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.

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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.”

Avalon 4.4: part 2 of 6, Caravan

Decker pulled up at what he figured was out of bow range.  Katie stopped beside him, her rifle ready.  Lockhart came screeching to a halt beside her.

“Shoot the ones out front, but only until they retreat,” he ordered.

Katie nodded, but Decker just began to fire.  A moment later, Alexis rode right past them, Lincoln,Decker 2 Boston and Mingus on her trail.

“Damn,” Lockhart said, and he followed.

Elder Stow pulled up to the two shooters and stopped to watch, even as Katie started to follow Lockhart.  She tried to shoot from the back of her moving horse.  Decker stayed where he was as long as he had targets.  The majority of the enemy began to back off when they realized what was happening.  Their men were mysteriously falling to the ground and not getting back up again.

Alexis feared someone in the caravan might need her medical attention, but she was not a complete fool.  The caravan had backed up into a rock outcropping and were defending themselves with arrows from cover.  A small cluster of trees and bushes stood beside the rocks.  Several dozen heavily burdened donkeys were there.  Alexis went to hide her horse with the donkeys behind the trees, before she got down.

“Are you crazy?” Lincoln yelled at her when he pulled up beside her.  He had his pistol in one hand and his Patton saber in the other.  He had to shoot a man even as Alexis started up into the rocks.  Alexis found a wounded man right away.  He had managed to move down toward the trees to get out of the direct line of fighting.

“Quiet.  Lie still.  I am here to help,” Alexis said, and the man relaxed for a second, though he had little strength to do otherwise.  His eyes did get wide and he shrieked when the two elves passed by.  Alexis hushed him, and worked.

Lockhart came up a minute later and stood with Lincoln.  They caught sight of men trying to get to the trees to come up on the rocks through the bushes.  Lockhart and Lincoln got down behind cover.  Lincoln fired his pistol, but Lockhart let loose with several blasts of scatter shot from his shotgun.  Lockhart figured he did not kill any of the men, but he wounded a few, and the sound of thunder made the men withdraw and rethink their idea.

Caspian hils 1Mingus and Boston got into the middle of the fighting just when a group of men, maybe thirty, made a sudden charge on the position.  They all had short spears and wooden shields to hide behind.  The men in the caravan had spears and crude swords to fight them off.  Mingus tossed a couple of fire balls into the pack of men.  They exploded on contact.  Boston had her Berreta and fired at will.

Meanwhile, Decker looked stuck where he was.  “You could help,” he told Elder Stow, but the Elder just sat there on his horse and watched.  Suddenly, the men who had appeared to pull back, charged his position.  He flipped his rifle from semi-automatic to automatic and sprayed the enemy with five shot bursts.  Many went down, some might say too many before they wised up and pulled back.

“Thanks,” Decker said to the wind because he was not sure Elder Stow was even listening.

It was then that Pluckman and his dwarves caught up.  “We can take it from here,” Pluckman said, huffing and puffing from having to run.

Decker looked once more at the immobile Elder Stow before he spoke.  “I don’t think the Kairos would be happy having you involved.”

“Too late,” Pluckman said.  “Already involved.”  Decker was going to say something more, but Pluckman and his dwarves all had their bows out and their long knives ready.  They moved into the weeds and scrub grass of the meadow and virtually disappeared as they blended perfectly into the scenery.  Decker could only shrug.

Boston and Mingus kept a bunch of the attackers back with her bullets and his fireballs, but some got up on the rocks and caused havoc.  Boston spied a man in black leather chain mail, holding a sword no local smithy made.  He had two men in his face, trying to gat at him with their spears.  Boston screamed.Boston LF1

“No!” and her Beretta got replaced by her wand.  The attackers got fire in their faces, and when those two went down, she turned on the crowd, using her wand like a flame thrower.  That was too much.  The men ran from the rocks and from the trees at about the same time.  They ran from Decker, and had dwarves to make sure they kept running.

Boston turned to the man in the fancy armor and sword.  “Ulrik,” she cried and leapt into his arms for a hug. “I was so scared for you.”

“What makes you think I’m Ulrik?” he asked.  Her eyes got big, but he smiled.  “I am, but you didn’t give me a chance to say, “Boston!”

“I recognized the armor,” Boston said.  “And the sword.”

“Is she behaving?” Ulrik asked Mingus.

“For the most part, yes.” Mingus said, but he looked toward Alexis and frowned.

Alexis had moved on to other injured men.  Lincoln stayed right with her, and would not let her go down on the plain to see to the Gutians.  Ulrik agreed.

“The Gutians need to tend their own.  We need to get moving.”

“We do,” Lockhart said, as he backed away from kissing Katie.  She was grinning, and so was he, but the others were polite enough not to say anything.

stow e1“One man is injured too badly to be moved right away,” Alexis said.

Ulrik nodded.  “Elder Stow,” he called out.  “We need to borrow your graviton device.”

“Why?” Elder Stow sounded surly.

Ulrik did not respond to the tone of voice.  He said straight out, “We have a wounded man to move.”  Elder Stow reluctantly got out his equipment.

Katie stepped up to Ulrik and whispered.  “Elder Stow has been acting unhappy for a while now.  He won’t talk about it.”  Ulrik nodded that he heard, but he had a caravan to get moving.

Lincoln and Lockhart helped by making a stretcher they could pull behind a horse.  The end could be held up by Elder Stow’s device so it would not drag on the ground.  Lincoln volunteered his horse, Cortez, to do the pulling and soon enough the overburdened donkeys were rounded up.  Decker looked to be sleeping, but the others knew he was meditating, using his gift of the eagle’s eye to try to locate the enemy.

“Ouch,” Decker shouted and put a hand to his eyes.  His eyes watered for a bit.  “Your enemies are a few miles north of here.  Look like a couple of thousand, but I did not have time to count them because something rose up from the camp and poked me in the eye.”

“General Zod has a witch in the camp.  I should have warned you,” Ulrik said as he got everyone up and moving.  They walked to the northwest and soon found a wide river off to their left hand.

“General Zod, you mean like Superman’s General Zod?” Lockhart asked.donkey load

Ulrik smiled that someone finally caught the reference.  Of course, living four thousand years before Superman was created made it kind of hard to expect anyone to know what he was talking about.  “His name is Zodh, but I have been calling him General Zod for some time, just because.”

“I take it he is the evil military leader,” Lincoln said.

“Yes, and his Gutians want the city we are building, and I won’t let him have it.”

“Gutians?” Lockhart asked.

“A mixed race people from around Lake Van, up by the Caspian Sea,” Katie said.

“Actually closer to the Black Sea, and from the mountains below Georgia, but well above Assyria.  They are more related to the Hatti than the Scythians, Cimmerians, or Medes around the Caspian.  They have been pushed down to Lake Van by the early Hurrians and the Hittites that came through from the steppes further north.  They are not one people, as Katie says.  They are many different tribal groups that history has lumped together under the name Gutians, but they are fierce in their own way.

“Mitani people?” Katie asked.

Ulrik nodded.  “Mixed in there eventually, I guess.”

“So, what is in the bags?” Lincoln asked.  He was thinking of the bags carried by the caravan in Lin’s day, but they were like satchels that hung over the back of the donkeys.  These burdens looked like someone took a sheet, filled it with something almost to the breaking point and tied it to the back of the donkeys, which was almost more than the beasts could bear.

“Grain, our daily bread,” Ulrik answered.  “Our fields were burned out by General Zod, and we haven’t done a winter planting.  No point as long as there is a Gutian army hovering over our shoulders.”

“Winter planting?” Boston questioned.  “You mean it isn’t August?  I’m sweating.”

“Late September, early October,” Ulrik answered.  “We are in a hot, dry time and have been for a couple of centuries.  Drought conditions have helped move people into the great river valleys, and the hot and dry is helping to make this part of the world more like you are used to imagining it, with sandy, scrubby soil and plants in many places, well spaced across the fields.  Call it early global warming,” Ulrik laughed to himself.babylon 1

“What is that?” Alexis finally verbalized what everyone saw.  They had been coming up on some great edifice.  Now that they were closer, they could distinguish the beginning of walls from the buildings behind.  It looked like an enormous settlement.

 

“My city,” Ulrik said.  “And I am glad to see it still standing after my absence.”

“What city?” Katie asked.

Mingus stole the thunder and said the name.  “Babylon.”

Avalon 2.6: Traveling Mercies

            When the travelers discovered they would be more of a hindrance than a help in the war, they reluctantly decide to more on.  Getting out of the war zone was good, but it hardly meant they were out of danger.

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            The line of lights in the dark steadied for a moment and Katie wondered if it was some kind of ground machine, like a truck with side lights.  “Is it Gott-Druk?” she asked.

            “No,” Elder Stow said flatly.

            “How about a dragon hunting near the ground?” Lockhart wondered with a look at Lincoln.

            “Thanks!” Lincoln sat up straight.  “That is an image I won’t soon forget.”

            Gimble, the chief dwarf stood, squinted, and then let out a whistle guaranteed loud enough and shrill enough to crack a window.  The string of lights wavered, turned, and fluttered straight for them.  The humans might have been afraid if the little ones were not so relaxed about it.  When the lights arrived, it turned out to be fairies, as many as a hundred, and they went mostly for the trees for the night, but a number of them paused to examine the horses first.  Two, one golden lit male and one bluish lit female made a special effort to pause before each human face around that camp.  They hesitated in front of Elder Stow as well, but only very briefly.  They also hardly paused at the elves and dwarfs as if they knew what they were and had no real interest in them.

            “It is as we heard,” the female spoke.  “Humans and spirits working together.” 

            “Strange,” the male said.  “And the gods divided and alien creatures fighting beside the rest.”

            “We are not aliens,” Elder Stow spoke up loudly.  “Our genesis was on this world the same as the humans.  We have as much right to be here as they do.”

            “But you are no longer authorized to be on this world.  By decree of the gods, it is a human world now.”  Lockhart spoke the truth of it.

            Elder Stow got a little hot.  “But the gods have gone away, at least in our day.”

            “Hey!” Roland, Boston, Katie and Lincoln all spoke up.  “You are not to speak of future things like that.”

            Elder Stow paused and looked around the group and ended with a look at Katie.  “Mother.  My apologies.  I did not mean to speak out of turn.”

            “Accepted,” Katie said without hesitation.  Her eyes were on the blue glowing fairy.  “I knew a fairy once that was blue like you.  Her name was Bluebell.”

            The blue fairy rushed up to Katie’s face.  “My mother’s name was Bluebell,” she said. 

            “But it couldn’t be,” Katie shook her head, sadly.  “That was on the other side of the world and had to be almost nine hundred years ago.”

            “My mother lived to be over nine hundred.  I was born five hundred years ago two years ago.”

            “That makes you five hundred and two,” Lockhart suggested.

            “It does?  Well, that is a good thing, isn’t it?”

            “A good thing,” Lockhart agreed.

            “And we just arrived from the other side of the world,” the male added.

            “But I don’t know.  Mother avoided humans.  You see, she met some once shortly before she lost her Lord.  After that, she stayed away from the human world.”

            “But she met some?”

            “Yes.  One with hair like fire who was called Mary Riley, but her real name was Boston and one with hair of gold called Lieutenant Harper, but her real name was Katie.”

            “That’s my Bluebell!”  Boston shouted.  “I’m Boston.”

            “And Honeysuckle?” Katie thought of her special friend.

            “She was my mother,” the young male said.  He did something then that caused Katie to audibly gasp.  He got big, which is to say human sized.  His wings vanished and his fairy weave clothes grew with him to fit his new size.  Katie had forgotten fairies could do that.  “My name is Ivy, and my wife is Holly,” he said.  Holly got big, and she was as beautiful as everyone expected a fairy to be.

            Katie stood.  “I am Katie,” and she did what she did when she said good-bye to Bluebell and Honeysuckle.  She hugged each of the fairies in turn, this time to say hello.

            Captain Arturo rubbed his hands together.  “Good thing you are here.  We can use your help.”

            When the travelers set out in the morning, they had a hundred fairies with them to watch their rear, move way out on their flanks, scout ahead and spy from far overhead.  Elder Stow said he was honestly not sure of the range of the Gott-Druk scanners in the atmosphere, but he thought they might send a ship if they saw him traveling with humans, and especially if they picked up sign of the spirits with them.

            “Then again, in this mixed-up war, they might find that normal and ignore it,” he concluded.

            “Some little or lesser spirits might notice,” Captain Arturo admitted.  He was jogging beside Lockhart and was speaking with him, Katie and Ivy in his small form who sat on the neck of Lockhart’s horse and held on to the horse’s mane.  “Lesser spirits might have been a real problem with just my troop, but I have confidence now that we have the force to meet any such threat.”

            “Let us hope the force won’t be needed,” Lockhart responded.

            “I asked for this assignment,” Arturo admitted.  “But my Lord could only send me and my troop.  There were no others that could be spared.  I believe the retreating has ended now and the real fighting will begin.”

            “What?”  Lincoln looked back as if looking all the way to the burning woods.  “You mean there hasn’t been any real fighting yet?”

            “To be sure there has,” Arturo said.  “But most of our effort until now has been in an orderly retreat.  They landed at the place my Lord calls Normandy.  He brought the humans and us from that place step by step.  We carried what food we could and destroyed the rest.  We harried the enemy, but did not pitch battle.  Now the enemy men are starving and the rebellion of the spirits is wavering.  One good blow now and the enemy may fall apart.  If the elder race can be turned, all the better.”

            “Elder race?”  Katie had to be sure she understood.

            “The Gott-Druk,” Lockhart confirmed.

            Up front, Boston talked nonstop with Missus Holly who was small and rode in her horse’s mane and Linnia who jogged beside them.  Roland did his very best to ignore them.  They were all three talking when a troop of six fairies rushed back from the front.  They paused only long enough for a sentence before they rushed back to report to Lord Ivy.

            “The enemy is up ahead just standing there, doing nothing.”

            Boston got out her amulet and took a reading.  The time gate was less than a mile away and she turned and shouted back to the others.  “I bet they are guarding the time gate.”

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Avalon 2.6:  The Battle for Freedom … Next Time

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Avalon 2.6: Multiple Worlds

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After 3617 BC around Paris, France.  Kairos life 26:  Tetamon, called the Theban.

Recording…

            “This forest is far spookier than the one we left,” Boston said.  “And it is going to be dark soon besides.”

            “Looks and feels like a war zone if you ask me,” Lockhart spoke up from the rear.  He and Katie had discussed it and agreed.

            “I can smell fires burning in the distance,” Roland added.  “Wildfires, not campfires, though I suppose there are some of those as well if there are armies.”

            “My guess would be we came out somewhere in the Ardennes,” Lincoln said.  “We seem to be headed toward Paris, or where Paris will be at some point in the future.”

            “How do you figure?”  Boston was getting used to asking that.

            “Tetamon’s childhood was traveling around the Mediterranean with his Greek merchant father.  But when he began to show signs that he was his mother’s son, he was banished for a time by the gods of Olympus.”

            “What?”  Katie was not getting it.  She was too busy scanning the neighborhood for hostiles.  Her every instinct was on alert.

            “His mother was the Egyptian goddess Nephthys.  As a teenager he laid the foundation for the city of Thebes in Egypt before Set got him kicked out of that country, too.”

            “His mother was a goddess?”  Boston thought she heard that wrong.

            “That actually happened several times, that the Kairos was born a half-god or half-goddess.  The gods of old were not known for being chaste, you know,” Roland explained quietly.

            “Anyway,” Lincoln continued.  “He wandered up the coasts of the Middle East and Asia Minor and got tangled with Tiamut.”

            “One of our all time favorites,” Lockhart said.

            “And eventually got back to Greece, but he was still not welcomed there so he wandered into Germanic lands.  Forced to move on by Aesgard, he eventually came West where he finally settled around what would one day be Paris, France.”

            “Adventurous life,” Elder Stow offered a rare opinion.

            “Yes, but anyway, I figure we must be headed through the forest toward Paris.”

            “How do you figure?”  Boston tried again.

            “Snow,” Roland said.

            “No snow in Egypt, the Middle East or normally Greece,” Lincoln finished the explanation.

            Boston nodded as Katie fired her gun.  The party stopped moving forward.  “Something is coming through the trees,” she said.

            “Shouldn’t we ask questions first and shoot later?” Boston wondered out loud even as an arrow came toward them in answer.  It was followed by several more.

            “To those rocks,” Lockhart pointed further West.  It was a good defensive place that put the sun at their backs and allowed them to shoot toward the East or North as needed.  Boston and Roland tied off the horses behind the protection of the rocks.

            The rocks were slick with ice.  Everyone had to be careful, but Katie and Lincoln quickly took the two best positions for their rifles.  Lockhart had his shotgun and unsnapped the cover of his holster so his pistol could be quickly brought to bear.

            “I say again, let me have my weapons,” Elder Stow tried.

            Once again Lockhart shook his head.  “Bullets are bad enough as historical disruptions go.  We don’t need heat rays blasting the forest.”

            “It isn’t a heat ray, as you call it,” Elder Stow complained.

            “Go get Decker’s pistol.  Can you shoot a pistol?”

            The Gott-Druk stood and scrambled down to the horses.  “It can’t be that complicated.”

            Roland was best with the horses so Boston climbed up from behind when the attack came.  The enemy was unseen and preferred to shoot from behind the bushes and trees, but they did have to stick out their heads and arms to fire, and that was when Lincoln, Katie and Lockhart could draw a bead.  Several were hit, though none were necessarily killed.

            “I think they are waiting for reinforcements,” Boston spoke up.  She had not fired her weapon and was keeping her head down, but watched as well as she could.  Elder Stow came up beside her so she missed what Katie and Lincoln planned.

            “Roland,” Lockhart shouted in English as soon as he figured out how to be sure it was in English rather than the local tongue.  “Get the horses ready for a quick ride.”

            “What are you thinking?”  Boston shouted back.

            Katie was closer, so she answered.  “This was a good temporary redoubt, but they appear only to be in that direction so we will ride in the opposite direction and our horses should be able to outrun them, even in the woods.”  As she finished speaking she had to get busy.  Some twenty men, or maybe they were something like animals came out from the trees to charge their position.  Boston and Elder Stow added their  fire to the three in the rocks and those five guns left nineteen on the ground in various forms of groaning and trying to crawl back to the trees.

            “Now,” Lockhart said and he started to get up, but the answering fire came from the other side at that point, and it was one of what he called “heat rays.”  The rocks in front exploded into slivers.  Lockhart went down, his back shredded.  Katie saved her face but got several bad cuts in her arms and one in her side.  Lincoln escaped as did the ones further away who both reacted.

            Elder Stow ran back down to the horses.  Boston closed her eyes, thought of the Amazons and the wall she built against the magician in that valley.  She was not sure if it would work, but the heat rays from the other side soon hit her wall and reflected off, straight up into the air.  Someone must have seen, because in a moment three small ships came over their position and hovered briefly before they started firing into the woods at their enemy.  That enemy must have moved, and quickly because the craft shot over top of the forest and disappeared, though they could continue to hear shots fired from the craft.  It was like they were trying to get at the enemy down among the trees, and if they hit any, no one knew, but certainly a number of trees were set aflame.

            Elder Stow returned from the horses with all his equipment back in his pockets, on his wrist and around his neck.  He discarded Cophu’s bag which had just about disintegrated from age and came up first to Lockhart.  “Forgive me father for overstepping my boundaries,” he said and moved a flat piece of equipment over Lockhart’s back.  The slivers of stone vacated the flesh, though he remarked how many of the slivers were already being pushed out.

            “Over here,” Boston yelled and the Elder did the same thing for Katie.  The pieces of stone that cut into her were far less, in far less vital areas, but they were still deep, one cutting all the way to the bone.  Then he passed the device over each cut and the flesh pulled together like it was stitched.

            “The inside will still need to heal, but there should be no infection once the outside is sealed.”

            “I’ll be fine,” Katie insisted and she crawled over to Lockhart.  He was preparing to sit up.

            “Gaian healing chits still active, I guess.  I should be whole in a couple of hours.”

            Roland came up from the horses now that Lincoln was down there.  He went straight for Boston, but looked at Lockhart as he spoke.  “Can you ride?”  Lockhart nodded and he and Katie clambered down the far side of the rocks and crawled up on their mounts.  The others were ready and they left that place a bit slower than they planned.

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Avalon 2.6:  Splinters … Next Time

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