R6 Greta: Battle Lines, part 2 of 3

“Quiet,” Greta insisted.  “Everybody just be quiet for a minute.”  The little ones got quiet right away, and the humans followed after Briana finished her sentence.  They heard a sound from the back room.  A child was calling.  Karina got up right away, and Mavis excused herself from Ulladon’s company to follow. A moment later, Karina returned, struggling to keep six-year-old Kurt up in her arms, her hands clasped beneath the boy’s butt and a look on her face which said how heavy the boy started getting. Mavis carried Padme, and they giggled. She sat down facing Ulladon, Padme in her lap, and Padme immediately protested.

“Let me see.”

Ulladon looked at Greta who shrugged, so Ulladon let her glamour drop and Padme clapped and reached for Ulladon’s horns.  She giggled again when Ulladon stuck out her skinny and far too long forked tongue.  Padme tried to grab the tongue, but her little hands were not fast enough.  They played that game for a while and the rest of the group watched and smiled until Kurt woke up enough to look around and scream. He continued to scream after he shut his eye and Karina took him toward the door.

“No offence,” Karina said.  “But he might never get back to sleep.”

“Rather a compliment,” Rotwood said with a big tooth-filled grin, and he tipped his hat to Karina and again to the boy, even if Kurt screamed in his face.  Bragi got Karina’s cloak.  Kurt stayed wrapped in his blanket, and mother and child went outside.

“Now,” Greta began to get everyone’s attention again, but Bogus interrupted, as soon as everyone got quiet.

“Lady, I must protest again.”  Bogus looked around the table and apologized to the newcomers before he spoke.  “I have more than a thousand spirits in every shape and size waiting just south of the town. They are all volunteers from all over the province.  You know, normally we want nothing to do with human conflict and human wars, as you have taught us.  Some believe the world would be better off if the mortals just killed themselves off and were done with it.  But in times of rebellion and invasion, the world becomes a dangerous place, even for us. People run everywhere through the woods and hills, and they tend to kill everything that moves.  I am glad our friends from beyond the mountains are willing to help in this time of need, but you have people right here who are willing to help as well.”  He dropped his voice to a mumble.  “I was just waiting for a safe time to tell you.”  He sat down.

Greta nodded, and she reviewed the actual numbers, or as close as the various little ones were willing to admit.  “So that adds up to about four thousand extra arms,” Greta said, pleased that she added it all in her head without having to write it down.

“So, they only outnumber us two to one,” Darius whispered to Greta and Greta lost her smile, and doubly so when she had a thought.

“Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.”  Greta got everyone quiet again as she looked around the table.  “Where is Willow and her troop of frost fairies?”  People looked around the room and shrugged. “Chip?” she asked out loud. “Snowflake?” she asked more softly to the fairy on her shoulder.  They did not know.  They had not thought about it.  They became worried.

“Why weren’t we warned this morning, or a couple of days ago come to think of it, when the new armies came in from the east and west?” Darius asked.

Greta stood and turned to face the kitchen, the only open space in the room, and she called.  “Willow.  Willow!” She had no response, and Rhiannon and Darius stood on each side of Greta for support while everyone else watched. Greta got worried because only the greatest of powers could block her ability to contact her little ones.  Greta felt some urgency and grabbed Rhiannon’s hand for the extra power boost while she went away and let Danna, the Celtic mother goddess take her place.  “Willow,” Danna commanded with that single word.

Danna’s voice sounded soft, but it had an intensity about it that reminded some of the roar of a hungry lion.  It reverberated through everyone’s insides, like it searched their souls, and not finding what it was after, it went out into the town to echo down the streets and alleys.  By the time it reached the Roman, and Celtic battle lines, it rumbled, like a belly ache deep inside a mountain about to go volcanic.  It knocked down men and tents in the enemy lines where the earth itself shook, and men wondered if this invasion was really a good idea.  The little ones in their camps looked up and felt encouraged and loved, and the millions of little ones who were insubstantial and invisible and working hard across the face of the wilderness, paused and said a little prayer to their goddess.  In the wild places, the wolves of this world howled, the owls looked at the rising moon and hooted, while the great cats roared in echo to the roar of the queen.  The startled deer ran while badgers, beavers, rabbits and songbirds kept their young ones close in the dark.  Far away, in a secluded northern forest by the Muskva River, the Wolv who do not have a word for fear in their vocabulary, looked up and felt afraid.

Deep in a cave in the Carpathian Mountains, the call found its reason for being.  A picture formed in the air of Bragi’s kitchen, and everyone saw poor Willow, beaten, broken, burned and in despair.  She had been badly tortured, and everyone became furious, but Willow looked up and spoke.

“I never stopped believing.  Lady, it is the Helios.  The Sun-runner has held us captive for three days.”  She stopped talking when she ran out of energy, and Danna pulled the window back to broaden the view.  The whole troop of fairies was there, in cages, and the titanic demon was there as well, by a great fire in the middle of the cave.  It turned to look at them.  People screamed and looked away, not because he looked scary like a goblin, or detestable like an ogre, but because he looked like a nightmare, a demonic presence who bore more than the fires of the sun.  The fires of Hell itself danced in his eyes, and at the sight of Danna’s distress, he looked ready to laugh and spit in her face.

Danna grabbed an apple off the table and heaved it. It went right through the window, which surprised the Titan, and it hit the demon right between those eyes, which caused him to stumble and raise his hands.  Danna already started yelling.

“Rhiannon.  Pull.” Willow came through the window, followed by two, then three, then the whole fairy troop.  By the time the Titan found his angry face, Danna snapped her finger and the window vanished.

Willow flew to Danna’s worried face and hugged her. Snowflake and Icechip flew around the room, hugging their families and cousins and friends.  The kitchen became full of flashing lights, but Fae wisely stood and opened the door.  Clouds had pushed up from the south in the last half-hour and it began to drizzle, but most of the fairy troop went out into the cool of the evening and were glad to let the water drops cleanse them from the terror and pain of the last three days.

Greta came back to her own place and sat heavily in her seat.  She put her hand to her belly and cooed for a second to her baby, but she spoke out loud to whomever listened.  “See what we have to look forward to?”

###

Lord Crag and his goblins and trolls did their job in the night.  They came up from the solid earth, out of sight from the enemy and their guards. They took any that wandered too far from the camps, and screams could he heard here and there throughout the night. Going against orders, Lord Crag and Rotwood formed several teams to race through various camps to burn the tents and scatter the men and equipment only to disappear again in the dark.  They scared off plenty of horses, and though the horses did not wander too far, despite how frightened they were, some at least were stampeded through the camps, and the goblins found that great fun.

By dawn, the enemy had lost some good men and had little sleep, but their commanders offered their men no respite and plenty of men were angry enough to want revenge.  By mid-morning, the Scythians were ready to charge.  The Lazyges and Dacians on the left and the Capri, Costoboci and Roxolani on the right all sent a couple of hundred men as a token of support for the initial attack when the Scythians charged.

R6 Greta: Battle Lines, part 1 of 3

Just after sundown the family gathered one last time around the double tables, with Cecil of the Eagle Clan, there to represent the Celts, and Mavis and the Tribune Hadrianus squeezed in.  A place also got set for Rhiannon, in case she decided to show up.  The children were in bed, and the conversation stayed quiet enough not to wake them.  In fact, very little got said, out loud, because no one could think of what to say. Their position might not be hopeless, but it felt near enough to cause silence to fall over the table like a shroud.

There came a knock on the door and Bragi slid his chair out of the way so Alesander could answer it.  They assumed it was some report from the front line.  It turned out to be a woman.  She appeared to be a fine looking young woman from a family of money, and it took those who knew her a minute to see through the glamour she wore.

Briana jumped up and hugged the woman.  “Ulladon. I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“You weren’t supposed to recognize me,” Ulladon said, with a big smile.  “I have a friend of yours outside, and one for you, Mavis my friend.”

“Me?” Mavis raced to the door.  There were several men outside holding torches, and Rhiannon stood near, lighting up the area with more light than the moon and stars would normally provide, not that anyone particularly noticed.  Mavis and Briana ignored the goddess and ran to the men.

“Nudd!”  Briana hugged him and then saw he had a young woman beside him.

“Heidi,” Nudd said.  “This is my amazing cousin, Briana, the sister I was telling you about.”

Heidi said something so soft it was too hard to hear, and then she dropped her eyes to the ground.  She seemed terribly shy.

“Papa,” Mavis ran into Hermes’ arms and wept. Hermes still felt sore from the wound in his side, but he was whole, and he hugged Mavis with his whole heart and shushed her because now everything would be all right.

Bogus, Alesander and Greta all spouted at the beast that stood between the two men.  “Stinky!”  The mule pushed up to Greta and bobbed its head, looking for a carrot.

“I found them on the hill, trying to sneak through the Scythian lines.  I thought you might want them.”  Rhiannon grinned.  “More to the point, you must hear what Hermes has to say.”

“Come in,” Bragi invited them all, but the men with the torches opted to stay outside on watch, and hold the mule, which would have otherwise followed them right into the house.

Karina and Pincushion were by the kitchen counter dishing out the supper, which had miraculously doubled, with plenty of duplicate plates and cups, enough for all.  The table, now melted into one big table, got magically extended to sit everyone comfortably, with a half-dozen empty seats besides.

Bragi still sat at one end, and Father did not seem too far away at the other; yet somehow everyone became able to sit and see and hear everyone.  Father squinted his eyes to try and see how it was done.

“Now you know I can make a chair or two,” Rhiannon said to him with a touch on the old man’s hair.

“And kind of you to do so,” Father said, and let his smile replace his scowl.

“Lady,” Cecil touched his head since he had no hat to tip.  He had seen the lady about when she trained his daughter, Briana, but he never knew her name, so it was just Lady.  Vedix’ eyes got very big, and he nudged Cecil, but Bogus was right there with a hand and a word.

“Steady now,” he said, and he helped Vedix sit and stay quiet.

“My Lady is the kindest and most wonderful person in the whole world,” Briana spouted and found some tears as she sat an innocent Nudd in his chair and put Heidi between them.

Alesander took over the conversation with a nod from Darius.  Darius appeared too busy enjoying the show to begin any serious discussion.  “Time for pleasantries later.  We all want to hear about Nudd’s adventures, but right now we are facing a terrible enemy that has the skill and numbers to overcome our defenses and set the whole province to flames.  Hermes.  I understand you have something to tell us.”

Hermes stood, patted Mavis’ hand and gave a nod to both Ulladon, who sat beside Mavis, and Rhiannon, who sat on his other side, beside Greta.  He cleared his throat.  “I spoke with Lucius.  He is still the man of few words we all know, but he spoke this way.  After a hundred and fifty years, he has come to realize that the time for the gods is over.  Though he bears the name of Mars, he is not consumed with the blood lust like Ares.”  Greta nodded. Mithras was always a meek and humble soul; a bit of a scaredy-cat, truth be told.  Hermes continued.

“Since living in the Land of Aesgard, he has come to hear about and admire Tyr of the one hand, the war god of Aesgard.  He says war and combat must be noble and an act freely entered into for the sake of faith and high ideals.  He says in the old days, the gods encouraged and supported and inspired the people, but they never controlled them.  Now, the aspects of Mithras have twisted men’s minds and stolen their hearts, and he wants no part of that.  He says it is time for Mithras to go over to the other side, and time to give the people a chance to make peace.”  Hermes sat down.

“If only peace was so simple,” Greta said softly.

“Maybe we can use this division in Mithras to our advantage,” Darius suggested with equal quiet.

“Like Scops and Dames,” Alesander heard and spoke up.

“Scots and Danes,” Greta corrected.  “But we don’t have the time to sew distrust between the tribes that have gathered, and I don’t know if it would work as long as Mithras is twisting the men’s minds, as Hermes said.”

“And there are more men coming from the north,” Ulladon said.  “But I have brought some good help, if the Lady will let us help.”

Darius and Rhiannon both grinned, but Greta put her head in her hands.  Everyone waited and Greta finally sighed, “Bring them in.  I suppose it won’t hurt to hear what they have to say.”

Ulladon stood and stepped to the door.  She opened up and waved, and then put her fingers to her lips and let out a shriek of a whistle.  Briana turned to Heidi.

“It’s all right to close your eyes.  Nudd is very good at closing his eyes.”

“I am.  See?”  He showed her and she giggled, gave him a peck on the lips and shut her eyes with him.

“You didn’t bring Bonebreaker into the camp, did you?” Greta asked.

“No,” Ulladon responded with a roll of her eyes. “Give me some credit.”

“That closing the eyes thing sounds like a good idea,” Karina said.

“I think you don’t want to miss this,” Bragi responded as Alesander and Hobknot together held Tribune Hadrianus to his seat.

The first to fly in the door were Icechip and Snowflake who landed in front of Greta and Chip asked in a loud voice, “Can we watch?”  Greta invited Snowflake to her shoulder and Father wiped off his shoulder.

“Well, son.  come on.”  Chip waited for no further invitation.

The Lords Longbow and Horns came in talking about the Scythians on the hill, like they were in the middle of a private conversation.  Lady Oreona said hello to everyone, and especially to those she knew before she took a seat.  Lord Treeborn and Lady Goldenrod came in full sized, so apart from their extraordinary beauty, they seemed normal enough.  Portent the dwarf came in and Bragi and Hadrianus shifted in their seats at this obvious sight of someone that was not human.

Portent introduced his friend.  “My General, Redbeard.  We brought a whole army from the Alps to retake Movan Mountain.  But I figure we might as well get some practice.”

Grassly the gnome scooted in without many noticing because the last to arrive came on his heels, and they were the Lord Crag and Rotwood, the goblins.  Hadrianus opted to close his eyes.  Karina shrieked but tried to hold it in.  Bragi and Father on each end of the table turned pale and looked away.  The only reason everyone kept their seats was because Rhiannon caused a feeling of calm to fall on the people.

“Are we all here?” Lord Crag asked, and Cecil only stayed in his chair on the chilling sound of the goblin voice because Briana reached across the table and grabbed her father’s hand.  Greta thought it curious that anyone heard anyone, because by then the whole house became full of little conversations everywhere.

R6 Greta: The Lake of Gold, part 2 of 3

The morning journey started out damp and cool, a reminder winter would be just around the corner.  The sky stayed overcast most of the day, but by lunch the ground had dried and the going got easier as the trees around them began to thin. They traveled by secret elf paths and covered an four-day journey in only two days.  By two o’clock on the third day they topped a rise where they saw the lake in the distance.  The forest in that place gave out altogether so only small clumps of trees dotted the landscape between them and the water.

“A lake on the Dnieper,” Greta called it, but the others ignored her.

They crossed the river to put the lake on their left side and then Longbow explained.  “Look up river, over the water to the other side of the lake.  If your eyes are sharp enough you might just make out a tent camp of the Samartians, or maybe Scythians.  It is hard to tell you human folk apart.  This is the only safe side of the lake, and when you get to the top of the lake, you will have to cross a half day of grasslands before you enter the swamps.”

“Our eyes are not quite that good,” Hermes admitted. “Especially mine.”  He squinted all the same, but as the sun had come out after another overcast morning, and it started dropping down in the sky, and glaring in their eyes, the reflection off the water became increasingly hard on the eyes.

“Get the sun near the horizon, and I can see why some might call it the lake of gold,” Vedix said, as he raised a hand to shade his eyes and tried to make out the tents Longbow talked about.

“Longbow.  My Lady!” Lord Horns came up with three young elf men that were outfitted in armor and all sorts of weapons.  All of the elf men were volunteers.  Greta insisted, but the whole elf village wanted to volunteer, so her insisting really did no good.  In the end, she let Horns and Longbow select a reasonable company, which became more than she would have chosen, but less than there might have been. “There are riders in the south, coming up fast,” Horns reported.  “Dacians I think.  They must have got word of our travels.”  Everyone assumed he meant Mithrasis had a big mouth.

“Quickly now,” Longbow got them moving, but it did not appear as if they would cover the whole ground to the lake before they were overtaken.  After a bit, Longbow sent out scouts who by magic or otherwise, caused the horsemen to slow.  The Dacian chief sent riders to the lake on the left and the trees on the right, but continued forward with the bulk of his men.

Greta’s first thought was, at least they were not Scythians.  Her second thought confessed that this far from the Carpathian Mountains would hardly count them as real Dacians.  They might have some Thracian blood in their ancestry, but they were likely as Iranian as the Scythians, and thus as easily swayed by Mithrasis.  The Germanic tribes that mingled with the original Dacians lived far to the north and were cut off by Scythian and Samartian incursions in the area that began several centuries ago.  Greta hoped they were going far enough north to escape the Scythians altogether, not that she expected better treatment in the land of the Vandals, Goths and truly barbaric Slavs.

Longbow stopped, so everyone stopped with him. The sky filled with little flashes of light, visible even in the late afternoon sun.  One flash of light came up to Mavis and Greta and took on the form of a chubby, middle-aged Lord.  “My Lady,” he said with a bow.

“No time for that,” Lord Horns interrupted.  “You need to get men in the trees with bows ready. My men will take the ground and set a wall against the oncoming horses.”

The fairy King agreed and called several light flashes to escort the traveling party to the nest, as he called it.

“Follow the lights,” Bogus yelled, and the party hardly had time to say good-bye before they came to a small group of trees, a half-dozen lights leading the way, and whatever might be happening behind them got cut off from their sight and sound.

“These trees do not go all of the way to the nest,” a floating light said in a woman’s voice.  “But they will bring us close, and then it is only a short way across the grass to the lake.”

“Thank you, Goldenrod.”  Greta named the fairy queen.  “And you, too, Waterborn.”  She noticed the little light, the prince beside his mother.  He could not have been older than fifty, which in human terms made him about a nine or ten-year-old.  He spouted and squealed at being recognized, and Goldenrod, his mother, hushed him.

Mavis smiled for the little one and looked back at Hermes who dutifully led Stinky, now burdened with food and gifts from the elves of the forest.  Hermes suddenly jerked and collapsed, and Mavis screamed.  Several arrows came from the trees.

“Ambush!”  The fairies and men yelled together.  The fairies raced into the woods to rout out the Dacians.  The men and Briana drew their swords.  Mavis knelt, hovered over Hermes, and pulled a wicked looking long knife. The look in her eye must have made the three men who stepped from the trees pause, not to mention the fact that as an elf, she undoubtedly knew how to use that knife.   That pause cost the men, dearly.

A very big man in the armor of Hephaestus, complete with helmet but lacking the cloak of Athena stepped up to face the three men. He had the sword Wyrd in his right hand and the long knife Defender in his left.  He showed no quarter, and two men quickly went to the ground, dead. The third did not follow, but only because Stinky tried to kick him as he ran away.

“Lord?”  Mavis looked up at the man, but the man paused to see that Alesander, Briana, and the men, with fairy help, made quick work of the rest of the Dacians.

The big man then removed his Ares designed helmet and knelt down to Hermes.  “Gerraint, son of Erbin,” Gerraint said in his native Cornish, which Mavis understood perfectly, and Hermes did not understand at all.  “I thought borrowing a life from the future might give Mithrasis a headache.”  He laughed, but the tears came up into Mavis’ eyes.

Gerraint went home and Greta returned to her own time and place.  She kept the armor in place of the dress and red cloak she wore all day, but sent the weapons and helmet home and recalled Athena’s cloak.  It came still turned out with camouflage in place of the silver side. “Let me look,” she said even as Hermes moaned.  She had to push Mavis out of the way because Mavis seemed inclined to hug the man.

Hermes had an arrow scrape along his hard head. It bled a bit, as cuts to the head tend to do, but he would not need more than a little ointment and a bandage for a few days.  She helped him sit up while she bandaged him with supplies from her side pack, and she turned to look at the others.

Six Dacians were dead.  Greta saw the image of a lion headed man on their tunics, a great serpent curled around the lion-man’s feet.  She also noticed that none of the Dacians were wounded, but Greta did not ask any questions.  Nudd had a cut on his arm; but not a bad one, or deep, and he took it well.  The soldiers and Briana looked untouched, as did the fairies.  “A two hitter and final score of six to nothing.  I’ll take that,” she said at last.

“As you say,” Alesander and Briana spoke together.

“Wow.  That was great.  Do it again,” a young voice shouted near Greta’s ear.

“Young man,” Greta spoke sternly as she bandaged Nudd’s arm.  “Sit here and mind your own business.”  She tapped her shoulder, and the young fairy hesitated.  “You can hold my hair, just don’t pull it hard.”  The boy sat with his face completely scrunched up in case it hurt.  Alesander, Lucius and Briana all saw and laughed.  Bogus and Vedix made a reappearance from the trees.

“They have gone completely,” Vedix reported.

“Indeed,” the queen’s voice confirmed.  “They had horses waiting at the edge of the woods. They rode off, fast.”  Greta nodded.  She understood fast as a relative thing.  A fairy could fly around the entire lake of gold, stop to flap the doors of the Scythian tents on the other side and be back by the count of ten.

“How is Hermes?” Briana asked.

“He’ll live,” Greta said, and she looked to see him on his feet.  Mavis stood right there, arm around him, helping him stand and walk.  Stinky nudged up behind them.

Greta would not violate Mavis’ thoughts.  She did not think after walking all day she could handle the migraine it would give her.  But soon enough she would have to find the right time to ask just what was going on with those two.

They started walking again, and Greta became inundated with questions from a certain young fairy on her shoulder. Fortunately, Goldenrod flew alongside and pointed out to her son which questions were not appropriate.

The short space of grassland between the trees and the lake took an hour to cross so the sun started setting by the time they reached the water’s edge.  Lord Treeborn caught up with them there.

“It was disappointing, really,” he said.  “When they got close enough to take a look at us, they stopped and argued about it.  Some of the humans were determined to try us, but some were equally determined that they were not going to do that.  When the men came riding up from the flank, and now I see they were the ones who ambushed you, the arguments became really intense.  The elves finally quit the field, and we came here as soon as you were safely in the circle.  By the goddess, I swear they may argue all night.

Goldenrod coughed.

Everyone got silent.

No one especially looked at Greta but she felt nothing but eyes turned on her.

“It’s all right,” Greta said, before Lord Treeborn tried to apologize.  “I would rather you not swear at all, either by heaven or earth or anything beneath the earth, but if you can’t help yourself, better you swear by my name rather than so many other things that can get you in real trouble.  Say no more about it.”  She turned and stepped toward the lake.  The others followed to where they found a fairy ring of stones and a small clearing by the water.  The water itself looked full of reeds, but the ground seemed dry and with more than enough room for the travelers to sleep.

A group of fairies came in while the humans got out their things to set up camp.   The fairies dropped twigs, branches and logs into the circle and then they began to fly around the fairy circle fast enough to make a small tornado.  The humans could not guess how they escaped being sucked into the whirlwind and mercilessly tossed about, but somehow the wind only happened inside the fairy circle.  The circle of speeding fairies began to rise, and as they did, the circle contracted in size until all at once they vanished and the fire sprang up on the wood deposited within the circle.  The smoke rose straight into the night sky, and it continued to rise straight up no matter how strong the wind that came off the lake.

R6 Greta: The Lake of Gold, part 1 of 3

The group stayed one day and a second night with the elves, but the men all insisted that to stay longer would be dangerous.  Bogus called the elf village enchantingly comfortable and said even staying one day would tempt the humans to stay a week, or a month, or years.  Alesander said the longer they stayed, the more they gave their enemies time to gather their forces and set traps for when they left the sanctuary of the elves. Hermes got more honest about human nature.  He said they were sharp when they were on edge and struggling to stay alive in the wilderness, but too much comfort would leave them soft and lazy and more easily taken by surprise.

Greta nodded to all they said, but let them get a little soft and allowed them at least one lazy day.  The elves understood and took the people on a tour of the village.  They offered Briana and the soldiers time in the fields and some pointers in practicing their martial skills which might well be needed in the days ahead.  Bogus got carted off by several elf ladies and treated well.  Nudd chose to stay around the big house where they slept and ate, and that was fine. On Greta’s insistence, Mavis disappeared and spent the whole day with her own people.  She returned in the evening, happy.

Greta stayed by the big house.  Several elves came to see her, and a couple had serious problems and complaints that she could not simply fix by divine fiat.  She had to call on her every ounce of wisdom and training as Mother Greta to not disappoint her petitioners.  Even so, by evening she felt like a poor excuse for a goddess.  Oreona helped some.  She said they all understood that in this life Greta was a mere human with all the human frailties and limitations, and they could only expect her to do her human best.

“Elves are people too,” Oreona added.  “And people have to work out their own problems and relationships and not demand that the gods do it all for them.  The gods never said life in this world would be easy or fair.  We all need to do our best and hope that when the day comes and we travel to the other side, we may receive grace and mercy.  You see?  I used the Christian words.  I hope I used them correctly.”

“You have,” Greta said, and her hand reached for the cross she always wore around her neck only to remember she gave it to Berry on the day Berry went in search of her father.  “And like so many times, past and future, I feel very inadequate for all the faith and trust you put in me.  I am no goddess.”

“But you are.  You are the Kairos.  We chose you as our god and goddess all those millennia ago because you are frail and fragile and you regularly die, even if you are reborn and don’t really die.  We would not have an immortal over us.  We believed it was more important to have one that understood limits and mortality, hardship and pain.  I am eight hundred and sixty years old, and if I live another hundred and fifty years, I will have lived a full life, and thanks to you and the many lives you lived before you were born as Greta, I will travel to the other side with faith, hope and love, not fear and tears.”

Greta nodded, but turned her head to wipe a tear of her own.  The words helped and made it worse at the same time.  She could not promise her little ones anything when age or some trouble took their life and they left this world and headed into the unknown. All she could do was what she had always done; grant them hope, encourage them to goodness, kindness, peace and love and then pray every day that the God of the gods might have mercy on them.  It was not much to give.  It was not enough, but it was all she had.

“Tell me about Berry and Fae, Hans and Hobknot,” Greta asked to change the subject.  “Did they come this way?  Do you know?”

“They did, but we did not bother them and they did not seek us out.  As far as I know, they moved without incident or trouble.  Even the human horsemen did not impede their progress.”  Greta nodded, glad they were not troubled, but she did not get the chance to say so out loud.

“Lady?”  Nudd came out from the inside and sat on the far side of Greta, away from the elf.  He meant no offense, and Oreona did not get offended, but clearly Nudd felt uncomfortable with the whole idea.

Greta found a handkerchief, wiped her eyes and blew her nose.  “Don’t be afraid,” she told Nudd.  “These good people will not hurt you.”

“I know this,” Nudd nodded.  “But I can’t seem to convince my spine or the hair on the back of my neck.”

“Maybe a blindfold would help,” Oreona suggested, with a truly elfish grin.

“His reaction is not uncommon,” Greta said, and they waited for her to explain.  “I have found about ten to twenty percent of the human race is uncomfortable and afraid at the whole idea of being face to face with the spirits of the earth. About ten to twenty percent are enchanted in their hearts.  They love the little ones and only want more.  But the vast majority, some sixty to eighty percent are muddled in the middle. Most can adjust to being in contact with the spirit world, but they don’t love it and are not entirely comfortable with it.  It is kind of like politics.  Twenty percent for, twenty percent against and sixty percent in the wishy-washy middle.”

“As you say,” Nudd mumbled and tried hard to sit still and not fidget before he went back inside.

Mavis came back at sundown in full elf regalia. She asked if it was all right if she quit the glamour of humanity for the time being.  “Here in the wilderness?”  She asked, sweetly.  Greta gave her a warm smile and a kiss on the cheek for an answer, and then thought she better say something.

“Just be watchful and gentle with poor Nudd.  His fear is primal and too deep to counter. He can’t help it.”

“Oh, I will, Lady.  I will continue to treat him like the poor and needy son I never had.”

“I thought that was my job,” Greta said.

Briana stepped up at that moment and gave Mavis a happy hug, seeing her in her true elf form for the first time.  “That is everyone’s job.  I assume you are talking about Nudd.”

“It’s true,” Alesander said.  “Poor and needy son I never had.”

“Can’t fool me,” Hermes said as he came up and slapped Alesander on the shoulder.  “You two are just practicing for the future, using Nudd as a poor foster child.”  He took Mavis’ hand, not the least surprised by her appearance, and they went in to find Nudd.  Greta figured Mavis already showed Hermes her true look, but she was not too sure the handholding was called for.  Meanwhile, Alesander put on his most stoic look, an emotionless face worthy of Marcus Aurelius himself.  Briana blushed, glanced at Alesander and Greta and made a dash for the inside.

“Lady,” Alesander said with a slight bow.  “My intentions are honorable.”

“Of course,” Greta said, having known the man over the last seven years.  “I would be surprised if they weren’t.”

Alesander went inside with another bow as Bogus came up surrounded by a bevy of elf maidens.  “Farewell,” Bogus told them in a moment of melodrama, and two of the women giggled, appropriately.  He paused and waved until the elf maidens were presumably out of earshot, though he knew full well elf ears were miraculous things.  “I don’t know why I ever had trouble with the elves of light. They are fine people, even if a bit too honest for my tastes.”  He looked around and spoke before Longbow arrived.  “Where is the would-be hunter, Vedix?”

“Lady.”  Longbow answered when he arrived, having heard the whispered question from twenty feet off.  “Vedix and Lucius went for a ride this afternoon.  They said they wanted to scout the territory and the way you would travel in the morning.  Horns went with them, but it seemed to me they were up to something.”

Greta nodded but held her tongue.  Vedix was not in the anxiety twenty percent, and he appeared to be used to Bogus, but clearly, he did not appear comfortable around so many earth spirits.  That might have been all there was to it.  Then again, Lucius still bothered her when she thought about it.  Mostly she had not thought about it, but in this case, she wondered what he might be up to.

Lady Oreona invited them all inside.  “Come in,” she said. “We killed the fatted calf.”

R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 3 of 3

Alesander stood when the lady came in and he took the moment to introduced the group before he sat.  The elves were good to wait until the introductions were over, but they appeared to nod as if they already understood as much.  Alesander ended with Mavis, whom he called the Lady’s handmaid, and Mother Greta, whom he called by her Dacian title without any other title.

“Mother Greta.  So I see,” Oreona said with a smile, and Greta was the only one who understood, besides Mavis.  Greta nodded and responded.

“I have to be careful what I eat at this point. I have been feeling sick in the morning.”  Everyone suddenly looked at Greta as if for the first time.  Greta could see the wheels working in several minds that wondered if such a journey was wise in her condition.  She ignored them.

“Morning sickness.  A human affectation I am glad elf-kind does not share,” Oreona said.

“We thank you for this supper and the promise of a time of rest, but you should know we are being followed,” Alesander took back the conversation and turned everyone’s attention from Greta, for the moment. Lord Longbow interrupted.

“By the followers of Mithras and the Wolv of Mithrasis. This we know, but rest assured, they will not come here.”

“And who told you we were coming?” Briana asked this time, and Greta smiled her approval.  As an elect, Briana naturally began to pick up on such things and ask for herself.

“Mithras,” Oreona said.  “The male one, and I do not understand what game the old man is playing.” Oreona glanced at Greta who quietly nibbled on a bit of venison and bread.  The elder elf looked at her hands and took a deep breath, which made it look like a time of confession.  “By my art, I have seen the monstrous crow, the lion in the thunder, the Persian whose magic is great and terrible, and the sun-runner, a magnificent beast, and I have discerned that all of them, including Mithrasis, appeared just over a hundred years ago, certainly less than two hundred years.  For some reason the soldier and the Pater, the Father are hidden from me.”  She paused and Lucius interjected a question.

“How could this be?  I thought the gods were there at the beginning of all things.”

Greta spoke up to answer the man.  “In the ancient days, when a god or goddess was born, reality changed to accommodate this new god, and the people all knew the god or goddess by name and believed this new one was as old as the others, being from the beginning of history.  When Apollo and Artemis were born, the people in the jurisdiction of Olympus, not everyone in the world mind you, but those subject to Olympus and the little and lesser spirits knew them and believed they were born at the beginning of history with all the others.  In truth they were born later, I won’t say how much later, but suffice it to say they were imagined to be grown up even when they were only babies. Mithrasis was born or created less than two hundred years ago.  It is only the reality adjustment that is telling you she is from the beginning of time.”

Greta saw Hermes, Lucius and Briana shake their heads, so she offered a bit more.  “Think about it.  You know that once the Titans ruled the earth, and the gods were born long after time began.  Zeus, that is Jupiter, was the youngest of his siblings.  He set his siblings free and they overcame their father Cronos and banished Cronos to the deepest pit of Tartarus.  And Briana.  You know Rhiannon calls Danna “Mother.” and I told you it was more like great-great grandmother, but you know that had to happen at some point after time began. Think about it.”
“And Salacia?” Alesander asked.

Greta took a deep breath, but could not imagine any harm coming from the telling.  “This age began between ten thousand and forty-five hundred years ago, with a flood and a foolish tower.  Salacia is less than two thousand years old.  She was born after the days of Hammurabi; just after the Hyksos invaded Egypt, and just before the Hittites sacked Babylon.”

“Two thousand years is still a long time ago for us poor mortals,” he said.

“That is a long time for us elves as well,” Lady Oreona added.

Greta paused and turned to Oreona.  “Since the time of dissolution, Mithras seems to want to build a new pantheon, and where better these days than Rome?  Mithrasis is the Nymphus, the female groom, the masculine bride.  What worries me is there are six altogether out there with her, but I cannot be certain about that because Mithras seems to be changing his mind.”

“She is trapped.  I have seen it.” Oreona responded.  “And the old Lord Mitra is trapped with her.  He warned us of your coming in a dream.  We only wish to help.”

“And I thank you,” Greta said for the group. “But good food and a good night’s rest is the best help.”  She would not ask the descendants of the elves of Miroven to risk anything more.

“But here, we have it all worked out.” Lord Horns interjected, and Longbow took up the telling.

“In a few days, when you are fed and rested, we will take you to the Lake of Gold.  There we will give you into the hands of Lord Treeborn, the fairy King. He and his will then guide you to the edge of the Swamp of Sorrow where Lord Crag and the goblins hold sway. They have pledged by every mighty word to guide you safely through the swamp to the city of Samarvant on the River called Heartbreak.  The river flows northeast from there, but after that point, you will be beyond our help.

“Goblins in the swamp?”  Poor Nudd had his eyes closed most of that time, and Greta took a moment to run a hand through his hair.

“Hush.  It will be all right.”

Vedix spoke up in the common Gaelic of the people. “Eat up, boy.  It may be some time before you get another feast as good as this.”

Nudd smiled a little, but having his eyes closed had not prevented him from eating plenty.

“I knew a goblin in a swamp once,” Greta said as a matter of conversation.  “I met Friend in China when I was cursed and sent to the hell of the Nine Gods.” Greta let her voice trail off as she reminisced.

“What happened?” Lord Horns asked, before Hermes could voice the question.

“He helped me escape from that hell, so as a reward I turned him into the first hobgoblin in history.  To this day, I am not convinced that was a wise decision. Hobgoblins, by definition are no end of trouble.”  Greta paused and came out of her reverie to look around the table.  Most mouths were open and staring, and the elves looked especially wide eyed at being reminded just what their goddess could do.  Greta decided it might be best to retreat.

She rose first from her seat, and after thanking her hosts and hostess, she made for the back of the room and the nearest bed. She sent her armor away with a thought but kept the fairy weave she wore beneath, and she curled up under the covers. She would let the others argue about the details of the journey.  After a moment, she heard Mavis curl up in the bed beside her, but then she slept like a baby.

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

MONDAY

Greta and her friends soon need to leave the elves behind and travel to the lake of gold.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 2 of 3

Greta remembered a river being near the base of the forest, but she thought after something closer to four thousand years, the river might have gotten trapped in one place to form a lake and further along, probably further up river, it might have bogged down into the swamp they called Sorrow.  She thought of the elves of Miroven, how they loved the woods.  She remembered the dwarves of Movan Mountain when it was a thriving community.  She feared to think what might be living among the trees all these centuries later, with the dryads and their protective warmth long gone, and she wondered why it would be called the forest of fire.  She did not like that name.

On the fourth morning, she found out what Portent meant when he talked about earth shakes in the area.  They came across a geyser, and then found some pools of hot, sulfur smelling water and Greta thought of Yellowstone.  “The earth has shaken in these hills over the centuries. There is still hot steam and probably lava deep beneath our feet.”  Greta spoke over lunch.

“Then we should move on quickly to get out of this area,” Alesander said.  His eyes went back up the hills in an automatic search for signs of Wolv following. Most of the eyes followed his, and even Greta looked, though she looked to the sky and wondered why the Wolv had not tracked them with whatever auxiliary craft the transport offered.  Despite Lucius’ warning, the group might be forgiven for not looking ahead since they thought the Wolv were behind them.  They were also not looking for men or horses, and so it came as a surprise when they ran into a dozen Scythian warriors.  The men, all on horseback, were richly armored and wore tunics finely embroidered with symbols of the sun.  They were across a short meadow and easily saw the group as soon as they were seen.

Greta cupped her lips and shouted in her best Festuscato voice.  “Riders of Rohan.”  That was all she got out before the Scythians lowered their spears and charged.

“Heliodrom!”  The warriors yelled the name like a great war cry.  The group made a dash back for the trees when half-way across the meadow a line of fire sprang up in front of the charging warriors.  Horses bucked, shied away and turned from the flames, but it did them no good.  The flames cut off any attempt to renew the attack and then began to chase the warriors, even moving against the wind.

One bit of flame broke away from the rest and appeared to fly up to land and face the group that still stood at the edge of the forest, mostly with mouths wide open. Neither were they more surprised when the flame took on the form of a finely dressed gentleman.  “My Lady.”  the flame-man bowed.  “Mithras said you might need help crossing through the forest of fire.  Allow me to guide you to where you can be safe and find refreshment.

“Thank you, Lord Fritz,” Greta said.  “Lead the way.”

Lord Fritz bowed again, turned and started to walk opposite the way the Scythians were driven.  Mavis stepped up beside Greta as Greta heard Bogus explain to Vedix.

“Fire sprite.  I thought I saw scorched trees and stumps along the way that would indicate as much.”

“Your eyes are better than mine,” Briana said. “I sensed the Scythians, but I did not understand what I was sensing, so I didn’t say anything,” she explained mostly to Alesander.  “I’m just learning, but I did not sense the fire sprites at all.”

“Because they are not enemies, at least not to the Lady,” Bogus butted in and responded to her.  “Your elect senses and intuition are very good for a human, but very focused. You sense the bad guys.”

The walk took all afternoon to get to a point where the forest suddenly turned dark, like a day full of deep gray clouds in the sky. They all felt something foreboding about where they headed, and it took some real courage to keep moving forward. Alesander, Hermes and Vedix all looked to Briana, but she did not seem especially troubled by it.  Bogus shared a thought.

“This is nothing.  You should have seen the hexes and whammies I put on the forest east of the River of the Bear Clan.”

“So I recall,” Vedix muttered.

Several fire sprites came in fiery form to guide the group through the dark and up to the inner circle.  There, suddenly, like stepping from night to day, almost like Dorothy from Kansas stepping from black and white to color, they came to an elf village and paused to take in the wonders of it all.  The enormous trees there looked bigger and stronger than any they had seen, and there were ladders and tree houses and walkways between the tree houses made of ropes and vines, planks of wood and oversized leaves. Greta called it the Ewok village, though no one understood her.  There were houses at ground level as well, one and two stories tall, with real glass in the windows and flowers absolutely everywhere, including growing in the roofs of the houses.  The streets were stone, flat and perfectly paved, and they had drainage ditches guaranteed to carry off the most torrential rain.  Most of all, the smell of a Roman, Dacian, or Celtic village was missing.  Everything smelled fresh and newborn.  Nothing smelled of dirt and manure—not even the stables where they left Stinky.

“It would take some strong magic to make this mule smell better,” Hermes said.

Every eye went to Mavis, at least now and then, to try and pierce the glamour she wore.  She kept it up, out of habit, and to not shock the humans, but of course the elf residents had no trouble recognizing her for who she was.  Some of the residents paused on Bogus. It seemed clear they had few good thoughts for the half-breed, but they kindly said nothing, and Bogus did not push the issue.  To be honest, in the universe of the little ones, at least among the earth spirits, most were some sort of mixed blood.  There were very few pure-breeds among them.  Darwin might have speculated that all the spirits began from one root spirit or couple and only differentiated over time into light people and night people, and every in between like dwarves, imps, gnomes, pixies, ogres, trolls, hobgoblins, leprechauns and so on came about from cross breeding.  That would not be correct, but one might speculate that way.

The group came to a long house where they could sleep on soft beds and where they found a table set with a marvelous feast. Lucius, Vedix and Bogus went straight for the food.  Hermes and Nudd waited for Miss Mavis and Mother Greta to be seated.  Alesander and Briana sat down together, Alesander on the end seat, and they appeared to be in a private conversation, so the others left them alone.  Greta noticed that Briana’s Latin was improving.  Vedix still had some to learn, but he functioned with Bogus’ help. They all began the feast before three elder elves came in and introduced themselves as Lord Horns, Lord Longbow and Lady Oreona, a name for which they had no easy Latin translation.  They took three seats at the end of the long table set for twelve, which filled the table nicely, and everyone noticed the elves gave the end seat at the head of the table to the Lady Oreona.

“Welcome,” Oreona said.  She had a warm smile and took a piece of fruit from the table. “Please.” She waved at the food and those who stopped eating on the arrival of their hosts began again.  “You have come some small way, but not nearly as far as you will go, I think.”

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

*

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.

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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.

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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.

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