M4 Margueritte: Trouble All Around, part 2 of 3

Margueritte said to her little ones, “Thank you, and please make sure they actually cross the river and leave.”

“How many minutes?” Oswald asked.

“I don’t know.  I don’t have a stopwatch.  Just as long as they leave.  And thank you again.”  She clapped her hands and the little ones vanished.  Her armor and weapons also went away, and she became clothed again in her many layers.  They were not as warm as the fairy weave, and her gloves were not as good, but they looked normal.  She had to breathe on her hands against the frost.

“So that was the next attempt?” Relii had come out of the barn with the others to watch.

“Yes, but he changed his mind before anything happened,” Margueritte said.  “I think our sorcerer was afraid for his life.  He got told by a greater power to stop picking on me.”

“Abd al-Makti,” Relii guessed.  “I thought it might be him.”

“Clever girl,” Margueritte said.  “But I cannot figure why, or who he is working for.”  She turned to Geoffry.  He spoke right up.

“Sigisurd told me, but I didn’t believe her,” he said.

Margueritte nodded.  “And keep it that way.  Don’t make more out of it than it is, and don’t be afraid to question even what you see.”  Margueritte breathed on her hands again.  “Relii and Sigisurd, please help our wounded men.”  She pointed.  “And check on the others to see if they are really dead.  Watch out for the Saxons who may just be too badly wounded to escape.  Geoffry and I need to go inside and check on the others.”

“Lady,” Sigisurd said, and curtsied the way she had seen Tulip curtsey.

Geoffry asked a question as they walked up to the door.  “So, are you a witch or a sorceress?”

Margueritte hit him, not too hard.  “I keep telling everyone, I am not a witch,” but when they went inside, she found the guard that Gunther the chief left and forgot about.  He had the children cowering in the corner, seated with their backs to him.  Ingrid, Aduan and Rosamund were in chairs, and Horegard lay on the floor where he bled from a stomach wound.  She had to do something.  “Gunther has abandoned you.  If you hurry you can catch him.”  Margueritte put out her arm to hold back Geoffry while the man looked at her.  He decided.  He looked like he might kill the hostages before he went in case she was not telling the truth.

Margueritte’s hands went up and a blue electrical charge escaped her fingertips and struck the man.  He jerked violently and just missed striking Rosamund’s face before he could no longer hold on to his sword.  The sword clattered to the ground as the man dropped to his knees.

Margueritte called to Oswald and Oswald’s friend, Ridgemont, and they appeared.  “Please take this one to Gunther.  No message.  I just don’t want this one to miss the boat and have to swim home.”

“Very good,” Oswald said, and they hustled him out the back door and then ran faster with the man than humanly possible, but no one other than Margueritte saw, and maybe a few of the children.  Geoffry got busy helping his sisters get their father up on the couch.  The man started getting delirious and had lost a fair amount of blood.

“Let me see,” Margueritte said, “And no screaming.  I am going to go away, and another person is going to stand in my shoes, but she is a physician, and she will do what she can to help.”  Margueritte pointed at Aduan.  “No screaming,” and she immediately went away so Doctor Mishka could examine the wound.  Aduan let out a small shriek, but she was the only one out of them all, including the children.  “Now let me see.”

Mishka had her bag with her, or she supposed in the current day and age it should still be Greta’s bag, but Mishka came because Greta was not a surgeon.  Doctor Mishka practiced all too much battlefield surgery in the first and second world wars.  She began by spreading an anesthetic cream to deaden the area before she looked.  “The wound looks clean,” she said, and got out some thread and a very fine needle and a hemostat.  After Ingrid and Rosamund got hold of Horegard’s hands, it took twenty-one stitches, and then iodine, which stung, and an anti-bacterial spray, and the cleanest cloth Aduan could find.

“I know it is asking a lot, but you must try to keep him off his feet for a few days.  Does he toss and turn in the night?”

Rosamund took a minute to realize Mishka was talking to her.  With Horegard tended to, she got a good look at the Doctor for the first time.  “Uh, some.  Not much.”

“Well, be careful with that, and keep him off his feet.  I will give Margueritte something when I leave that will help him rest and sleep, but only if he needs it.  Now some other men are wounded.”  Doctor Mishka stood and walked toward the front door, but she went away, and Margueritte came back before she got to the door, because Margueritte thought to say something.  “Oh, and it would be best if you did not talk about Mishka.  That is something that is best not to be public knowledge, if you don’t mind.  I am trusting you because you are family.”  She went out.

###

It turned out Grandma Rosamund blocked Mishka completely out of her mind and credited Margueritte with saving Horegard’s life.  Horegard, who was kind of out of it at the time, believed her.  Aduan knew better, but she, Geoffry, Sigisurd and Relii all discussed it and decided that Margueritte had been wise to tell everyone to keep it a secret.  Ingrid also knew, of course, but it seemed the blue lightning Margueritte produced from her fingertips much more than the appearance of Doctor Mishka that bothered her.  She felt sure that Margueritte was a witch, but then Margueritte saved her life, and her father’s life, and apparently, everyone else’s life as well, so she said nothing.  She and Margueritte were never that close to begin with, and Ingrid was not surprised her stupid brother would marry a witch, so nothing really changed between them.  What the children saw and understood remained to be seen in the years to come.  So, nothing much changed, except Geoffry and Sigisurd started spending time together.  If it was another day and age, Margueritte would have said they were dating.

###  

Count Adelard, Herlindis, Boniface and fifteen men at arms showed up about mid-March.  They did some rearranging, as the Count and Herlindis moved into the room with Relii.  Boniface got the eighth room by himself, and Sigisurd made peace with old lady Oda in the servant’s quarters.  Margueritte said Sigisurd could stay with her and the children, but Sigisurd pointed out that Roland would be due in about two weeks, and they should have their own room.

Poor Rosamund fretted about where she could put Charles, the mayor.  It felt like a visit from Royalty.  Boniface offered to share his room, but Rosamund liked to fret about it, and Horegard said it would not do to have the mayor and a bishop in the same room.  It started to look like Geoffry might have to sleep on the couch, and Margueritte could not help the comments.

“Separation of Church and State, huh?  Too bad you don’t have a convertible sofa.”

Boniface became anxious to begin his work in Saxony, but Margueritte delayed him.  She talked about church lands, and in the end convinced him to wait for Charles by practically promising Charles would be land generous to the church.  When Charles finally arrived, and his twelve thousand men tried to camp without destroying every nearby field, he got very mad at her.  He readily roomed with the bishop, but he would not talk to Margueritte for three days.  Margueritte would have been very upset by that if she and Roland were not so busy catching up on things.

Roland explained to Charles what Margueritte told him; that if Boniface went into Saxony just before Charles started his campaign, it would be like suicide for the bishop.  Charles understood that.  In fact, he argued that before gallivanting off into new territory, Boniface should first set about organizing the disorganized and overlapping Frankish church.  He tried to convince Boniface to go first to Paris, where Charles promised to meet him soon and talk about land donations to the church.  Boniface felt reluctant, until Margueritte reminded him that the Franks were his distant cousins as well, perhaps not as close as his Saxon brothers and sisters, but cousins all the same.

In the end, the matter got settled when Margueritte’s brother, Tomberlain rode up to the farm with twenty men from the Breton border, which Sigisurd imagined was on the other side of the world.  The message was not good.  Father had gotten sick; like he went dead on the whole right side of his body, and Elsbeth, Mother, and Jennifer were all worried sick.  They don’t know what to do, and Mother can’t raise Doctor Pincher or anyone.”

“Who is holding the Fort?” Margueritte asked.

Tomberlain looked put on the spot, though Margueritte did not mean that.  “Sir Peppin is there, and Owien is in your old room, plus the north end of the mark is covered now, thanks to Charles, and Michael is doing well in the south, and the Breton are not going anywhere after all the mess they made with the Curdwallah hag.  Everyone is safe if that is what you mean.”

“No, I’m sorry.  It isn’t your job, and you have held the fort long enough.  You deserve a chance to be here with Charles and Roland.  It is my turn to hold things together back home, but from the sounds of it, I doubt there is much we can do for Father, except make him comfortable.”

“Not even—”  

“No, not even with extraordinary help.”  Margueritte said, not wanting to get into it in detail.

“So, I rode a month through the snow for nothing,” Tomberlain said.

“Not for nothing,” Roland said to cheer him.  “I am sure Charles has just the right place for you in the army.  We are headed into Saxony.”

“Charles plans to be the hammer and the Wesser River will be the anvil, and we shall see how well he can flatten the steel in between and put a sharp edge to it,” Margueritte suggested.

“That is very good,” Roland praised her.

“Can I quote you?” Boniface and Charles walked up.

Geoffry came up holding Sigisurd’s hand and she looked shy and embarrassed.

“Let me do the introductions,” Margueritte said, and she took Tomberlain’s hand and took him to everyone and remembered everyone’s names, though Tomberlain would never remember that much.  He was terrible with names.

M4 Margueritte: Trouble All Around, part 1 of 3

Come the first of January, Margueritte went to Captain Ragobert with the intention of sending his troop home for the winter, since the men all lived in the general area.  The men camped by the barn and had sufficient supplies of their own so as not to burden the family.  Ragobert said his men would gladly volunteer to help around the farm, but they were charged by the Mayor Charles himself with protecting her, and they were not going to be found negligent in their duty.

Margueritte would not hear his objections, but she eventually compromised.  Half of Ragobert’s men would go home for thirty days.  The other half would take the second thirty days, so they would all get a good visit home and be back to full strength by the second week in March, well before Charles was expected.

Grandma Rosamund went wild when she heard Roland and Charles were coming.  Spring cleaning started in January, and everyone was expected to help.  Margueritte noted that Ingrid did a lot of work around the house, and Aduan acted a lot like Margueritte’s younger sister, Elsbeth.  She did not do much, messed up much of what she did, and please don’t let her cook anything, because it would likely be inedible, she would make a big mess, and then not clean up after herself.

One morning in early January, Ingrid went out to the barn to gather eggs.  Margueritte grabbed a basket and followed.

“What are we doing?” Margueritte asked.

Ingrid huffed.  “Someone has to keep this family fed.”

“Eggs,” Margueritte said.  “You know; I grew up on a farm much like this one.  I have a sister who does not do much, so I had to do many things by myself.  I remember once they kept Elsbeth by the oven for a whole week and tried to teach her to make a pie worth eating.”

Silence followed, for a minute, until they reached the chicken coop and Ingrid asked, “What happened?”

“They failed.  Please don’t let her near the oven.”  Margueritte smiled and went to work before she added a note.  “Or near the dishes, or near the laundry, or near the broom.”  Her voice trailed off and Ingrid looked back at the house and laughed.

Margueritte helped and worked around the farm, and she and Ingrid got along just fine from that morning.  Aduan was the type to get along with everyone, and even Geoffry lightened up when Sigisurd came around, Margueritte noticed.  In fact, Margueritte never felt so welcomed in her life.  In part, it might have simply been the joy of being around a farm again—the smell of the barn, the animals, the grain in the bins.  She felt at home, and they all treated her like family.  It felt wonderful, to the point where it made her homesick.

Margueritte loved Rosamund, a large and hugging sort of a woman, and she loved grumpy old Horegard in his way, but she missed her mother, Brianna and her father, Sir Bartholomew, and she worried because she knew father was not well.  Greta called it hardening of the arteries.  Doctor Mishka said he started showing signs of arterial blockages and she would have to watch for a possible stroke or heart attack.  Her older brother, Tomberlain went home, despite his protests about wanting to fight with the army.  He was needed to maintain the farm and the Frankish presence on the Breton border.  Owien was there as well, Father’s squire, though more probably Tomberlain’s squire at this point.

Deep into February Margueritte paused her thoughts to figure the year.  She decided it was 719, and she started getting ready to turn twenty-two, still young.  Owien turned nineteen.  He was easy to figure.  Tomberlain was Aduan’s age and would turn twenty-five in the summer. That meant Elsbeth had to be eighteen.  Margueritte wondered how that could be possible.  The last time she saw Elsbeth, her sister had a runny nose, still looked like a child in her fourteen years, and stayed busy spending all of her time and energy ignoring Owien.   Margueritte smiled at that thought.  She wondered if Elsbeth was still ignoring Owien now that he was nineteen and she was eighteen.  They might be married and Margueritte would have no way of knowing.  She wondered if Tomberlain ever found a good woman.  She paused.  She wondered what those men were doing, fighting down by the blacksmith shed and around the cooking fires.

“Relii,” she called.  Relii had gone to the barn with her, Sigisurd, and Geoffry, though Margueritte was the only one sifting through the potatoes while the others sat around and tried to keep warm.  “Keep everyone here,” she said.  “And if the big ugly men come, do what they say.”

“What is it?” Sigisurd asked.

“Saxon raiders,” Margueritte answered, before she slapped Geoffry and stole his knife so he could not get himself killed.

Margueritte pulled her cape around her shoulders and stepped out of the barn and into the snow.  She tossed Geoffry’ knife into a snowbank and yelled.  “Where is the chief of the Saxons.”  She shouted a second time using the Saxon words Festuscato and Gerraint gave her, though they were two or three hundred years out-of-date.  “Saxons, where is your chief?  I must speak with him now before he does something stupid.”

One of the Saxons sheathed his sword and stepped away from where two of Ragobert’s men lay dead and two were wounded and, on their knees, surrendered.  Two Saxons also looked dead; but the other six of Ragobert’s men were somewhere out in the fields with the men and the mules, despite the snow.  The Saxon stepped up to Margueritte, no weapon in his hand as if the woman posed no threat.  He looked her over, and even though she stood wrapped up in plenty of clothing, like wearing a tent, he grinned a half-toothless grin of approval.  He looked ready to do something stupid when Margueritte raised her hand and shouted, “Defender.”  The long knife appeared in her hand and went to the man’s throat before he could react.

“I am not asking,” Margueritte said.  “Are you the chief?”

“I am Chief,” a voice came from a big man on the porch outside the front door of the manor house.  He appeared, chewing on a leg of lamb leftover from last night’s supper.  “I am Gunther, and I have thirty men here, little witch.  What can you do against thirty men?”

Margueritte stepped a few feet away to be out of arm’s reach.  “I am not a witch, and you don’t really want to know.”  She held up her hand and Defender disappeared.  “But here, I just realized I am not properly dressed.”  She called for her armor and it replaced all of her layers in an instant.  With the fairy weave under her leather, she felt the cold in her knees and elbows, but that was it.  The weapons came as well, with Defender attached to the small of her back and the sword called Salvation slanted across her back.  “Now listen carefully, Saxon Chief Gunther.  You have thirty minutes to pack up your thirty men and get back across the river, and if you harm anyone here, there will be no place in the whole world you can hide.”

Gunther did not look impressed, despite the quality of what he thought were magic tricks.  Clearly, he had something else on his mind, and he spoke it.  “I had thought you were the one to be wife for my son, but you are not her.  I do not know why I thought to find a wife for my son among the Franks.”

“I know why, but the sorcerer’s life would have been in danger if he followed through.  You now have twenty-nine minutes.”

“You are still little, and yet you make jokes.”

“Maywood.”  Margueritte called, and the fairy came and circled once around the Saxon’s head before he became full sized, a fairy dressed for war.  He fell to his knee before Margueritte.

“Lady, I have men here who have been watching you, and my troop gathered as soon as we saw that the Saxons intended to cross the river.  My troop is now here.   What is more, Prince Oswald of the Elves of the deep wood has a troop that followed the Saxons when he wisely figured out their intended target.”

“Twenty-eight minutes,” Margueritte said.  “Oswald,” she called, and the Elf appeared, and like the Fairy King, he went to one knee before Margueritte, and spoke.

“Lady, it would be my pleasure to rid this world of all these Saxon men.”

“Not yet,” Margueritte said.  “Being a woman, I know how hard it can be on a woman to lose her man, and how she will weep.  On the other hand, twenty-seven minutes.”  Margueritte did not wait for the man to reply, this time.  “You better tell your people not to harm any more of my family and friends here.  Defender.”  She held out her hand and let the chief watch the long knife vacate its place and fly to her hand in case he missed it the first time.  She stepped up to the man without too many teeth who still stood there with his mouth open.  “Don’t kill him yet.”  she shouted to the wind and used the knife as a pointer.  “Here, in the leg.  One arrow to make the point, please.”  There were three arrows and they all struck more or less in the same place.  the man cried out and fell to the snow, and the other Saxons that had gathered around looked briefly toward their chief before they started toward the river.

“Twenty-six minutes,” Margueritte said nice and loud before she spoke in a more normal voice to the two little ones who were still on their knees.  “You really must teach your men to count.”  She looked up at the chief.  His mouth stood wide open now, but he wasn’t saying anything, so Margueritte turned.  “You two.”  She got the attention of two of the Saxons.  “You better help this one.”  She pointed to the man in the snow, holding his leg and crying.  The two men picked him up by the arms and carted him off, while Margueritte turned one last time to the chief.  “Twenty-five minutes,” she said, sweetly, and Gunther, the Saxon chief left without a word.

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 1 of 4

Gerraint:  The Last Days of Arthur

After 479 A. D., Britannia

Gerraint watched Belle tug open the heavy drapes that covered the window.  They were almost too heavy for her, but Coppertone helped, and between them both, the girls managed.  The sun would be up soon.  Normally elves and pixies did not get along well, but these two at least made some sort of peace between them.  Gerraint felt glad for that.  The older he got, the more he appreciated peace.

“Your thoughts?”  Enid turned to him and snuggled for a minute into his shoulder.  He looked at her and loved her as much as he did the first time he saw her.  He kissed the top of her head before he answered.

“I was thinking what it would be like to grow up a young girl.”

“Not much different than a young boy.”  Enid smiled up at him.  “Why?”

“A stray memory,” Gerraint said.  “A life I won’t live for two hundred years.  And my best friends will be my older brother and my little sister, even though my little sister will be much prettier than I will be.”

“Every girl thinks that of her sister,” Enid said.  “Otherwise, they would have no reason to fight.”

Gerraint raised his brows.  “Fighting is something I try to avoid these days.”

“I bet you will be plenty cute,” Enid said.  “I am just sorry I won’t be around to see.”

“You, my dear, will be in such heavenly bliss I doubt you will even remember.  I am the one who will have to continue to toil in this hard and cruel country,” he said.

“So you say,” she answered.  “But I am still sorry.”  She pulled herself up for a proper kiss and Gerraint paused before he swung his legs to the side of the bed and sat up.  A slight moan escaped his lips.  He rubbed his shoulder where he once took a wicked wound.

“And to think, I have to get old like this over and over again,” he said, before he stood.  His knees creaked a little, but he knew they would unstiffen soon enough.  He threw on his doublet, tightened his belt and stepped barefoot to the door.  “Get big,” he said.  The Pixie, Coppertone did so with a nod.  The elf maiden, Belle looked for all the world like a beautiful young woman, early to mid-twenties, though she was three hundred years old.  The Pixie became only four feet tall, not inhumanly short, and looked more like a mature middle-aged woman, though she was also three hundred years old.  Her green and copper skin color faded when she got big.  “Help your mistress dress,” Gerraint said, and pointed to Enid who already started pulling back her long silver hair.  How black it had once been!

“I’ll get her shoes.”  Coppertone cried and skipped happily to the closet to retrieve them.  She did not act much like a matron, but Gerraint supposed he could not really do anything about that.

Gerraint headed toward breakfast where he got waylaid by his daughter of age, Guimier. She was born the day after Gerraint turned forty-three, a month after the battle at Badon finally brought peace to the Saxon Shores.  Gerraint wondered briefly if Margueritte bothered her father when she fell in love with Roland.  He thought, Well, at least Guimier was not locked in a tower with her memory wiped, and no one tried to feed her to a dragon, or burn her at the stake for being a witch.

“Father,” she said.  “Caradoc is still not found and Cador is searching everywhere for him.”

“No.”  Gerraint said the word before he heard any more.  Guimier, sixteen, going on seventeen, looked beautiful, like her mother.  Gerraint, nearly sixty, found he had even less patience than when he was young and brash.  Besides, they already had this conversation several times.

“But I don’t understand,” she whined.  “It would be so easy for you to ask your little ones to look.”

“No, that is not their job,” Gerraint said.

“But if you ask them.”

“No,” he repeated.  He really wanted breakfast, not an argument.

“It’s not fair.”  Guimier stomped her feet and pouted.

“Look.”  Gerraint spoke more sweetly to his daughter whom he hardly had the will to resist.  “Caradoc’s father knows full well where his son is, and Caradoc will be found if and when he wants to be found.  He is his own man and will be twice as unhappy as you if I interfere with his own decisions about his own life.”

“But.”

“Guimier.”  Gerraint put his arm around his daughter and gently guided her toward the breakfast table.  “If he loves you, he will be found by you when he is ready, and not before.  Now, let this be the end of it.”

Guimier found a tear but said no more.  She quietly accepted the plate her father fixed for her and ate in silence. Gerraint felt glad this so-called great love of hers had not had an ill effect on her appetite.

After breakfast, Gerraint dressed and found his horse already properly saddled and his bags properly packed.  Gerraint checked everything anyway.  Arthur’s summons had said nothing of urgency, and Gerraint was not of the age to hurry in any case.

“Must you go?” sweet Enid asked, already knowing the answer.

“The Pendragon has called,” Gerraint said.  “Cornwall is secure.  Peter has it all in hand, and he has James and John and a good mother to keep him straight.  But this kingdom has known peace these last seventeen years because of Arthur.  He calls now.  I must go.  I will take my nephew, Bedivere”

“But what of Arthur’s nephew?”  She avoided calling the man Arthur’s bastard son.  “Men are clamoring for Medrawt to take over.”

“The north, mostly.  Some Welsh.”  Gerraint said.  “But I have a suspicion that old Arthur may have one more great deed in him before that day.  Who knows how it will turn?”

“Memory?” Enid asked, wondering if he might have had a glimpse of the future.

“No, my dear,” Gerraint said.  “You know tomorrow and the next hundred years are always a blur.  I do not know what will happen tomorrow.”

“Because tomorrow has not been written.”  Enid interrupted him with the words he had spoken so many times before.  He kissed her forehead before he reached out with his heart to Avalon, the island of the Kairos.  He called to his armor.  He became clothed instantly in his chain and leather, his long boots, fingerless gloves, and the cloak of Athena which covered over all.  He left his helmet on Avalon, but brought his sword to him, the sword he called Wyrd, the Sword of Fate.  It fit across his back, and Defender, his long knife, stayed across the small of his back where it could come quickly to hand.

“Surely you won’t need these.”  Enid touched the weapons.

“Not likely,” Gerraint responded, but he could hardly ride without them.  He would have felt naked.  “God keep you,” he said, and turned to her and kissed her properly.  She began to cry and spoke softly.

“I feel as if I will never see you again.”

“You will,” he assured her.  “No matter what happens, as long as there is breath in me.”

“Daddy.”  Guimier cried with her mother and hugged him, all quarrels forgotten.

Gerraint climbed quickly on his steed.  Many of the men wanted to go with him, but he would have none of it and only allowed young Bedivere to tag along.  Young!  Gerraint thought to himself with a chuckle.  Bedivere was married and in his thirties.  All the young ones were at or over thirty, including his own sons.  Soon enough, they would become the old men, and Arthur and Gerraint and Percival would be gone.

Kai had already gone.  But Gwalchemi had Caerlisle well in hand.  Sadly, he became the kind of man who would seek peace through compromise rather than through strength.  Looking at the horizon, maybe that was wise.  Gawain had Edinburgh and rumor had it that he married his daughter to a Scottish Prince.  What could be more compromise than that?

Bedwyr remained ancient and bed ridden.  He had moved his family some years ago to Swindon and left Oxford in capable hands, but it probably would not last after Arthur.  Already, there were Saxon families moving into the empty and deserted lands in the Midlands.  They did not come as an invading army, though it became an invasion in a sense.  But the men, mostly farmers, came with women and children, and how does one fight that?  As long as they settled down and became good neighbors, what was there to complain about?  Gerraint knew it would not be long before the Saxons finally overran the country.  Once Arthur had gone, only the old men could stop them.

Gerraint rode out of the main gate with his head up.

Perhaps the northerners were right, Gerraint thought.  Medrawt seemed a relatively young thirty-five or so.  He might make a difference if invested now.  But then he shook his head.  The Angles and Saxons would find only old men in the north standing between them and York.  Cornwall would stand, but for how long?  Medrawt might be able to hold on to Wales, but that seemed about it.  Things were even worse, now, than in the days when Ambrosius and Uther had to wrench the leadership from Vortigen’s hands.

There were great men in those days, like Budic of Amorica and his son Hoel, Evrawk and Nudd, Laodegan, Gwynyvar’s father, and Ynywl, Enid’s father.  And then Arthur had his peers.  A whole host of names and faces came to Gerraint’s mind, though most were now gone.  Then Gerraint’s sons followed in the generation that included Lancelot.  But who follows Lancelot?  Galahad was already gone.  Caradoc was missing.  Gerraint could only name a few, most of whom he only heard of from Guimier and her friends.  There had been seventeen years of peace, and the young men were not turned to war as they had once been, and those who were had gone with Lancelot to fight in Amorica against the Sons of Claudus and the Franks. Then again, perhaps Gerraint simply got old and out of touch with the younger generation.

M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 3 of 3

Morgan still had her hand covering her mouth.  “This is you in another lifetime, isn’t it?”  Gerraint nodded.  He had already breached the subject.  “When did you live?”

“Oh, it’s worse than you know,” Gerraint said with a sly smile.  “I haven’t even been born yet.”

Morgan laughed and put her hand on his arm.  “I love it.”

“Move on,” Gerraint said, and Clover got the oxen moving again.  Mercedes crawled up into the wagon and kept shaking her head.  Ironwood stayed big and talked quietly with Macy.  And she talked with him, more conversation than Festuscato got from the girl.  He looked again at Morgan who kept staring at him like she was waiting for the next chapter in the saga.

“Festuscato is thirty-five.”

“Just right.  Well matured, and I assume I won’t have to teach him manners.”

“True, but I’ve lived some lives as women.”

“I expected as much.”

“But I am the only one.  No one else has other lives like that.”

“I have no other lives, but I like what I have seen of him so far.  I like red hair.  It is exciting.”

“You have no idea,” Gerraint said.  “My life is usually like a tornado, like a hurricane.  Sometimes I can stand in the eye of the storm, but those around me often get caught up in the madness and danger.  I have been ninety-five people before Festuscato, though I don’t remember them all, or close to it.  Right now, all I know are the Princess and Diogenes before Christ, Greta, Festuscato, myself and Margueritte in these several hundred years, Doctor Mishka and the Storyteller in the future, oh and Alice who is the creator and caretaker of Avalon in the second heavens.  Worse than that, I have been a god, four gods, four different times in the deep past, and when I have to reach out to one of them it is because something so horrible is happening, the whole word is in danger. Enid, my wife, keeps begging me to stay home, but I have to do my duty, and she is a real help and a real trooper.”  Gerraint paused and took a breath.  “Still interested?”

“More than ever.”

Gerraint glanced back to be sure the Visigoths were well out of sight before Festuscato returned.  He came back and immediately caught Morgan in his arms and kissed her, passionately.  He couldn’t speak for her, but he felt the fireworks go off in his head.  When they stopped, and turned, they saw they had some catching up to do.  They held hands as they ran, then let go when they walked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes what?”

“I’m just practicing for when you ask me to marry you.”  

“You realize, no one knows all this, and maybe I didn’t explain the worst part.  I never get to go to heaven.  I try not to dwell on that fact, but sometimes I get depressed about it and then I am not fun to be around.  I just keep getting to start all over again from scratch, as a baby.”

“And a very cute baby, I am sure.”  Morgan took Festuscato’s arm, and Festuscato knew that this was one woman he could not just slip into bed.  With Morgan, it would be all or nothing, but as he thought about it, he didn’t mind.  “So, tell me about the fairies,” she said.

###

Once they got to Arles, they had some negotiating to do with the merchant and his son.  The boy and Mercedes looked happy with the arrangement, but the dowry did not seem right.  Festuscato felt afraid the man might try to back out of the deal, but then the chief Roman military man in the province, the Dux of Provence found out Lord Agitus, alias the dragon was in town, and the whole city turned out to guide him to the palace, like it was the return of Constantine himself.

Morgan walked beside him and asked softly.  “Is it always like this?”  She was not used to being a public spectacle.

“No,” Festuscato said through his grin as he waved at the people like a conquering hero.  “Sometimes they just arrest me and throw me in prison.”

When they got back to the merchant, three days later, he seemed more than happy to accommodate them.  The bishop of Arles himself offered to perform the wedding, and the merchant’s wife kept fainting.  It became a lovely time, but in the end, Festuscato had to dig out the last of his gold coins from the secret pocket in his armor and pay for passage for four to Rome.  Clover and Heather decided to stay in Provence and promised to look in on Mercedes now and then.  They found May’s family and the fairy troop that roamed the fields and forests of the region and fit right in, as fairies do. Ironwood decided to go with Macy, and he stayed big as much as possible, and maybe more than he should, but sometimes he got small, sat on her shoulder and hid in her hair, which made her very happy.

###

Festuscato spent a lot of time on deck, fretting and bored.  Someone said the Huns had crossed the Alps into Italy and that did not sound good to him.  Morgan comforted him as well as she could, and they hugged and kissed plenty, but then Festuscato would just berate himself for stupidity.  Why did he ever imagine he should wait for Gaius to marry them.  His only consolation was by the end of the voyage, she seemed as frustrated as him. 

When they sailed in on the morning tide, they found everyone there, waiting for his arrival.  The elf Lord Atias stood with the four horsemen decked out in their dragon tunics.  Dibs and all ten of his men were present with Marcellus and a well-worn woman who had to be Marcellus’ wife.  She stood next to Emma, and Felix and the children were with them.  Gaius, it appeared, had been elevated to cardinal, the Abbot of Marmoutier, the name given to Saint Martins looked happy, and Pope Leo himself stood with them.  Festuscato kissed the Pope’s ring and the Pope hugged Morgan and whispered, “Thank you, thank you.”

At the pope’s insistence, they were married that day in Saint Peters Basilica, the one commissioned by Constantine, the Pope himself presiding, and all Leo could say to Morgan was “Thank you, thank you.”

Gaius explained to the bewildered woman.  “Festuscato’s indiscretions are legendary.  Three popes, Celestine, Xystus, and now Leo, could only look at me and shake their head,” he spoke brightly.  “We started to fear no woman would ever get him to marry and settle down, so congratulations.”

“He is all I want,” she confessed quietly.  “But I know he has work to do that the rest of us can hardly comprehend.”

“A little advice,” Gaius confided.  “Sometimes it is better not to ask.”

Festuscato bundled Morgan up on a carriage and they headed for his home. Morgan finally got to ask something when she caught her breath.  “Are you rich or something?”

“Very,” he said.  “Want to spend it all?”

She just grinned.

Everyone went elsewhere so the couple could reach the Agitus house on the Appian Way and have the night to themselves.  They all had plans to call within the next week, but for the present, they left the couple alone.  It turned March, the spring started blooming, and though the couple had only known each other for six months, both felt it more than enough time and they were beyond ready.  As they entered the house, they found men with knives waiting for them.  Huns, Festuscato thought.  Morgan looked to be in shock.

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

MONDAY

Romance is nice, but Attila is not finished with Rome. Monday, The Last Gasp.

*

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 4 of 6

The travelers left as early in the morning as they could, which meant when Berry and her two boys were ready.  Hans proved a patient young man, expecting first thing in the morning to be a relative phrase, even with Lavinia, Boston, Sukki, Nanette, and Alexis all helping.  Nanette and Sukki eventually went out to help with the horses.  Too many moms just added to the confusion and provided too many distractions.

Hans hitched up his family wagon, and checked the harness on his ox three times, just to be sure.  He talked casually with Lincoln and Lockhart about life in Dacia.  He talked with Katie and Tony about the Roman Empire, while Tony imitated Hans by checking the hitch on Ghost three times.  Decker and Elder Stow did their best to sit on the front porch and watch the people in the street.  They made little commentary.  Decker mostly chewed on some local version of jerky.  Elder Stow mostly fiddled with his equipment.

Bragi came back from checking on the bird when the group finally got ready to pull out.  He stood with Karina and the girls on the front porch and waved.  Boston especially returned the wave and shouted good-bye but moved to the front before Lockhart or Katie yelled at her.

Once out of town, Boston and Sukki took their regular position out front, and pushed ahead now and then, even if they only planned to follow the road.  Decker and Elder Stow did not wander far out on the wings, being in what they considered friendly territory.  Two soldiers rode at the very front where Lincoln, Alexis, Tony, and Nanette grouped up at the head of the line.  They talked and laughed most of the way, though the soldiers probably did not understand most of what they talked about.

Hans and his family wagon came next, trailing two horses he and Lavinia could ride, if needed, while Berry moved the boys and the wagon off the road.  Berry, Lavinia, and the boys presently rode in the wagon with plenty of blankets and cushions against the rock bumps and potholes in the dirt road.  Hans had the Latin equivalent of Haw and Gee down pretty well, but he did not have to say much.  The ox seemed content to follow the contours of the road.  Hans did not have to use the goad stick very often either, as long as the ox kept moving and kept up.

Katie and Lockhart took a turn driving the traveler’s wagon. Ghost the mule did not mind the slow pace, being able to go only as fast as the ox in front; and the ox only went as fast as Hans walking.  The fairies Willow and Reed traveled with the couple, and those four were the only ones who talked about giant trouble and which lesser spirit might be responsible.  It felt like something kept their minds focused and on track.

Lockhart finally decided it had to be the wraith.

“But no god would endow such a wicked creature with such power,” Willow protested.

Lockhart shook his head.  “Ashtoreth, Moloch, Asherah, Baal, or any number of others might have done it before going over to the other side, as you say, in reference to the death of the gods.”

“Not all of the gods cared for us,” Katie slowly came to agree with the idea.  “In this jurisdiction, maybe Eris or Hecate.”

“Maybe Loki?” Reed suggested, but Katie shook her head and Lockhart spoke.

“No.  Loki did not seem to me to be stupid enough to empower a wraith.  He did not strike me as the vindictive type.”

“Baldur,” Katie whispered, but Willow spoke over top.

“He could be vindictive, but he always liked to stick around and see how his wicked schemes worked out.”

“True,” the others agreed, and Lockhart took a moment to look back.

They were being followed by six more soldiers, an honor guard for the brother of Mother Greta, wife of the former governor of the province.  They did not expect trouble from the locals, though the people did not seem happy with the current Roman governor, Marcus Italicus.  But sometimes, outsider Dacians or Scythians of one sort or another snuck over the border in small raiding parties to see what they might steal, and the way the travelers headed would skirt the gold and silver fields in the province, the place where the raiders mostly turned up.

Lunch, with plenty of fruits and vegetables to make Alexis, Sukki, and Elder Stow happy, seemed more like a three-hour picnic beside the road than the typically efficient, mostly game-shot lunch of the travelers.  For some reason, neither the travelers nor the soldiers seemed worried about giant beasts in the wilderness, which would have been very odd if any of them had the presence of mind to think about it.

After lunch, Lincoln and Alexis took a turn with the wagon, and Reed stayed with them to talk.  Willow rode in Katie’s horse’s mane.  She said, the idea of an elf turned human to marry a human made her uncomfortable.  Lockhart laughed.

###

Greta pushed her group.  They got past Aquae that first evening, and Greta found a bath to luxuriate in.  On the first day the travelers moved, Greta wanted to reach Apulum, home of the legion fort.  It would be another two days after that, over and around the hills, to reach Potassia.   She hoped without dragging a wagon, they might make it to Potassia in a day and a half.  She wanted to get there before or at least at the same time as the travelers.

They made it to Apulum that day, but after dark.  They tried to sneak into an inn, unnoticed.  Greta forgot.  It turned out to be the inn where she saved the life of a girl raped by Roman soldiers.  The girl had since grown and married.  The soldiers lost their heads.  But Greta forgot, and now there would be no hiding.  The whole town would probably turn out in the morning.

As for Darius, he hardly got in the door when he got noticed by several legionnaires.  He stayed up most of the night drinking and talking with most of the legion commanders who either privately complained about the new procurator, Marcus Italicus, or reminisced about how much better things were when Darius took temporary command of the legion and the governorship in the province.

Greta had to hold audience in the morning, as she suspected.  They only escaped for the road in the end after she said she rode on an errand of mercy and had to get going.  They escaped around noon, a whole half a day late, and Darius, who napped in the morning, was in no condition to ride hard and make up the lost time.

Greta spent most of that afternoon calling to the goddess Rhiannon in her heart, and sometimes with her mouth, but for some reason, Rhiannon did not answer her.

###

The travelers stopped for the night about half-way to Napoca and settled into a continuation of their picnic lunch.  They had good conversations and plenty of laughter.  Only Lockhart appeared to remain worried about the wraith and what giant predators might be lurking about in the wilderness.  Something nagged at him, and he could not help the way he felt.  The rest of the travelers seemed content to let the soldiers take the night watch, but Lockhart insisted on the regular watch for everyone.  No one honestly complained.  It had become their routine.  But only Elder Stow caught some sense of Lockhart’s concern.  He promised to set his screen device for quick deployment if that should prove necessary.

The following morning, the same morning that Greta left Aquae for the legion fort at Apulum, Boston and Sukki, sat on a log to watch the sunrise.  They talked knowingly about the way Decker and Nanette appeared to be hitting it off.

“You know,” Boston said.  “Since Nanette is our sister now, it is our duty to tease her, only not too much because she is a sensitive girl.”

Sukki felt a slight nudge in her spirit.  “Wait,” she said, and her eyes felt drawn to the grass.  “Wait,” she repeated, stood up, and kept rising until she floated twenty feet in the air.  Boston gasped.  Sukki pushed the power she had been given out of her hands.  She felt it and did it deliberately this time.  The result was a big smoldering spot in the tall grass, and Sukki floated back to the ground without actually realizing she flew.

Lavinia, who had gotten up to get breakfast started, and both soldiers came running over.  They found thirty feet of serpent in the grass, now missing its head.  It looked big enough to easily swallow a couple of people.

“A viper of some kind,” Lavinia decided.  “Very poisonous.”

“But they don’t get this big,” one soldier protested.

“I once saw a Black Sea Snake that size,” the other soldier whispered.

“Way to go Sukki,” Boston praised her sister, even as Sukki realized she flew and got excited.

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 3 of 6

Greta, Mavis, Darius, and their small troop of soldiers left the city, but not at first light.  Greta had to settle things at home before she could go anywhere.  The sleeping children were easy enough to kiss, and Selamine, their nurse, would watch them well.  Father and Mother were another issue.

Father sat up, awake in his bed.  That was not unusual, as he woke and slept at odd hours.  Mother sat by the bed, nodding from exhaustion, until Greta came in.  Greta kissed her father and explained what she would be doing.

“Friends of mine.  Ancient friends appeared in the north and are coming down to meet me. But they are in trouble, and I have to go to them, or they may not survive the journey.”

“Appeared?” Mother interrupted.

“Like the gods.  They appeared out of nowhere,” Greta said.

“Trouble?”  Mother did not like the sound of that.

“I will be fine.  It is them I am worried about.  Lord knows they will not stay in Porolissum where they are safe.  I am sure they will try to bring me the terrible news as quickly as possible.”  She began to think out loud.  “Maybe I can reach Willow and convince Hans and Berry to go with them.  That should slow them down so I can get there.”

“But Greta, what about your father,” Mother protested, no doubt still thinking about the trouble.  “You need to stay and take care of him.”

Greta looked at her father, and he gave it his best half-smile.  He tried to talk, but the words slurred, and everyone strained to catch the gist of it.  “I once tried to stop you from going into the haunted forest.  I learned my lesson.  You do what you must, Mother Greta.”

Greta leaned over to give her father another kiss.  A tear formed in her eye.  “You just be here when I get back.”  She turned to leave, but Marcus, her five-year-old came racing into the room and jumped into her arms.  She said, “Ugh,” loudly, as she caught his embrace.  Selamine followed, carrying two-year-old Hildi, and Greta wondered what Marcus did this time.

Darius came in.  “The troop is ready,” he reported.  Mavis followed him and brought Greta’s well-worn red cloak.

Greta put Marcus down, and put her foot down in such a way, the boy thought it safest to go stand by his grandmother.  “Darius.  Mavis and I need our horses.  We will not be riding in the wagon.  Mavis, get the cook up and get something for the road.  Selamine, you have the children, and Marta can help watch the little ones.  Tell Gaius I expect him to help Johannes with the house and grounds, and he better be a good help, or I will hear about it.  Mother take care of Father.  There, did I forget anyone?”

People shook their heads.

Greta walked to the door, walked back to give her mother a kiss, tussled Marcus’ hair, and kissed Hildi’s cheek on the way out where she raised her voice.  “At this rate, we will be lucky to make it to Aquae by nightfall.”  More softly, she added, “Well, at least I can get a good bath there.”

###  

In the late afternoon, the travelers arrived at a big house in town.  The fairies, Willow and Reed stayed with Katie and Lockhart.  The young fairies, Icechip and Snowflake raced ahead to loudly announce their arrival.

Two women sat on the front porch, sewing and talking.  The older one, a beauty in her mid-thirties, introduced herself as Karina, Bragi’s wife.  It was her house, she said, greatly expanded since they had some trouble on the border some years earlier.  The younger one in her mid-twenties, almost too beautiful for words, was Berry, Han’s wife.  Lincoln had to explain that Hans and Bragi were Greta’s brothers.

“Welcome,” Karina said.  “I’m sorry the men are not here to greet you properly.  Nad-fia!  come here and greet our guests.  My daughters, Nadia and Sofia.”  The twins, five-year-old girls were sneaking off, but came back with sour expressions on their faces until they saw Willow.  They beamed for the fairy.  Apparently, Icechip and Snowflake were old news.

“Karina has girls.  I have boys,” Berry sighed and pointed to the two at her feet.  “Lucas is four.  Andri is two. And Lavinia is the best help in the world.  I don’t know what I would do without her.”  Lavinia, the young elf, blew at the hair that had broken loose from her bun and straggled down in her eyes.  She tried to smile but caring for two young boys was dirty business.

Boston removed her own glamour of humanity and stepped up to encourage the girl.  Lavinia recognized her, lowered her eyes, and said, “Princess.”  Boston did not appear to know how to respond.  Sukki grinned for her, and after a moment, Nanette joined in the grin.

“More like a Disney Princess,” Alexis said with a grin of her own, as she, Katie, and Willow followed Karina and Berry inside.  Boston stuck out her tongue, even if Sukki and Nanette did not understand the reference.  The men, Tony, Lincoln, and Lockhart had to take a turn with the horses, once Berry pointed out where to take them.

Caw!

Something very big, like a giant Raven flew overhead.  The men were taken by the size of the shadow. The women also looked and dropped their jaws at the size of the thing.  Lavinia grabbed the two-year-old and hugged him, while the four-year-old shouted the second century Latin version of “Cool.”

Decker and Elder Stow stood between the two groups, and Decker pointed to where he could barely make out the wraith, leading the bird.  She appeared so pale in the glaring light of the setting sun, she almost looked invisible.

“If she sky-writes Surrender Dorothy, I’ll kill her,” Decker said.

“We probably need to,” Elder Stow agreed, not understanding the reference.  “But I think the big bird needs to come first.”

Both men got their weapons.  Elder Stow kept his handy after the bear.  Decker never let his get out of reach.  Two men ran up in time to see Elder Stow fire and slice the sky with his weapon. The energy stream stopped moving when the bird head fell in the street.  The bird body fell on a house several blocks away.

Meanwhile, Decker laid down a pattern of fire.  He tried to lead the wraith, like a hunter might lead a bird in flight.  He did not imagine he hit the wraith, but he heard her shriek and race off into the light.  Decker would have to fire into the setting sun, so he lowered his rifle.

The younger man shouted, “Wow.  What kind of weapons are those?  Where did you get them?  Can I see them?”  Decker shook his head while the older one asked a question.

“Where did the bird fall?”  He eyed the bird head, not a hundred yards away.

“Probably on a building,” Elder Stow said.  “I hope nobody got hurt.”

“Great!” the older one threw his hands up.  “The magistrate will blame me, and I’ll have to clean it up.”

“Free food,” Decker said. “Unless you charge so much per pound.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” the older one said, rubbing his beard in anticipation.

“Come on in,” The younger one said.  “I want you to meet the wives.”

Elder Stow and Decker followed without mentioning that they already met.  Boston followed after the boys got settled, and the other men followed after the horses had their turn.  Lockhart made an announcement when he ducked under the door lintel and came inside.

“We can’t stay here.  It is for your own protection,” he told Karina, Berry, Hans, and Bragi.  Willow, in her big size, clearly the most beautiful of them all, responded.

“Lady Greta suggested you might stay here until she can arrive, but I told her about the bird, and she said you should meet her in Potassia in three days.  She is riding up to meet you, and she says, be careful.”

“We will go with you,” Hans said, reaching for Berry’s hand.  “We wat to see Father.  He is sick and may be dying.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Alexis said.  “Maybe I can help.”

Hans shook his head.  “Greta calls it a stroke.”

“What about the children?” Katie asked.

“Lavinia will come to help with the boys,” Berry said.  “Karina and her children will be staying here for now.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Karina confirmed.

“Yes,” Bragi, the older brother agreed.  “I’ll have to stay and clean up the bird.”

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

MONDAY

The travelers and their new friends head for the midpoint in Dacia, but are followed by the wraith, and Greta tries to get there in time. Next time. Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.3 Down to Egypt, part 5 of 6

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

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

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

“Invisible, mostly,” Decker said.

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

“They seem to be gathering,” Decker noticed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

“Are you ready?” Elder Stow sounded impatient.

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

“Where did that gnome go?” Decker asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Katie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 4 of 6

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

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

“Decker. Any movement?” Lockhart asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Absolutely,” Boston responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We have prisoners.”

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

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

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

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

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 3 of 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is that?” Alexis asked.

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

“Gifted by Artemis,” Arias explained.

“Artemis would help,” Katie said.

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

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

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

“Great.  Wonderful,” people said.

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

“Thank God,” Alexis said.

“Have they stopped moving?” Lockhart wondered.

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

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

“Rachel will help,” Sophia said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gott-Druk?” Sophia asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And Boston?” Arias asked.

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

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

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

Boston grinned.

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But now we got no money.”

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

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

“Then what?” Mylo asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

*

M3 Gerraint: Tara to Avalon, part 2 of 4

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

“Gobinu’s work,” Macreedy said.

“And we helped,” Luckless interjected.

“One will do,” Macreedy finished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long is the journey?”  Gwynyvar asked.

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

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

“When it stops howling,” Luckless said.

Gwynyvar turned a very confused face toward Gerraint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerraint paused before he spoke.  “Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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