Reflections Wlvn-12 part 3 of 3

Flern needed a minute to collect herself. She still shook from the attack of the night creatures. The others, and certainly Wlkn could not blame her.

“Who is in there?” Andrea pointed at the cave as Boritz stepped up and took her hand.

“Mother Vrya,” Flern responded. “Sylvan, I suppose. I don’t know who else.”

“Well,” Badl said. “A bit of practical might help at this point. I say the rest of us need to camp here and wait. No telling how long she might be in there.” Moriah agreed, and they set about making a fire.

“I know this place.” Boritz looked up the mountain. “There is a mountain village not far from here. They might be encouraged to trade so we might get some supplies.”

“I think we should stay where we are,” Laurel said. “We can find our own supplies.”

“Vote on it,” Flern said.

“What does it mean, vote?” Elleya asked. No one was quite sure, so Flern explained.

“How many want to try the mountain village?” She asked. “Raise your hands.” Boritz, Andrea and Elleya all raised their hands. “Put your hands down. And how many want to stay here and wait?” Wlkn, Badl, Moriah and Laurel all raised their hands with Elleya. “Elleya, you can’t vote for both.

“I want to stay with my Wilken,” she said.

“All right,” Flern responded. “So the vote is five to two in favor of staying here. So everyone voted and you can stay here until I am done.”

“But what is to keep us from going to the village anyway?” Andrea asked.

“Nothing,” Flern said. “But the group voted to stay here so you will be going on your own. It depends on what you feel is most important, going to the village or keeping the group together.”

“I see.” Boritz rubbed his chin. “That certainly settles things much better than trial by wrestling.”

“Less bloody, too.” Badl agreed.

“You should go.” Laurel encouraged Flern and Moriah nodded her support over Laurel’s shoulder.

Flern shook her head, looked down at the dirt and spoke just loud enough to be heard. “I’m afraid.”

“Of what?” Boritz looked surprised. “Red, I can’t imagine anything in the entire world that you can’t handle. I have seen you in action. You fly, you are as strong as I am, you are faster than anyone, you carry weapons the like of which have never been imagined, and these little ones, as you call them, jump at the chance to do what you ask. Why, you just navigated the Were plateau safely. Hella’s lair, you got the Were to do your will besides. And that doesn’t even count the people you have stored up inside. I would think we have not seen the half of it.”

It was a big speech, but Andrea had to quiet the man as she saw it started having an effect on Flern the opposite of what was intended.

Flern’s face turned red, and her eyes began to glare. The anger did not take long to come out. “I failed,” she shrieked and threw her hands up. “I lead the ghouls straight to that innocent village and many good people died and many more were injured for me. Heck, I was not content with just getting people killed. I had to fetch a bunch of dwarfs to get killed, too. And all because I was afraid and wanted to be safe and protected. Then what? I lead us up the mountain and would have made things worse for you all if Carpasis had not interfered. All I did was make the giants angry. Then I did not dig the pit wide enough, and I wasn’t smart enough to think the night creatures might be burrowers. I would have got us all killed, again, if Father Vry had not shown up.”

“You helped the unicorn,” Moriah reminded her.

“Whoop-de-doo.” Flern rolled her eyes.

Flern spouted. “I honestly don’t even know why you are all still here. If it was me following someone who clearly does not want to lead and has no idea how to lead anyone except from one disaster to another, I would run for my life.”

“Now hold on,” Skinny Wlkn stepped up and Flern shut up for the moment. “I knew Wlvn since he was a little thing, and I came along to share my older head with him, but since I got young again, I learned two things. First, that Wlvn and I are now friends, and second, that Wlvn has a wisdom in him that I cannot hope to fathom; the same as I see in you. It helps me see that you two really are the same person after all. But then we found Badl and Moriah, and I feel they are here of their own free will, and to be sure, I don’t think you will be able to find one without the other after this journey.” Moriah looked at Badl and he puffed out his chest while she looked away and her elf ears turned scarlet. “She is his Moriah after all. But then we found Elleya, and I thought she might be happier with her own people, but I see that she is like the rest. She is here by her own free will.”

Elleya sat and she raised both hands and both feet. “See, I am voting to stay with my Wilken,” she said. “I make four votes because I have feet. I never had feet before, but I don’t mind as long as I am with my Wilken—”  Wlkn looked at her and she took a breath before she continued. “You see? I am learning. When my Wilken is saying something important, I have to be quiet and listen.” Wlkn put a gentle hand across her mouth, and she looked up at him and nodded before he removed it.

Flern let out a little giggle because the Storyteller kept quoting Bugs Bunny in her head. “Shad-up shadding-up.”

Wlkn continued. “Then we found Andrea and Boritz, and I think they found each other. And just so you know, no one would think less of them if they decided to go up to the village.”

“No,” Andrea spoke with only a glance at Boritz. “I think we will stay with the group and finish this adventure.”

Wlkn nodded. “And that leaves young Laurel.” He quickly waved off contrary comments. “Believe it or not, she is younger than me. But I think she has attached herself to Flern.”

“Attached like a remora to a shark,” Elleya interrupted. Not the best image, but Flern knew what she meant.

Wlkn nodded and had one more thing to say. “The only thing left is to tell you, Flern. We all care about Wlvn and are concerned about him. He has our devotion, though Boritz has not met him. But since you have been here, we have all come to love you dearly and I think we would do whatever we can to see you succeed at this quest. And Wlvn, just to be straight, you make a very fine-looking young woman.”

Flern felt the tears come up into her eyes and thought it best to turn toward the cliff. A moment later she spoke softly. “I love you all, too,” and she headed into the cave.

Flern did not walk very far before she heard a sound that made her stop still. It sounded like a girl, a young woman crying, and after a few quiet steps, Flern saw the girl around the corner, sitting on a rock. She seemed lovely. She looked beautiful despite the tears and maybe more so because of them. What Flern felt for this girl seemed very strange to her, but the only word she could use to describe the feeling was love.

Flern loved her friends, both here and back home, but that would not exactly describe how she felt at the moment. It was not friendship she felt. It felt like more. She loved Kined, when she got honest with herself, and had loved him for years. She would marry Kined, but that was not the kind of love she felt here, either. She honestly did not go that way, to quote Ydunna. She loved her family. That felt closer to the truth, but not exactly right. She loved her little ones, even the mean ones and the knuckleheads, and she loved her horse, and Wlvn’s horse Thred had been great, but nothing she could think of fit the parameters. Still, she knew she loved this girl dearly, even though this was the first she saw her, and what is more, that love brought a name to mind.

“Shana. Why are you crying?”

Shana stopped crying in an instant and stood up, startled. Flern saw that the girl was very pregnant. Shana took one look at Flern, and the wailing returned.

Flern stepped forward. ”But Shana, you are going to have a baby. You should be happy,” and she reached out to hug the girl, but Shana pulled back.

“No, Flern. Not you.”

“But where is your husband?” Flern asked, and Shana just wailed all the louder and flew into Flern’s arms. Flern did her best to bend around the baby and comfort the girl as words came slowly.

“He is gone. Maybe forever. The goddess brought me here. She said things are complicated. No Doctor. Apollo might help. My son.” On that last word, Shana stopped crying, grabbed Flern’s hand and put it to her belly. “Look,” she said. “Look, he is kicking.”

“I feel him,” Flern got caught up in the excitement. “Such a strong baby. Oh, good for you, I am so happy for you.”

“Uh-huh. His father is very strong, and wonderful.” Shana stopped and looked ready to fall back into tears. “But maybe I will never see him again.”

Flern found her own tears as she spoke. “It can’t be that bad. At least you will have a son to remember him. I have nothing. Kined and I never—and now I might never see him again. I want a baby.” Flern got ready to cry but stopped when she saw Shana with big eyes.

“You have a husband?” It sounded like something Shana never considered.

“I don’t know. He has not asked me yet. Now he might never get the chance to ask.”

“Oh, but that is wonderful.” Flern looked at Shana, like the girl might be slightly mad. How could her and Kined be wonderful if she might never see him again? “I never thought that you might have a man. All this time I thought you were a man that got changed into a woman.”

“No.” Flern smiled at the thought. “I was born a girl, or I will be about six hundred years from now. Wlvn is the man.” Flern stopped and stared as Shana started to grin. Flern pointed to the baby in Shana’s belly. “Wlvn?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Wlvn is your husband?”

“Uh-huh.” And suddenly everything became clear in Flern’s mind. She loved Shana in a way that perhaps no other human being in all of time might understand. Not the love for a friend or a spouse or family, though family might come closest to the mark.

“And you are the swan.” Flern got on a roll.

“Uh-huh.”

Flern rolled her eyes. “Leave it to Wlvn to turn down the mermaid, the lovely half-elf and the beauty of Greece for a Swan Princess.”

“Swan Princess?”

“Your father is the chief?”

“Oh, yes, though not exactly in the way you understand the word.”

“Uh-huh,” Flern imitated Shana. “Now I really have to go home so Wlvn can come back here. I would make a lousy husband. Besides, I want a baby of my own.”

“I don’t blame you. Mine is wonderful.”

“Mother Vrya!” Flern called.

“Goddess?” Shana sounded more tentative, but they walked deeper into the cave, hand in hand, like the best sisters ever.

“And there you are,” Vrya said. “Come Flern. Lie down.” They had a bed in the cave fitted between the stalactites and stalagmites and Flern found that a bit strange. She did as requested but immediately sat up.

“Shana said you said there are complications. Shouldn’t Doctor Mishka be here?”

“There is more than a month. It’s not time yet. Lie down.”

Flern sat up again. “But what are you doing.”

Vrya pushed her shoulders to get her down this time. “The same thing I will do six hundred years from now with Wlvn. Now, be good. This is not just an accidental double trade with two of your lifetimes. This is a trade of reflections and that seriously complicates things. Exponentially, as Martok might say.”

“Martok?”

“Hush. Sleep.” And Flern did.

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

MONDAY

Wlvn returns to find he will not get the help he needs and it is time to face the Titan, ready or not.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

Reflections Wlvn-12 part 2 of 3

Everyone looked startled, except Laurel, and the lions gave Andrea and Boritz a double start since they understood what lions were. At least Andrea did not shriek.

“Oh, yes,” Elleya clapped her hands. “They are lovely.” Wlkn thought that perhaps it might be because they moved with grace, like a fish in water.

“Good to see you again.” Andrea said to the lionesses, and they appeared to nod in her direction before they settled down beside a tree to watch. The old man sat comfortably by the fire and looked around the circle of faces before he spoke again.

“The god of light said our great queen would return to us and we should guard and protect her in her journey across the land. Some of us were unable to believe this word since she died some seventy-eight years ago now, in the days when I was just a little pup. Some of us remembered, though, that the Queen was the daughter of the god of light, so he ought to know, and we remembered the last time we crossed the gods. Those were difficult days, when Aesgard and Vanheim were at war. We were threatened with invasion and our very lives were at risk, so we all agreed to wait and see. Now I have come to clear up the mystery.”

No one said anything, but several fingers pointed at Flern.

“I see,” the old man said. “But the evidence is not clear. Your hair is much too brown, not Beauty’s flaming red, and though you travel with the spirits of the earth, the exact relationship between our queen and these spirits is unclear.” He waved generally at Laurel, Badl and Moriah. “They say Queen Faya counted among the gods in some way, and she could change her human shape after a fashion, even before she became as one of us.”

Flern looked down at the fire and at the moment she honestly did not care how much the others understood or not. “I was Faya in another life, but I cannot seem to reach her for some reason. The Storyteller says my first eighteen lives are out of bounds for the most part, like if I go back into those days, I might inadvertently change something vital in my character and make-up, though I don’t see how that would matter. I suppose it would be like changing your childhood in some way, you know, the root of your personality and such. I don’t know. Anyway, Nameless says he would not mind trading places for a bit. He has the red hair and black eyes—you forgot to mention the eyes, and he says he would not mind visiting with an old friend, if that is all right with you, Carolen. It is Carolen, isn’t it?”

The old man raised his eyebrows. He knew full well he had not given his name.

“Here, take my hand.” Flern said and reached out. “And Moriah, take my other hand.” Moriah had to scoot around to do that. “And don’t let go no matter what. Nameless says it is sort of a tradition.” Carolen the Were moved slow to hold this mortal’s hand, but he did at the last, and Flern went away and Nameless immediately took her place; but no, it was not Nameless. Faya herself, who had been there all along on the edge of Flern’s consciousness, waiting patiently for this time. Both hand holders let go despite their promises. Moriah had to put her hand to her mouth to avoid the shriek of surprise. Carolen had to turn because a great eagle landed, hopped up two steps and transformed into a young man. The lions got up at this sight and their tails began to twitch with agitation.

“Lord Carolen.” The young man spoke and gave a slight bow. “There are creatures in the valley of the harvest moon. Borello the bear stood against them, but they killed him with hardly a scratch on their hides. They stripped him of every bit of flesh in no time and have crunched most of his bones as well, and they are headed this way at a rapid pace.”

“How long before they arrive?” Carolen asked.

“Six hours, maybe five. It is hard to tell.”

“Enough time to set a trap.” Faya interrupted, and Carolen looked at her for the first time. He paused and swallowed while Faya put her hand to his cheek and stroked it gently. “You are my good little boy,” she said with a truly warm smile, and Carolen fell to his knees, weeping.

“Now, I need three owls.” Faya said. She turned to the lions and placed a slim, thoughtful finger against her cheek. “Do you children know where I might find them?” The cats did not hesitate to change to owls and receive their instructions. “Stay away from those nasty creatures, but I need to know their progress. Fly high and keep us informed. Be careful, my children.” And the owls took to the air and disappeared in the night sky.

“Now, I need diggers.” Faya spoke to the man who had arrived as an eagle. “You need to fetch that little army you have near here and on the double. It takes a deep pit to trap a tiger.”

Five hours later, the group stood at the far end of a large upland meadow apart from Andrea and Elleya who held the horses a hundred yards further back by the edge of the trees. There were lions and tigers, bears and bristle-backed boar, wolves and other predators all around the edges of the meadow, and there were eagles, falcons and hawks in the trees, watching. Any ordinary human would have been frightened to death to know what hovered around them in that field, but they hoped the night creatures would not see it as anything but nature and anyway, by that point, the humans who stood as bait were only frightened by what was coming.

An hour yet before sunlight, when the moon still stood in the sky, it shed its light on the meadow so shadows and movement could be seen in a twilight sort of way all across the field. Skinny Wlkn saw the night creature first, the scout that came in front of the others. The beast came to the center of the field, stopped still like a statue and a wail went up—a great sound of sorrow and helplessness. It echoed from the trees and got answered by the sound of a baby cry.

Ten minutes later, the first creature was joined by a second and in another ten minutes the rear guard came. The three night creatures edged forward together, but instead of the growls and roars the people expected, and the charge they anticipated, the creatures all began to wail and cry out like they lost their reason to live.

“They are looking for Wlvn,” Badl suggested.

Faya shook her head. “Loki knows at this point that Wlvn traded with Flern. I imagine these have been reprogrammed to look for Flern.”

“They probably tracked the group,” Boritz began.

“Perhaps the horses,” Laurel interjected.

“But they are likely hunting for Red,” Boritz finished.

Faya agreed. “Then we must give her to them,” she said it, but it took a moment of internal argument to convince Flern to return. Faya stepped forward to the edge of the semicircular pit that was twelve feet wide and twelve feet deep and she stopped. After another moment, Faya went away and Flern returned, trembling.

At once, the sound of the creatures changed from wailing to roaring and the charge was on. Flern steeled herself. She could not see them well until they were nearly in her face, but the first stumbled into the pit, the second tried to jump the pit and did not make it across, but the third one did. Flern immediately shot up into the air. She could not exactly fly like Wlvn, but she could float out of reach.

With a night creature beneath her feet, leaping to get at her, the whole plan went bust. They hoped to get all the creatures in the pit. Boritz, Badl, Wlkn, Moriah and Laurel would come with their bows while Faya floated up and let out a stronger light than Flern could produce. The Were planned to run from hiding and bring their bows as well, so altogether they could turn the night creatures into pin cushions. But one made it across the pit and now the humans were backing away and the Were did not know what to do.

Flern changed back to Faya all the same, which appeared to confuse the night creature at first. She let out enough of her natural light so everyone could see. It was the heritage of her father, Vry, god of the sun, but all it did was show the night creature as it turned to face Flern’s friends.  Then something rather unexpected happened. One of the night creatures in the pit had burrowed its way back to the surface, and the third appeared not far behind.

Faya chided herself for not thinking things through. Of course, these creatures had to be able to burrow into the earth to keep out of the light when the sun rose. Even as Faya prepared to change back to Flern and her friends looked ready to make a dash for the horses, a man appeared in their midst. The light that came from him looked like the thunderbolt Odin gave to Wlvn, but subtler, more filled with light than power. He made a light that made everyone blink and shut their eyes tight so only Faya could watch. Her eyes alone could handle the sun. All three creatures shriveled under the light, and the wails they let out were the cries of pain and death. Then it was over and Faya flew into the arms of the man.

“Father,” she said.

He grinned and gave her a big fatherly hug before he let her go and spoke. “But you should not be here,” he sighed. “I miss you very much and love you dearly, daughter, but you should not be here.”

“And I love you, Father” Faya said and let herself return to the past so Flern could return to the present.

“You know,” the man said. “Odin has forbidden us from interfering with the Titan, but I figured these were creatures of Loki and not strictly speaking the Titan. I may get in trouble.” The man shrugged as Flern found the courage to take the man’s arm and speak.

“Why should you get in trouble for coming to see your daughter?”

The man smiled, like that might be an angle he had not considered.

“Boritz, Wlkn, Moriah, this is Vry, Faya’s father.” Flern felt she did not have to introduce Vry to Laurel and Badl since the little ones instinctively knew the gods and since they were already down on one knee.

Vry patted Flern’s hand in a very fatherly way as he spoke. “Yes, but unlike my sister, I do not feel I have earned the right to call Flern my daughter even when she is not my daughter. My fault, I’m afraid.”

“An old story,” Flern assured him there were no hard feelings as she looked up at the man who hardly looked old enough to be anyone’s father.

“And a long one,” Vry admitted. “But now I believe my sister has need of you, and they all vanished from that place along with Andrea, Elleya and the horses and appeared at the foot of the mountains on the far side of the plateau. They found a big cave there, one that Elleya said would make a fine grotto in the sea, and Vry pointed to it as he spoke to Flern. “In there,” he said. “She is waiting.” And he vanished from their midst.

Reflections Wlvn-12 part 1 of 3

They did not go far that evening before they set camp on the edge of the plateau itself. The mountains around were alpine in flavor, filled with coniferous pine and spruce, but the plateau, surrounded by mountains on three sides, got made up of very wide hills and valleys and filled with deciduous trees, birch, oak and elm. The snow did not seem so evident, but it did pile up in drifts here and there, especially in the higher places.

Morning came before Wlkn asked the inevitable question. “So, what are the Were?”

“Shape shifters.” Boritz gave the short answer. He kept looking all around, alert and concerned. He felt it only a matter of time before they got spotted. He argued vigorously for the rough mountain path that went miles out of the way but skirted the plateau itself.

“They live mostly in human form, but they take the shape and characteristics of animals, especially for the hunt,” Badl said. “The most common forms are the eagle, the bear and the wolf, and they generally stick with the hunter animals, but of course they might appear as any animal, at any time.”

“Like that hawk?” Moriah asked, and pointed up into the dim light of the early morning sky.

Badl nodded. “They have probably already seen us.”

Laurel spoke out of her own experience. “I have come this way three times before, but always as a spirit of the earth, and the Were mostly respect the earth. I have never come with solid, flesh and blood people whom they consider intruders in their territory.”

“One thing you must remember,” Badl continued. “Some say when they take the animal shape, they actually become the animal, but they never stop being smart, so they are more than just the animal, and the Were are very smart.” By then, Wlkn, Elleya and Andrea had joined Boritz in looking around in every direction and wondered how long it might be before they had to defend themselves. Elleya let out her stress, verbally, and that prompted Flern to ride out ahead. Laurel followed.

“I need some time alone,” Flern protested.

“I know the way,” Laurel responded softly. “There are turns.” She said no more for a while, but when she saw the small tears in Flern’s eyes, she had to speak. “My Lady is thinking of her family?”

Flern nodded slowly. “And my friends,” she said softly. Human ears might not have heard the words over the sounds of the morning forest and the tromping of the horses across the meadow, but Laurel’s elf ears were not human ears.

“My Lord Wlvn will care for them,” she assured Flern.

“I know,” Flern said. “Even if I cannot get in touch with him just now—since we double traded—I know he will care for them as much as I care for this crew of misfits, and you, young as you are.” Flern gave Laurel a wry smile, but Laurel did not know how to take that, exactly. Flern went on, though she lowered her eyes and her voice as she spoke. “It’s just that I thought I might be falling in love, and maybe he was ready to love me, too. Wlvn can’t do anything about that, and…” She paused to wipe her eyes. “Now I may never know for sure.”

Laurel rode quietly for a long time before she spoke again. “I was thinking about falling in love, myself,” she said in her own soft voice, so Flern had to strain a little to hear. “It seems strange to me, an odd thing to be made, but wonderful in a way, I suppose. I never thought much about it before.” Flern looked up. Laurel was over fifty years old, but she never thought much about love? Then again, she did look to be closer to twelve or thirteen. Flern knew that for all of the wisdom these earth spirits gleaned over the centuries that they lived; they were nevertheless very slow on certain aspects of life—all that was not native to their work in the world. The gods, she knew, were even slower about some things, and Flern thought that there might be a law there, like maybe she could call it the law of compression. When fifty or sixty years was all you got, a lot of living had to be compressed into that short time. Humans did not have the luxury of time to waste, but then that thought just made her cry again. She kept thinking about Kined and kept missing him terribly, and she felt like she was losing her time. Kined was always such a good friend, so kind and wise, even when he chased after Elluin. He felt like a security blanket for her soul, and she needed him, especially in this harsh and primitive winter world into which she had fallen.

All that morning, no one saw anything for sure because the Were were indistinguishable from the animals they imitated. When lunch came, they found a nice, sheltered hollow where they dismounted, hobbled the horses, started a small fire, and all without saying a word until Boritz could no longer control his tongue.

“This is madness.” He barely breathed the words, even as an old hawk came swooping in, to light on a branch well out of reach. They all watched the hawk for a minute, but it did not appear to be going away. It looked content to preen its feathers and watch them from the safety of its perch. After a while, they all tried to ignore it.

“Should we hunt?” Moriah asked, having spotted some deer on a nearby hill, and at least one rabbit hole near the hollow.

“Dare not,” Badl said. “We might accidentally harm a Were and then that would be it for us.”

“I am no stranger to hunger, if it keeps us safe,” Wlkn said. He still looked at the hawk that looked at him.

Boritz took a stick and stirred the fire while Andrea sat quietly beside him. Elleya stayed unnaturally quiet beside Wlkn, and Badl just looked hungry sitting beside Moriah. Laurel spoke softly to Flern. “Any luck yet?” Flern shook her head, but in the gloom of that moment, everyone heard and so Flern had to explain.

“I am trying to get in touch with Faya, but so far I haven’t had any luck.”

“Who is Faya?” Andrea asked.

“Me,” Flern said, though it did not answer the question. “Faya was queen among the Were two lifetimes ago, I think. She seems to be the Nameless God’s reflection the way I am Wlvn’s reflection.”

“A goddess?”

“A half-goddess, I think, though I am not sure about her parentage. I am pretty sure, though, that she reflects the Nameless God in a lesser degree in the same way I reflect in lesser ways the gifts that have been given to Wlvn.”

“She might help?” Wlkn sounded ready to grasp at anything.

Flern nodded. “I think she might get us safe passage through the Were lands even if she lived a hundred years ago or so.” She looked at Laurel.

“Before I was born,” Laurel confirmed, and that meant at the very least sixty years ago.

“Anyway, I have not been able to touch her life, and Nameless is being stubborn. He won’t open a door for me. He says I have to reach her myself, or not as the case may be.” Flern scooted closer to the fire, leaned over to put her chin in her hand, and stared into the fire for a bit.

“Well, I could use something to eat,” Boritz said, and he got out the last of the food they brought from the village below the mountain. They had pitifully little, but even Badl knew not to complain. It would have to do.

When they started out again, they noticed that the hawk had gone, but Laurel and Moriah, and then Boritz, and soon all of them felt that they were being shadowed. “I can smell them,” Badl whispered to Moriah who nodded and with big eyes tried to spot what her elf ears picked up.

When they stopped for the evening, Badl added another thought. “I don’t know if we have gone far enough to escape the night creatures tonight.” Flern nodded, but they were interrupted by a shriek from Andrea. Boritz started running. Moriah and Laurel had their bows out in a wink and Badl grabbed his double-blade, copper-headed ax that he had traded with the dwarfs from Movan Mountain to obtain. Flern drew no weapon, but she became the second there behind Laurel, and Moriah came third, showing a burst of elf speed herself. Poor Boritz came in fourth before Badl. Wlkn dared not leave the safety of the fire which he built as high as he could, and, of course, Elleya stayed with her Skinny Wilken.

A dead deer, a fresh killed, sat not ten feet from the tree where Andrea had been squatting down. It looked torn with claws and had its throat cut by big incisors. “Two cats,” Andrea said. “Lions. They dumped it and stared at me. I stayed quiet. I tried to stay in the shadows, but I couldn’t help the shriek when they moved. They left. They left this kill.” Andrea seemed confused. She had no trouble falling into Boritz’s arms for protection, but she looked to Laurel, Badl, and finally Flern for an explanation since Laurel and Badl were both staring at Flern as well.

“Lionesses. Lions are lazy louts,” Flern said, while she thought about it. “A gift.” Flern decided and announced. “Thank you.”  She shouted toward the wilderness. She took out her long knife and handed it to Moriah. “Treat it with respect,” she said, but she did not explain whether she referred to the deer or the knife. Moriah acted respectful in any case.

They ate well enough, what with the greens they were able to dig out, even if those greens were more browns in the winter, and after they were satisfied, Badl spoke again about the creatures. “We may need some moonlight night movement tonight. I don’t know.”

“But won’t the Were go after the night creatures?” Elleya wondered. “I am sure the jellyfish would go after the sharks if they had the mind to do so. What?” Laurel, Badl and Flern all shook their heads. Badl said it out loud.

“The Were won’t go near the night creatures, if they are smart.”

“Say, but why don’t the Were morph into night creatures themselves?” Boritz asked.

“I don’t think they can.” Flern said, honestly enough. She knew she had to be getting something from Faya, but she still felt frustrated at being unable to reach her. “The night creatures are not native to this world, but then, neither are the Were, or the mermaids or centaurs or fauns or any number of things, come to mention it.” And that felt like more than just Faya speaking in her head, Flern did not wonder.

“Hold up,” Laurel said. “Someone is coming.” Everyone stood and looked around before wisely looking in the direction Laurel, Moriah and Badl looked.

“Pardon me.” An old man stepped forward but kept his distance at about ten feet. There were three dogs that looked remarkably like wolves around his feet. They wagged their tails and panted with their tongues rolling about. “It promises to be a cold night. May I join you for a bit?”

“Not the beasts.” Elleya spoke up quickly before anyone else could answer. She looked afraid and made no secret of it.

“Would you prefer kittens?” The old man asked.

Elleya looked up into the kindly old man’s face. “Maybe. I don’t know what kittens are.”

The old man merely looked at the three dogs and they transformed into lions, one male and two females.

Reflections Wlvn-11 part 3 of 3

The group left early in the morning. The poor villagers, still in a state of shock, began to grieve for the dead. Sadly, Flern could not do anything for them, and she feared the night creatures would show up and finish the job if they did not leave. They had a pass into the mountains to navigate.

Thred did not like the climb, and they often walked the horses as they climbed. There seemed little else they could do beyond struggling up the rough path at a gentle but steady pace. Wlkn looked back now and then, afraid of what might be coming next, but the others kept their eyes focused ahead and did not really have the strength to spare.

The clouds thickened all that day, so they were forced to spend a night among the rocks. Though they had food and managed a fire, it became a cold and miserable night all the same. Flern shivered by sunrise, and when she heard the baby wail in the distance, she shivered all the more.

The second day became a repeat of the first, only this time the legs and backs already ached. By lunch, it finally began to snow, and it came down in blizzard proportions for hours. Even Elleya got cold in the chill wind that seemed to sweep right up the mountainside with an unnatural strength. Boritz, who had been exceptionally quiet since the ghouls, gave her his shirt, and it helped. It covered her to well below the knees, almost like a dress. Andrea looked up at the big man and he looked down at her, sheepishly. Then she stood on her toes, and he still had to lean down a bit, and they kissed, and enough so the others had to look away to be polite.

“That is just for warmth,” Andrea said as she took hold of her horse’s reigns and started to walk again. Boritz said nothing, but he did appear to grin rather broadly, and continued to grin for some time after.

They reached the top of the pass just as the afternoon came to a close and the snow finally tapered off. Wlkn looked back and Elleya looked with him. Andrea and Boritz were trying hard not to look at each other. Moriah and Badl were looking at each other and congratulating each other on making the climb; though to be sure, they were far less tired than the others, apart from Laurel, who still appeared as fresh as a spring flower. Flern felt exhausted from the two-day climb, and all of the stress. She admitted that stress had a lot to do with her condition. She presently felt worn very thin. No wonder she reacted the way she did when the giants approached them—just ordinary ten- or twelve-foot giants, not Titans.

“We have no argument with you, grandson of Perun.” The blond leader of the group recognized Boritz and made a point of asking him to stay out of it. Boritz stood an impossibly big man in that day and age, but he stood several feet shorter than the smallest of the giants. Nevertheless, the giants clearly respected the man, or at least they respected the blood that ran in Boritz’s veins. “We just want the red headed girl. The rest of you can go in peace.” Loki had apparently figured out the switch.

“And do what with her?” Badl asked. Flern presently had her head in her hands. She started working on a whopper headache.

“We have no quarrel with the dwarfs or elves. You are safe here.” The chief said, and that was all he was going to say, but one of the giants in the back spoke up, though he probably should have held his tongue.

“The god said we could roast her, and when we were done, we should throw her remains off the cliff. Then he will bless us with all sorts of good things.” A young giant, he clearly looked forward to the good things, whatever they might be.

Flern snapped. She floated up off of Thred’s back and found the power to fly up to the lead giant’s face where he stood, one giant step out from the crowd. She wagged her finger sternly in that face and yelled. “My village got overrun with the enemy and my family may already be dead for all I know. I escaped to get help, but all I get is one stupid headache after another.” The giant took a step back in the face of her fury, but she followed him. “I was almost raped, and I had to kill him, and I resent whoever manipulated that poor slow mind in the first place. Then I got in a battle and plenty of good people got killed. Then I got tricked into looking into a mirror and I got sucked into this time period and I might never be able to get home. Now, I have lost all of my friends back home as well as my family.” Flern started to glow as her anger began to seep out of her pores, and the giant took another step back.

“But I got stuck here, only to get into another battle, and this time it was not with men, but with ghouls. Now, I am dirty, beat up, and worn to my last thread. I don’t have time to play with a bunch of stupid little giants, so you better hear this. Loki does not own me. I do not belong to the gods and do not bow to them because I have been counted as one of them for hundreds of years. Loki can promise you whatever he wants, but he cannot give me to you, and I will tell you right now you don’t have the guts to take me. You get the same warning I gave the ghouls, leave now and I will let you live. The ghouls did not listen and now they are all dead and here we are, safe and sound. So, leave now before I get really mad.” The giant took one more step back and ended in the midst of his group.

Laurel, Moriah and Elleya had their mouths open. Badl and Wlkn cowered, never having imagined that this sweet little red-headed girl could vent like this. Boritz stood calmly, cradled his big club in his arms like a baby, and Andrea reached up to take the big man’s arm and stand close to him. The corners of Andrea’s lips turned up ever so slightly, and she nodded, but otherwise she looked cool and calm in the face of the storm.

Flern began to weep, even as the chief giant yelled back. “Get her.” No giants moved to obey that command as the earth began to shake and rumble. A genuine earthquake. A sudden great gust of wind blew Flern back to her friends where she fell on to a pile of soft snow and let out her tears. She utterly ignored the rumbling beneath her. No one else ignored it. They all screamed and shouted at each other to hold on. The giants all fell to the earth except one who managed to spread his legs, lean over and place his hands on the ground. He looked like a jackass ready to kick, but he did not utterly collapse. Then rocks began to shoot up like spikes reaching for the heavens. They came up between the two parties and became like a wall so neither side could get at the other. When the wall became complete, the shaking stopped, and Badl, Andrea and Wlkn had a terrible time rounding up the horses.

A woman appeared beside the wall, but on Flern’s side of the wall. She stood too tall, perhaps a foot taller than the tallest giant, and while she wore a long dress that looked and moved like silk in the wind, she appeared to have gray skin and white, marble eyes that were nevertheless alert and aware.

“Who are you?” Flern looked up and feared that this might be yet another one of Loki’s surrogates.

“I am Carpasis, the oread of the mountain, and this is my pass. Greovic and his friends shall not determine who may pass and who may not.”

Flern let out a laugh, a small slightly hysterical laugh, while the Storyteller echoed instructions into her mind. “My name is Flern. I seek the Golden Hind, and my favorite color is red.”

The oread stopped moving. “The red suits you,” she said. “But I know who you are and what you seek. The goddess came this way only a day ago. She has gone on to visit my sister, Sylvan in the place where the river runs out of the plateau and down the far side on its journey to the Great River. You must cross the plateau, not go around as you have been thinking, and you must look for my sister when you arrive, before you descend into the Great River Valley.”

Flern took that as permission given and she immediately whistled for Thred who came bounding up like a faithful puppy dog. The others tried to get up on their horses. Only Andrea had a bit of a problem calming her horse enough to take Boritz once again. “Thank you.” Flern looked at the oread who looked startled for just a second.

“You’re welcome,” Carpasis responded, and then added one thought. “If my earth shake sent some of my children of stone into the valley below, and if one boulder happened to crush a night creature, it cannot be helped. There are still four behind you, though I cannot imagine they will bother you tonight.

“Thank you again.” Flern repeated and she started forward before anything else changed. Laurel caught up to ride beside her.

“The Great Lady of Love is most thoughtful to provide a way for us.” Laurel said, having guessed who Carpasis meant with the word, goddess.

“Yes, and I thank her every day.” Flern admitted.

Laurel paused before she spoke again. “So, we are going across the plateau of the Were after all.”

“Yes. Faya help us.”

Laurel said no more, she just clicked her tongue.

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

MONDAY

The quest needs to cross the plateau of the Were, that is, werewolves, not to mention lions, tigers, and bears… Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Wlvn-11 part 1 of 3

Flern spent most of the day listening to everything that Diogenes, the Princess, the Storyteller and Doctor Mishka had to offer concerning the defense of the village. One of the first things would be to move the women and children up on to the ridge, a place from which they could escape up into the mountains if necessary. A few of the women stayed, but most, even those who wanted or were willing to stay, understood that their first duty was to the children. Of course, the children wanted to stay too, or at least some of the older boys, but for the most part the village elders said no. They said those boys had to watch out for the women and children in case they had to flee. Andrea stayed with Boritz and Moriah stayed with Badl. It seemed hard to tell exactly what Moriah might be thinking, because she seemed anxious for the fighting to start. That felt curious to many; but in truth, Flern understood that Moriah felt anxious for the fighting to be over, and she did not blame her for that. Wlkn volunteered to help the women and children on the ridge, but he got told, absolutely not. He got handed a bow and a hunting knife, both of which he knew how to use perfectly well, and he got told where to stay, and Elleya stayed right there with him.

Around two o’clock, a troop of twenty dwarfs came marching into the village, armed with axes with sharp copper heads. Flern told them that this was not their affair and she only wanted them to stay if they truly wanted to volunteer. “No pressure,” she said.

The chief dwarf looked at her and his first words were a great relief. “Don’t worry,” he said, and Flern relaxed a little. “We had a run-in with some of these ghoulish creatures a few years ago and everyone here is anxious for get backs.”

“Oh, but revenge is not a good thing.”

“Don’t worry.” The dwarf repeated himself with a fatherly tone that crept into his words. “Now, what’s the plan?”

A couple of hours later, Laurel had a question. “But will it work?” Flern knew the elf was not afraid, young as she looked and in elf terms truly was. Of course, she thought Laurel asked about all of their preparations and she could only shrug in response. “No, I mean do you think we can get in and out without getting caught?”

Flern paused before she shrugged again. “You can’t go invisible or immaterial with ghouls like you can with humans, and a glamour won’t fool them for long, either. You don’t have to come.”

“I’m coming.” Laurel said with the sound that it was already a settled matter. “They are fast, but not elf fast. Once I get moving, they won’t be able to catch me.”

“As for me, I don’t know how fast I might be, or not, but I can go up out of reach and maybe fly back, sort of, I think.”

“But you are the one they are after. What if they catch you?”

Flern shrugged again. “I’m not a red headed boy. Anyway, the village will probably be saved. It won’t be the worst thing.”

“Except for you.” Laurel generally did not like the idea.

Flern suddenly looked serious. “You didn’t tell anyone our plans?” Laurel shook her head and Flern relaxed. “Good.” Flern felt sure if the others knew they would either try to stop them or insist on going with them, or both.

An hour before sundown, Laurel and Flern went out from the village. They ran to the tree line. Laurel got surprised. Flern kept up, but Laurel said nothing as they moved more slowly and carefully through the woods. Laurel made no sound at all, and Flern made virtually no sound. She generally kept herself an inch or so from the ground and pushed herself along through the trees. When they got close, Laurel stopped. She turned up her nose, and then Flern smelled it, too. It smelled like the ghouls had roasted and eaten the two that she had wounded, maybe killed. Anyway, those ghouls were certainly dead now.

Flern put her finger to her lips and floated high into a tree. She caught a branch and pulled herself along, dancing from tree to tree like a squirrel until she was right over the camp, but well hidden in the branches and leaves. The cooking smelled nauseating from that vantage, wafting up as it did from the campfires below. Flern almost threw up, which would have ruined everything. Then again, she imagined the ghouls might not have noticed, or might have thought of it as manna from heaven. That thought did not help her stomach, so she decided to concentrate on her ears instead. She found it was not like in the movies. She heard no plans about how they were going to attack the village, and only knew they were planning an attack because she heard two in the grass talking about how much they were looking forward to eating some living, human flesh and sucking out the souls.

Flern backed out the way she came in, moving from upper tree branch to upper branch like a confused robin. When she reached the place where she left Laurel, she got miffed. Laurel was nowhere to be found, so she waited, but not for long. She heard where Laurel went before she saw her.

“It’s the elf! I knew I smelled something! Get her!” Laurel came running, and Flern stayed right on her heels. They soon left the ghouls well behind, but they did not stop running until they reached the barricade around the village. In fact, Laurel ran right over the barricade, and though Flern had to use a little flying lift, she followed right behind. Then she needed to breathe, and they were deep, heavy breaths. She might be fast, but that still made a long way to run. Laurel did not have nearly the recovery problem.

“Where did you go? Where were you?” People came running up including Boritz and Badl. Flern waved to Laurel because she could not talk yet. Laurel simply made an announcement.

“They are coming.”

“Are you crazy?” Badl started to yell at them, but Flern stopped his mouth when she put a hand on his shoulder.

“I was hoping they would go away. We just wanted to be sure.” Flern gasped, and then she felt better.

Two hours later, after the sun had set and before the moon came up, the village streets looked deserted. Several figures moved through the shadows. Several more figures appeared from another direction, and several more from a third place. They moved slowly toward the center of the village where a big open area, like a village square centered around a spring. The spring soon became a little stream that trickled off in the direction of the river. Flern stood completely still, nearly invisible in the darkness, her cape with the black side out, her hood up, her fingers twitching ever so slightly with nervous tension. She waited as long as she could, but then the ghouls spotted her, having perfect night vision. One shouted. Several shouted. But Flern already started rising like the moon, and she concentrated on letting out every ounce of glow Nanna the Moon gave to Wlvn. She felt like a little moon herself, thirty yards above the village, she bathed the square and the houses beyond in a soft but certain light. The ghouls were revealed. The people could see, and at once, arrows shot out from house windows and cracked doorways all around. Perhaps half the ghouls were killed or wounded in those few moments. Then the people came out with spears, axes, knives and clubs, and they came in threes and fours against each ghoul that still stood beneath the glowing girl. Boritz broke one in the back of the head with his spiked club. He smashed a second in the face, before he picked one up right off the ground and threw it against two more. Those three fell on their backs and became easy targets for the crowding men.

Flern shut her eyes and focused on the glow—float and glow, that was all she had to do. With light, the major advantage of the ghouls got stripped away, and the village had a chance, but screams of death came from every direction, and Flern could not shut her ears. She also could not do anything if a ghoul took a shot at her. She felt vulnerable in her legs, arms and face where she had to be naked to properly glow.

It felt like forever before Flern dared to open her eyes once more. The screaming became subdued, and some people milled about, no doubt wondering what just happened. The blood ran everywhere, and much of it looked like slimy, greenish purple in color, but plenty of it ran red. Flern preferred not to look, so she let her glow diminish as she floated back to the earth. The real moon rose in the late fall sky, and though the sky soon filled with heavy gray clouds moving in from the north, there came significantly more natural light than before. When Flern touched down, she fell to shivering. She had never been so scared in her life, and she could barely keep her head up when Laurel came running up.

“It worked, but barely.” Laurel said.

Reflections Wlvn-10 part 3 of 3

“Lady?” Laurel touched Flern’s arm gently and Flern closed her eyes for a minute. Laurel, Moriah and Badl all had their bows out and strung, and Flern knew there might be something she could do to gain the villagers the time they needed, but she felt reluctant, having so recently messed everything up with Wlvn. All the same, she let go of her place and time and let the Princess come to fill her armor, and the Princess first reached out with her mind and heart to any other little ones that might be within range of the village. She called to them to hurry and come. She knew how to do that much, even if Flern did not. Then she opened her eyes and pointed to some rocks off to the right.

“Badl and Moriah you need to take a position there. Laurel and I will stand in the trees to the left, but first we need some hunters from the village.” She turned and yelled. “I need six men good with the bow, right here. Right now!” Andrea did a double take on the person now wearing the armor.

“Ghouls have a very tough hide. They are hard to pierce. We will have to wait until they are close.” Laurel said. Moriah and the Princess nodded, even as three men and one woman came trotting out from the village. The Princess divided them, took the woman with herself, and instructed them in what they were to do, especially retreat to the village on her signal and without any arguments. Once that was settled, they barely got into position before the ghouls topped the rise. The Princess had a good hope of catching the creatures in a deadly crossfire by surprise; but of course, just then two more men came out from the village, and after some quick pointing, they ran, one to each side. Thus, their positions became completely compromised and the one who arrived by the Princess got told exactly how stupid he had been, and she minced no words. True, the worst of it was in a Greek language from so far in the future it could not be imagined, except by the elf maid, whose ears turned scarlet just to hear some of those words.

The ghouls hesitated when they were still out of range. The Princess had to remind herself how early the days were that she was in. This was around four thousand BC, and war and warfare were not exactly well known, yet. Then again, she had to remember that these ghouls were hunters, and being filled as she was with the spirit of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, she knew these creatures would not be utterly taken in. She breathed some relief when the ghouls started up again, to climb the hill to the village, but at the same time she felt certain that a few of them had slipped to the side to come up on their positions, hopefully affecting their own surprise on the human defenders. The Princess let Badl know in his mind what she thought, and felt him confirm the message, though it seriously risked a headache on her part, and that was something she could not afford.

The ghouls stopped again, short of what they imagined as human bowshot range, and one stepped forward. “We only want the red hair boy. The god said we could have him for the feasting.”

The Princess stepped out as well, their cover already being blown, and after a brief talk with Laurel concerning whatever weak spots these creatures might have. Laurel listed the neck under the chin and under the arms, not places easily reached with an arrow. “No red hair boy here,” she shouted back.

One anxious ghoul stepped forward, bow ready. He let an arrow fly in the Princess’ direction, and the Princess responded in kind. The ghoul’s arrow struck the Princess in the chest but bounced off her armor without any ill effect. The Princess’ arrow struck the speaker in the neck. He had started to laugh, believing himself to be out of range; at least the Princess thought it might be laughter, but at the last minute he tried to duck. Too late. Several ghouls scooted up to drag their fellow ghoul back, and they all backed up several paces.

The Princess stepped forward while the others came out from the trees and rocks and some came from the village barricade to support her. Then Flern insisted, as much to Flern’s surprise as anyone else, and she let the Princess go back to her own time and place while she came home. The ghouls noted the transformation, and the stupid ones were for rushing in, but the smarter ones kept them back. Flern shouted.

“Loki can go jump at himself. He has no say over my life, boy or otherwise. Go eat Loki in your feast for all I care.” She took a couple more steps forward before she stopped. “Go now, and I will let you live.” Several ghouls ducked, expecting the wrath of the god to fall at any moment. Clearly, they did not at all like the way this girl mocked the crooked one, and they did not know what to think about the fact that she seemed to be getting away with it.

One ghoul, a big, ugly brute with true incisor teeth hanging out from his drooling mouth stepped forward and carefully laid his bow down on the ground. He waved a big hand to invite Flern to do the same. Flern did, but she laid her bow close to hand where she could pick it up in a hurry if she needed it. The ghoul took a few steps closer, spread its hands as if to pretend it had no other weapons, and smiled. At least Flern imagined it was supposed to be a friendly smile. She felt wary, but she could not have prepared for the onslaught of force that came from the creature. It came in a blue streak, like lightning, and Flern felt the electrical charge as it tingled in her fingers and toes. After a few second, it finished, and the ghoul balked. Flern looked unmoved. The shield that Frigga had given Wlvn reflected in her enough, so she remained virtually untouched; but the unwarranted attack did accomplish one thing. She got mad.

Flern let herself float up about three feet from the ground which prompted sounds of amazement from ghouls and humans alike, and then she put all of her anger into her own small reflection of the gift from Odin. The big ghoul had no Frigga shield, and even the mere reflection of the Odin gift in her appeared stronger than any magic the ghouls possessed. The big, ugly ghoul did not get reduced to a charred carcass as it would have been in the first second under Wlvn’s attack, but it got electrocuted to the point of smoking. When Flern stopped the attack, the ghoul collapsed like a rag doll, and Flern felt a brief moment of guilt, afraid that she might have killed the creature. Again, ghouls had to rush forward and drag the big ghoul back beside the one with the arrow in its neck.

Flern let herself return to earth and shouted again. “Second and final warning. Go home and give up this foolish idea, and I will let you live.” Some ghouls looked ready to do that very thing, if she read their faces correctly, but she felt concerned that the others might talk them out of it. They picked up their wounded and trotted back down the hill to disappear into the woods. That did not mean they were gone.

Flern picked up her bow even as Badl, Laurel and Moriah caught up with her.

“That was magnificent!” Moriah praised her and Laurel felt the same, but Flern minced no words.

“They will wait until dark and attack when they think we are sleeping.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Badl confirmed.

When they walked up to the barricade and the village, there was not the celebration Flern expected. Boritz provided the explanation.

“I told the men here to set a small watch and rest up during the day. I think we are going to be very busy tonight.”

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

MONDAY

It is a busy night, and for the Valkyrie not the least, but then the ghouls are not the only trick Loki has up his sleeve.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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Reflections Wlvn-10 part 2 of 3

Flern pulled her cloak tight against the cold. They sheltered against the rocks, with fir trees to block the worst of the wind. The fire stayed good and high because people got up in the night to add a log or two. Around four or five in the morning, Flern heard some rustling in the nearby leaves. She sat up and saw that Boritz came awake as well. Moriah started coming around. Flern heard it again after a minute. She had heard Jaccar warriors in the bushes, but this sounded nothing like that. This sounded more like something on the prowl, and it did not care who might be listening. Flern’s first thought was night creatures, but she quickly rejected that idea, knowing that the night creatures would not stop to rustle the leaves. Her second thought was ghouls, or whatever might have set that trap, but Laurel dissuaded her from thinking that way.

“Not ghouls,” she whispered, but it came clear as a bell in Flern’s mind. “They would be on us and already building the fire for the feast.”

“That’s where I left the remains of our supper.” Moriah said, but she spoke a bit too loud, and the rustling leaves stopped all at once.

“Bear.” Boritz whispered, and then “Bear!” He said it again with some volume as the creature came right into the camp and stood up. It looked like a big one, too. It growled as Moriah screamed, followed by screams from Flern, Andrea, Elleya and Wlkn. Badl threw a log on the nearly dead fire and waved his hands over the top with a bit of dwarf know-how, to bring the fire to new and roaring flames. Boritz screamed as well, but directed it at the beast, and surprisingly it came out something like, “Shoo! Go away!” This bear, one that obviously liked the taste of meat over the herbs and roots most bears ate, looked too startled by all the commotion and screaming to know what to do. To be honest, it struck out of fear. Flern got knocked back by one sweep of a tremendous paw, and she only got saved from death by her armor. Boritz waved his weapon at the beast, still hoping to drive the creature off without having a battle.

“Horses!” Flern yelled, and Wlkn, Badl and Moriah went quickly to try and calm the horses while Andrea and Elleya continued to scream. The bear turned on Boritz as Flern drew her sword with a speed difficult for a human eye to follow. She struck the beast hard on the top of its head, stung it with the flat of her sword, and she let herself shoot up out of reach as the bear turned around. When it looked up at her, she looked down at it and she growled “Grrr!” Boritz threw his hands up and hollered at the same time, and at last, the bear chose discretion over valor. It howled, fell to all fours, and scamper away as quickly as it could.

Flern came back to earth with Boritz’s words. “You are full of surprises, Red.”

“My ribs hurt.” That was all she could say, and she rubbed them a little as Badl came rushing up, to interrupt them all.

“Laurel has heard them, and Moriah confirms, so they can’t be too far away. No time for breakfast. Ghouls on the horizon.” He waved his hands over the fire again and the flames died instantly to their former red ash state. Then he and Boritz peed on it to finish it while Flern looked away. She stepped away from the smell of bear and whistled. Thred came right up. She removed his elf made hobble and then helped Andrea with hers since Andrea still shook from the bear.

“Up,” she said, and added, “Boritz!”

“But in the dark, on the cold and wet and ice it will not be safe.” Wlkn helped Elleya mount his steed.

Flern just let herself start to glow, and she turned in the general direction and let her eyes shoot moonlight ahead, like two headlights on a big rig. “Laurel. You need to be with me to lead. Everyone else, single file and follow my light. Laurel brought Brmr’s horse up without hesitation. They all understood that Badl and Boritz probably knew the territory and the ford better in this place than Laurel, but the elf maid was still new at riding and Flern felt she needed to be where she could be watched.

They trotted at best, not daring to ride full out like they wanted, even with Flern’s light. In this way, they soon came down to the Swr River and found it iced in places.

“Cold going.” Flern warned the others as she and Laurel entered the frigid water. Andrea shrieked when the cold and wet hit her legs. Wlkn shivered himself half to death. Only Elleya appeared unaffected by the cold, but then she kept busy saying that her people don’t swim where the ice runs thick in the distant north and the more distant south. They mostly stayed in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean, though some had gone beyond the pillars to the islands in the North Sea. They were her North Sea cousins; she said, when Badl shouted back.

“Tell her to clam up. There is no reason to tell the ghouls our exact location and there won’t be any talking them to death.”

“Clam up.” Elleya said. “What a lovely expression…” Wlkn eventually managed to quiet her.

Flern kept the glow going for nearly an hour, not that the ghouls could not find them by the light, but they needed it, or they certainly would have ridden into trouble, and likely would have crippled a horse or two. After that time, the sun began to rise, and Andrea suggested they stop to catch their breath. Flern completely agreed. She felt exhausted and terribly drained. She had used flight and speed and strength, all gifts that took something out of her to activate, and then all that moonlight became almost too much; but Badl insisted.

“We must get to the village before they catch us. When they are this close, they won’t stop just because the sun comes up. These are creatures of the darkness as I told you, but they are not night creatures to be afraid of the sun.

They rode on, and Flern hung on to Thred, and only thanked God when it became bright enough to ride more swiftly. Of course, she made the mistake at one point of looking back. She saw them, and it looked to her like more than ten. They were cruel looking, greenish, covered in long black hair, teeth like a saber-tooth in the front. “Or a vampire.” She said to herself.

“No!” Laurel heard and looked back. The ghouls were at the top of the hill, a good half-hour behind. “They are just ordinary ghouls.”

“But I thought you said around ten.” Flern protested.

“Loki.” Badl spoke up from behind, and of course that had to be it.

The group raised the alarm in town as soon as they arrived, but the village people were not quick to do anything until they saw what approached from the valley floor; then they hardly had enough time to drag out every wagon they could find to build a barricade.

Reflections Wlvn-10 part 1 of 3

Boritz turned out to be quite good with the cutter-club he carried around. It looked like an auguar thigh bone or some similar big bone, and it had stones driven through the head like spikes, so it looked altogether like a medieval mace. Flern did very well on her second time around. She credited it to her subconscious mind working on the problems while she worried about other things. To be sure, she felt more prepared, mentally, for this go around, and Boritz did not catch her, even with his fancy moves. What struck her, though, was not how well she did but how strong Boritz was. He could go toe to toe with her and match her Thor enhanced strength. That got her to thinking. Maybe Boritz could be convinced to take on the Titan.

“So how did you get to be so strong?” she asked, as she rode beside him and Andrea once they started out again.

Boritz shrugged. “I come by it natural,” he said. “I guess it is in my blood. I was not lying when I said that Perun was my grandfather.” He smiled, but Flern’s countenance fell. Boritz would not do. She understood that much. The gods, for some reason, could not face the Titan. They had to ask Wlvn to do it. Thus, she had to assume that anyone tainted by the blood of the gods would not do. Of course, she just guessed, and she said so out loud.

“It would be nice to know what was going on.”

“We are going over the mountains, yes?” Boritz did not understand her words.

“Yes.” She answered, and with one more look behind, she scooted up front to ride beside Laurel.

Night came quickly, the sun setting as it did behind the mountains. “I believe we have come far enough so the night creatures won’t catch us, but the Swr River is below here, and it is a couple of hours yet to the village,” Badl reported.

“But have we come far enough so whatever set those traps won’t catch us?” Wlkn had to ask.

“Maybe not.” Badl started to speak, but Laurel interrupted.

“But they may not know about horses and riders, exactly. They might just think a herd of horses came this way and whatever footprints that we left around the trap simply vanished, like maybe we flew away.”

“I would not put it past Loki to use ghouls for his own purposes.” Badl got his word in.

“So, what are ghouls?” Andrea asked. They were all wondering and Laurel and Badl looked at each other before they talked, as if there might be some unspoken communication regarding secrets to be kept and things that could be revealed. Badl finally spoke.

“They are related to the Djin, mighty spirits of the desert, full of magic, mostly evil. My father came originally from the land between the Tigris and Euphrates where the Djin congregate.”

“Bain.” Flern named Badl’s father and Badl nodded.

“My father Bain was an imp, but our god turned him into one of the first of the true, common gnomes. After his wife Pinky died tragically, he migrated north and vowed to remain single for the rest of his days; but shortly our god, who was a goddess then, one Faya by name, a name that meant Beauty, and I understand she truly was. A red head…” Bain paused to look at Flern. “She got hold of him and changed his mind. Faya lived on the Were plateau, by the way, and on the other side of the mountains to boot, and my father lived near her. Well, eventually he found a dwarf woman, and they married so to speak, and, well, here I am. I guess that makes me sort of a half and half myself. Half gnome and half dwarf you might say.” Badl looked at Moriah by the end of his speech and she looked right back at him with the points of her ears turning ever so slightly red.

“I was named Beauty and lived on the Were plateau? I thought the Were did not let anyone in their neighborhood.” Flern sounded stumped.

“Yes, well…” Badl turned to speak to her. “I know the law. If you don’t remember Faya for yourself, I’m not supposed to speak about it.”

Andrea snapped her fingers to get everyone’s attention back. “But what about the ghouls?”

Laurel took up the telling at that point, after assuring Badl with her look that he indeed said too much. “Ghouls like to feast on raw flesh, and human flesh is definitely on the menu. They have attacked elves and dwarfs at times, and sometimes take goblins and imps as slaves, though I don’t suppose they get very far with the ogres and trolls. Anyway, they are big, like Boritz in size, and they are tough and terribly strong, and they have retained some magic from the days with their desert cousins, and honestly, if they were more organized, they would be a terrible menace to the whole world. There are only two things that are to our advantage.”

“Eh?” Wlkn got on the edge of his seat.

“First, they only hunt in small groups, normally groups of ten, so if we are being followed, there probably are not more than ten of them or so, and some of those may be young. And second, the reason they travel in small groups is because otherwise the temptation to eat each other is too strong. We say in the deep woods, when a ghoul visits a ghoul, on the first day he is company, on the second he is an annoyance, and on the third he is supper. That is what my people say.”

“A comfort,” Wlkn said, and he made the mistake of turning toward Elleya who could not resist opening up about all sorts of things, including, at one point, about how Badl and Moriah ought to get married, which embarrassed them both. Elleya ran out of steam somewhere between sharks and barracuda. After all that talk about night creatures and ghouls, all Elleya could think of was things with teeth.

Andrea spoke as soon as Elleya took a breath. “Well, with that said, I guess we better try to get some sleep.”

“If anyone can sleep in this cold,” Wlkn added, with a yawn.

“We could snuggle. I could keep you warm,” Elleya suggested, and Wlkn did not protest.

“Me too.” Boritz yawned. He sat next to Andrea, and everyone knew he meant that he felt tired and ready to sleep too, but Andrea could not resist a response.

“You keep your hands to yourself, mister,” she said. She wagged her little finger in the big man’s face and poked him once in the chest.

Boritz looked down at his knees. “Yes, Ma’am,” he said, with just the right bit of humility. Flern thought that it had not been a day and a half and Andrea already had the poor man whipped.

Reflections Wlvn-9 part 3 of 3

Just before dawn, Flern awoke to the sound of a soft honk and the poking of a beak. She tried to brush it off but sat up straight and quick when she realized it was not a dream. The swan quickly waddled away, and it seemed a very pronounced waddle, Flern thought. Flern stood and glanced at the other sleepers. Laurel had gotten up and gone off somewhere, and Moriah sat up, but the others were still out for the night. Flern had to squint to see the swan in the gray light, but she felt sure the bird wanted to be followed, and she had no qualms about doing so. This swan, assuming the same swan all along, had saved Wlvn’s life more than once.

“I’ll be back.” Flern told Moriah, even as Laurel trotted up with a rabbit in her hands.

“Where is she going?” Laurel asked. Moriah shrugged, and they went about waking the others.

Flern made no effort to hide her trail, not that she knew how to do that, so she knew the others would not be far behind; but in the meantime, she could not resist seeing what the swan wanted to show her. She found it, even as the light turned from gray to misty white. A unicorn had gotten trapped in a man-made, or something-made trap, and struggled to get free. Flern looked around for the trapper, but no one could be seen, and she assumed that the swan had flown off as well.

“Pretty baby.” Flern could not help calling the unicorn by that name, though she was not so foolish as to run to it. The beast looked like it could be fierce if it wanted to be, and the horn looked like it could be deadly. “I can help if you let me.” Flern said, not knowing if the unicorn could understand her. “I can cut the vines and set you free if you like.” She pulled her long knife slowly and showed it to the beast. The unicorn gave no indication that it understood a word Flern said, but after sniffing at the blade from a distance, it got to its knees and then fell to its side so its trapped foot remained on top. “Poor baby.” Flern repeated herself. “Everything will be all right.” She inched forward slowly and carefully, and when she reached the beast, she heard the others gather behind her and hoped they would be wise enough to keep their distance.

Flern cut the vine-rope quickly and cleanly where it stretched taught, some inches from the unicorn’s hoof. Then she set down her blade and slipped the loop off the hoof itself. The unicorn brought up its head and Flern heard at least one gasp behind her, but the unicorn only nudged her and was very careful about the horn. Flern sighed and loved this beast for all the purity and love she felt emanating from the creature. She could not help kissing the unicorn on the neck, and she felt such peace.

“You are free now,” Flern said. “You can go but be careful.” Flern scooted back and the unicorn appeared to understand. It got to its feet, and with one more loving look in Flern’s direction, it raced off to disappear in the bushes.

“Well, I never,” Wlkn said. Elleya cried for joy at having seen the beast, and Moriah seemed inclined to join her. Laurel had something to say.

“Not just a beast as it appears. Unicorns are greater spirits of all things pure and good.  Only children and a virgin with the purest heart can dare to approach.” Andrea stepped up and put her arms around Flern for a hug but stared all the time at the bushes where the unicorn disappeared.

“Definitely not made by human hands.” Boritz and Badl examined the trap.

“And not a little one trap either. My guess is ghoul, or some other creatures of the darkness.” He looked all around, and Boritz looked with him, and he looked worried. “We should probably be safe in the daylight, but I would not mind reaching the village by dark, even if it means crossing two rivers. As if on cue, everyone lifted their heads at once as they heard the sound of a baby crying in the distance.

“Damn!” Wlkn swore.

“What is that?” Andrea asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Badl answered.

Breakfast became a hurried affair, and as they were right at the Prt River ford, they soon put that water between them and the creatures. Badl pointed out that while the river did not look too wide at that point, it remained deep enough to come up to the horse’s necks and that should probably be too deep for the night creatures to cross, easily. Flern did not feel assured by the word probably.

On the other side of the Prt, between there and the river Swr, the forest changed to include more firs and pines among the deciduous trees. Snow had fallen here as well, as they wound along and around the hills that snuggled up close to the mountains. Flern rode in the middle when the horses had to string out in single file. It became hard to look back around Boritz, but she kept looking back anyway. She hoped, since there were no more iced over swampy areas between the rivers, maybe the ghouls, or whatever they were, would not be interested in the terrain.

“No, Lady. If it is ghouls or worse, they are probably like the night creatures. They will cross any terrain to get what they are after and then go home when dinner is done.”

Flern looked back again. The Storyteller suggested all sorts of possible nasties including orcs and goblins taken straight from Tolkien. That frightened her for a minute until she realized that goblins were of the elf class. They were dark elves, as the gods of Aesgard called them, and thus they were her responsibility. For a while, she kept hoping that the traps were set by trolls, but Badl assured her that there were not any trolls locally who were smart enough to do something like that. So Flern looked back. She could not help it, and she patted Thred’s neck every now and then and talked softly to the horse. “If the spookies come after us, you will ride like the wind, won’t you?” she asked, and Thred appeared to nod his head. That made her want to hug the horse, or maybe hold on for dear life when the time came.

Lunch did not take long. Flern had to touch her sword and ask Badl about practicing, but Badl said they had no time for that, as she suspected. She figured it got her brownie points so later she could say she offered, without really having to practice. Unfortunately, Boritz said he could help teach her, and then she got trapped. She sighed. She knew she had to learn for the sake of her village back home, but at the moment she did not really want to learn for fear she would be expected to face the Titan.

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

MONDAY

Ghouls find them, but they are looking for the red headed boy… Happy Reading

*

Reflections Wlvn-9 part 2 of 3

Neither Wlkn nor Badl moved, and Badl rather yawned.

“Well?” the man asked.

“Oh, are you talking to me?” Badl asked. “I thought you were talking to the man. There is only one at present.”

“Eh?”

Wlkn shook his head. “I’ve lived my whole life under the gaze of the Titan. Now, there is a giant! What can a mortal man do worse than that?”

The big man grumbled.

“Hello. Do you have a name? My name is Elleya.” Of course, she had to speak up.

“What brings you our way?” Flern asked, as some suspicion crept into her voice.

“Hold on a minute, Red.” The man said. He seemed to be examining them closely. “It was the God of Light who sent me. He said I should meet you in the way. He said one dwarf, one halfling, one elf, one mermaid.” He counted his fingers as he pointed.

“I’m the mermaid.” Elleya said with glee.

“Wait! One elf, one mermaid, one old man, one lady, and one red headed man who I was to help reach the Great River beyond the mountains.” He paused and this time everyone waited in silence. “So are you them? Where is the old man and the red-headed man?” He stepped a little closer to Andrea and removed his hat altogether. “I see the wee spirits and the half-one, and the perfect lady.” He tried his best grin. “The god was right about that. But where are the others?”

“I’m the old man.” Wlkn spoke up. “I’m fifty and a bit, just older than the elf maid.”

“He had a run-in with Ydunna and one of her golden apples.” Badl said by way of explanation.

“And I’m the red-haired fellow?” Flern raised her hand.

The man looked again. “Sorry Red, but I can see you are definitely not a man. Why, you are almost as lovely as your lady friend here.”

“Andrea.” Andrea gave her name, though it seemed hard to read her expression.

“Boritz.” The big man readily gave his name in return.

“My name is Flern.” Flern tried to gain the man’s attention again. “And it is kind of complicated, but for now you have to pretend I am the red-headed man. Gods willing, he will come back here soon, and I can go home.”

There came a moment before the man shook himself free from staring at Andrea. “No. The god said a red headed man. Now, I don’t think the gods can be mistaken, and especially about something like that.” His eyes went back to Andrea and his smile returned as well.

Flern shook her head and tried to explain. “The gods don’t have my lifeline so what I do is a mystery to them. I am sure Wlvn was here when Vry talked to you; but Vry had no idea I would double trade and screw everything up.”

“Hush. Not so.” The others tried to comfort Flern, and she tried hard to hear them.

Boritz did not pay the least attention, staring as he did at Andrea. “Very clever, by the way, riding on the backs of your supper.”

“These horses are not for eating!” Wlkn spoke right up.

“I thought that very thing at first,” Badl admitted. “But I have since learned that these horses are good for something more than bacon, maybe.”

“Stop. You are making my mouth water,” Boritz said.

Flern dismounted.

“My Moriah is a good cook, too,” Badl added. Moriah blushed.

“Your Moriah?” Andrea and Laurel spoke together.

“Ours.” Badl quickly corrected himself. “Our Moriah.”

“Do you know the way over the mountains?” Flern interrupted Boritz and stood between him and Andrea to be sure she had the man’s attention, not that he could not look right over her head. Boritz nodded. “And across the plateau and over the mountains on the other side?” Flern finished.

Boritz got serious for a minute. “The Were plateau is not for crossing. But I know some ways to go,” he said. “I’ve been all the way to the Great River several times.”

“Good.” Flern steeled herself and gave it her best shot. She grabbed Boritz the giant by his coat and lifted him right off his feet, to the surprise of everyone, not the least herself. She had to toss him a little to get him up on the horse but managed to set him behind Andrea. “I can’t just lay hands on like Wlvn, but you need to ride behind Andrea.” Andrea gave Flern a dirty look, but Flern knew that the god of light, Vry, was the twin brother of Vrya, the goddess of love, and she knew Vrya had a hand in Andrea’s arrival, so she simply added two and two together. She felt certain that Boritz had to be the one that Aphrodite knew would make Andrea happy. Flern remembered what Wlvn got told, that no one in the Greco-Roman world would make the girl happy. “And Elleya. Njord gave you to Wlvn?” Elleya did not understand the sudden question, but Wlkn answered.

“Yes, that’s right.”

Flern nodded. Njord was Vrya and Vry’s father. And Tyr sent Badl, and Tyr would one day be Vrya’s husband and father of Nameless, though Flern was not sure if Tyr or Vrya realized that yet. In any case, they respected each other and were cooperative and in agreement on most things, so where Thor, Njord and Baldur were giving women to tempt Wlvn—to be sure he faced the Titan—Vrya, Vry and Tyr were making sure those women got attached to someone else.

They made an early camp that evening, and Laurel went out with Moriah to hunt. Badl and Flern gathered what they could, while the other two couples sat around swapping stories. That evening when the sun set, Boritz lay down with Badl and Wlkn, though Elleya had to also lie beside her Wilken. That left the four girls to commiserate. It turned cold that night, so they huddled by the fire for warmth. Flern had to ask.

“So, what do you think of Boritz?” She looked straight at Andrea who had ridden with him all afternoon. Laurel and Moriah also looked at her, but their interest seemed like mere curiosity.

“I think he is the biggest, most arrogant, self-interested, and self-centered braggart on two feet.” Andrea answered. Laurel and Moriah looked shocked and felt sorry for Andrea, but Flern knew better.

“Really?” Flern said. “Do you like him that much?”

Andrea tried to keep a straight face, but she could not help the corners of her mouth or keep them from lifting up just a little. “Yes,” she said, and Flern said no more about it.

A short while later, Flern lifted her head from the conversation. She felt afraid that her ears were hearing the wail of a baby, but Laurel set her straight. “It is the swan’s song,” and Flern sighed in relief

“I thought swans were day creatures,” Moriah said, and Laurel shrugged. They all listened for a bit and Flern thought she heard something mournful in the song that maybe Wlvn never heard. It sounded very sad to her ears, though she could not imagine why.

Later still, when Flern finally got to sleep, she dreamed about the swan, and it seemed a lovely dream, but then she had a nightmare about the night creatures and felt fortunate that she did not start screaming in her sleep.