R5 Gerraint: Danes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Deerrunner?” Arthur asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do I look like Gerraint?”

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

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

Arthur paused.  “I don’t know.”

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

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

“Who was that blond?” Meryddin asked.

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

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

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Wednesday…………Yes, WEDNESDAY, again

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

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R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 3 of 3

“No.  I said, no.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ahem.”  Hersecles cleared his throat.

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

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

“When was that?” Marcus asked.

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

“What did she do?’ Gaius asked.

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

“What a marvelous idea,” Marcus said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus kicked the table.  He knew she was right.

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

“Did I?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MONDAY

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

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R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lord Marcus,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mostly good,” Marcus said.

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

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

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

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

“I like that,” Marcus said.

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

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

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

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

“Me, too?” Thissle asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are Avalon,” Yin Mo countered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He killed the night creatures,” Thissle said.

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

“Many more.” Yin Mo said.

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

“Can I see?” Marcus asked.

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

R5 Greta: And Back Again, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greta looked at her while she took one to try.

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

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

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

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

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

“So just call me Greta,” she said.

R5 Greta: Usgard Above Midgard, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 1 of 3

Greta and Berry helped Hans to the table, and then Fae and Berry worked on waking him enough to feed him while Greta had her fill.  The food tasted very good, full of cold fruit, steaming vegetables and plenty of sweets, not unlike the hag’s table, but this was substantial and would fill the body to satisfaction.  Then, something else came up about the food of the little ones which Greta did not remember at first because she felt much too hungry to think.  Besides, Bogus distracted her by mumbling again.

“I was trying to bump her off,” he said.  “I sent her to the hag, pushed the wolf in her direction, and drew her into the wyvern swamp so they could suck the life out of her.  When all that failed, and it makes sense now, I put her into the hands of the clunker humans.  Those brutes like to kill everything they can get their hands on, but even they failed to do her in.  Bee stings and locust plagues!  Then when she comes for the boy, I figure if I can’t get her killed, at least maybe I can scare her away, but no!  She scolds the ogre, sends the disembodied home and gets her boy, and all on the same day. I can’t even make time fly by!  But no wonder.  I’ve been trying to kill my own goddess and scare the beeswax out of my own granddaughter.  Why, I’ll be the laughingest spirit in forever plus two!”

“Excuse me.”  Gorse spoke up.  Greta felt nearly full by the time he approached, temporarily sating her ravenous appetite.  “Excuse me.” He repeated and touched her sleeve.

“Yes Gorse,” she said, and she took the liberty to smile and stroke his red beard which made him turn crimson.  With his hat in his hand he did look rather like Snow White’s Bashful with a red beard.

“It was me and Ragwart who convinced Bogus to save your brother.  She’s a woman who ought to know better, we said, um, if you follow me, but he is just a boy child and ought not to get killed yet.”

“Ragwart?” Greta looked up.

“That’s mostly true.”  Ragwart confirmed.  “But then Bogus thought he ought to dance for months, or maybe as much as a week and think it no more than a few minutes.  Why, he would have been no more than an old bag of bones by the time he got done if Bogus had his way.”

“Say!” Gorse just thought of something. “How did you get Bogus to change his mind?  That is powerful hard to do, you know.”

“But since you have been eating our food, I guess it really does not matter.”  Ragwart said, and he and Gorse began an excited little dance of their own, as if they had played a great trick on the humans and were very proud of themselves.

“That’s it,” Greta said out loud.  “Once you eat the food of life, the food of the little spirits of the earth, you are their captive forever, or until they tire of you.”  Gorse and Ragwart looked delighted, but Greta merely looked at the others.  “I guess that means Hans will just have to stay with me, is all.”

The imps stopped dancing and Bogus stopped mumbling long enough to come over and begin whispering to them.  Fae spoke up while she and Berry, big sized, helped Hans.

“I don’t mind,” she said.

“Don’t mind what?” Berry asked before she realized Fae was not talking to her.

“I don’t mind being captive to the Vee Villy,” Fae said.  “If I can spend whatever precious time I have left with them, well, I always wanted to know and that part of me always felt empty.”

“But you are one quarter Fee.”  Greta said. “I don’t know if the food will affect you like that, though it may fill some of the empty part.”

Fae looked sad for a moment.  “But what about you and Hans.” she asked.

“Me?”  Greta laughed.  “I am about as captive to the little ones as anyone can get, and I have been for about forty-six hundred years.”

“Yes, of course.” Fae understood.

“As for Hans,” Greta started, but Berry interrupted.

“Oh, can I keep him?” she asked.  “I like him much, a lot, and he is very handsome, too.”

Fae and Greta looked at each other.  “We’ll see,” Greta said.  “Only right now we need to get back to the village.  It will be dark soon enough.”  Fae nodded in agreement.

At that moment, there came a sudden flash of light and a real fairy appeared by the table. The difference between her and Berry, when Berry got small, was striking.  This fairy had the veritable glow of life about her, shining in gold and silver sparkles which danced free of her wings, hair and finger tips.  Her every feature looked sharply distinguished, and yet she remained hard to see in some sense.  Every time Hans focused on her she seemed to move. She actually stayed quite still.  The human eyes had the problem, and even Fae had to squint to keep the fairy in focus

“My Lady.” The fairy curtsied in mid-air. Greta, of course, could see her perfectly.

“Please get big, Thissle.”  She knew the fairy’s name without thinking about it, and indeed, when she thought about it, she found she knew all about this lovely fee.  Thissle got big, but Bogus and the boys removed their hats and took a step back.  She appeared a beautiful woman of twenty-nine, so to speak.  “Where is your troop?”  Greta asked, knowing the answer full well.

“They have moved on, a hundred mortal years ago, to green the snows of the North.”  Thissle explained softly in her full-grown woman’s voice.  “Oh, my Lady.”  Thissle tried hard not to cry and everyone felt it.  Gorse had to blow his nose, twice.

“I don’t know if I can give you what you want.”  Greta said, but her own heart started breaking and she knew she had to try. “Thornbottom!”  She called, and the little sprite appeared because he had to. He looked smaller than Bogus, though not nearly as small as Thissle in her normal size.  Bogus and his boys obviously thought little of the sprite, but Thissle clearly loved him with all her heart, and he loved her with equal fervor. He appeared very cute.  Greta wanted to invite him to sit on her knee, but Thornbottom thought to speak first.

“That would be a great honor,” he said.  “But my name is not accidental.”  And indeed, he looked covered with thorns and prickles, much like a porcuipine.

“And that little thing has kept you apart all of these years?” Greta asked.

“Not so little, Lady,” Thornbottom said.  “But I won’t horrify you with the details.”

“Do you love him?” Greta asked and Thissle said, absolutely, and no one needed Fae to tell them that she was speaking the truth. “And will you be a good wife for him.”

“Yes, I will do my very best,” Thissle said.

“And do you love her?”  She asked Thonbottom.

“More than all my life,” he answered.

“And will you be a good husband?”  Greta asked.

“I will be the best I can,” Thonbottom answered plainly and as true as anyone ever spoke.

“Hold hands.” Greta told them.  “I will try.  I cannot promise.”

“We understand,” Thornbottom said.  “The gods never make promises.”

Thissle got on her knees and Greta saw that even holding hands could be hard.  She got pricked by one little spike on the back of Thornbottom’s hand and a small drop of precious fairy blood formed there, but she looked brave.

Greta, meanwhile heard advice that came on the time wind.  “Imagine ordering the colors of the rainbow.”  The voice said.  “Show the bats how to see without seeing and teach the waters to make sculptures in lime. Paint the sky at sunset and sing to the moon to raise the tide.”  Greta understood and stilled her mind.  She did not strain or stress or try to do anything at all.  She simply understood or perhaps decided how things needed to be, and she decided that was how they were, and when she opened her eyes, she saw Thornbottom and Thissle exactly as she decided.

Thornbottom got a little bigger, and Thissle got very much smaller, though again, not nearly as small as she used to be in her normal fairy size.  They had qull-like hair, still prickly, but not nearly the deadly spikes of before, and the backs of their hands and tops of their feet were more like rounded knobs and not at all sharp to the touch.  Both were richly dressed as if for a wedding, which it was, and Thornbottom looked as cute as ever, while Thissle looked no less beautiful.

Thissle and Thornbottom let out squeals of delight and began to dance, hand in hand and arm in arm.  Fae became full of tears and Berry spoke.  “I hope I am that beautiful when I marry Hans,” she said.

R5 Festuscato: The Sword in the Stone, part 1 of 2

It got closer to July fifteenth before everyone gathered.  The monks hoped to keep everyone housed and fed, but after the generous donation Lord Agitus gave for the building of Saint Paul’s Church, the Archbishop said it was the least they could do.

Festuscato spent that last month going over his list and checking it twice.  Pinewood gave him the list of young men and Lords that were expected.  After the success against the Huns and at York, quite a few were expected. Festuscato felt a little concerned about the Saxons, Angles and Hellgard’s older brother, the self-proclaimed King of the Jutes, but he tried to think positive.

All the men gathered around the courtyard that would be laid between the Church and the Monastery.  Right at the moment, it was just a big open space with a big stone in the middle.  A loadstone Bogus found and Dumfries provided proved a strong enough magnet to hold the sword.  The slot had been prepared, and Caliburn properly fixed so it would stick fast.

“But what if they want Contantine or his son to pull the sword?”  Festuscato got concerned.

Bogus the dwarf and Dumfries the Dark elf went off for a while to work on that problem. What they came up with was a spell to temporarily remove the spell that allowed Caliburn to be caught by the magnet. “But I don’t know if it will work more than once,” Bogus admitted.  It was not the way Festuscato remembered it in Gerraint’s time, but he dared not interfere with history.  It would have to do.

The first order of business became the sword.  Festuscato stood at the center of a circle of men and raised his hands.  Caliburn appeared in his hands, even as he glanced to the side and saw Meryddin eyeing him closely.  Gorund the Jute, Hellgard’s brother, scoffed and said he had a magician who could do better tricks than that.

“This is the sword of Britannia,” Festuscato ignored the Jute and went on with the program. “The one who wields this sword in the rightful high chief and dux bellorum of all Britannia.”  He spun and slipped the sword into the cut so it looked like he actually shoved the sword into the solid rock.  He felt it grab when it got about half-way in, and he got the message from Dunfries that it was all set.  No one would to pull it out if he had to reach up and hold on to it himself.

“Gentlemen. By all means, be my guest.”  He invited men to try it.

Cador and Ban could not pull it out, but someone said that was a set-up. and they were just pretending.  Gildas said, “I won’t pretend.”  He spit on his hands and hurt himself trying to tug on it.  Eudof, the Welshman also tried, and then Meryddin stepped up, and people paid attention.

“Trickery,” Meryddin announced.  He sprinkled some kind of dust on the stone and chanted.  Festuscato worried for a second, but he heard from Dumfries again, speaking right into his head, that he tried the wrong sort of spell and would not overcome the magnet.  Meryddin tugged, but the sword stayed stuck fast.

One of the Saxons stepped up.  “Can’t expect a Celt to do a man’s work.”  He laughed, but he couldn’t budge the sword.

“Weakling.” Gorund the Jute stepped up and got mad when he could not pull out the sword.  He pulled his own sword to hack at the sword in the stone, but a blue light hit him in the chest, knocked him back ten feet, and knocked him senseless.

R5 Festuscato: The Hun in the House, part 1 of 3

April fifteenth arrived, and Festuscato dared not wait any longer.  “Tax day,” he called it.  “Time to pay the piper.”

He had five hundred Amoricans on horseback and roughly five hundred each in the Welsh, British and Cornish contingents.  Two thousand men still did not match the Huns in numbers, and they came nowhere near matching the Huns in skills and experience.  Any direct confrontation would get Festuscato’s men slaughtered. He had to be careful.

When Megla first arrived in the fall of 438, he secured Londinium and the southern Thames. This not only gave him a quick escape route back to the continent, but it gave him a first-rate port to be supplied from the continent, and to bring in fresh troops as needed.  He still had a spare five hundred men there in reserve, and he spent that first winter there.  Then, the spring of 439 he spent burning the southern British coast from Southampton, all the way to Canterbury and east to where the Angles were building settlements. Megla did not seem to care if the people were British or German.  He became an equal opportunity oppressor.

In June, having brought the costal lands to their knees, he began to test inland.  A thousand men burned their way to the hills of central Wales.  A thousand men tore up Leogria and the Midlands.  A thousand men drove to the east coast and threatened York.  They returned in the fall to winter in the lands of the Raven, but they found some resistance along the way.  Julius did a brilliant job of disrupting supplies and communications.  Megla took a risk dividing his forces the way he did, and the dragon made him pay. Most of the summer, Megla had no idea what happened outside of his own little group.  The dragon kept turning up everywhere, draped over the dead bodies of his men, and when Gurt got returned to him, plummeting out of the sky, it about became the last straw.

On the first of April, Festuscato and Constantine risked the last of the storms of winter and sent the bulk of the Amorican troops, some fifteen hundred foot soldiers under Constans, by ship to crawl carefully along the coast to Londinium. Their objective was to drive out Megla’s men and secure the city and the port in time for Easter.    Festuscato’s personal communication network told him they were successful, and by the end of April, they began to move up, a thousand Amoricans and Londoners, to hold and fortify the southern end of the ford of the ox. A monastery complex, that Megla spared for some reason, sat there.  Those buildings became the headquarters, and the woods around the monastery provided the lumber for the walls, spikes and traps against the oncoming horses of the Huns.

On May first, Fetuscato, Constantine and King Ban, with a mere hundred men on horse, lead three thousand Welsh and Cornish foot soldiers along the inland road that followed the flow of the Thames.  They made a spectacle of themselves, and the British people on those lands and on the coast cheered, and many took up arms and joined them with dreams of revenge. The Huns, for their part had good scouts and spies, and they were first rate soldiers regardless of what history taught.  Megla quickly caught wind of the movement and scoffed at an army that would so broadcast its every move.  He knew there were a thousand British foot soldiers north of his position, but he counted them as useless.  He would go south and send a thousand secretly, as he supposed, to where the river could be crossed, behind the marching behemoth.  With his main force of two thousand, he planned to cross at the oxen ford and meet the enemy head on, while the other thousand struck from the enemy’s rear.  It was a good plan, as far as it went.

Festuscato had certain knowledge of the enemy movements, but he only shared what was vital with Julius.  Julius had the cavalry north of the Thames.  They left a few days after the foot soldiers, and they moved through the fields and woods with as much stealth as they could muster.  Julius had his original three hundred working well together by then, and they had some experience scouting out the enemy.  He did not get fooled when a thousand Huns headed in his direction, looking for an easy ford across the river.

Julius and Marcellus had assessed the horsemen and divided them in half.  He gave the men who were still relatively new to this horseback business to Hywel, the Welshman and made Weldig of Lyoness his lieutenant. He assigned Tiberius and Dibs to assist them.  They held their horses in reserve and stayed by the river, hidden in the trees, prepared to keep the Huns from crossing.  Meanwhile, Julius and Marcellus with the thousand best horsemen waited in the path of the oncoming Huns.  Cador of Cornwall went with him, and Emet of York became his lieutenant.  They stood at the edge of the trees just beyond a wide-open field.  Everyone trusted Julius, but he only hoped he rightly guessed the path the Huns would take.

After not too long, Lord Pinewood flew up to land in the mane of Julius’ horse.  “What news?”  Julius spoke first with a glance at Cador who kept his seat and stared.

“The Huns will be coming through the trees on the far side any time now.”  Pinewood saluted the Lord of Cornwall.  “Good to meet you.  I like the Lion.  Good choice.”

“Th-thank you,” Cador stammered.  “So, Festuscato?”  He looked at Julius.

“Strictly human,” Julius responded.

“Human, poor fellow,” Pinewood shook his head.

“But.” Julius continued.  “He has made it clear that we won’t always have Lord Pinewood and his people around to help us out and we have to learn to do for ourselves.  He said we need to fight our own battles.”

“Pinewood’s people?”

“Of course,” Pinewood said.  “What else would we be?  We aren’t animals.”

“Plants?” Julius teased.

“Your wife, maybe,” Pinewood responded as two riders came roaring up.

“Lord Julius.” The rider from Wales spoke.  The rider from Cornwall acknowledged his Lord. “The Huns are about a quarter mile in the trees across the field.  They should be coming out any time.”

“Thank you,” Julius said.  “Good work. Report to your group.”

“Sir.”  Both riders spoke and took off like two men in a race.  Emet of York came up alongside, and Marcellus trailed.  Pinewood excused himself and took off too fast for the eye to follow.

“News?” Emet asked.

“Yes,” Cador said. “We need to fight our own battles,” and Emet looked at him as if to wonder why it might be otherwise.

When the Huns began to straggle out from between the trees, Julius raised his spear over his head and shook it.  Word went quietly up and down the line to get ready.  Julius and Marcellus made sure there were Plenty of the three hundred spaced between the thousand to help keep the new men in line and focused on target, to await orders.  All it would take was a couple of overanxious fools to ruin the whole thing.  They waited some more, and Emet got antsy when the lead Huns got close enough to see their faces.

“We want them committed to the open field before we attack,” Marcellus risked a whisper to the man, even as Julius raised his spear again.  After another moment, he tucked it beneath his arm and shouted for the charge.  His immediate group were the first out, but the wave followed out from the center and the Huns were completely unprepared.  It did not take the Huns long, though, to get their own spears and some bows from horseback, and the battle was on.

A horn sounded out from the trees, and the Huns that were scattered across the field made every effort to get back to the woods.  Julius let them go.  His men were instructed not to follow the Huns into the woods.  Horses were only as good in the woods as the men riding them, and Julius had no illusions about the ridership of his men.  Several pairs of men split off to attempt to track the Huns, but even they were instructed to keep their distance.  “You are no good to us if you get yourselves killed,” Julius reminded them.

They stayed in the field long enough to gather horses and gather their dead.  They tended the wounded enough to staunch the bleeding, but moved as quick as they could to the south.  They had a small village up from the river where the wounded could receive better care and the dead could be prepared for burial.  The village had a Christian Priest and a chapel, and the priest assured them all would be taken care of.  The first pair of riders found them there while the men rested, and the second pair were not far behind.

“It was like you figured,” the Amorican said.  “They circled around to the north and are headed back to the river and the ford.”

“And they have scouts out,” the Briton added.  “It isn’t safe for a couple of yahoos to be out there.”

“Yahoos?” Cador asked.

“A strange sound that carries in the wilderness.  A signal of sorts,” Julius explained.

Cador nodded. “I was thinking we need to get something like that horn where we can signal and we can all understand and respond.”

“Bagpipes,” Emet said.  “British blue. plaid”

“Golden,” Cador argued.  “Like the Cornish Lion.”

Julius ignored them and sent a pair to tell Hywel and Weldig by the river to get ready and stay well hidden.

R5 Festuscato: Nudging the Future, part 2 of 3

The Huns charged the village, only to be stymied by the barriers.  Julius and his three hundred charged the Huns from the rear and killed about a third from behind.  The archers from the village, mostly hunters supplemented by a hundred elves with uncanny accuracy, killed more than a third of the Huns on the first volley.  Half of the survivors quickly scattered across the open fields to the left and into the forest vacated by Julius’ men on the right.  The other half of the survivors got caught up in the melee where the odds were three or four to one against them, so they did not survive for very long.  Julius lost eleven men, Welsh, Cornish, British, Amorican, and a couple of his Romans. Twenty more were wounded.  By the time Bogus the dwarf finished the ones in the woods and Pinewood and his fairies tracked and finished the ones in the fields, the Huns lost the full three hundred.  No Huns survived.

“Not bad,” Marcellus said as he rode up beside Julius and dismounted with him at the village edge.  “A couple more years under Lord Agitus and you may turn into a pretty good officer.”

Julius did not listen.  He found Drucilla, a bow in her hand, looking mighty humble.  “You!”  Julius yelled, and then he appeared to shrug, caught her up in his arms and got lost in her kiss.

Certain gnomes found Gurt and applied a tattoo to the dead man’s chest.  They dressed him in a white sheet with a dragon emblazoned on the front.  When the sun went down again, they got thirty pixies to sprinkle Gurt and some of his men with enough dirt to make the magic effective.  The pixies carried the bodies several miles to the village of the Raven and dropped them like they were dropping bombs over Dresden.  Gurt landed on Megla’s doorstep.  Megla and his chiefs were frightened by the dragon on the sheet and looked all around the sky for signs of a real dragon.  They shouted their fears, until Megla got them quiet.

“So, wise man.” Megla spoke to a druid who sat at the table.  The druid looked like a man in his forties with a beard to his chest that began to hint of gray.  He sat beside the Lord of the Raven who had been completely cowed by the Huns.  “I say this dragon is nothing but a woman,” Megla growled.  “I say in the spring maybe we will fight like the dragon and swallow this female dragon whole.”

The Druid looked up into Megla’s eyes and Megla looked away.  “I once saw two dragons fighting in the daytime sky.  They looked like old lovers, but the male started eating the babies and enraged the female who killed the male.  The female ate the male.  You can take that as you will.  I am only saying what I saw.”

Megla drew up his courage in front of his chiefs.  “Bah. We will eat this dragon come the spring.”  He tore the dragon sheet off of Gurt’s body only to find the dragon tattooed on the body.

Come April first, and Festuscato said two words.  “Two years.”

“But 440 looks like a good year,” Mirowen said, and reveled in the sunlight.  She twirled twice and her smile lit up the morning. Cador came riding in, followed by some twenty men all dressed the same, but to be sure, all of the eyes of the men at the gate and Cador’s men as well were fastened on Mirowen.  She could do that to men.

“I must say,” Constantine came up sporting his new dragon tunic.  “My wife loves her home.  My son has never been happier, says the whole world has opened up before him. But me, I am afraid to think of all the responsibility you have place on my shoulders.  I hope I don’t disappoint.”  Mirowen took a moment to straighten the man’s tunic, properly. “Thank you for the clothes, by the way. Especially for my wife.  You know women and their dresses.  She and Sibelius seem to be hitting it off very well, which saves me some headache at any rate.”

“There,” Mirowen stepped back and smiled.  “You look ready to receive the very court of Avalon itself.”

“Avalon.  I have heard it mentioned.  It is an island you say, off the coast?  By Iona, perhaps, or the Isle of Man?” The man had been studying his map.

“A bit further than that,” Mirowen said, with a look at Festuscato, but a look that never lost her sunshine smile.

Festuscato waved to Cador, even if he was not the person Cador kept looking at.  “You are full of words today,” he told Constantine.

“I am nervous,” Constantine admitted, and Mirowen took the man’s arm and lead him to the stairs to get down off the wall by the Great Hall.  Festuscato followed and imagined a woman that young and beautiful would likely make the old man even more nervous.

King Ban of Benwick stood in the Great hall with some new friends.  Emet came all the way from York.  King Ban’s wife and daughter were also present with some other British women.  Mirowen went straight to them to greet them and make them feel welcomed.

“We have five hundred horsemen with us, and a thousand men afoot in the woods just north of the land of the Raven.  Your spies tell you that Megla and his Huns are arguing about heading south, to Londinium. This would be good, but we are going to be prepared in any case. As a precaution, we brought our wives and children to this place for sanctuary, if you don’t mind.”  Festuscato shrugged and pointed at Constantine.

“Of course,” Constantine shook Ban’s hand.  “You and your families are welcome here anytime.  My wife and the girls will love the company, and we can always squeeze in one more.”

Ban stared and then let out the slightest grin.  “You have been taking lessons from the Roman.,” he said.

“Charity and kindness are never a bad idea,” Festuscato said, before he got interrupted by a big man at the back of the British pack.

“Your men wear the dragon.  You have no idea what a real dragon is like.  We have been plagued by one these past ten years and I was barely able to get enough men to make coming south worthwhile.”

“Prince Aidan of the Highlands,” Ban quickly introduced the man.  Of course, he meant the British Highlands.

“Forgive me, but she is feeding her babies, what there are left of them.  Find out where she is living and bring her some sheep, maybe some cows.  Then she won’t have to hunt and attack your homes.  They sleep for a time between feeding, like hibernating.  The sleep between each feeding will gradually increase as the babies grow older.  It takes patience, I know.”  Aidan had his jaw dropped.  “Oh yes. I know something about dragons, and your mama dragon in particular.  But here, lets meet the others.”

Hywel and Anwyn were there leading the Welsh, and very happy to be back in Cadbury.  They seemed very gregarious and shook hands with the British, the Cornish, the Amorican’s and the Romans, but decided to hold back from the Four Horsemen who stood, guarding the door.  That made Death grin under his helmet.

R5 Festuscato: Nudging the Future, part 1 of 3

By late March in the year 440, men began to return to Cadbury, most after the spring planting. They came from Wales, Britain and Cornwall.  Many had gone home for the winter, but Festuscato had them and trained them until near the end of October when they had to go and help bring in the harvest. This time they did not appear the same straggling, uncertain gaggle of men that came in last July.  Some Welsh, Cornish and Britons seemed to have developed a camaraderie during the training and looked for each other upon return.

“This is good,” Festuscato told Constantine.  “This needs to be encouraged.”  Constantine was above all his number one target for training, and he spent every day pointing things out to the man, all the minute details of how to rule, while his men fetched their wives and families, built a town with a wall around it, and rebuilt the fort, almost from scratch.

Julius had done a fine job keeping the Hun off balance all summer, and not being caught. When Megla settled on the land of the Raven in Leogria for the winter, many of the scouts and patrols the Hun sent out never returned.  Julius and his riders did the grunt work, but this worked mostly thanks to Pinewood and a whole troop of fairies who were much better than the Huns at keeping track of the enemy’s location.

There came a point in Late February where things might have gone badly.  One of Megla’s lieutenants, a man named Gurt, snuck three hundred men out of the Hun camp in the night.  They had figured out where Julius and his men had to be quartered, and the Huns were very good at that kind of figuring.  They were also used to military operations in the winter, and even in deep snow.  That seemed a necessity in the Hun Empire, which covered the steppes from the future Moscow to the future Budapest.  Plenty of snow and long winters there.

The Huns wore white against snow and rode swiftly, with the idea of catching the Romans unprepared.  Their tactics were sound, but Julius did not get fooled.  For one, this being his first real chance at command, he got a bit over zealous and had men out checking the approaches to the village day and night. Even without his fairy spies, he probably would not have been taken unaware.  As it was, he became able to set a trap.

The village sat north of Leogria, on the lands that Festuscato figured would one day be divided between Pelenor’s and Peredur’s families.  They had open fields on the rolling landscape, but not far to the forest.  Gurt did not worry so much about the trees, as he wanted to get his men in position to charge the village at dawn.  He imagined it would be a surprise attack and put an end to the Romans.  But being warned, the village put every wagon, box and barrel they could find to block the road, and set up other obstacles and men to block every other entrance to the town.

Julius took his men to the edge of the trees.  When the Huns got in position, Julius was prepared to come up behind them, and he got excited to think the surprise would be turned on its head.  Thus far, Julius felt proud of his men, all of them, he admitted, but he felt especially proud of his troop of misfits and throw-aways. The Huns were the terror of the western world, challenging and often destroying whole armies of Romans.  They had reduced whole tribes of Germans to subservient status, and it started to look like they might take over the Roman Empire itself, at least in the west.  In the east, the emperor decided to build bigger walls around Constantinople. But here, the men with Julius, who were deemed useless as far as the regular Roman army was concerned, had come head to head with the dreaded Huns, and came out victorious.

Julius wondered about Festuscato.  He seemed such a rich man’s son, and came across with the worst sort of gluttonous, could not care less attitude about life.  But Julius knew appearances could be deceiving.  Maybe it was all a game to him, but Festuscato took it as a game he intended to win.  Where he learned about the military, and how he came up with the idea of training the men on horseback in that way remained a mystery.  But not too much of a mystery, he thought, as Pinewood chose that moment to fly down and land in his horse’s mane, between his horse’s ears. Julius’ horse barely flinched.

“They are in position, as we figured, just below the last dip in the land before the village. They are marvelously trained soldiers. Even their horses are quiet, waiting for the signal.”

“Are the men in the village ready?”  Julius asked.

“Yes, but.” Pinewood looked all around at the humans ready to hit the Huns from the rear.  “Your wife didn’t evacuate.”

“What?” Julius struggled to keep his voice down.

“Lady Drucilla contacted a distant cousin, an elf Lord named Deerunner, and he has brought a hundred bows to stand with the villagers.”  Pinwood rose into the air.  “I better go see that my men are ready,” he said and zoomed off before Julius could react.

“I like your wife,” Marcellus said, as he nudged his horse up beside Julius.

“Stupid and stubborn.”  Jullius shook his head.

“She has a mind of her own, and doesn’t nag you to do everything for her, like she’s a helpless child.”

“You sound like you are speaking from experience,” Julius smiled.

Marcellus changed the direction of the conversation.  “What do you think Lord Agitus will say when he finds out you are married to an elf?”

“You think he doesn’t already know?” Julius asked, and Marcellus shrugged.

“They are mounting for the attack,” a voice came up from around Julius’ feet.  Julius looked down and imagined it was a barrel-chested boy, but for the long beard.

“Thank you,” Julius said, and he raised his spear and shook it in the air.  The men who were not ready, got ready.  The dwarf disappeared.  “Quite a world Lord Agitus has brought us into,” he said calmly.

Marcellus grinned. “Kind of makes living worthwhile.”