R6 Greta: Roman Persuasion, part 3 of 3

An hour before dawn, Greta heard a loud clank on the balcony.  Mavis sprang up and got on the balcony in a flash.  Greta took a bit longer, human that she was.

“It is the centurion.  He wishes to know if we can climb down the rope,” Mavis reported.

Greta took a good look.  They were only three stories up.  She could probably fall from that height on to the cobblestones and survive well enough.  “Tell him we will be coming down in armor, to be safe.”  Mavis directed her voice so only the centurion would hear and then turned to see Greta in the armor of the Kairos, complete with fingerless gloves, boots to her knees, and the Greco-Roman looking helmet that she normally only wore in battle.  She left off the weapons.

Greta wore fairy weave against her skin, under her leather, a miraculous material that could be shaped and colored at a word. Mavis only wore fairy weave, and immediately Greta touched Mavis’ dress and began to thicken the cloth to something more like her leather.  Greta thought, too bad the material could not imitate the chain mail Greta had over her leather.

“Lady,” Mavis protested at Greta’s motherly attention, and Greta stepped back to let the elf do it herself.  Mavis made tall boots and elbow length gloves much like her mistress, but her helmet looked like an American football helmet from the nineteen-thirties.  Mavis left the luxuriously soft weave against her skin, but hardened and stiffened the outside of her outfit into hundreds of overlapping pieces.  It felt like leather, or more like Kevlar, and would be hard for a javelin or arrow to penetrate.  She kept it deep blue as opposed to the rich, deep brown, almost black Greta wore.  She left off the cloak as Greta left off her own cloak.

Mavis took a small brush from some unknown pocket in her clothing and stepped into the room to look in the brass mirror. She painted her lips with a very soft imitation of the same rich blue of her outfit, the same color as her eyes, and then she turned with a smile.  “Ready.”

“I don’t suppose you have pink,” Greta asked as she saw her own reflection.

“Yes, Lady,” Mavis said and pulled several things from her pocket.  They spent the next ten minutes fixing Greta’s face before they went back to the balcony.  Mavis scurried down and did not appear to seriously touch the rope.  Greta, again, moved in a more human way.  She checked to make sure the metal hook on the end stayed secure, and then she climbed down slowly, hand under hand.

Alesander paced, dressed in plain traveling clothes and a long flowing cape in hunter green.  “Why does it always take you women so long to get ready?” he asked, but it sounded like a rhetorical question.

He started right out for a side gate in the fort and stuck to the shadows most of the way.  The women followed quietly in his steps.  Mavis changed her fairy weave helmet into a long cape of her own, complete with a soft hood, that she kept down around her shoulders.  She colored it a darker blue than her armor to make a good contrast, though one could hardly tell in the dim light before dawn. Greta sent her own helmet back to Avalon and called for her cloak, the work of Athena herself, which proved proof against many things, including bullets, not that she expected that to be a problem a hundred and fifty-one years after Christ.  She kept the black side out and pulled up her hood to cover her platinum locks which might reveal their position, even in the starlight.

Greta smelled the horses before she saw them. There were five, saddled and ready to ride, and a mule burdened down with all sorts of supplies.  Alesanders’ sidekick, Sergeant Lucius stood there, no surprise, but Sergeant Hermes was unexpected.

“I let the men go in case Captain Ardacles was in a bad mood and decided to charge me with desertion,” Hermes explained.  “But I also sent a reminder that he ordered me to stay with you at all costs.  Those were his exact words, and so maybe he will allow that I am just following orders.”

Greta nodded and watched Mavis smile for the elderly Sergeant.  It made her roll her eyes as she turned to Lucius.  She felt something about Lucius that made her uncomfortable, but at the moment she had no time to puzzle it out.

“Me?” he said.  “I figure I followed Centurion Alesander these last ten years and he always did right by me.  I see no reason to change just because he resigned his commission.”

“You resigned?”  Greta was concerned.

“Not what you think,” Alesander spoke softly. “My time of service finished up a year ago.  It is not unusual for an officer to take some time before his tribune or general urges him to take another term of service.”

“In this case, I suspect General Pontius won’t be happy with you.”

“No,” Alesander admitted.  “But I have some money on account in Ulpia Traiana, er, I should call it Ravenshold, and some in Rome.  Maybe I’ll buy into a gold mine here.  Maybe I’ll take a wife.  I see it hasn’t hurt Lord Darius any.”  Greta grinned at her thoughts.  She really liked Alesander.  He was truly a good and faithful friend.  “We go north?”  He knew enough to ask.

“North,” Sergeant Hermes said as he mounted his horse. “If we ride hard we can be in Potaissa before the General even knows we are missing.”  Greta looked up at the man.  It was two days through the hills and mountains to Potaissa.  Greta felt sure the General would know of their escape by breakfast, or at least by lunchtime.

“I figured we were going north to fetch Miss Berry, your brother Hans, Miss Fae and that strange old fellow, Hobknot,” Alesander said as he also mounted his horse.

Greta looked at Mavis but she pleaded innocence. “No, Lady.  I told no one.”

“Am I that transparent?” Greta groused as she joined them on horseback.  “We go south,” she decided.

“South it is.”  Alesander did not question her.  He knew she had something in mind.  Besides, the General would likely only look north, whether he believed she headed for Porolissum to visit her brother Bragi or further north to seek her younger brother, Hans.  “Stay mounted and covered with your cloaks.  The men at the gate think I am taking out a scouting party to seek out the reported Lazyges raiders.”

“How convenient,” Greta said.

Alesander waited a moment before he responded.  “I was officer of the day, so I set the night watch.”  He spurred up to lead the group.  Greta made Mavis ride next to Lucius so she could ride next to Hermes.

“Lady,” Mavis protested.  “I just meant normal nice.”

“Tiberius.  Open up.” Alesander raised his voice when they approached the gate.

“Sir.”  The big Sergeant responded and the men dutifully opened the gate.  Greta saw an Ichthys tattoo on the arm of the Sergeant and relaxed.  The tattoo remained something he would keep covered in Rome, but out here in the hinterland, no one looked at it twice.

Once outside the gate, Alesander headed them toward the village.  “Anything to fetch?”

Greta shook her head.  She wanted to check on the innkeeper’s daughter but she dared not take the time.  “Hermes,” she said.  “Back the way we came.”

“Just follow the cobblestone road,” Hermes reported. The cobblestones would run out and turn to mud from the recent rain in about a mile, but meanwhile, Greta imagined it should have been a yellow brick road.  Again, she hardly had time to puzzle out where that thought came from because they rode, hard.

Greta thought instead about her husband and children. Gerraint should marry, she decided. She did not know what to do about Festuscato.  If only he was not such a cad.

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

MONDAY

Greta and her friends head for Celtic lands, and seek a guide in the village of the Eagle Clan.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Roman Persuasion, part 2 of 3

In Apulum, Greta paid her respects to General Pontius at the legion fort and then spent the next week in the growing village. She reconciled several land disputes, but like most such things, finding a compromise left no one entirely happy. She renewed her acquaintances with several women trained by her as midwives and in the healing arts, and one older woman who had been trained by Mother Hulda and remembered the dear mother very well.  She presided over a wedding and gathered people to tell the stories of their heritage and remind them of their history.  She felt embarrassed by the requests to hear of her adventure traveling with Hansel through the haunted forest.  She was not one to talk about herself, though in particular, the story of the hag and her oven became well worn.  When she could, she selected stories that emphasized peace and harmony among the various people that made up Dacian blood, but she could feel the resentment like fire sparks that reached for the night sky, and it all came out one night in a local tavern.

It had rained over two days.  The ground stayed wet and the sky still overcast which made the dark night especially dark.  Several Romans ate in a local tavern, drinking and rowdy as soldiers tend to be, but these went overboard.  The innkeeper’s daughter, a young girl of about fifteen summers, got accosted out behind the inn.  She got raped in the dark and left for dead.  She survived, thanks to Greta, but the town then and there prepared to rise up and attack the legion fort, a sure act of suicide.  Greta called for calm and convinced the village elders to let her first seek justice.  After lunch, after it seemed settled that the young woman would survive, she stormed General Pontius’ office, escorted by the Centurion Alesander, the officer of the day.

“The men responsible have been reprimanded,” General Pontius said flatly, as if that should be the end of the discussion.

Not good enough.”  Greta spoke through her teeth.  Mavis held her hand so Greta could not make a fist.  Greta took three deep breaths while the General stared at her, dumbly.  “The only thing that will settle things at this point is crucifixion.”

“What?  Are you mad? These men are Roman citizens, volunteers to come so far from home.  If they get a little excited, we need to allow them some leeway.”

“Rape is not a little thing.”  Greta saw that at least two of the three officers in the room did not disagree with her.  “Your volunteers are here to defend the people and maintain the peace so the province can continue to send grain and gold and precious metals to Rome.  Your volunteers are not here to abuse the people and encourage rebellion.  These men should be crucified as a sign for the people and for your soldiers that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated.”

The general looked up at his officers and the Centurion Alesander dared to speak.  “The headsman’s axe would make the point.”

“You are all mad,” the general said.

Greta took another breath and calmed enough for Mavis to let go of her fist.  She felt she no longer had an option, so she spoke plainly.  “I had to beg the townspeople not to storm the legion fort before I had a chance to seek justice.  Reprimand means nothing.  I am telling you plainly that if these men are allowed to live, the rebellion will begin here and it will be on your head.  I have already written as much to the emperor and to my friend Marcus and to my husband, the governor, and to his senator father.  You remember my friend Marcus, don’t you?  Well, you have today to decide what you will do.  I cannot guarantee what will happen after the sun goes down.”  Greta turned and stormed back out of the room.  She felt sure the four soldiers seated quietly outside the door were the guilty ones.  She hated the killing, but to be sure, there was no other way.

Greta and Mavis went to a room off the great hall of the fort where she expected Alesander to find her.  He stood in the gate when she arrived so they had a chance to talk briefly before she attacked the general.  He asked to see her after.  She paced a little, but eventually calmed down enough to breathe.

Alesander did not come for a long time, but no one bothered them.  When someone did finally come, it was not her friend.  A young tribune asked her to follow him.  He sounded polite, but guarded, and Greta’s senses flared when she looked back at the two legionnaires sent to escort them. She smelled something, but she still felt filled with her feelings about the rape.  She knew the soldiers would not be happy seeing their fellows executed.  She assumed her escort felt that, but in truth she did not look close enough.

“Just so you know,” the tribune said.  “The men have been beheaded in the public square. The soldiers are not happy about it but the message is clear.  There should be no more incidents.”  He stood aside to let Greta and Mavis enter a small bedroom and a second sitting area that had a balcony that looked out over the fort battlements.  The tribune did not follow her in, but stood and spoke from the doorway.  “Meanwhile, you will be kept here.  You will not be writing any more letters, and you will not be allowed to continue your journey.  The general has had a vision from the divine Mithras himself.  You will be kept here until you can be taken under armed escort back to the governor’s residence where you will be kept under guard until your husband and father return to keep you there.”

“Am I a prisoner then?”

“You could say that.”  The tribune closed and locked the door, and Greta did not doubt the two soldiers got posted to guard the door.  She turned toward the balcony.

“Mithras has many firm believers in the ranks of the Roman legions, including General Pontius.  I would guess this is not about forcing his hand.  As much as I hate the killing, the people got their pound of flesh so there will be peace for a while, and the general knows that.”

“The general did not strike me as a stupid man,” Mavis said softly.

“He does not want to be transferred to the Syrian front lines in the war with the Parthians and Persians.  A few heads are better than his head.”

“So, he really had a vision?”

“He knows our journey is not finished, even if he doesn’t know our real goal.  Even though we told him our intention to visit the people in Porolissensis, he obviously knows that is not our final destination.”

“So, he knows.”

Greta nodded and stepped out to the balcony to judge how far away the battlements were and if they could devise a way of reaching them.  At the same time, she imagined the vision actually came from Mithrasis, Miss “stay away.” Greta spoke softly.  “Now I know two things.  One is all the subterfuge about visiting Bragi and the rest did not fool Mithrasis one bit.  The goddess knows we are headed right at her and we have no intention of staying away. The other is, we were right not to trust anyone but each other with the true plans.”  She could be sure of the elf, but Mithrasis appeared clearly capable of turning humans against her.  “At least anyone who is a true believer can be corrupted,” she said quietly.

“Yes, Lady,” Mavis agreed.

Greta thought about the cult of Mithras.  There were seven levels of initiation, which she only knew because a couple of Mavis’ cousins went in under cover.  First was the Crow, Mercury the messenger.  In her vision, she imagined it looked more like a Roc than a raven and she would rather not face the beast if she could help it. Second was the Nymphus, the female groom who called herself Mithrasis.  She stood for Venus, and she was trying to stop her from coming into the north. Third, Mars, the soldier, and Mithrasis could build quite an army.  Not only had the cult penetrated the Roman legions and auxiliaries, but Greta imagined every tribe of Iranian descent, like the Lazyges, Samartians, Scythians in general would be hers to command.  And Greta would walk right into that.  Then came the lion, Jupiter; the Persian Magi that stood for the Moon and the stars; Helios, the sun runner; and the Pater, the father Saturn.

“Oh, what I have to look forward to,” Greta breathed and plopped down on the bed.

R6 Greta: Roman Persuasion, part 1 of 3

Captain Ardacles decided to escort Greta himself. “I did not want to risk your safety with a lesser officer,” he said.  Then he had a fit when Greta refused to ride in the wagon.  She had her horse saddled, and the horse Mavis rode as well.  Greta had practiced on horseback, and Mavis was an expert horsewoman, so Ardacles’ childish behavior did not last long.  There really seemed not much he could say or do about it.  Finally, Captain Ardacles assigned his Sergeant, an older man named Hermes, and three guards to stay with the women at all costs. He yelled, “At all costs.”  They tried to box the women in, but there were places on the road where more than two could ride abreast, so that was not always possible.

“Sergeant Hermes,” Mavis attempted to speak sense now and then.  “We are not going anywhere.”  Mavis would have appreciated the chance to let her horse out now and then, at least to trot.

“Right you are, Miss,” the sergeant responded over the sound of plodding horses.  “You are not going anywhere.”

At the end of the day, Greta finally spoke.  “Sergeant.  Since we were good all day, you can get your men to set up our tent and camp, and be quick about it.”

Sergeant Hermes did not know what else to say but, “Yes mum.”

In the morning, he did not even ask.  His men packed up the camp without a word, and Greta confided to Mavis.  “As long as we have to put up with them, we might as well get something out of the deal.

“I think Sergeant Hermes is nice,” Mavis said.

Greta’s eyes narrowed.  “Don’t you start.  We don’t need those kinds of complications”

“Yes, Lady,” Mavis said softly, and lowered her eyes. “I only meant nice.”

Greta nodded and accepted the word on the basis that children, dogs and elves had a kind of sixth sense about people.  She decided not to push the subject.

Shortly after noon, before everyone mounted up for the afternoon ride, the two men sent to the point came riding back in a sweat. “Men on the road,” they reported. “About thirty on foot and armed.”

Captain Ardacles inhaled, but held his tongue when Greta grabbed his arm.  Greta called for her armor.  It fit her perfectly, and included the full array of weapons at her back, even if she did not know how to use them.  The Captain clutched his heart on seeing the transformation.  “Get half your men up the trees on both sides of the road,” Greta ordered.  “Have the other half ride back around the bend in the road.  No hostile moves unless I say so.”

“Now miss—”

“I’m not asking.  That’s an order,” Greta said, and she went away from that place to let the Princess fill her shoes.  Captain Ardacles fainted.  Fortunately, Sergeant Daemon was able to take up the slack and began doling out orders. “Mavis.  You take the riders,” the Princess finished her thought.

“Very good, my lady,” Mavis spoke softly and then she raised her voice to command proportions.  “Sergeant Hermes.  I need your men now, mounted and ready, and ten more with you.  Be quick.”  Mavis leapt on her horse, bareback.  She had produced a bow and quiver of arrows from nowhere and hardly used her horse’s reigns to ride back behind the bend in the road.  Sergeant Hermes and the rest of the troop were a bit slow to catch up.

Ardacles’ company might have only been thirty strong, but they had all the advantages with horses ready to charge and men off the road ready to catch the enemy in a surprise crossfire.  The Princess got Ardacles to stand, and then she told him to shut up as the men in the distance came around the bend and stopped within a few feet.

“Celts.” The Princess announced.  “What brings you out of your forested hills and so deep into Roman land?  Are you dog clan or eagle clan?”  The Princess could not be sure because Greta, looking through her eyes, did not feel sure.

“Eagle clan,” the front man said.  “We have been four days chasing a Lazyges raiding party. They snuck passed us in the night on the low road beneath our village.  We quit the chase last night and are returning to our homes.  Good thing we found you, though.  A lone Roman and his lady, even a lady warrior would make easy pickings for the plains riders.”

“I am Greek, not Roman,” Ardacles said.

“You fight for the Romans,” the eagle man countered.

“These Celts are allies,” the Princess told Ardacles and laid a soft hand on his arm as if to keep his sword in its sheath. “And I am Greek too.  A princess.” She gave him her lovely smile.

“And we are not alone,” Ardacles continued with an effort to control his adrenaline.

The Princess frowned.  A testosterone confrontation would not help anyone.  “Put your arrows down and come out,” the Princess took the initiative and shouted.  “Mavis.  We have friends.”

The Celts were not inclined to move, especially when the soldiers began to come out of the woods and Mavis lead the troop back to stand behind the speakers.  Mavis dismounted and came up to her mistress even as a man in the midst of the Celts shouted in Gaelic.  “I know that armor.”  Men stepped aside to let the man through, and he stepped up and went to one knee.  “Mother Greta, even if you aren’t Mother Greta at the moment.”  Most of the Celts visibly relaxed on hearing who she was.  They knew the Dacian name for the one they thought of as a true Druid.

“Cecil.”  The princess, or at least Greta recognized the man.  “But I am Mother Greta,” the Princess responded in the same tongue and left that place so Greta could return and stand in her own shoes.  “Captain Ardacles, meet Cecil, my very good friend.” She reached out and helped the man back to his feet, and Cecil held out his hand so the captain had to shake the hand or appear rude.

“So how is your brother Hans and the women, Fae and Berry?”  Cecil neglected to ask about Hobknot because Greta remembered that knowledge of the little ones got cleansed from the minds of most after the battle in the last rebellion concluded.

“Lost,” Greta said, sadly.  “Fae and Berry went into the far north in search of their father, and Hans went to guard them, but they have not been heard from in two years. All I know is they are not dead. We are waiting.”  Greta added the near lie and let her voice fall.  She dared not say any more.

“I am sorry to hear that.  Pray that Danna may send them home soon,” Cecil said.

“So I pray,” Greta responded as the head of the eagle clan butted in.

“Mother Greta.”  He smiled, few teeth that he had, but they matched the few gray hairs on his head.

Greta caught the man’s eyes.  “On behalf of my husband, imperial governor of Dacia, I appreciate the effort your people make in keeping the Lazyges horsemen on their plains.  Do not hesitate to call on us as friends and allies.  Rome is strong to war, but peace and friendship are better.”  The man reached up to rub his hairy chin and think about it while Captain Ardacles proved for a military man that he was not without some political understanding.

“Stand off to the side of the road,” he shouted to his men.  “Let these good men pass in peace.  They have homes and families waiting for them.”  And the Romans stepped aside while the Celts moved on, Cecil alone insisted on a hug first.  Greta betrayed nothing, but Cecil seemed a wise man in his own way.

“Good luck,” he whispered, so Greta imagined he figured out something of her real journey.

R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, your woman?”  It was a question.

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

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

“A pixie?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do my job.”

“And what is your job?”

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How far?”

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

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

R6 Festuscato: 2 Cornwall, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh?”  Elowen sounded disappointed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

*

R6 Festuscato: Caerdyf, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are the bishops getting along?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R6 Gerraint: Mount Badon, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

“How many?” Lionel asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not a good recruitment speech?”

Even Sergeant Brian shook his head, no.

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

The others would have to think about it.

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?  What happened?  Arthur!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not all,” Rhiannon hedged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R5 Gerraint: Danes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Deerrunner?” Arthur asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do I look like Gerraint?”

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

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

Arthur paused.  “I don’t know.”

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

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

“Who was that blond?” Meryddin asked.

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

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

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

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:

*

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.

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

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

*