger showed up at the gate yelling about Irish ships in the dock and wild Irishmen running through the town, making for the fort.

Anwyn, Lord of Caerdyf, Centurion Julius and Sergeant Marcellus jumped to their feet.  They missed the swim and still acted hot and bothered.  Julius started shouting orders, but the Four Horsemen backed into the shadows, sensing that it might already be too late.  Julius stopped in mid-order as twelve men crashed into the great hall.  Festuscato put his hand out to keep Mirowen seated for the moment as he admired the Irish sense of style.  They even looked like pirates.

R6 Gerraint: Mount Badon, part 1 of 3

Gerraint did not get much sleep that day.  He took Lancelot, Lionel and five hundred horsemen of the RDF up the mountain road first thing that afternoon.  They planned to meet Arthur on the other side of the mountain where the roads rejoined, and Gerraint hoped to find Percival and at least the majority of the men under his command still alive and ready to fight. Percival had three thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall, Devon, Southampton, Dorset and Somerset.  It added up to a whole army in the old days.  Arthur was bringing four thousand more from the British Midlands and Wales.  When they got word that the Saxons were moving, they could not wait for whatever men Kai and Loth might be bringing from the north.

Arthur stuck to the main Roman road that skirted the rougher Highlands.  They figured if the Saxons got past Percival, that seemed the mostly likely route they would take.  Gerraint and his five hundred were designed to stop the Saxons from using the mountain road in a flanking maneuver. They were to meet in five days where the two roads rejoined.  Arthur wanted to take a week and Gerraint argued for three days, so they compromised.

Gerraint got a fresh horse, a sturdy mount trained to the lance, and he started right out, flanked by Lancelot and Lionel. Lancelot seemed a lot like Uwaine. He did not say much.  Lionel seemed more like Bedivere.  He asked questions, which Gerraint honestly did not mind.

When they arrived at the village on the up-side, as Gerraint called it, they found the people in mad preparations.  There were people streaming in from all the outlying farms and the streets were jammed with carts and mules.  Gerraint chose to skirt the town and camp the five hundred in the fields on the far side.  He wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but he had to wait for the expected delegation of village elders.

“We have it on firm authority that the Saxons are coming here,” one elder reported.

“How many?” Lionel asked.

“We don’t know.  A lot.  Plenty. A whole army.”  Every elder had a different thought in mind, but no one had any numbers.

They argued with Lionel for a time.  Sergeant Brian, who corralled two dozen men and took it upon himself to act as aid-de-camp for the three Lords, scoffed now and then, but said nothing.  Lancelot said nothing, but watched Gerraint closely.  The villagers wanted the five hundred to fortify the town and begin construction of a real fort to protect the village.  Lionel said they were not sent to garrison one village with five hundred valuable men, especially since they could give them no definite information as to how many Saxons, where they were or how far away, or anything. Lionel concluded they were acting on ghosts of rumors, and the village elders felt insulted.  Then Gerraint spoke up.

“There were a half-dozen Saxons seen four days ago near the mountain village, but the Little King caught them and killed them all. The woman in the woods and her two sons confirmed this,” he said.  The elders grew quiet because Gerraint obviously knew the neighborhood and what he was talking about.  “We are traveling this road to be sure the Saxons have not come this way.  Do you know the three graves of the thieves by the side of the road, up from here?”

Yes, they all knew the graves.  “We found them one morning.  It was all very mysterious.  They were well known thieves and cutthroats who had their way in this village, but one morning they were all three slaughtered, and in a very gruesome way. Some say it was ogres or goblins or trolls, or something worse, but most people don’t know what to think.”

“It was worse,” Gerraint said.  “That was my handiwork.”  The elders gasped, though a few did not know whether or not to believe him. “I say, don’t worry.  If we meet some Saxons up the road, Maybe I will send them back to you so you can make a real cemetery.  Meanwhile, if you have any brave young men, Arthur can use all the help he can get when we arrive at the real battle.  I will tell you what I told the village on the other side of the mountain.  If Arthur wins, no Saxons will come here.  But if Arthur loses, no fortifications or garrison will be able to prevent the Saxon army from doing as they please.  So how about it?  Does your village have any young men who are brave enough?”

The elders were not sure.  They would mention it in the village meeting, but Gerraint should not count on any help.  Gerraint dismissed them, and then Lancelot spoke his peace.

“They are afraid.  They will keep all the young men they can close to home, and we won’t get any help.”

“Not a good recruitment speech?”

Even Sergeant Brian shook his head, no.

“But I was not recruiting.  One coward affects all those around him.  We don’t need that, so I told them straight that only the brave need apply.  Then I turned them off on purpose, because it will do no good having a brave young man whose mind is filled with worry about what is happening back home.  That is a way to get bravely killed.  If any men in the village understand enough to realize it is better to fight the Saxons in someone else’s front yard rather than wait until they come to your front yard, that might be a man we could use.”

The others would have to think about it.

###

In the morning, a dozen ill armed men showed up, and Gerraint took the time to pair them with a veteran.

Just before lunch, they reached the place on the road where he could ride to the house in the woods.  He took Brian and six men with him.  He made Lancelot and Lionel stay with the troop and made them break for lunch.

When he arrived at the house, he found more of a reception than he bargained for.  Flora knew he was coming, of course, but she somehow got word to her elf grandfather. Dayrunner stood there with a hand-full of elf warriors, all properly disguised to look like ordinary men. Bowen and Damon were also saddled up and ready to ride.  Gerraint swore.

“I was going to make sure you stayed here to protect your mother.  You won’t make good husbands if you get killed.”

Bowen looked at his brother Damon and spoke for the boys.  “We won’t make good husbands if we won’t fight for our wives.  We have to earn our way.  Arthur would expect no less.”

“Don’t ask me.”  Dayrunner caught Gerraint’s look.  “I will not bind my grandsons nor keep them here.  They must earn their way, as they said.”

Gerraint knew they were right.  In the end, he could not protect them.  They needed to fight their own battles, just like him and Arthur, and just like anyone else.

“These are fine looking lads,” Brian said. “Fine looking armor and weapons too for back-woods boys.”

“Only the best for my grandsons,” Dayrunner said.

“But you, sir.  Where did you find so many willing men in the wilderness?”

Gerraint interrupted.  “Hunters.  Don’t ask. Get the boys mounted and ready to ride. I need to talk to the hunters for a minute.”  He waited while Brian and the boys mounted, then he spoke softly.   “Dayrunner, what news?”

“As we speak, the Little King is besieged in his cliff caves by three hundred Saxon horse.  The village beyond is playing host to seven hundred more Saxons with horse. The word is they failed to engage young Percival’s trap and instead headed straight for the mountain road, an unexpected move.  There are a second thousand Saxon horse circling around Bath.  When you reach the meeting of the roads, you will face eight thousand Saxons afoot and two thousand horse there in reserve.”

Gerraint nodded.  “Very thorough.  Pinewood here?”  He was, of course, having anticipated Gerraint’s arrival.  He came dressed, as expected, in his hunter green with the faded lion on his tunic.  He also spoke right up.

“My men and Deerrunner’s troop have harassed the Saxon cavalry from the start.  We have picked off many on the road around Bath.  Bogus and his, with Dumfries in the night, have moved to block the road from Bath with only one complaint, that there will not be any Saxons left by the time they reach that point.”  Pinewood and Dayrunner both grinned.

“Dayrunner,” Gerraint fretted.  “I would appreciate if you deployed your men on the far side of the mountain village to be sure none of the Saxons escape to warn the seven hundred down the way.  With only five hundred men to their seven hundred, we are outnumbered.  Surprise will even things a bit, if we are not given away.”

“Lord.”  Dayrunner and Pinewood each gave a brief bow, which seemed perfectly reasonable from Sergeant Brian’s perspective.

R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 1 of 3

After lunch on a Thursday, Percival took Uwaine, Gawain, Bohort and his brother Lionel up the road to the port to check on the little fleet Thomas had assembled in case things went badly and Arthur needed a quick getaway.  They would spend the night in an inn and probably talk into the wee hours since they had a lot of stories and catching up to do.

Arthur took Gerraint across the road just before dark and dragged him into the woods.  Gerraint felt obliged to say he did not think it a good idea, but then he closed his mouth; because like Arthur, he had been anxious to see this mysterious lake ever since he first heard about it.  Neither felt the need for troops, because like the forest of Bringloren, the land around the lake had a reputation for ghosts and other bump-in-the-night things.  People avoided the lake, but for Arthur and Gerraint, that only made the pull that much stronger.

With the sun set, the moon came out and so did the owls. The forest did have a haunted feel to it, especially with the mist from the snow that looked to be finally giving up to the spring rains and warmer weather.  Neither talked, because the forest seemed to require silence and who knew what might be attracted by the sound?  When they saw the lake, it appeared shimmering, calm and crystal clear under the moon and stars.  The waters looked perfectly tranquil and serene, but somewhere out in the middle of all that splendor, there appeared to be an island, and on top of the island, they saw the first genuine stone castle in Europe.  The stones themselves glistened like the water in the moonlight and spoke of great mysteries beyond the gate.

Arthur and Gerraint found an enormous oak standing between them and a full view of the lake.  Arthur stepped around one side.  Gerraint stepped around the other, and he immediately noticed Arthur vanished. He called softly, “Arthur.”  He heard no response.  He turned toward the big, old oak, except it vanished.  Only a few saplings stood where the old tree should have been.  Gerraint raised his voice a little.  “Arthur.” No response.  He imagined that he must have been transported, somehow, away from the big tree, but when he checked his view of the lake, and especially his view of the distant castle, everything seemed the same.   He yelled, “Arthur!” and startled several things in the upper branches of the trees, birds and small animals, he hoped.  He took a couple of steps in the soft leaves and found himself getting dizzy.  Swamp gas, he thought, as he fell to the leaves, fast asleep.  His last thought was to wonder if Enid would have to come and find him and kiss him to wake him up.

A woman appeared and bent down to touch Gerraint’s cheek.  A host of little ones and lesser spirits along with the Naiad of the lake and the Dryad of the oak appeared with her.  “If he is the man of honor you say, he is not going to like this,” the woman said, but she duplicated some of the things the little ones willingly gave her and placed them gently in Gerraint’s heart.  Then the host vanished, all but one young man, and the woman stood back while Gerraint woke.

“What?  What happened?  Arthur!”

“Hush,” the woman said.  “Let the sleeper sleep.”

Gerraint stood up to get a good look at his visitors. The young man looked like a big one, about Gerraint’s size, and looked strong and well made.  He appeared dressed in armor that could only have been crafted by dwarfs, and the sword at his side had something of the dark elves about it.  All of this got taken in with one glance, since the woman took all of his attention. She looked far too beautiful for an ordinary mortal, and what is more, he saw something very familiar about her. It came to Gerraint after a moment, and what came out of his mouth even startled him.

“Rhiannon, what are you doing here?  You naughty girl.”

The young man reached for his sword.  “How dare you speak to the Lady Nimue in such a manner.  Apologize, or I will make you apologize.”

“Wait,” the Lady said.  “I think I may be in trouble.”  Gerraint had his hands to his hips and frowned.  The Lady Nimue was in fact the goddess Rhiannon, one of the multitude of ancient gods of the Celts.  “Mother?” she said.  And Gerraint indeed went away so Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts, could come to stand in his place.  Her hands were still on her hips and the frown still on her face.

The young man fell to his knees and looked down as Danna scolded her many times great-granddaughter.  “The time of dissolution came and went centuries ago. You should be over on the other side with your brothers and sisters.  What are you doing here?”

Rhiannon looked down humbly at her feet.  “I did not realize it was you, but Mother, I still have work to do.  I still have this young man, Lancelot, whom I have raised, and I am certain there will be another in a breath of years from now.  I feel there may even be one more after, and I have a part to play in the days of Arthur the King, though it is not fully known to me yet.”

Danna tapped her foot and paused before she reached out to hug her daughter.  “If you still have work to do, I will not interfere.  But Rhiannon, all of the others have gone.  I will worry about you being so alone.”

“Not all,” Rhiannon hedged.

“Yes, I know the stubborn offspring of Lyr and Pendaron is around.  He keeps telling me soon, but his is not an example to follow.”  Rhiannon shut her mouth.  “What?” Danna wondered as she took a step back.  “But Talesin does not count,” Danna said.  “That unfortunate offspring of a fee may be immortal, but he is mostly fairy by blood.”  She interpreted Rhiannon’s silence correctly, but could think of no others, and Rhiannon would not say.  Instead, she changed the subject.

“Oh, but Mother.  Your fee and dwarfs and elves dark and light prevailed on me to gift your young man.  They said like Althea of old watched over Herakles, so the Lion of Cornwall would have to watch over Arthur.  I should have guessed it was you.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

Danna went back to frowning and tapping her foot gently.  “What did you give him?”

“Only things your little ones freely offered. They said he was one human worthy of such gifts.  They said they were afraid for him because a terrible man with great power had evil plans for the future.  I’m sorry. I didn’t know.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

“Rhiannon, Rhiannon,” Danna said, and she left so Gerraint could return and finish the sentence.  “What am I going to do with you, you naughty girl?”  He stepped up and kissed the goddess on the cheek before she could stop him, and then spoke to her again.  “Please try to be more careful in the future.  You need to not be such a patsy for every sad and pleading face.”

Rhiannon dropped her eyes again.  “I know.  I will do better.”

“I know you will do better,” Gerraint said, and he added, “Soon,” with a smile. Rhiannon returned the smile before she vanished.

R5 Gerraint: Danes

“Heilbraun seems a good man,” Gerraint mentioned to Arthur as the two rode side by side in the evening.  One flaw in the plan was the lancers, which included the knights, their squires and the RDF, had to swing around in the dark and be in position by dawn.

“He is, and not terribly old yet,” Arthur agreed. “But he must have some persuasive counselors to push him into war.”  The leading lights, the fairy lights Pinewood provided, curved in to enter the back of the forest.  Come dawn, they would charge out the other side.  Arthur turned to the men behind him.  “Keep your eyes on the horse in front of you.  Pass it down the line.”

“What you are saying,” Gerraint continued.  “He must have his own version of Meryddin pushing and tugging him against his common sense.”

Arthur huffed.  He did not like that comparison, so they rode in silence through the trees.

At last, the fairy lights vanished and Arthur halted the column of riders.  Two of the lights then reappeared and came right up to face Gerraint and Arthur. They were two lovely women who Gerraint named as Rose and Mistletoe, and they had a report.

“The Norwegians in the woods are all dead. They got shotted full of arrows and moved away.”  Mistletoe covered her eyes like she did not want to remember.

“But the horses were all taken by the gnomes and given to Deerrunner,” Rose finished the thought.

“Deerrunner?” Arthur asked.

“The elf King,” Gerraint answered softly.  “Go on”

“Bogus said to tell you the way is clear on the other side,” Rose went on.

“But now there are scardy dark elves keeping their strange eyes on the enemies,” Mistletoe said.

“Goblins,” Gerraint said, before Arthur could ask. “Thank you Missus Rose and Miss Mistletoe.  Now we have work to do, but not until morning.”  The fairies vanished, even as a rider came up dangerously fast in the dark.

“Where did they go?”  It was Meryddin.  He was supposed to be back helping to get the nags and riders ready, but obviously he snuck along.

“Where did who go?” Gerraint asked as Arthur dismounted and sent word down the line to keep quiet and move up into position.

Meryddin yanked his horse around and rode off at not quite so dangerous a speed.

Meryddin did not catch a little one during the engagement, but there were some close calls.  Poor Gerraint felt more worried about his charges than he felt about charging the enemy.  When it got to actually moving out of the woods, though, his mind focused on the task. He drew Salvation when he lost his lance in the back of a fat, fleeing Dane.  He watched as the Danish and British foot soldiers clashed, and the Danish line crumbled.  Too much of the line was moving sideways and getting in the way, and soon too much of it started fleeing over the little rise in the ground.  Sergeant Paul and his thirty riders from Cornwall with Melwas with his twenty from Lyoness hit the other side and Gerraint felt Bogus’ frustration because few men would flee to those woods as a chance to escape. Gerraint stopped and looked up the little rise.  He had mayhem all around him, but he stood still for a whole second which felt like an hour.  Then he started up the hill.  Men ran before him and dove to the side to get out of his way.  Gerraint got there in time to see three men cut down with arrows, each one a perfect shot.

“Deerrunner!  Cut it out!” The arrows instantly stopped, but then the elves charged, about a thousand of them, and if Gerraint did not have to defend himself, he would have put his face in his hand

In short order, the Danes realized they were surrounded and began to surrender.  Even as Arthur accepted the sword of Heilbraun, Gerraint yelled go home to whatever fairies, dwarfs, elves, or whoever might be listening.  “No next time,” he added.  “That’s cheating.”

Arthur had seven hundred dead and wounded, and such were wounds in those days they often referred to them as the dead and dying. Heilbraun and the Danes lost over three thousand men, an astounding number, but Gerraint knew at least half of those casualties were due to the little ones.  The elves alone may have accounted for a thousand, a number equal to their own, and without losing a single man, or rather, elf.

Heilbraun’s forces were crushed beyond reason and he pledged that there would be peace as long as he was alive and remained King of the Danes.  Of course, in Gerraint’s mind, he imagined the Danes could send for more ships and more young warriors at any time.  By contrast, the loss of seven hundred Britons and Welsh felt irreplaceable. After two days, Arthur found Percival protecting Greta as she tried to bandage a leg wound that she feared would get infected.

“Goreu,” he started, but Greta growled at him.

“Do I look like Gerraint?”

Arthur started over.  “Greta.  I just got word from an RDF courier.  The Irish have come up against north Wales and they have poor Leodegan under siege.”

“Pirates, a band of brigands, or the whole Irish army? Gerraint is asking,” Greta said.

Arthur paused.  “I don’t know.”

“We need better information before we drag the whole army across the whole island,” Greta said, and stood.  “Percival, please escort me to Gerraint’s tent.”

“My lady,” Percival responded and put his arm out for her to hold.  Arthur watched and after a moment, closed his mouth.  Then he made a decision even as Meryddin found him.

“Who was that blond?” Meryddin asked.

“Greta.  A healer,” Arthur said, and walked off so Meryddin had to follow.

Arthur let the army go home.  He said they needed time to bury their dead and grieve for their losses.  “Three victories in three weeks,” seemed about the only thing he said the whole way across the island, but he understood, as they all did, that the last victory became one to cry about, not one to rejoice over.  Gerraint said nothing at all.  And poor Uwaine also remained silent because he did not know what to say.

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Wednesday…………Yes, WEDNESDAY, again

Skipping over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the story will be posted on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week.  Arthur meets Gwynyvar.  You won’t want to miss that.   Until then:

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R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 3 of 3

“No.  I said, no.”

“My lady.” Yin Mo began, but Greta put her hands to her ears.

“La, la, la,” she said.  “I’m not listening.”  But fortunately, she looked.  “No!” She screamed.  Marcus stayed his hand.  He got ready to lift the visor on one of the Knights.  “You don’t want to do that.  You don’t ever want to do that.”  She insisted, and with such vehemence, Marcus decided to believe her.

“Please.” Darius sounded like a child, and Greta hid her smile because it certainly seemed a case of elf overdose.  He would adjust.

“This is not a please matter,” she said.  “I am not going to risk harm to my little ones on a transient human event.”

“There is the matter of Sir Burns, Lord Madwick, young Scorch and the lovely Miss Spark,” Yin Mo said.

“That’s different,” Greta said, but it was not really different.  “They are specifically involved in the business of the Kairos.”

“No.” Madwick’s muffled voice came from the statue.  “I think he’s got you there.”  Greta quickly ran to the statue

“Shh!”  She commanded and sheepishly grinned at the others. She was not about to reveal to Marcus that her intention was to try and destroy all the guns and gunpowder.  “Oh, Pandora’s stupid box!”  She swore.  “All right. They can lead the charge, riding like a gaggle of geese in flight.  They are the only ones I would trust to keep the shape.  But they are not to strictly engage the enemy.”

“I know,” Yin Mo said.  “Just cut like a hot knife through butter.  They divide the enemy and push them toward the waiting archers.  I heard.  A thousand.”

It took a moment for Greta to understand, and when she did, she gasped.  “Fifty at the most.”

“Five hundred at the least,’ Yin Mo said.

“A hundred and that is my final word.  Let them cast lots or flip a coin or whatever, but if you say two hundred, I will hit you.”  Yin Mo bit his tongue.  Greta stepped to the three knights and spoke directly.  “Is this agreed?”  She did not have to ask, and of course they said nothing out loud, but Greta heard all the same.  “Good,” She said, and without dramatics, she sent them back to Usgard or Avalon by letting them all fade away.  Greta finally pulled Thissle from behind her legs and picked her up to her hip as she might have held a small child.  Quill covered Thissle felt almost afraid for Greta at first, but then she realized her quills would not and could not hurt Greta.  No little one could hurt her, even inadvertently.

“Goddess, is it?” Marcus quipped.  “The Lady has been promoted?”

“No, she’s always been our goddess.”  Thissle said in her innocent, out of turn way.  “Except she doesn’t like the “G” word, so she is our lady.”

“Only to my little ones.”  Greta looked squarely at Marcus.  “As far as the rest of the universe is concerned, I am simply a seventeen-year-old human female with a Mama and Papa and brothers, and I am going to be married to a fine man, whom I love.  And we will grow old together.  And, while I think of it, does anything get by you?”

“I don’t miss much.”  Marcus admitted.  “So that’s it, then.  Our plans are set thanks to Gaius and the Lady who doesn’t like the “G” word.

“Ahem.”  Hersecles cleared his throat.

“Yes, I almost forgot.”  Greta handed Thissle to Darius with a word to stay out of trouble.  Darius and Thissle looked at each other and wondered which one Greta was talking to.

“Hersecles is the only one who is right as far as it goes,” she said.  “The Temple Mount is the key to everything, but even if the Legion were here and the Quadi were not, we would have insufficient strength to take it from determined, gun-toting defenders.  I remember once facing a similar situation with regards to the heights overlooking Athens.  The Princess had to deal with gun toting defenders then, too.

“When was that?” Marcus asked.

“Some three hundred and fifty years ago, give or take,” she said, deep in thought.

“What did she do?’ Gaius asked.

“I had my little ones tunnel up from the inside, beneath their positions.  We took them completely by surprise.”

“What a marvelous idea,” Marcus said.

Greta shook her head.  “There isn’t time, even as fast as some dig.  And besides, it would not work.  The Temple Mount is full of underground water and it is under enormous pressure.  That is why the whole area is full of so many natural springs and bogs.  You can’t dig through water.  So that just leaves me, alone, to go up the hill with my graven idol.”

“Sir Burns, Lord Madwick, young Scorch and the lovely Miss Spark,” Marcus said.

“Thank you, my Lord.”  The female voice came from the dolphin while Greta and the others took their first real look at the statuette under the earthly sun.  Greta saw that what looked a bit ostentatious in the Second Heavens, looked beyond reason under the first.  It might have put the crown jewels of almost any nation to shame. Greta quickly covered it with the cloth she had brought, and she rebuked the fire sprites to keep silent one last time.

“Wait,” Gaius said.  “You can’t go up to the Temple all alone.”

“I must go with you,” Hersecles said more directly what they were all thinking.

“No, Hersecles,” Marcus said.  He stared at Greta but spoke to the others one by one.  “You have to teach a bunch of berserker Dacians and stubborn Romans to ride in formation in one day.  Gaius, you have fortifications to build.  Gunwart, you need to take men and keep the Quadi off our backs.  And Darius, you need to execute a couple of short and sweet sorties from the city.  I, on the other hand.”

“You need to see Vilam and the others,” Greta interrupted.  “The Celts will be coming through the forest soon enough.  If they come to help, you need to organize that help so you can keep your thousand legionnaires in reserve instead of in the forest.  But if they come to watch, you need to make an alliance and convince them to help, if you can.”

Marcus kicked the table.  He knew she was right.

“But wait.” Darius put Thissle down and suddenly came to his senses.  “You said you loved me.”

“Did I?”

“Yes you did.” Thissle spoke right up.  “Called him beloved, you did.”

Greta turned and ran from the room, recovered statue in hand.  It was true, though, and there no longer seemed any reason to deny it. She let her feelings run free for a moment and thought she might be on the verge of passion.  If only he was not so Roman and she was not so Barbarian.

It turned out that Greta did not get allowed to leave the city until Marcus could escort her as far as the outpost.  Once there, she pulled Hans and Hobknot aside at the first opportunity.

“You two are not allowed to fight,” she yelled, plainly.  “If the fight comes to the outpost, I want you two to get Berry and Fae to safety, is that understood?”

“Wait.” Hans started to object, but Greta interrupted.

“I trust you will use your judgment, but I also trust you don’t want to see Fae and Berry hurt. The forest should provide some safety, and Hobknot knows the quick ways to avoid pursuit.”

Hans laughed. “Who would have thought of the haunted forest as a place of safety?”

“Lady, I have no intention of getting involved in this human squabble.”  Hobknot folded his arms as he spoke.

“Then we are agreed.”  Greta said. “And good thing because I’m hungry.” It felt like lunchtime.

Fae still lay in bed.  She looked very old and frail.  She claimed to need only a little extra rest, and Greta was good not to let on to Berry and the others, but both Fae and Greta were feeling that she might not be around much longer.  Marcus, however, got completely taken by her, and she seemed suitably impressed with him.

“I never lie.” Marcus said to Greta.  “But I do sometimes stretch the truth in order to shape reality.  Fae has a wonderful talent, but there are times in political life when it would not be wise to have her around.”  Greta understood.

By early afternoon they still heard no word on when the Celts might arrive, how many might come, and what their intentions might be when they got there.  Vilam, Vedix and Cecil were firmly in the camp and would fight alongside the Dacians and Romans, but how their fellow Celts might behave was anyone’s guess.  At last, it reached the point where Greta had to go.

“They will not shoot their woman of the ways,” she told the others.  “I cannot guarantee anyone else’s safety, but I should be safe enough, at least to not be killed outright.  I may become a prisoner, but I cannot imagine they will shoot their woman of the ways.”  Greta exuded confidence, and she believed what she said sufficiently to keep Fae’s objections at bay.  On the other hand, she thought Lady Brunhild might be looking for a chance to shoot Greta. Then it could truly be only Lady Brunhild’s ways.  Besides, no telling what poison Brunhild spread among the rebels.  It was not without fear that Greta approached the Temple Mount.

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MONDAY

Greta has to brave the entrenched rebels alone.  She figures anyone with her would be shot on the spot.  She has to get her idol to where the guns and powder are stored.  She has no idea how she might do that, but he has to try.  Monday: The Temple Mount.  Until then, Happy Reading

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R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 2 of 3

Greta made sure Thissle stayed invisible, because she half expected to find the hall full of men eating and arguing about what to do.  It turned out that they had some food, a veritable feast for the locals, though it looked meager compared to the work of Mrs. Kettleblack.  But the only men she found were Marcus, Darius, Gaius, Hersecles, and Gunwort, a Dacian from Ravenshold, and they were worrying over a makeshift map.  Greta listened for a few minutes to catch the drift of the arguments before she entered the room.  She carried the statue with her, but set it on a table before she came fully into their presence.  The men were polite enough to pause in their argument as she came close, and she took advantage of the silence.

Reaching out, she first called to her armor.  It came to replace her dress and it fit her perfectly.  She had Salvation over her shoulder and Defender across the small of her back.  She wore the cloak of Athena over all, but she left her helmet on Usgard.  The men all jumped, except Hersecles who had seen this trick in Boarshag.

Greta quickly took in the map and spoke.  “The Quadi have camped to the north of the city and have slowly worked their way around to the east and south, leaving only the road and the big open field west of the city as unoccupied.”  The men nodded.  She checked her facts.  Between the outpost on the forest’s edge and the city wall sat a long, flat field. The Temple Mount, the Kogaionon or Holy Mountain rose up out of that field beyond the northwest corner of the city. That seemed one of the reasons the Temple Mount appeared so impressive, rising out of the flatlands as it did.

“We must stop them here.”  Marcus pressed his knife into the table where the west field showed on the map.  “We need to protect the road in the southwest for the arrival of the Legion and General Pontius.”

The others started to object, but Greta yelled.  “Quiet!”  And they all quieted.  “I have heard the arguments,” Greta said.  “Lord Gunwort wants to withdraw to the city, behind the walls, and wait for the legion. I know he wants to protect his city and his people, and that is laudable and reasonable, but it might make matters worse if the Legion has to fight its’ way through to link up with us.  Caesar, that is Julius and I once discussed the notion of divide and conquer.  Right now, we are the divided ones.  We need to minimize that division, not cast it in stone.  Two small mouthfuls are easier for the Quadi to swallow than one big lump.”

“Here, here!” Darius supported what she said.

“My beloved Darius wishes to strike the main camp of the Quadi in the north.  He believes a strong sortie will scatter them sufficiently so that by the time they pull themselves together, the Legion will have arrived.  Unfortunately, he has failed to sufficiently consider the enemy.  This is no sedentary, standing army such as you might face in Gaul, Iberia, Africa or the East.  These are migratory people, mobile people, and for the most part they are on horseback.  They are used to moving from place to place, and sudden enemy raids, and setting up camp quickly, and breaking camp just as quickly.  You can sortie all you want and within an hour they will be right back where they started and entrenched against you besides.”

“At some personal risk, I say, here, here!”  Marcus grinned.

“Lord Marcus,” she said.

“I knew it!” He snapped his fingers and grimaced before she even began.

“I am sorry, but yours is the worst idea.  That is exactly what they want and unfortunately there may be no choice.  As I have said, this is no standing army. They have no catapults and siege engines, and won’t build any unless they have to.  They are not trying to encircle the city.”

“But then why have they moved into the fields east and south of the city?”  Gunwort asked as if to suggest that she was wrong, so she explained.

“Look at the land there.  It is all small farm fields punctuated by bits of woods, rocky outcroppings, springs and bogs.  It is small hills and ridges.  It is land where a foot soldier might stand a fighting chance against horsemen.  They have taken that option away.  The only option left is Marcus’ wide, flat open meadow in the west.  They don’t care how many legionnaires you bring up, or how well trained they are. On that flat terrain, they know their overwhelming number of horsemen have the total advantage.”

“So if all ideas are bad.”  Marcus no longer grinned.  “What then can we do?”

“Gaius?” She did not hesitate to call on the old soldier.  He was the only one who had said nothing thus far.

Gaius stepped up and looked at the map, but Greta knew he already had something in mind. “I would double fortify the road,” he said.  “Give them the field and don’t even man the fortification on that side of the road, only build it tall enough to keep their horses from jumping it.  That should blunt any cavalry advantage.  They will have to dismount and tear down the first fortification to get at us while we rain arrows down on them from the second line of defense.  Have a group of locals who know the terrain harass the Quadi in the south which are not many but would otherwise be at our backs while we are building.  Also, a couple of quick sorties to the north, not to break them as Lord Darius suggested, but just to keep them off balance and prevent a serious attack until we are ready.  Then, when the Legion arrives, send a thousand into the forest along the edge between the road and the outpost.  Hopefully, they will be unseen.  When the Quadi finally attack, we will have them outflanked, not only by the city wall, but with a thousand bows in the trees as well.”

“Mostly good,” Marcus said.

“But the field is wide.”  Darius spoke before Marcus could frame his objection.  “What if they charge down the middle out of bowshot from both sides? They could overwhelm the road by sheer numbers and we would still be divided and maybe even easier to conquer.”

“You need a flying wedge,” Greta said, and when they stared at her, she had to explain herself again.  “It is an old football term.  Call it an arrowhead with a wide base, pointed at the enemy, using your far fewer horses than a normal cavalry charge

“Not to engage the enemy,” Marcus said, catching on quickly.  “But to push through them, as it were, to divide them and conquer, to force them to the edges of the field and within bowshot.”

“Exactly,” Greta said.  “Like a hot knife through butter.”  Greta did not like using the expression, but there were reasons why some expressions became clichés.

“I like that,” Marcus said.

“I don’t.” Greta spoke honestly.  “But you get the idea.”

“Lady.” Thissle tugged on the skirt of Greta’s armor which hung down just below the knees.

“What?” Greta looked down at her and then looked up when Thissle pointed.  The elf wizard, Sunstone and Yin Mo, lord of the knights of the lance were standing near, patiently waiting.  “Show yourselves,” Greta said.  “What is it? Is there trouble in Usgard?”

Yin Mo and Lord Sunstone appeared as if out of a mist.

“Me, too?” Thissle asked.

Might as well, Greta thought.  “Yes, you, too,” she said, and Thissle appeared, though nobody much noticed except Darius who smiled.  Gaius and Hersecles were busy for the moment keeping Gunwort from fleeing the room.  Marcus, however, appeared fascinated.  It was not clear if he stood fascinated by the fact that they were elves, though they looked quite human, or whether he became fascinated by Yin Mo whose features and dress appeared strikingly Asian.

“My lady.” Yin Mo walked up to Greta and dropped to one knee.  He took her left hand and placed it on his head.  “Goddess.  We come on behalf of the knights of the lance.”

Greta went with her impulse, even if it did not sound quite right to her own ears.  “They are not happy with the new arrangement for the defense of the land?”

“No, lady.” Lord Sunstone spoke quickly.  “They see that as a perfect solution and have organized themselves as a second line of defense which is the perfect work for them given their limited numbers.”

Greta took her hand back.  “Stand up, Lord Yin.  Stand up and tell me plainly what they want.”

Yin Mo stood and looked once at Lord Sunstone, then he craned to look quickly at the map, and then he spoke.  “They want to participate in your battle.”

Greta did not pause.  “No. No way.”  She sounded firm.  “Their vow is to defend Avalon, not fight in a human battle.”

“You are Avalon,” Yin Mo countered.

“But maybe I am supposed to die,” she said.  “Defending me might interfere with what is supposed to happen.  Besides, I have no intention of being in the battle.”

“But you also wish to defend Lord Marcus and Lord Darius,” Lord Sunstone said.

“Not necessarily. I have no knowledge that either is in danger.  The Masters don’t appear to be around, just some old guns.  It is just something I wonder when someone of note crosses my path.”

“Who are the knights of the lance?”  Darius asked.

“Killing machines,” Thissle said, with a bit of a shiver.  Some of the little ones were afraid of the knights.

“You met one,” Greta told Darius.  “In my room.”

“He killed the night creatures,” Thissle said.

Darius’ eyes got wide.  “You mean there is more than one of him, them?”

“Many more.” Yin Mo said.

“Yes!” Darius got excited.  “Two dozen could change the whole complexion of this battle.  Marcus, you have to see them.”  He almost danced a little jig and Greta wondered if he might temporarily be suffering from elf overload.

“Can I see?” Marcus asked.

“Of course,” Lord Sunstone said, and before Greta could speak, the wizard waved his hand and three knights, horse and all, appeared in the hall looking for all the world like late medieval warriors in full plate armor from the top of their plumed helmet to the tips of their stirrup shoes.  Though they were the size and shape of men, there really was no telling what might be inside all of that metal, except that it seemed at least clear that they were marvelous horsemen.  Their horses hardly moved at the sudden, shocking change of scenery. The knights tipped their lances to the ground in salute.  Each lance had a different ribbon, a red dot, orange waves, a blue lion, and it matched the markings on their helmets and shields.  It appeared the only way to tell them apart.  Having saluted, then, they dismounted and dropped to one knee before rising to stand at attention, while Thissle hid behind Greta’s legs.

R5 Greta: And Back Again, part 2 of 3

Greta looked up to see her escort of friends and the craftsmen waiting patiently.  They all stared at her, and she knew why. With each thought, she had been a different person of the Kairos.  She had been a different Traveler and without even realizing it.  She became Greta again, but she imagined the whole process had been something to watch.  It seemed something to experience.  She never skipped a beat in her thought processes.  It felt like she was only one person doing all of that thinking, which, of course, she was, regardless of who she appeared to be, outwardly.

“Master Burns,” she said.  “I need four fire sprites for a dangerous mission.  I cannot guarantee survival, so it must be purely voluntary.  If there are not four, I will understand.”  She outlined her problem and her plan to the craftsmen, and when she finished, Lord Madwick answered her.

“No problem with volunteers,” he said.  “Far too many, I would imagine.”  That settled things.

Greta made Berry come home for supper, even though Berry protested, vigorously.  She made Berry get big and get into her own bed to sleep.  Berry whined her teenage best, but barely hit the pillow before she fell fast asleep. It had been a long, tiring day.

Greta spent a little time trying to imagine what her confrontation with Lady Brunhild might be like, but soon enough, she too slept, and she rested.

In the morning, Berry had gone.  It took no insight to realize that she got up in the middle of the night and snuck out to frolic with her new friends under the moon.

That morning, Greta had a bite to eat in her room, and then she sat in the tub long enough to wizzle her toes while several elf maids made a fuss over her.  They painted her nails, trimmed her brows, fixed her hair, even added some fairy braids, and fixed her face just so.  Greta tried the mirror.  The elfs could do magic on nearly anything, but even they could not make her beautiful.  There did not seem to be much they could do about her freckles, either, so she stretched her fairy cloth to cover her shoulders and shaped it until it resembled the style of dresses she felt used to wearing.  She did indulge herself a little by making the dress conform a bit to her young figure rather than let it fall in the frumpy, one-size-fits-all pattern of her people.  She was just seventeen after all, even if she would soon be an old married woman.  She reminded herself that she had no room left in her life for childhood.  She was the woman of the ways.  She was a goddess to her little ones.  She was the Traveler in Time, the Watcher over History, and the Dacians got guns, and the Romans wanted them.  When she finally left her room, she felt older than time.

Lunch could have been an all-day affair, but Greta’s statuette got ready by one and she went immediately to examine the handiwork.  It proved very hard metal, and fireproof, and yet Greta thought it would have been extremely light if they had not studded it with gold and bits of emeralds, rubies and diamonds.  She decided it appeared a bit ostentacious, but then again, that might make it acceptable to Lady Brunhild.  She struck Greta as the kind of woman who went in for that sort of thing.  She felt sure at least the Priest, Vasen would appreciate it.

Greta toured another couple of guard posts in the afternoon.  Greta noticed that each home for a sprite in each place looked different. The craftsmen kept trying to make things appear as natural as possible and not make it appear as if they were guard posts at all.  For the water sprites, for example, one place had a fountain, a second, a simple fish pond and a third, a bubbling spring.  Greta praised the work.  She knew that would be important to hear praise from their goddess.  She felt glad it was easy to do.

During their last supper on Usgard, Berry yawned the whole time.  Greta said she had to stay and sleep that night because they would be leaving very early in the morning.  Berry did not think that would be a problem.  She remained more human than not, after all, and her human side started catching up to her.  She said her good-byes to Mab and her friends while Greta said good-bye to the assembly. Then they went to bed and slept very well.

The elf maids woke up Greta around four in the morning.  They seemed to delight in fixing her hair, her face, and helping her dress.  Greta thought she still looked exceptionally ordinary, but it could not be helped. She thanked the ladies and got ready to wake Berry, when Mrs. Kettleblack came banging in.

“Breakfast,” she announced in a very loud voice, and Berry sat straight up.  “I got pastries and sweet tarts this morning,” Mrs. Kettleblack said.  She did not mean to be loud.  It was just her normal way.  Honestly, she did not know any other way.

“Morning?” Berry mumbled.  “It’s still dark out.”  That was not strictly true.  The eastern horizon showed a touch of light.

“Can’t leave on an empty stomach.”  Mrs. Kettleblack finished her speech.

“Thank you Mrs. Kettleblack,” Greta said, and the old dwarf laughed and shooed everyone out of the room.  Greta and Berry got left alone.

“These sweet tarts are good, Lady,” Berry said.

Greta looked at her while she took one to try.

“What?” Berry asked at last.  She did not appear comfortable being stared at.  The truth, however, was Greta was still not quite awake herself.  She stared at nothing in particular

“You have to stay big, now, when we go back,” Greta said.

“I know, Lady,” Berry said.  “As big as my Hans.”

That brought something to mind.  “Berry, sweet.  It won’t do to call me lady anymore, unless you say Lady Greta.”  She paused.  She didn’t even know Darius’ family name.

Berry spoke into the silence.  “But Lady Kairos.  I have to call you something, and everyone knows you don’t like to be called goddess.”

“So just call me Greta,” she said.

R5 Greta: Usgard Above Midgard, part 2 of 3

Berry became enchanted by the softest lawn, the brightest stars and most glorious moon she ever knew.  The trauma of the last few minutes went completely from her mind.  Greta turned to the knight who was in truth a knight, like something out of the latter Middle Ages, in full plate armor so that no flesh or anything else showed.  She knew immediately that the knights of the lance never spoke, so she voiced her thought. “Thank you.”  And then she realized that she knew a lot of things that Greta never knew.

Greta looked up toward the castle on the hill.  It was her tradition to enter the castle across the lawn and through the main gate to give the little ones inside time to prepare.  “Huh!”  She said to herself, but it felt like a comfortable word, not a curious one.  She felt more herself than she ever felt before, and she decided that in Usgard, she became more the Kairos, her true self that lived again and again, than any individual, given life, even though she remained the Traveler Greta more than any other Traveler.  “Huh!”  She said again, and she called for Branworth.

Branworth appeared nearby as she began to walk toward the castle, Berry in her train, and escorted by the remounted knight.

“Lady Kairos.” Branworth bowed.  “The knights of the lance have made wonderful progress in guarding the borders, but as you see, even they have not been entirely successful.”

“I would not call the front lawn before the Castle successful at all,” Greta said.

“No, my lady. You are right,” Branworth admitted. “But the knights are not nearly as numerous as the ways in and out of the land and the isles.  Since the cracks developed in the days of young Lydia’s difficulties, at the time of dissolution of the gods, even their sleepless vigil is not enough to guard all ways at all times.”

“So I see,” she said.  And she did see.  She did not condemn the effort being made.  Rather, Greta sounded grateful, and felt rather inadequate to guard even her small charge; to give the little ones a safe haven from the world.  “We will work on it, Master Branworth,” she said. “We will figure something out.”

Greta stepped up to the castle gate and felt overawed by the enormous size and complexity of the structure, even if she knew it as a small thing compared to the Great Hall of Valhallah, the Hall of Odin, or the home of her mother, the goddess Vrya. That is to say, Nameless’ mother.

“Lady Kairos.” Thimbelin arrived and she curtsied slightly.  Greta greeted her friend with a hug and a yawn.  She passed pleasantries with the Queen of the Fairies before she excused herself for the night.  She apologized to the fire sprites, Madwick and Burns, and said their concerns would have to wait until morning.  Then she led Berry to her own rooms where the mistress elves had already made up two scrumptious beds.  They had fairy cloth laid out, and Greta slipped into hers, grew it with a thought to a full-length nightgown and colored it pink before changing it to blue.

Berry spent a great deal of time in front of the full-length mirror, stretching and shaping her own clothes.  She changed the colors and tried dozens of patterns before she ended up very much where she began.  “It’s just no good,” she complained.  “I don’t have any shape.  No matter what I do, I still look like a stick.”

“You’ll have shape soon enough.”  Greta laughed as she curled up in bed, while Berry curled up on the window sill. “Don’t stay up,” she said. “Tomorrow will be a busy day.”

“But I want to have as much of the land of wonder as I can before we go home.”  Berry said.

“Don’t worry.” Greta yawned once again.  “There is time enough.  There is time.”  And she fell fast asleep.

Time under the second heavens, like everything else, is a relative matter.  They stayed two days and three nights in Usgard and Greta insisted that when they went home it would be the very next morning of the night they left, as she more or less promised Darius.  From the first morning, however, Greta felt rested and refreshed, like she came home at last.  She imagined no other word for it.

At some point in the night, Berry curled her small self up on the pillow next to Greta’s pillow and completely ignored the bed which had been made up just for her. Presently, she was lying on her face with her knees pulled up and her little butt sticking straight up.  Greta could not resist taking her finger and knocking her over.  Berry sat up. Her wings fluttered while she rubbed her eyes.

“I’m not awake yet,” she protested.  “Do I have to get up?”

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.  “It’s time for school.”

“School?” Berry’s eyes got big for a second before she snuggled down deep into the pillow.  “I can’t go to school today,” she said.  “I feel sicky.”  She pretended to sleep some more, while Greta got up and looked in the mirror.  She needed that bath and the time to wash and dry her hair; but then she did not want to keep Mrs. Kettleblack and all of the others waiting, especially on the first morning.  The sun had already gotten up and that seemed late enough.

Greta went to the mirror and shaped her fairy cloth into a plain brown dress such as she might have worn at home.  Then she decided that she was only seventeen, so she shortened the dress to knee length, then shorter, and got it as short as pixie length, and almost as tight.

“Too muchy,” Berry said, and made a face.  Greta sighed. She made plain shorts and a simple T, with sandals for her feet.

“Ready for breakfast?”  She asked quickly before Berry made her wear something ultra-boring.

“Breakfast?” Berry fluttered up and hovered about two feet above the pillow.  “I thought we were going back.”

“Not just yet,” Greta said.  “I think we will stay a while.”

Berry zipped around the room in excitement and then followed Greta out the door.