R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 3 of 3

Once inside the gate, Festuscato grabbed the old man from the group that appeared around the parley.  “Macreedy,” He knew who it was.  “Why are you here.”

Macreedy put up his hands to forestall any anger. “There are only thirty of us, and we have come to protect my niece, Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden, and that’s all. You humans can play whatever game you want, as long as Mirowen is safe.”

Festuscato frowned, while Macreedy waited to see how his half-lie got taken.  Festuscato decided keeping Mirowen and Mousden safe was a valid concern, but Mousden would probably hide.  Mirowen would pull out her bow and wade into the midst of the fighting, but if Macreedy and his supposed thirty elves could keep her from serious injury, Festuscato would not quibble about how many Saxons they killed.

“All right.  Spread your men out along the wall, only keep a strong glamour on to appear human, please.  The best way to protect Mirowen will be to keep the Saxons from breaking into the fort.”

“Yes, Lord.”  Macreedy let go of his breath.  “To the wall,” Macreedy shouted, and his men appeared with dragon tunics, already on the wall, anticipating the attack.  Festuscato rolled his eyes, but said no more until Mirowen stepped up beside him and confessed.

“You wouldn’t let me go to the parley, so I called my uncle.  Sorry you weren’t here to ask.”

Festuscato only said one thing.  “Elf.”  It did not get kindly spoken.

MacNeill and Patrick looked over the wall at the gathering Saxons.  The Saxons had no siege equipment, not even ladders to scale the nine feet of wall, but even with men from the village added, the Saxons had twice the number of defenders.  The Saxons probably also thought that apart from the twenty or thirty men who worked more directly for MacNeill and acted something like soldiers, the rest likely did not have the stomach for a real fight.  They concluded that this would not take long, and the only reason the Saxons paused before attacking the fort was to visually determine where the weak spots might be in order to concentrate on those places.

Festuscato walked up and down the length of the wall. “Keep down,” he shouted.  Get your bows ready, but don’t stand and fire until I yell fire.  Don’t expose yourselves until I yell fire.  Bows ready, but heads down until I yell fire.”

All this time, Donogh kept Clugh entertained in the lair, and kept him quiet, but it became impossible to avoid the tension and excitement in the air.  Donogh felt it just outside the cave entrance, so Clugh certainly felt it. People say dragons can smell fear, but the truth is more complicated than that.  They can actually sense things like stress, worry, apprehension and the like and feel the general emotional state in the air around them, even if there is something near, like someone invisible that they cannot see or smell or hear.  That is why it is all but impossible to sneak up on a dragon, unless the dragon is sleeping, but as said, waking a sleeping dragon is not recommended.

“Wait until I say fire.  Ready.  Heads down,” Festuscato jumped up beside the Lord and the Bishop.

“I see you found some friends,” MacNeill said and pointed at a nearby man in a dragon tunic.

“These are not like the glorious ones that shined even in the dim light of dusk,” Patrick said.  “There is something more earthy and humble in these.”

“Like Mirowen,” Gaius said, as he stepped up beside the others.  Festuscato said nothing.  He took a good look at the enemy and jumped down to continue his walk up and down the back of the wall.

“Heads down.  Bows ready.  Wait until I yell fire.”

Clugh came out of the cave despite Donogh’s protests.  Seamus was there, but it did not help.  The people who did not find a place inside Lord MacNeill’s manor house, or in the barracks, or out back by the blacksmith’s and other shops, backed up as far as they could.  Some screamed on sight of the dragon, but not many noticed, concentrating as they were on the coming battle.  Festuscato ignored the interruption and kept walking up and down the back of the wall, yelling in as calm a voice as he could muster.

“Keep down and be ready.  Not until I yell fire.”

“Donogh, lad.  Clugh can’t be out here,” Seamus said,

Donogh had one hand on the back of Clugh’s neck, where the dragon liked it, but Clugh squirmed and Donogh appeared anxious himself, so the scratches behind the ears did not really help.

“Ready,” Festuscato yelled.  They heard the Saxons begin to scream their war cries.  They would scream wildly for a minute or so, a technique intended to unnerve their enemy.  “Ready,” Festuscato repeated as he jumped up to the back of the wall.  He raised his hand and waited while he looked up and down the line.  Men here and there could not help a peek at the assembled Germanic horde.  Some chose not to look.  Generally, the only heads above the wall were MacNeill, Patrick, Festuscato and Gaius, and they stared, and not one of them looked concerned.

“Ready.”  Festuscato yelled, though it became hard to hear him above the Saxon din.  The Saxons charged.  They did not have much ground to cover, but Festuscato immediately lowered his hand to point at the enemy and he yelled, “Fire!”  Knowing he would be hard to hear, he yelled it several times, up and down the wall.  “Fire. Fire.”  He knew the elves would hear, and spaced as they were among the men, when they stood, the men stood and the arrows flew.  He did not know Clugh would hear, and fire was one word the dragon knew.

More than thirty Saxons got dropped in the first volley.  Whether they were dead or wounded hardly mattered.  They were taken out of the action.  Another twenty fell quickly, but then the Saxons raised their shields and began to fire back, so the third volley looked much less effective.

The Saxons chose their targets well.  There were a few places along the wall where the wood had sufficiently splintered from age or got wobbly in construction so men could get handholds and climb.  The gate got the makeshift battering ram the Saxons made from a whole log taken from a house in town.  But even as Gaius started suggesting it would be inevitable that the Saxons get in, Clugh could not contain himself.  He took to the air when Festuscato yelled and, on seeing the Saxons roaring, Clugh roared and came in like a dive bomber spewing flame everywhere.  Part of the fort wall got set on fire, and one Saxon became totally crisped while quite a few were badly burned.  To be sure, when Clugh landed and roared, every Saxon within flame range turned and fled.  That seemed all it took to get the whole lot of Saxons to run.  They dragged off some of their burnt and wounded, to their credit as soldiers, but they did not stop long enough to see if some of their men might be saved.  The ones who could not even limp were abandoned.

Once Clugh landed, he slithered to the crisped Saxon and bit off the dead man’s head.  No doubt he found it tasty, but with that, Festuscato sighed.  He knew once Clugh got a taste for human flesh, he would not be contained, no matter how well the Agdaline command words were pronounced.

“Lord.  Save Clugh,” Donogh yelled as he came up alongside the others and stood on his toes to look out over the top of the wall.

“I cannot help the dragon.”  Festuscato spoke gently to the boy.  “But maybe the Lady can.  Maybe mother can help.”  Donogh and Seamus thought he spoke of Greta, but he meant Danna, and he traded places with her through time and immediately became invisible.  She floated down to the dragon where she became visible again and calmed the beast.

“Mother,” Clugh said, but Danna shook her head and lifted her voice.

“Rhiannon.  Come here. I need you.”  She spoke, not a harsh call, but a request, and Rhiannon appeared, her face full of curiosity.  “Rhiannon, dear.  You need to take this beast and keep him from people.  He has tasted human flesh, so now there is no turning back.”

“Mother.  I have nowhere to keep such a creature.”

“Well, it is either that or I have to put him down. And he is still such a youngster, you know, a child in need of a good mother.”

Rhiannon screwed up her face.  “You cheat,” she declared.  “What am I going to do with a dragon?”

“I was thinking.” Danna folded her arms and put a finger to her temple.

“A dangerous sign,” Rhiannon admitted, but she waited for the shoe to drop.

“There is a lake on the edge of Amorican territory in the forest called Vivane.  Do you know it?”  Rhiannon nodded so Danna continued.  “The naiad there is getting elderly, but she is very nice.  I am sure she would not mind if you built a castle on the small island in the middle of the lake.  There are plenty of spirits who live in the forest.  You could hold court there and keep Clugh as a pet.”

“And why would I want to do all that?”

“Because your work will come to you there.  I have seen it.”

“You have seen the future?”

“No, I live there, remember?”  Danna stepped up and kissed her many times distant daughter. “I have tweaked the image of mother in the dragon’s mind so you will fill the role, only don’t get too attached. Leave him in Amorica, and one day this male will sire babies, I think.”

“But you just told me to go to Amorica.  Now why are you telling me to leave him there?”

Danna shrugged.  “Just don’t get too attached.”

“Mother.  Why do you have to be so mean to me?”  Rhiannon reached out to pet the dragon and Clugh purred.

“Because you don’t belong here, you should be over on the other side.”

Rhiannon said nothing.  She looked unhappy but disappeared, and took the dragon with her. Danna reappeared on the wall and went away so Festuscato could return.  He smiled for his friends before he hugged Donogh.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “Rhiannon will take good care of Clugh.”

“The goddess?” Donogh wiped an eye. Festuscato looked briefly at Patrick.

“And should no longer be here, but out of Ireland at least.  And Danna should not be here, either.  She knows that.  I’m sorry. The new way has come.”

“The old way has gone, though stubbornly I see.” Patrick turned his back and said no more.

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MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor.  Don’t Miss it.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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R6 Festuscato: Caerdyf, part 2 of 3

The head man stopped half-way into the room when he saw the dragon symbol on Julius’ tunic.  The other men stopped with him and most looked to the head man to speak first. “You are the Dragon?  I have heard of you.”

“Only good, I hope,” Julius said, with a quick glance at Festuscato.  That word sounded like something Festuscato would say.

“Who are you?” Anwyn spoke up.  “How dare you come into my home uninvited and disturb my friends.”

“Quiet.” the Pirate chief spat, and two men stepped toward Anwyn, threatening.  Anwyn quieted, but he also glanced at Festuscato who appeared to be yawning. The chief noticed and gave Festuscato a nod while he looked Mirowen up and down, more than once.  “Your pardon for keeping you up passed your bedtime, though I suppose if I had a woman like that I might be tempted to spend more time in bed myself.”  Mirowen turned red, but it was from anger, and not the least because Festuscato kept her from striking out at these men.

“Oh, great Irish chief who will not give his name,” Festuscato intoned.  “Do tell us what you came for and maybe then I can go to bed.”

The Irish chief grinned.  “I am Sean Fen, Master of the Irish Sea,” the Irishman said. “Perhaps you have heard of me as well.” Most of the men shook their heads, no. “I have come with a hundred men to burn this fort to the ground.  No offense, but we have decided that the coast of Wales would be much better off if it remained unencumbered by forts and soldiers and watchmen and such things.”

“I see,” Festuscato said.  “Allow me to offer a counter proposal.”

“You are in no position to make an offer,” Sean Fen smiled at having the upper hand.  “But for the sake of the holy men present, I am offering you a chance to get out with your women and children, though we may borrow a few of your women.” He looked again at Mirowen and she stood and pulled a knife from somewhere, Festuscato’s hand or no hand.

Festuscato also stood and spoke loud enough to echo in the big room.  “If you leave and sail out of the port in the next hour, I will let you leave with your heads still attached.”

Sean Fen raised his eyebrows a little when Julius turned to Festuscato and said, “Lord Agitus?”  Most of the people there had no idea what the centurion might be asking.

“I have twelve men against your three little soldiers.” The Irishman looked at his men and they grinned and began to spread out in the room.  “You don’t do the telling.”

“You are right.  Horsemen, please reduce the enemy to a third.”  Nine arrows came from the shadows and nine Irishmen fell to the floor, dead or near enough.  Sean Fen blinked and almost missed it, but Festuscato counted.  “Hey!  I said to a third.  Who fired the extra arrow?  Pestilence?”

The Four Horsemen stepped from the shadows and one of them looked at the others and spoke from beneath his helmet.  “Death is not very good with math.  Sorry.”

A second horseman spoke.  “Sorry.”

Julius already got in the chief Irishman’s face.  “Lord Agitus suggested you leave while you can.”

“Actually,” Festuscato said as he came around the table. “Now that you don’t have so much dead weight hanging around, I think you should leave in a half-hour.”  He raised his voice as if talking to a whole battalion of men.  “Irish heads are free game after a half-hour.”

“Lord,” Pestilence spoke again.  “Famine and Plague over there are not very good at telling time.”

“Yes, well.  Do your best.  That is all I ask.”  Festuscato looked up at the Irishmen, but the three still standing were already backing away. When they got to the door, they turned and ran.  Festuscato, Julius, Anwyn and the two sergeants stepped out after them and watched. There were two dozen guardsmen around the courtyard backed up by almost fifty Romans who proudly displayed their dragon tunics.  The Irishmen were all in the center of the court, surrounded.  Mirowen, with her good elf ears, reported what was said.

“I didn’t know the Dragon’s men would be here.”

“I didn’t sign on for this.”

“Where’s the others?”

“Dead.  they’re all dead.”

“Generally yelling. Words I don’t say.  Wow!  I would never say that word,” Mirowen finished.

Sean Fen lead the Irish back out the gate, through the town and to their ships which immediately put out to sea.  Anwyn went to fetch some guardsmen to remove the dead bodies while Festuscato looked at the clerics who stood with their mouths open. He spoke first to Palladius, a man who in the far future would make a great uber-liberal progressive.

“Maybe someday we can designate this place a sword-free zone, post big signs and everything, though I suppose the Irish would have ignored that.”

“Probably can’t read,” Mirowen suggested.

“These men are dead,” Palladius spouted as they turned to go back inside.

“This is the sad world we live in,” Bishop Lavius lamented.  “As Lord Agitus explained it all to me often on our journey from Rome.”

Festuscato put his arm around the old man Germanus. Germanus had been a bit of a soldier, a true militant Bishop who even lead men in battle.  He sat on the conservative side and did not seem distressed by the dead bodies.  “But I figure,” Festuscato spoke softly.  “There will always be some Pelagians under the surface of the church, like a bad case of the flu.  You should see the cults that spring up in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries after Christ.”  He rattled off several, ending with, “Never trust a religion that comes out of Asbury Park, New Jersey.  But the point is, everyone knows they are not actual, traditional, historical Christians. The thing is, we can’t kill them all. All we can do is pray for them and tell them about the true faith and let God straighten it all out in the end.”

“I do not know any of these heresies you speak of,” Germanus said.  “But I understand the gist of it and begin to see a pattern in your madness.  Mercy does hold some merit.”  He got to his seat and stopped.  “I think I may visit our Celtic cousins in Amorica.  They have strongly resisted the faith and need prayer and the word.”

“A field ripe for harvest, eh?”

Patrick stood up from where he and Father Gaius administered the last rites to the Irish.  “We need to talk,” he said, and Festuscato nodded.

“As soon as we get back to Cadbury,” he agreed.

R6 Gerraint: Shaking the Earth, part 2 of 2

The horses panicked.  Many stampeded with the mules, fortunately straight at the Saxons. Many men got stepped on, and many more Saxons got stepped on as well.  The quake felt strong.  Gerraint half expected the Earth itself to split wide open in a magma chasm and explosion. He could only picture bombs by the gigaton.   He tried to estimate the time in his mind, but the quake never stopped.  It seemed forever, and all the counting of seconds in Gerraint’s head meant nothing.  He lost track.  He rolled on the ground and tried to keep his face free from slamming into any rocks. He expected giant boulders of granite to strike up through the ground at any minute.  Then finally, the quaking subsided.

Martok, a lifetime Gerraint would not live until several thousand years in the future spoke into his head, like it was his own head thinking.  “An unbelievable four hundred and thirty-two seconds, and the epicenter was west…” Martok’s voice faded because Gerraint did not have time for that.  Ten of the twelve small catapults were salvaged.  The flammable balls were fetched from wherever they rolled.  All of his horsemen were now horseless, and some had lost all their weapons in the process.  Bows and arrows were the first concern.  A strong line, three deep was established against the Saxons in case they did charge.  Men were sent back to the hill camp to fetch whatever weapons they could find.  Some men had only the knife at their belt. Gerraint set the weaponless men to carting the wounded back to the camp.  Some of the men who were stepped on by horse or mule refused to leave the battlefield, but some had broken arms or legs and had no choice.

The Saxons were slower to recover since most of Gerraint’s men were trained to battle, while most of the Saxons were not. When the first flaming ball hit the Saxon line, some of them were still just standing up. Soon enough, balls of fire started splattering everywhere in the Saxon line, and the Saxons were near panic. Even then, their commanders refused to attack.  Most of the fires could be avoided and went out when their fuel was spent, but added to the Saxon broken arms and legs, some were badly burned, and this did not raise the Saxon morale.

The Saxon line backed up, slowly, determined to hold their ground and wait for the British to attack.  Gerraint took that opening to walk down the line and repeat his orders.  “On the signal, run forward a hundred paces.  Fire three volleys into the enemy and then return here.”  He said it about ten times as he walked down the four hundred men, three deep line.  When he got good and hoarse, he stepped to the front, raised his sword and yelled, “Now!” as he lowered his sword.  The men performed well, though not without flaws.  On the third volley, there were some arrows in answer, but not many.  The Saxons looked to be having a hard time getting organized, but they were perfectly capable of backing up further toward the trees that ran right up the ridge.

Gerraint’s eyes were distracted for a moment as the three thousand or so Saxons who filled the flat gap between the two ridges turned and attacked Bedwyr.  Whoever was in charge there clearly judged Gerraint as the lesser threat, or maybe he wrote off Gerraint’s Saxons as lost.  Arthur got bogged down at the top fighting on foot against the Saxon cavalry, also on foot.  He was in no position to protect Bedwyr’s flank with his horsemen as had been the plan. Meanwhile, the influx of as many new troops as the British started with would devastate the British, whether the Saxons were fighting uphill or not.

Gerraint could not worry about that just yet.  He suddenly got a clear picture in his mind, and he imagined that earthquake must have shaken something loose in his brain. He saw Deerrunner and a host of little ones right at the edge of the trees.  All he thought was now, and the Saxons in front of him started to fall as they were pelted by arrows from behind

“Spears in the center line,” Gerraint yelled. “Bedivere.”

“Here, Lord.”  The boy stood right beside him.

“Help get what spears we have to the men in the center line.”  He ran off. “Uwaine.”

“Here.”

“You take the other side.  The men need to walk in formation and hold the formation to be effective.”  Uwaine nodded but Gerraint felt unsure if Uwaine really understood.  “Spears to the center line and point them at the enemy. Swords in the front.  Bows in the back line.”  The men took a little time getting adjusted, and Gerraint waited as patiently as he could.  Then he shouted again.  “Walk.” He heard Bedivere and then Brian and finally Uwaine repeat the word down the line.  “Walk them into the woods.  They won’t escape from the woods.”  Walk them into the woods at least got repeated.

Gerraint heard a giggle by his feet.  The Little King imagined what might be in the woods.

“Stay in formation.”  Gerraint yelled that several times and it got repeated several times. Then Gerraint mumbled, “Where’s a good Roman phalanx when you need one?”  The Little King giggled again.

The Saxons, still with twice Gerraint’s twelve hundred men, did not like the look of that formation.  Some fought, and lost.  Some of the British simply could not wait and ran out to engage individual Saxons, and sometimes won.  Many of the Saxons broke for the woods, and as promised, they did not come back out of the woods.  Some of the Saxons finally surrendered and Gerraint heard a loud “pssst!”

Lemuel the gnome stood there, and his people had gathered and calmed five hundred of Gerraint’s horses so they were ready to be ridden.  “Last one up is a rotten egg,” Gerraint yelled and mounted the nearest steed.  The cavalry of Cornwall raced to the horses, but by then the foot soldiers had come up, picked up fallen Saxon weaponry where needed, and they could easily handle the surrenders, with the help of some dwarfs and elves who should have known better than to expose themselves.

Only then did Gerraint allow himself to look at the other side of the battle.  Bedwyr’s men were being driven back to the woods.  Arthur’s men appeared to be gaining the upper hand, but looked in trouble as some of the Saxons at the back of the pack down below decided to help out their horseless cavalry.  Two things happened then that would validate history for years to come.  Over that ridge came twenty-five hundred men from the north under Kai, Loth and Captain Croyden.  They swept over Arthur’s position and slammed into the Saxons, once again gaining the upper ground for the British.  Then Gerraint called for lances even as he took an arrow in the leg. He spied the archer, and that man became a pin cushion so by the time the man fell, it was hard to see the man beneath all the arrows.  The dozen Saxon bowmen who were with him instantly discarded their bows and fell to their knees, trembling.

“Ready.”  Gerraint yelled as he reached down and broke the shaft of the arrow in his leg.  He decided he had one more shout in him. “For Arthur!”  The riders responded.  “For Arthur!”  and that charge broke the back of the Saxons for good.

###

Very little quarter was given that day.  With Kai and Loth’s men added, some ninety-five hundred men fought for Arthur.  Roughly half of them would never go home, and a third of the ones who made it home, died in their beds from wounds sustained on the battlefield.  Of the twelve thousand Saxons who fought in the campaign, less than two thousand survived for any length of time.  The Saxons and Angles from East Anglia to Wessex were devastated.  Even with further immigration from the Germanies, it would be a generation before they could mount any sort of serious offensive.

After that generation, though, some enterprising Angles exploited the animosity between the Scotts and Danes and move into the wide land between the two.  That land was called Bernicia before they joined with the Saxons in Deira to form Northumbria.  The Danes stopped coming to Britain for a time, though when the Vikings started coming three hundred years later, they were surprised to find people who knew their customs and ways and who claimed to be of Danish descent.

Loth’s family moved full time to Edinburgh and ruled over many of the Scots there.  Kai’s descendants held on to Caerlisle and made a pact with some Scots in the west to form the kingdom of Rheged.  York stayed independent for a time as the Kingdom of Elmet before it became tributary to Northumbria or Mercia at one time or another.

The British Midlands became Mercia surprisingly quickly, as the Saxons finally moved out of the coastal fens and alluvium to farm the bountiful land.  Likewise, the Saxons in Wessex slowly took more and more of the west, taking Southampton, Dorset and Somerset, and finally swallowing a large chunk of Devon itself. But like the Romans, they never really went further west than the old Roman town of Exeter.  Cornwall remained proudly independent, if not entirely free. Wales also remained free of Anglo-Saxon influence for centuries.

Most of this is now in the history books, but not all. There were aftershocks from that devastating earthquake, but they only amounted to ten or fifteen seconds of mild tremors.  The damage had already been done.  On the day of the Battle of Badon Hill, Lyoness sank into the sea.  One part of the sea bed pushed up in a peninsula, but the main part of Lyoness, that great forest covered land. got swallowed by the ocean.  Her great wood-built towns and villages were broken up and floated off in every direction. The Scilly islands sank a bit more so some became too small for even a single small farm. The center of Cornwall itself pushed up with granite until it became like a spine through the land. But mostly, the people of Lyoness, including Geraint’s sister, did not survive.

Bedivere did not know about his mother when he fought on the battlefield.  He thought he was weeping only for his father, Melwas, who sustained a terrible belly wound and counted himself lucky to die in a few hours instead of lingering for days or even weeks.  Gerraint comforted the boy, as did Uwaine, even while Uwaine yelled at Gerraint for being so stupid as to get himself shot.  The Little King tended Gerraint’s wound and got the arrowhead out cleanly. He said he had done this many times for his own men, and was expert at it.

“You must keep it clean and with clean bandages,” he said.  “And it should heal without infection.”

“Yes, doctor,” Gerraint slurred his response through the alcohol anesthetic, now that his leg went completely numb, and for that matter, so was the rest of him.  He only felt able to smile when Arthur found him and yelled at him.  Then Percival did the same.  Last of all, he came face to face with Pelenor, his old master, and Pelenor lit into him.  Gerraint had only one thing to say to the man when the man paused to take a breath.

“Aren’t you getting too old for this?”  His smile broadened as Pelenor nodded.  “Because I am getting too old for this, so you must really be feeling it.”  Then Pelenor relaxed and joined Gerraint in a drink.

END

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TOMORROW

Don’t miss the preview of coming attractions…

 

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R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 3 of 3

By mid-afternoon, the town looked totally in flames, and even the wall in some sections looked on fire.  The stream of refugees which became a river when the bombardment began, dried up around noon.  The brave men manning the walls kept waiting for the assault, but it would not come.  Gerraint packed up his catapults and lead his men east.  He left strong groups of little ones behind, the kobold, the brownies and Larchmont with his fairy troop.  They would be sure no soldiers or otherwise would attempt to follow, or go in any direction other than south.  After two days and several attempts, the defenders of the town went south by horse and by foot to catch up with the refugees and left the smoldering wreck behind them.

When Gerraint’s men reached the village on the inland road, they found a surprise.  A Frankish troop of about a hundred had moved in and they were enjoying the local ale and entertainment.  Gerraint and Lord Birch went alone to confront them.  There were arguments, not the least from Bohort and Uwaine.  Sergeant Paul wanted to send a troop of escorts, but in the end, Gerraint prevailed.

No one stopped them at the village edge.  The villagers were too busy cowering in their homes.  The Franks watched them, but did not interfere as they rode to the one inn in that village and dismounted.  Several Frankish soldiers greeted them there, or rather greeted their horses and began to discuss what fine specimens they were.  Gerraint ignored them and entered, then took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and his nose to adjust to the abundance of alcohol.

“Who is in charge of these soldiers?” Gerraint asked. Lord Birch repeated the question in the Frankish tongue.

“Who is asking?” a man said, rudely.

Gerraint went through the litany.  “I am Gerraint, son of Erbin, High Prince of Cornwall, Knight of the Round Table, sometimes called the Lion of Cornwall, and in the name of Arthur Pendragon of all Britain, Cornwall and Wales I ask again, who is in charge of these soldiers.”

The man stood, but Gerraint made an imposing figure and this man did not look nearly as impressive.  “I am,” the man said without giving his name.  “I have heard of this Arthur.”  Gerraint waited for no more information.

“You should not be here.  I am working here right now and I don’t appreciate the interruption.  You need to stay on Frankish lands.”

“This is Frankish land.”

“Not until I am finished.  Listen, and tell your king.  Arthur and Hoel have no designs on the Atlantique.  When we have forced Claudus to bring up his army and we destroy his army, you can play with the Atlantique province all you want, but not before.  You are just getting in the way.  You can kill any Romans who enter fully into your territory, or do what you like with them, but not here on the border.  Right now, you need to go away.  Am I clear?”

A man grabbed Lord Birch, but Gerraint raised his hand and an electrical charge sprang from his hand like lightning and threw the man hard against the men at the side table. The two who had gotten around Gerraint and were about to grab him hesitated, but then Gerraint went away and the Nameless god came to fill his boots.

“Lord Birch.”  Nameless tapped his shoulder and Birch reverted instantly to his true fairy form and took a seat on that shoulder.  “Let me repeat,” Nameless said, as if he was the one who did all of the talking, which in a sense he did.  “Go away until I am finished here.”  Nameless did not wave his hand like Danna or wiggle his fingers like Amphitrite.  He did nothing overt, but a hundred Frankish soldiers, their horses and equipment instantly found themselves deposited a thousand yards into Frankish territory outside of the village.  They rode off in panic, but the commander of the Franks had a thought.

“He did say we could kill any Romans who came on to Frankish lands, didn’t he?”  He heard an answer, out loud and in his face.

“Yes.”

He tried to make his horse run faster.

Gerraint returned with Lord Birch to the camp.  He did not say much as he turned his men to head back to the coast.  After that, he did not bother with the inland road.

Gerraint gave his men a week around Samhain.  It remained time in the wilderness, but the men started getting tired.  They took a village around the winter solstice, and Gerraint stayed for what he called Christmas week.  The only grumbling he got from his troops came because he made them all go to church on Sunday.

Things continued then until late January.  Long range reports said men started marching out of Vascon lands.  Close by, five hundred Roman cavalry got sent to find the Lion and his men.  It did not turn out fair, in a way.  The Romans camped in a large clearing not far from the main road.  It had snowed in the night and threatened more snow all day, so the Romans were not going anywhere for the moment.  Of course, Gerraint knew exactly where they were thanks to his fairy spies, and they had no idea where he might be.  So, it was not really fair, and in some sense too easy.

Gerraint mapped out where the lancers would reenter the forest on the far side.  Then he lined up two hundred of his men and they rode straight through the enemy camp at dawn.  Tents got burned, horses run off and men got run through the middle.  Some lances were lost and some got shattered, but Gerraint did not stop to fight.  He rode his men out the other side of the camp and back into the woods to be swallowed up by the deep shadows under the deep gray sky and the light fog that filtered through the trees.  Then he let his remaining men, all his best hunters, join with the elves in target practice.  As long as they kept to the woods and moved around so as not to be caught, they could shoot as many as they could reach.

One group of twenty Romans on horseback charged a section of the woods where the kobold stood.  One horse, devoid of rider, made it to the tree line.

At noon, the Romans abandoned their tents and equipment and rode hard for the main road.  Gerraint had his eyes watching, but on reaching the road, the Romans went south so Gerraint let them go.  He returned to the abandoned camp to count one hundred and thirteen Roman bodies. Gerraint had some wounded and lost three men in the charge.  They were the last casualties Gerraint suffered in the campaign, and they were remembered.

Uwaine had a comment as they sent out men to round up as many locals as they could find.  “Next time we need to bring more arrows.”  They put the locals to work digging a great trench beside the road. The Romans got buried there, laid out, but in a mass grave.  When they got covered, they made a nice little mound.  Gerraint had simple wooden crosses planted, one hundred and thirteen to mark the graves, and then he left the Roman armor and equipment laid out like it was ready to be worn by the dead.

“You are too kind,” Bohort said.  “You should have left the men hanging from the trees.  That would have sent a much stronger message.” Gerraint sighed.  Bohort was not particularly bloodthirsty, it was the age they lived in.  They had a chance to do that very thing when they caught several groups of advanced scouts from Claudus’ army.

Gerraint affected an orderly withdraw, giving up ground only as fast as the army approached.  He sent fifty men with Sergeant Paul to the inland road and sent Larchmont and his troop with him.  They had to watch ahead and behind, and also be sure the Franks stayed away. He had no trouble, but Gerraint wanted to be sure Claudus did not get the idea of sneaking up the back road in order to get behind him.

Gerraint sent a hundred men with Uwaine to the coastal road.  They found a few places where the locals snuck back to rebuild, but he left them alone. His job was simply to make sure Claudus did not send any more cavalry units in an attempt to get on their flank.

Gerraint kept the last hundred and fifty with him on the main road, though by then it had become more like a hundred.  They had taken some casualties over the year.  He backed up slowly.  Bohort called it terminally slow.  Gerraint understood that the army of Claudus did not feel motivated.

The Romans built the roads so they could move men and equipment quickly.  The men of Claudus were clearly not Romans, despite the publicity, and they despised the road because they did not want to move quickly.  They counted two full legions coming, roughly ten thousand men, though only about six thousand were actual fighters, the others being supply and auxiliary troops.  They were being led by Claudus himself, but even with all that preparation and leadership, they moved like snails.  Gerraint got to calling it the escargot army, though no one knew what that was.

Gerraint sent messages to Hoel and Arthur as soon as things were confirmed.  Apparently, Claudus also managed some messages to his men that were still in Amorica. Gerraint could not imagine how, except maybe by boat.  Arthur and Hoel had been having slow success all year and just about had the land cleared, but whatever Romans remained at that point withdrew and went beyond the Vivane forest to hide in the hills and knolls of the open land, as close to the Frankish border as they dared.  There, they no doubt planned to await the army of Claudus.  Gerraint wrote that they should be taken out, but Arthur and Hoel decided that would take more time and effort, and risk more lives than it would be worth.  So, the allies settled in on the edge of the Vivane forest and waited in the snow.

Hoel lost most of his army when the Romans vacated the land.  The men went home for the winter, but they would be back in the spring or when called. Arthur’s men did not have the luxury. They camped on the cutoff that came down from the north-coast road and skirted just below the mysterious Lake Vivane. That road met the north coast at a very good port where Thomas of Dorset was able to supply the men with many of the comforts of home in lieu of their actual homes.  Arthur kept the men busy with a building project they started in January.  He wanted a fort literally on the other side of the road from the lake to take advantage of the lake to help keep out any invading force.  They just about got the fort finished when Gerraint arrived.  Claudus came a week behind, and Hoel’s men still straggled in.  Gerraint guessed it would be another week to ten days before the deadbeats all caught up and the two armies settled in to face each other. In that time, Arthur had a notion, and he would not be talked out of it.

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

Next Week: The Lady of the Lake

M T & W, 8 o’clock, EST

Lake Vivane, is not haunted, as the locals claim, but it does have its secrets, and Arthur and Gerraint can’t resist a look.  They recover a young man that everyone thought was dead, and Arthur sees his first real medieval castle as well as his first real knight.  MONDAY.

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R5 Gerraint: Picts and Pirates, part 2 of 3

One time, Uwaine got kidnapped and all of their equipment taken by a Saxon raiding party of about thirty men.  They thought to hold the squire hostage for gold, believing that all British Lords were covered with gold.  Gerraint had gone into the village to trade, but when he got back, he soon realized what happened, and he became terribly worried even as he got terribly angry.  The Princess tracked the raiding party for three days.  Gerraint admitted the Princess, being specially gifted by Artemis herself, could track a man across linoleum with her eyes shut.  No one knew what he was talking about, but they got the idea.

After three days, she found Uwaine hold up in a cave, his hands holding tight to his sword.  Deerrunner and a half-dozen elves were with him and had their bows out. Half of the raiding party died, shot through with only one arrow each, such was the skill of the elves, but the other half hunkered down behind some boulders at the bottom of the hill of the cave. They appeared to be arguing about whether to burn the boy out or just wait until he starved.

The Princess arrived in time to find Bogus and two dozen dwarfs sneaking up from behind.  The Princess had no doubt they meant to finish the job the elves started. She put her hands to her hips, tapped her foot sharply and let out an “Ahem!” to clear her throat.  The dwarfs turned around, whipped off their hats, or in this case helmets, and looked down, shy.  A few shuffled one foot or the other against the dirt.

When the Princess stepped forward, Gerraint came home and shouted to the Saxons to get everyone’s attention.  “Go home.”  He thought that sounded nice and succinct.  “Gather up your dead and go back to Sussex, poorer, but hopefully wiser.”

One man stood and reached for his sword, but Gerraint had taken to wearing his sword across his back, Kairos style, and he could draw it fast as a gunslinger, and without cutting his own ear, he was pleased to say.  He had Salvation out and at the man’s throat before the man got a full grip on his hilt.

“Go home,” Gerraint repeated, and two dozen well-armed dwarfs, helmets back on, came to the edge of the woods and gave the meanest stares they could muster.  Gerraint struggled not to laugh at some of the faces.  The Saxons did not laugh at all.  They gathered their dead as quickly as they could and rode off into the distance even as Bedwyr, Gawain, Percival and his squire, Agravain and a dozen men, Arthur’s men from the local village, came riding up led by Pinewood, of all people, and on horseback.  Granted, it was all an illusion, but still, in Gerraint’s mind he seemed a tiny little fairy riding a great big warhorse.

“Gerraint,” Bedwyr spouted.  “We heard you were in trouble, that Uwaine got kidnapped by Saxons.”

“All fixed now,” Gerraint said, and went into his litany.  “I have wings to fly you know nothing of.  Eyes that see farther, ears that hear better, and a reach longer than ordinary men.”  Percival almost joined him on the last line, but Gerraint said wait here and he climbed to the cave.  Uwaine stood there and Deerrunner had his hand on the young man’s shoulder.  Uwaine turned quickly and hugged the Elf King.

“Thank you,” Uwaine whispered, and Deerrunner smiled before he looked over Uwaine’s shoulder.

“I thought you misplaced him,” Deerrunner said, as a kind of excuse.

“Yes, thank you,” Gerraint said, not unkindly, and he took Uwaine’s hand and brought him down to the others where they found a deer already cooking and a big keg of very fine dwarf-made ale.

“I see they abandoned their supper,” Percival smiled.

Gerraint grumped and found their horses, cleaned and saddled and in wonderful shape.  “Thank you Gumblittle,” he said, to nobody.  He also found all of their things in a stack along with a bunch of Saxon equipment.  He put his arm around Uwaine’s shoulder to explain, quietly.

“The little ones normally don’t pay much attention to human affairs.  They were probably not certain about what was ours and what was Saxon.  They tend to overcompensate.”  Uwaine nodded as they rejoined the group.

“They grow up fast.”  Bedwyr, already breaking into the keg, was good at stating the obvious.

Gerraint looked up at the sky and shouted in better spirits, “Thank you.  Now, go home.”

“What was that about?” Young Agravain asked.

“Better not to ask,” Gawain said.

“You don’t want to know,” Uwaine added.

Gerraint and Uwaine went north along with everybody else to celebrate Loth and Gwenhwyfach’s wedding.  Gawain went, of course, Loth being his father.  He was not sure about his new mother, in part because she was only about four years older than him, but he stayed good about it and never said anything except to Bedwyr, Gerraint and his friend, Uwaine.

During the wedding, Kai caught Arthur’s attention. The Saxon Pirate, Hueil, had been raiding the Welsh coast for years, all the way from the channel that separated Wales and Cornwall, to the tip of the North Irish Sea.  Now, rumor said he started talking with Pictish raiders who had long since given up their coastal watch and had become something like pirates themselves.

“Such a union would be a disaster,” Kai noted.

“We do not have a fleet of ships,” Arthur said.

“Maybe we need a fleet of ships,” Kai responded.

Early in 504, Thomas of Dorset got drafted to Admiral Arthur’s six new ships.  He also brought a dozen ships from the English Channel, all solid sea going vessels, though admittedly fat and slow merchant ships.  They were to sail up the coast of Wales, looking out for Hueil along the way, and arrive in the bay of the Clyde by September first.  Arthur would cross north of Hadrian’s wall on the same date and eventually link up with his fleet.  Hueil and his Saxons had made a bargain with Caw, whom Arthur had not realized had survived the destruction of the army of the Picts and Scots several years earlier.  Those two scoundrels had built their own fort at Cambuslang, just on the River Clyde, and Arthur determined to end that threat.

Arthur housed a thousand men at Kai’s Fort Guinnon, the anchor to the wall, to act as reserves and to protect the north lands should things go awry.  He feared the Picts might invade south, thinking Arthur was occupied.  Arthur took a second thousand men with him, mostly RDF and trained men, and then he prayed a lot more than usual.

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 2 of 3

Ragwart cried, Gorse blew his nose, and Bogus hit them with his hat.  “You see, I told you,” he said, and he finished with a knock on Gorse’s noggin.

“Go on,” Greta said.  “Have lots of prickly babies.”

“That was lovely,” Fae said.  Berry got teary eyed.  She had her arms around Hans and started kissing the back of his head.  He stayed face down, asleep on the table, a half-eaten baked potato by his mouth.

It started getting late.

“Thunderhead!” Greta called.  “How are the itchies?”  She asked when he appeared.

“Better.” Thunderhead admitted in his gravel, deep voice.  He swallowed hard and added, “My lady.”  He must have figured it out and Greta knew that meant he had a tremendous headache.

“Ahem.” Bogus the Skin, still hat in hand wanted Greta’s attention once more.

“What!”  She shot him a look which on retrospect might have been harsher than it needed to be.  Bogus winced like he had been hit with a hammer.  Gorse stiffened and Ragwart hid his face in Gorse’s shirt. “You mated with a human woman which is strictly forbidden.”  Greta said. “And the child, your son, you let him run off to be lost in the wilds of the Dragon Mountains.  Now, your granddaughters have been kept apart all of these years, and that was unkind, too.  I tell you, if you like humans that much, how would you like to be one?” This was the worst of all threats for a little one, and Bogus understood.

“Oh, please.” Bogus fell to his knees and almost worried his hat to death.  “Not that. Anything but that.  I loved the lady fair and square as long as she lived. She took up with that human herself, but I never deserted her. I was faithful.  And I begged our son not to go away.  You don’t know how hard I begged him.  But I could not stop him because a young man of that age needs to make his own way in the world.   And my granddaughters, as precious to me as my own skin, I wanted them with me, but by great and noble sacrifice I let them stay with the humans, theirs being only one quarter spirit.  But when the humans gave one back to me, how I rejoiced.  And we made great magic, and all the best of us joined together so we could release the spirit within Berry so she could truly live among us as one of us. And I loved her.  And I always took best care of her.  And I’ve never been so honest in my life, but please, you must believe me.”

Greta knew he did more or less speak the truth.

“He does not lie.” Berry said, and she and Fae looked at each other with startled expressions.  Berry put her hand to her mouth as if she had said something very strange.

“But you know since the dissolution, the days for separate places is over,” Greta said.

“Yes, Lady. But I thought in this sparsely populated corner of the world we might yet have a little place for freedom, even if only for a short time.  I meant no harm.”  His voice trailed off.  His hat finally stilled, and he knelt like a condemned man waiting judgment.

“There is one thing you could do for me,” Greta said.  “You and your cohorts.”

“Anything,” Bogus said sincerely.  “Anything.”

“Make sure no guns escape,” she said, thinking fast.  “No guns, no bullets, powder or nothing else from the future must escape, either by the North road or by the South, or by any other way.  Can you do this?”

Bogus looked at her for a minute and some of his sly self began to bubble up again to the surface.  “How far can I go?” he asked.

“I prefer no one die,” Greta said plainly.  “But by hook or by crook, you must be sure none escape.  You must hide them for me, to be taken to Usgard above Midgard.”

“I think we can deal,” Bogus said.

“No deals,” Greta shot at him and his whole countenance sank.  “I am asking yes or no.”  She said it, and it was a genuine choice.  He knew he could say no with no ill effect, but he also knew he could not haggle over the job.  At last he decided.

“Yes,” he said.

“Thank you,” Greta smiled.  “Now, your granddaughters will be with me for a while, and maybe, just maybe I will let them come visit you one day.”

Bogus understood that, too, but he nodded his head.  “We will do what you ask.”  Before he could move, Greta bent over and kissed his grubby bald spot.  His face lit up like the fourth of July and he spun around with great gusto and a big smile.

“Come on, dimwits,” he said to Gorse and Ragwart.  “We got a job to do.”

“Did you mean it?” Berry asked about staying with her for a while, but Greta did not answer right off.

“Thunderhead.” Greta regained the ogre’s attention from whatever planet it had wandered to.  Actually, Thunderhead thought of nothing in particular, and likely nothing at all.  “Please pick up my brother very carefully and carry him as you would the Fairy Queen’s own baby.  I do not want him damaged, but you will have to carry him to the river.”

“Yes, Lady,” the ogre said, and with a gentleness that could hardly be believed in the rock hard, dim witted brute, he picked up Hans and they started back to the river. Thunderhead knew the way, and he was not inclined to lead them in circles.

“Did you mean that?”  Berry asked again as soon as she could.

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.  “You must stay with me for a while, but you must stay big.  I hope that won’t be a hardship for you.”

“That’s Okay,” Berry said.  “I’m big a lot.  It doesn’t bother me.  Thissle said she was never comfortable being big and did not get big very often, but it doesn’t bother me.”

“Hush,” Fae said. “You’re going on like a teenager.”

“But I’m seventy just like you,” Berry said.

“Actually.” Greta interrupted.  “In human terms, she is about thirteen.  I know it hardly seems fair, but it is true.”

“And my twin sister,” Fae said.  “And I know that is true, too, with all my heart.”

“Me too,” Berry said, and she gave her sister a little kiss and squeeze.  “Tell me more about mother,” she said, and Greta tuned them out to give them their privacy.

Avalon 5.7 Little Lost Lamb part 3 of 6

Once again, Artie decided she had to just say it, and he would deal with it, or not.  She could not control his reaction, and inside she realized she did not want to control him.  That was the very reason she fought the Anazi.  People, all people, deserved freedom to make their own decisions and make their own choices. The choices might be good or bad, but they at least should be their own.  Trying to control others was the nature of evil itself, in her mind.

“The horse, saddle, saddlebags, pots, pans and knife are all from the future; many hundreds of years in the future.  I was not there at the beginning of this journey, but apparently, the Kairos knew the travelers would need certain things if they hoped to reach the end of the journey, alive.  The Kairos provided the horses and tied them to the travelers, like with a magical string.  That is why Freedom stays with me, and I love my horse, too.”

Freedom snorted and nodded, and Naman laughed.

She pulled out her big knife, the one Decker said was like a Bowie knife, and she handed it to Naman, who took it carefully.  “It is a carbon-iron alloy called steel, and it is much harder and stronger than bronze, though Decker says it is only as good as the person who uses it.”

Naman held up the knife to see the reflection of the sunlight before he handed it back.  “Decker is another companion?”

Artie nodded.  “He is what you might call a Nubian.  Then there is Alexis and Boston, the elves I told you about, and Lincoln, who is Alexis’ human husband. and Elder Stow.  He is a strange one.”

“Why?” Naman asked.

“Because he is human, they say, but he is an old human…” Artie honestly did not know how to explain this one.  She tried.  “The Kairos says this earth is a genesis planet.  That is what he calls it.  Humans are the only people presently on the earth, but in ages past, other people began here.  Some were like humans.  Some were early versions of humans.  Some were not at all like humans.  They were very different.  But they all learned to walk and talk, to think and feel, and be real people, even if they were not human people.

Naman rubbed his chin.  “Like lions walking around on their back feet, talking about the weather, and coming over for a visit.”

“Probably not lions, but you get the idea. And since this is a genesis planet, the Kairos has made it like a sanctuary, but mostly off limits to people from the stars.  I came here because of the war.  I never would have come here if I had any say over the matter.”

“So, this companion?”

“Elder Stow,” Artie nodded.  “He is from the people who were an early version of humans.  He looks and thinks just a little bit different from us.  As I understand it, in the time of the great flood, his people were saved by being taken off this world and given a new world out among the stars.  Ages later, he returned with some others, when, by an illegal act by one of the gods, he got thrown back through time and landed in the deep past.  He is trying to get back to the future.  How the humans ended up in the past is a long story, but the thing is, this is not a journey like going to your cousin’s house and going home again.  Ours is a journey through time.”  She paused to let him grasp the concept.  “Those magical gates we travel through are time gates.  They are impossible to find, unless you have the right equipment, but by going through the gates, we travel fifty or sixty years into the future, each time.”

“A journey through time.”

Artie knew it was a hard concept to grasp.  “These future things are from the time we are trying to return to.  I said I was in Egypt last night and came here through a gateway.  But the Egypt I was in was fifty years ago.  Tutankamon was Pharoah.  Horemheb was just a soldier.  And I don’t think Ramesses was even born yet.”  She was stretching to explain. She thought she remembered hearing about Ramesses, but she was not sure.

“I heard of Ramesses.  He fought the Hittites around Kadesh, and lost, badly.”

“Mother Katie said it was probably a draw.”

Naman shook his head.  “The Hittites still own Kadesh, don’t they?”

Artie shrugged.  “I don’t really know.  Lincoln has the database. He reads about it and can explain it to us as we go along.”

Naman got quiet for a while.  He looked like he was thinking deep thoughts, no doubt about time travel and what that might be like.  Artie imagined he had a lot of wrong ideas, but she kept quiet and waited, until he spoke again.

“So, you have two elves, one from a near human race, one Nubian and one husband of an elf.”  He paused on that one, and looked put off thinking about it.  “That makes five.  Who are the other two?” he asked.

“My mom and dad,” Artie said, happily.  “My adopted mom and dad.  Katie and Lockhart are their names, though actually, Lockhart is his last name.  His first name is Robert.  Robert Lockhart.”

“A man with two names,” Naman said.  “He must be an important man.”

Artie shook her head before she changed her mind and nodded.  “He is.  And my mom has two names as well.  Katherine Harper is her actual name, but everyone calls her Katie.  That is short for Katherine.”

“Like Artie is short for Arthur.”  Naman said.  “Maybe I should be Na.”

“Nan.”

“Nam.”

“Nama.”

“Man,” Artie laughed, but he stopped talking a minute and looked at her.

“What?” she had to ask.

“So now you are completely human, just like me?”

Not just like you,” Artie said, and watched him back up a little.  “I’m a girl and you’re a boy.”  That made him smile again, which Artie liked to see.

“Okay,” he said.  “You can be my girlfriend.”

Artie’s grin broadened to where she feared she might hurt her face, but her finger went tap her temple.  “But, am I ready for a boyfriend?” she asked.

Naman stopped, so the both had to stop.  “I thought that was what you wanted.”  He threw his hands up in exasperation.

“Kiya… Where I was in Egypt… Fifty years ago, Sotek proposed to Kiya, and she said, I can’t know how to answer that.  You haven’t even kissed me yet.”

Naman’s grin returned with a little sly mixed in.  He stepped up and they grabbed each other and kissed, and again and again.  Finally, while holding each other so close not even air could get between them, Artie tilted her head back and said, “Wow.”  Naman said nothing.  He could not stop grinning.

Freedom stepped up, gave them a big nudge with his nose, and knocked them right over.  The horse let out a sound which sounded remarkably like laughter.  And Artie and Naman laughed as they let go and got back to their feet.

“Well,” they heard a voice.  “Did you decide on a time and day?”

“What?” Artie and Naman both looked up with dazed looks on their faces.

“For the wedding,” Abinidab said, and the young people jumped.

“Father.”

“Abinidab.”  Artie looked over the saddle.  “Over here.  People get up and down from horses on the left side.”  Naman joined her, and Artie loosened the blanket-straight jacket they had the man in.  They got him down with minimal yelling.

“Be careful.  It is really high up.  Don’t drop me, I’ll bang my head again.  Okay.  Okay.  I’m down.”  And he sat down on the ground, right where he was, and put his hand to his head and moaned.

“How are you feeling?” Artie asked, and checked the bandage.  It was soaked through, but appeared to have begun to crust over.

“Like I got hit in the head with a rock,” he said.

“Naman?”  Artie looked up.

“I figured he would be okay,” Naman said.  “His head is harder than any rock.”

“Ha-ha,” Abinidab did not laugh.

“Hush,” she shushed them both and hugged the old man.  “What say we lunch here?  It won’t make us too late getting home, and I haven’t seen any sign that we are being followed.”

Naman quickly looked back the way they had come, like he had not thought of that.

“Home?” Abinidab looked up and questioned the word on Artie’s lips.

Artie looked at both of them with big, tear filled eyes.  “Please,” she said.  “I haven’t anywhere else to go. I would feel safe with you, until my friends find me.”  She looked back and forth between the two of them.

“Of course you will come home with us,” Naman said.  “Mother and the girls will love her, and we can’t throw a woman out to the wolves…”

“And bears,” Artie said.

“She is not your cousin’s daughter, Birka.”  Abinidab protested and looked like he might get stubborn.  “What was wrong with Birka.”

“Nothing other than she was stupid and ugly,” Naman said.

“Poor girl,” Artie felt sorry for her.

“Don’t misunderstand,” Naman said.  “There are plenty of men who also fit that description.  Let her marry one of them, and I am sure she will live a happy life.”

“Live happily ever after,” Artie smiled again.

“I don’t know,” Abinidab started thinking too hard.

“You will love my sisters, Doma and Anat” Naman said holding out his hands to her to help her to her feet.  She gladly took them and stood, but then she did not want to let go.  “Anat is nine and a scamp.  She likes to run and hide.  Doma is thirteen, and Mother keeps her busy learning how to sew and cook, and all the things Mother says she need to know to get a good husband.”

“Thirteen?” Artie shook her head.  “She is much too young to be thinking about husbands.  I’m sixteen, and I am not ready for anything like marriage.”

“Sixteen?” Abinidab looked up.  “Why aren’t you married already?  My son is nineteen and should be married already as well.”

Artie and Naman looked at each other and shook their heads.  Neither of them was ready for that, or at least that was what Artie thought.  Abinidab must have seen something else.

“On second thought,” he said.  “We would be glad to welcome Artie to the family.”

Artie smiled and still looked at Naman.  “I get to be the big sister?”

Naman nodded, and dropped one hand so he could step close and gently pat her other hand.  “Of course, my brother is fifteen, and he will probably follow you around.  Watch out for him.”

“And a little brother, too,” Artie said, happily before she put on her serious face.  “Oh, I’ll watch out.  I’ll be very careful.”  Her smile came back.  She couldn’t help it.

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

MONDAY (Tuesday and Wednesday)

Artie hardly has a chance to fit into a real family before she is overwhelmed by one trouble or another.  Someone is not going to make it easy for her.  There is a reason she got separated from the others.

Don’t miss it.  Until then, Happy reading.

*

Avalon 5.7 Little Lost Lamb part 2 of 6

In the morning, Artie heard voices outside her tent.  They did not sound like Naman and his father.  These sounded like rough voices, and one man sounded like he swallowed a frog.  Artie got up quietly and strapped on her belt.  She made sure her weapons were available, and thought to listen some before she ventured out.

“It does not look like these have anything worth taking,” one man said.

“This thing of leather is very interesting, only I don’t know what it is for,” another said.

“This tent.  I have never seen weaving so fine.  How is it made?”  That was froggy.

“I do not know.  It belongs to the lady,” Abinidab said.  Artie heard a grunt and a snap.  She feared for the old man.

“That horse would be worth something if we could catch it.”  Another grunt and hands came in the tent.  They grabbed Artie right from where she listened, and pulled her out.  There were four men, shaggy and unwashed, and they looked at Artie like they just found some fresh meat.

“No,” Naman said.  They had him on his knees, hands behind his back.  One man had a hand on his shoulder and hovered over him with a long knife near his throat.

The head man glanced at Naman.  “Is she your girlfriend?”  He laughed.  “Strip her.”

Artie felt repulsed as one manhandled her, until he spoke.  “There doesn’t seem to be a fastener on this dress.  Is it a dress?”

“Well, pull it off her,” the head man ordered.  The man had to let go of Artie’s arms to do that.  Artie went into Dominant mode.  She pulled her knife which cut one man’s hand wide open.  She simultaneously drew her handgun and put a three-inch hole through the middle of the head man.  She knelt and burned the one hovering over her saddle, spun and took half the face off the one that had held her.  When she turned again, she saw the one that had been holding Naman running for the river.  She pulled the trigger on her gun, but nothing happened.

“What?”  She looked at her gun.  It said the charge was completely empty.  “That can’t be.  Not after four shots.  This should be good for a hundred shots, at least.”

“Help here,” Naman said, and Artie turned from the runner.  She turned off her weapon, holstered it, and went to look.  They hit the old man in the back of the head with a rock.  He was bleeding.

Artie fetched her satchel.  She had antiseptic ointment and a gauze bandage.  She checked the man’s pulse and breathing to see if he still functioned, then she put some ointment on the bandage and pressed it against the bloody spot.  “Hold this here good and tight until the bleeding stops.  She stepped into her tent and pulled out her blanket.  She had learned how to take a small piece of her blanket and separate it from the rest.  She did that, and caused the piece to lengthen and widen until it looked about right.  She turned it white and wrapped it several times around the gauze bandage and the man’s head.

“Give me his hat,” she said.  Naman reached for it.  She put it carefully on the man’s head to help hold the bandage in place.  Abinidab made his first sound, a low moan, but he did not open his eyes.  Artie left him in Naman’s arms and called for Freedom.  The horse trotted up and she saddled him without any preliminaries.  When she reduced her tent to a ball and packed all her things, so she was ready to go, she had Naman bring his father to the horse and get him up on the saddle.  She had time to think about it, and had the main part of her blanket ready to go.  He looked a bit like a mummy, but being tied to the saddle in eight directions, there was no way he was going to tip and fall out.  He would remain upright, even if Freedom had to run.

“If he has a concussion, there is nothing I can do for him, and any speed on the horse might yet kill him, but for now, this is what we have.  We can’t leave him here, and we can’t stay here.  Get your things.”

Naman collected his things, but he did ask.  “Why can’t we stay here until he is better?”

Artie showed the back of the hand of all three dead men.  They all bore the same tattoo.   Dominant Artie noticed, even if sixteen-year-old Artie would have never noticed.  In fact, as Artie thought about it, she realized all the Anazi military information and all of the experience on planet after planet that had been fed into her mental system still sat in her memory, and she could reach it.  What is more, now, as a living human without an obedience crystal, she could put that experience to practical use.

“They may be the whole gang, but they may also be the advanced group for a much larger gang,” Artie said.  Naman did not argue.

The ford was not far upriver.  “Can you swim it?” Artie asked.

“Of course,” Naman answered, and Artie sent him out on the downstream end.  If Freedom begins to drift, or your father loses his seat, you need to be able to catch him.”

“I don’t think I could catch freedom,” Naman said with the return of his smile.  “He’s too big.”

Artie responded with the same smile.  “You know what I mean.”

They crossed, and the ford proved no problem.  After that, Naman said they should be home before dark.  Artie smiled at her thoughts as they walked, side by side, Artie leading Freedom.  Naman appeared to be struggling, so she thought to help him out.

“I could be your girlfriend,” she said.

He took a half-step away and looked at her with great doubt written on his face.

“What?”  Artie felt hurt that he did not jump at her suggestion.

He stared, before he built up the courage to ask.  “Are you a goddess?”

Artie’s eyes got big.  “No, no way,” she got loud.  “My sister Sekhmet says you should never even kid about such a thing.  The gods don’t take kindly to imposters.”  She stuck out her free hand.  “I am completely human.  See?  Flesh and blood, though I would rather not show you the blood right now, if you don’t mind.”

Naman looked, and nodded, but he did not come closer.  He had another question.

“Are you a witch?”

“No.  Not even.  I would love to be able to do some magic, but I haven’t got any such abilities.  Boston says she will just have to do the magical things for me.  Alexis, her magical element is air, but mostly she is a great healer.  I wish she was here.  She could heal your father.”

“Two of your seven companions,” Naman understood.  “Are they witches?”

“No,” Artie laughed.  “Though Lincoln calls Alexis a witch sometimes, he is just teasing.  They are elves.”  Naman did not understand.  “They are earth spirits—whatever you call them around here.”  She smiled, but then her eyes got big.  “It’s not what you think.  They are friends.  They both used to be human, and Alexis is like a second mother, sort of, which makes Boston like another sister.  And no, I am not an earth spirit, or a spirit of any kind.”  She put her hand out again.  “Flesh and blood human, remember?”

Naman still found it hard to believe.  “So how is it you have such magical things, like this big horse to ride, and your tent, and can do the magic you do, like the bread?  How can you point… That.” He pointed at her handgun.  “And make a streak like lightning come out, and make a hole in a man?”

Artie looked down.  She realized she had some explaining to do.  “Okay,” she said.  “But you have to listen first before you ask questions.”  She looked into his face, and he smiled, so she smiled; but he also nodded, so she began by looking at the ground for fear she would lose her boyfriend before she ever had him.

“This weapon.”  She patted her sidearm.  “It came here from the stars.”  She pointed up, though it was mid-morning.  “I came here from the stars, originally.  I was not always human… There was a war, and I was injured like unto death, and eight people came along and saved me.  They healed me and cared for me, and I owe them my life and everything.  And I also love them all, very much.”  Artie paused.  It was not exactly a revelation, but near enough.  “I also miss them.”

“Eight?” Naman thought about it.  “But you said seven companions.”

Artie nodded. “One died.  He was an elder elf, father of Alexis and Boston that I mentioned.  At least he may have died.  He disappeared in a great flash of light while we were battling the forces of evil.  We are on a very dangerous journey.”  She looked, and Naman nodded, like he understood something.

“Well,” she said, and paused.  She was not sure how to explain the next part, so she just said it.  “It was the Kairos, an old, wise and wonderful god whose life is impossible to explain…” she looked again.

Naman understood that much.  “Who can fathom the way of the gods?” he said.

Artie nodded again and returned her eyes to the ground.  “So, the Kairos took me out of time.  And she made me human, completely human, flesh and blood, so I could travel with my companions wherever the journey took us.  And I have learned so much.  And I have grown up, I think, human.  And I want to be human and experience human life in every way I can.  And love.”  Artie found her cheeks redden, and Naman reached for her hand, which she gladly gave him, though it made her turn redder.  Good thing she kept looking at the ground.

“You were explaining about your magical things,” he said.

“Right.  Well, the cloth tent, blankets, and even my clothes are fairy weave, which is a material made by the spirits of the earth.  I can shape it, grow it, shrink it, even change its color just by telling it what to do.  It is self-cleaning, and self-refreshing, which means it repells dirt and grime, and does not retain any odors, like if I go to bed all sweaty and smelling like my horse.  But the magic is in the cloth, not in me.  long sleeve,” she said, and Naman watched her sleeve lengthen to cover her right arm.  She held out her arm and said.  “You try it.  Tell it to be a different color.”

He said, “Green.”

She said, “You have to touch it.”

He touched it, looked in her eyes, and said, “Green.”  He saw the material change to green and quickly let go, like he was afraid it might burn.

Artie said, “Pink, back to what I had,” and the sleeve returned to its former condition.  “The bread is the same.  They are called elf crackers, and a little warm water makes them into bread.  I only have one pack, which isn’t very many.  I don’t know how much bread we can get before I run out of crackers, but you can do it next time if you want.”  Naman nodded.  He would like to try that.

“So, what about the pot, and your knife?” Naman asked.  “I have never seen metal like that.  And this horse of yours…”

Artie went back to blushing and looking at the ground.  “That may be a little bit harder to explain.”

Elect II—16 Night Creatures, part 2 of 3

The sun got ready to set.  Heinrich sat with his back to the oak that grew in the midst of the row of fir trees that acted like a fence between the yards.  He quietly gathered himself in anticipation of what was to come, when Sergeant Holmes came and sat beside him.

“You seem so calm,” she said.

“I learned long ago to conserve my strength before battle,” he answered.  “But surely you have learned such things in your years on the force.”

ab-nj-sergeant-2Margaret let out a slight smile.  “If that is your way of saying I am a bit old for police work, no offence taken.”

“That is not what I meant,” Heinrich excused himself.

Sergeant Holmes just let out a bit more of her smile.  “To tell the truth, I was destined for a desk a few years ago.”  She paused to rub her knee.  “Getting old is hard.  Captain Williams let me train a couple of rookies, but after Scott.”  She shrugged.  “I’ll probably be forced to sit down.”  She sighed.  “How about you?”

“At the university.  History professor,” he admitted.

“Oh? I thought you were a police officer.  I assumed.  So what are you doing here?  How did you get mixed up in all this?”

Heinrich put his finger in the air as if to say, wait, he would show her.  “Emily,” he called, “Your majesty.”  He added that designation on purpose as he stood and jumped thirty feet straight up to the top of the oak.

Emily stopped quietly talking to Officer Scott, trying to explain the inexplicable, when Heinrich called.  Sebastian’s jaw dropped seeing Heinrich’s jump to the top of the tree.  “Excuse me,” Emily said.  She could not make the treetop in one leap, but she could reach one big branch, and another, and meet Heinrich on the third jump.  She looked all around and said, “I see no sign of them yet.”

“No, and you won’t until dark.”  At that moment Ashish finished telling a joke and Millsaps, Mitzy and Rob Parker all laughed out loud.  “And I dare say we will never see them if this crowd does not become inconspicuous.”

ac-emily-b1Emily nodded.  “I will see what I can do, if anything, but meanwhile, how are you and Sergeant Holmes getting along?”  She could not help the tease.

“Not funny,” Heinrich responded and he jumped back to the ground.  Emily could follow him that distance down without too much trouble.

Officer Scott stepped over to sit beside his Sergeant.  She had nothing to say, either, but Emily took advantage of that to address them both.  “I don’t know if I can reach her, but if I can, no screaming.”  She turned, spoke up a bit and shook her finger at Ashish.  “No more jokes.  We need quiet from now on.”  She looked around to see that everyone was paying attention before she called, “Captain Riverbend.”

“Here, majesty.”  Riverbend appeared out of nowhere, or as Emily guessed, became visible beside her.  “But I have no such magic to make this many mortals inconspicuous.  I will have to call in the troops.”  It was a request.

Emily sighed.  Riverbend appeared in her jeans, that fancy winter cape and her glasses, but she knew the troop would not be disguised.  She turned again to the police officers around her and spoke firmly and frankly.  “A troop of elves will be disguising our presence here in some way.  I don’t want anyone freaking out, and no screaming.  Have you got that?”  Most nodded, but Emily wanted to be sure the State Troopers were prepared.  Millsaps, Rob Parker, Mitzy and certainly Ashish had seen things so they might not be so surprised.  When Emily felt they were all as prepared as possible, she spoke again to Riverbend.  “All right.”

ac-riv-troop-1Riverbend took out her little flute and played a tune.  Immediately the air beside her began to brighten until it became a hole between here and there.  A dozen elves burst from the hole, arrows at the ready.  Several people gasped, but at least no one screamed.  Riverbend explained and then invited everyone to stand by the oak tree.  The elves formed something like a line and began to dance in a circle around the people.  They danced with absolute grace through the trees and chanted in a sing-song kind of way.  It was both creepy and fascinating at the same time.  It did not take long, though, and the elves went back through the hole which promptly disappeared.

“Now keep quiet,” Heinrich concluded as Emily and Riverbend went to sit beside a fir tree.  It took a few minutes for Officer Scott to build up the courage to sit beside them.

“Captain Riverbend, elf.  Sebastian Scott, State Trooper.”  Emily whispered the introductions.

“Wonderful to meet you,” Riverbend stuck out her hand to shake and said an aside to Emily.  “I think I’m getting good at that.”

Emily shook her head.  “Keep practicing,” she whispered.

Sebastian withdrew his hand and looked at it for a moment before he verbalized what was on his mind.

“Majesty?”

ac-riverbend-a3“Amazon queen,” Riverbend poked her nose in.  Sebastian looked like he wanted to laugh but something told him he should know better.  “Certified by Zoe herself,” Riverbend concluded with a grin and a nod of her head.

“Zoe?” Sebastian asked.

“No need to go into that,” Emily shut down that conversation.  But Sebastian was curious.  He spoke again after a moment.

“Captain?”  He looked at Riverbend.  This time Emily butted in.

“Military.  And she leads an all-female troop.”

“Lady Alice says we can’t be real Amazons.  Only humans can be real Amazons,” Riverbend looked down at her hands where she worried her fingers.  Emily ignored her until Riverbend sighed.

“What?” Emily asked.

“I hope David has not forgotten me.”

“David?”  Sebastian asked.

ab-nj-scott-2“My brother,” Emily answered.  “Not a chance.” She spoke to Riverbend.  “I have talked to him twice since Christmas and all he talks about is you.”

Riverbend brightened, but only for a moment.  “I hope Lady Alice will make it so we can be together.”  Riverbend finished her thought.

“Lady Alice?”  Sebastian looked confused.

“Zoe,” Riverbend answered which did not help at all.

“Zoe?”

“No need to go into that,” Emily repeated.

Elect II—7 Orcs on Parade, Part 3 of 3

Jessica grabbed Melissa and took the recruits into Captain Driver’s office as soon as Emily ran out.   She pointed at Captain Driver’s gun safe.  “Open it,” she said, as the others piled into the room.

“Oh, I don’t know if I can,” Melissa said.

“Sure you can,” Jessica insisted.

“I’ve seen you do harder things,” Maria said.

“Just to borrow?”  Sara asked.  When Jessica nodded she turned to Melissa.  “I believe in you and it ac-melissa-8can’t hurt to try.”  Melissa looked at Sara and nodded slowly.

“Here goes.”  Melissa closed her eyes.  After a moment, everyone heard three faint clicks, and the safe door swung open.  No one was more surprised than Melissa, and that included Greta, Hilde and Natasha who until then had only heard rumors.

“I did it,” Melissa told Sara and Sara hugged her while the military retrieved their weapons.  They loaded up plenty of ammunition.

“Sorry, Maria, but if Captain Driver complains I want to say only ROTC people used the rifles.”

“Wouldn’t touch one,” Maria said

“Me neither,” Sara added, but everyone figured that.

“I could try,” Melissa offered

“No,” Jessica responded.  “You need to have your hands free.”  She did not explain.

It was then that Diane came running in, yelling.  “Weapons.  I need a weapon.”

Jessica handed over her rifle and made a command decision.  “Greta and Hilde go with her.  Natasha, stay with me.”

“What?  No.”  Natasha wanted to complain, but Jessica interrupted.

“I need back-up.  That’s an order soldier.”

Natasha straightened up.  “Yes, Ma’am.”

ac-jessica-1Jessica smiled at Sara and Maria.  “I always wanted to say that.”

Diane, Hilde and Greta ran out as Jessica got another rifle.  Then the ones who remained went to the center of the gym.  Jessica pulled over the pommel horse, Maria and Melissa, the vault.  Sara and Natasha got the balance beam.  They draped the floor mats over them all and in this way made a kind of fort in the center of the room.

“As long as orcs can’t come up through the ground, this is better than being against the wall,” Jessica said as she watched the doors.  “Walls fall down.”  Natasha and Melissa both got up on chairs.

“Better view,” Natasha said and pretended to look over the vault.

“Uh-huh.”  Melissa agreed, but her eyes stared at the floor in search of orcs.

The door opposite the parade ground door began to shake.  It was locked, but it only took a moment to rip it off the hinges. A monster of an orc came in first.  He was four feet wide at the shoulders and his knuckles fell just short of dragging the ground.  By contrast to the first one, the orcs that followed all looked like normal enough goblins, and some of them were no more than two or three feet tall.

Natasha got down from her chair and she and Jessica opened fire.  Three of the orcs fell before a volley of arrows came in answer.  The women all ducked, but Jessica caught one in her side.  It was a lucky shot that slipped between a crack where two floor mats did not quite meet.

“Damn!”  Jessica fell to the floor and Maria immediately hovered over her.  A second volley of arrows came, but they all bounced and ricocheted away because of some unseen force.  Melissa was still up on her chair and had her hands up.

“The wall can deflect some arrows,” Melissa said through a strained voice.  “But I have no hope it will deflect a charge.”

“Help me up.  Help me up,” Jessica complained, and Maria helped her sit and hold her rifle.  The orcs looked ready to try that charge.

ac-sarah-9Sara, who had been silent in disbelief until then, was shaken back to reality by the sight of Jessica’s blood.  She stood, shepherd’s crook in hand and hollered as loud as she could.  “You hold it right there.  Don’t you dare come any closer.”

The orcs paused.  Sara glowed a little with a pure, white light.  “Zoe protect us,” Sara added for good measure, and the orcs looked afraid to move forward.

The light that surrounded Sara appeared to spread as she spoke, but only to one side.  Then it flashed brilliant for a second and when it went out, two dozen well-armed elves stood beside the small, makeshift fort.  One ogre who seemed very eager for a fight, came with them.  The elves ignored the women and the orcs quickly focused on the elves.  The fight looked inevitable, as the monster that tore off the door, a distorted troll of some sort and the ogre charged each other.  They would have torn the gym to shreds in moments, but something happened no one expected, least of all Sara.  Zoe appeared between the two charging beasts, and she was dressed in the most ancient looking armor and decked out with a sword, a long knife across the small of her back and several other instruments of combat hanging here and there.  Zoe threw her hands up and some force emanated from her hands that picked up the two combatants and flung them to crash into their respective walls, and she said one word.

“Enough!”  The elves all went to their knees and dropped their eyes, no longer concerned with the orcs in the least while Zoe first turned on the orcs.  “You don’t belong here,” she said.  “Begone.”  And they all vanished.  There were no flashy lights or trumpets, they just were not there anymore.

At that point, Emily and her troop piled into the gym, and Heinrich at least had the good sense to follow the lead of the elves and fall to his knees.  Amina was a bit slower, but she soon joined him, and Mindy followed her example, though her eyes never looked down.

ac-riverbend-9“Good,” Zoe said and turned on the women in the fort.  She spoke matter of fact, like she was speaking about the weather.  “My rebellious ones have no business coming here.  They can drill a hole in the atmosphere of Avalon, but the only way they can make it a passage to Earth is if someone here, on this side opens the door.”  Zoe turned to the new arrivals.  “My queen,” she said, and in a way that was possessive, not submissive.  There might be other queens in the world, but Emily somehow belonged to Zoe.  “You must find out who opened the door here and where it is and close it.”  She smiled and turned finally to the elves.  “Captain Riverbend.”  The name was sharply spoken.

An elf, a female scooted a bit forward but dared not look up.  “My lady?”

Zoe paused in a kind of dramatic moment before she softened her tone.  “Thank you for helping my friends, but you don’t belong here either.  Please take your troop back to Avalon before Lady Alice finds out.”

The elf looked up, and she was a pretty creature, and looked young.  “But you and lady Alice are—”

“Hush.  No need to get into that.  Things here are complicated enough.  Go on, now.  And be sure to take the big, frightening, ugly, smelly, boil-faced brute of an ogre with you.”  The humans all looked, though perhaps only Emily and Heinrich could look at the beast for more than a second, but instead of anger at the insult, it appeared the brute beamed with pride.

One man’s insult…  Emily thought.

“Yes, my Lady,” Captain Riverbend responded and an archway appeared in the air in the gym.  That was the only way to describe it as the gym remained, but through the arch there was some other place altogether with green grass and trees still in bloom; and it was everyone’s idea of lovely.  The elves stepped through and the ogre followed and then the archway slowly shrank and disappeared.

zoe-1“You, too, Mister Schultz.”  Zoe had moved on to talk to Heinrich.  “No stories of the Kairos if you please.  These women have enough on their plates for present.”  Then she turned to Maria and Jessica.  “Now Maria.  You have to get that arrow shaft out of her side before it festers.”

“But the blood,” Maria protested.  “I’m not a surgeon.”

Zoe shook her head.  “Lay on hands,” she said.  “The spirit of Eir has not left you without gifts.  Sara can help you understand how to lay on hands, but you are the one who must do it.”

Last of all she turned to Sara.  “Priestess, you were chosen by the source for your tasks before the foundation of the world.  Perhaps we all are, only we don’t see it.”  Zoe stepped up and put out her hand, and Sara took that hand to shake before she realized what she was doing. “Now, you can just talk to me.  I will hear you.  And call me sometime.  Maybe we can do lunch when things quiet down a bit.”

Zoe stepped away from them all and headed toward the back wall.  “Emily, find and close that door, and solve my mystery.  Apples are missing from Avalon.  Something to do with immortality.”  Zoe paused for a moment.  “Immortality?  Fools.”  She sighed.  “So much to do.”  Zoe shook her head and walked right through the wall, and was gone.

Maria’s hands glowed with a golden glow.  She and Jessica watched as the hole in Jessica’s side closed up.  “You have still lost some blood,” Maria said.  “I don’t know how deep the healing will go.”  Jessica looked up, but she was not complaining.  The pain was gone.  Meanwhile, Maria had something to say to Sara.  “By the way, Priestess, the phrase is not “hold it right there, don’t come any closer.”  It’s, “You shall not pass.” And you need to bang your staff.”

###

ac-julie1The following day, Julie Tam from the Medical Examiner’s office called Lisa.  “Tell Latasha it was arsenic, or something like it.  Her instincts were right.  Janet did not die of the drug overdose, though they stuffed enough drugs into her system to kill an elephant.  I will be running more tests and give you a more complete report in a few days.”

“But where would drug dealers get their hands on arsenic?”  Lisa asked.

Julie had some thoughts.  Lisa took notes, but after that she decided to call Latasha herself.

Ashish was right there.  “Are you going to tell her about Carlos?”

“Not yet, but she needs to know what to look out for.”