Avalon 6.1 Little Things, part 5 of 6

Rama scooted up to the back of a hut. Lakshme and Libra followed.  Libra had her bow out and said she practiced. She said she was going to protect Lakshme to the death.

“You better not die,” Lakshme responded, gruffly.

Pokara, Salipsa and the gang followed more noisily, but they came prepared for a fight.  Someone saw them and shouted.  Men and women came pouring out of their homes and gathered in the village center.

Rama stood, figuring, what was the point? Lakshme stood and Libra pointed her arrow at the people.  What the people did surprised them all.  The people fell to their knees and faces and pleaded.  “Help us.  Help us.”

Rama needed no more enticement.  He turned toward the cave entrance and shouted. “Rakshasa.  Show yourself.  The universe rejects your existence.”

They heard rumbling in the cave. They saw a very big hand, followed by an equally big arm, and finally a head, that when the Rakshasa stood, he looked about twenty or more feet tall.  The Rakshasa laughed as it looked on them.

“Perhaps I reject your existence.”

Rama paused, not because he was afraid, but because it became Lakshme’s turn.

“Titan in the wilderness, hear me. You have chosen the path that leads to destruction.  No good end will come of your days if you continue down that path.  I am forgiveness.  I offer a path to grace and mercy.  Repent of your wickedness, turn to the path of righteousness, and live among the gods once again.”

The titan reached out and snatched Lakshme, lifting her with one great hand.  “Maybe I eat forgiveness.” he said.  Lakshme screamed as three things happened in quick succession.  Libra let her arrow fly.  A stream of light came from the forest and put a hole the size of a basketball in the titan’s chest.  And Rama leapt up to the titan’s head, and with one sweep of his sword, he cut the titan’s head off.  Then Libra’s arrow arrived.

Lakshme fell to the dirt and twisted her ankle. Pokara, Salipsa and Libra all arrived at about the same time, but Lakshme got up, livid.  She leaned on Libra.  “Elder Stow,” she yelled.  “You almost killed my friend.”  She swallowed and glanced at Rama.  “And thanks for saving my life.”

The travelers came sheepishly from the trees.  The locals made plenty of room, afraid that this might be a new terror.  They breathed some relief when Lockhart got down from his horse and they realized he and the horse were two separate beings. Of course, they did not breathe much relief, him still being a six-foot man in a five-foot world.  Then again, after the titan, he did not look very big at all.

“Welcome friends,” Rama said. “Your faces look oddly familiar. Even the monkey man.”

Lakshme growled and yelled again. “Major Decker is not a monkey man. Decker, please ignore him when he says stupid stuff.  He is a person.  These are people.”  She pointed at the locals who were all dark-skinned Dravidians.

“My name is Lockhart.”  He stuck out his hand and Rama knew enough to shake that hand.  “My wife, Katie.”

“Yes,” Rama said.  “My wife, Sita, is back in Valmiki’s ashram.”

“I look forward to meeting her,” Katie said, and bit her lower lip to keep from saying something, or maybe shrieking like a groupie.

“It is sort of like tromping around with Heracles,” Lakshme admitted.  “Althea already did that.”  Lakshme shook her head.  “At least Rama is calm and collected.  I don’t think I have ever seen him get angry.”  Lakshme made the rest of the introductions.

They ended up staying the night. The titan’s body got dragged back into the cave and Elder Stow kindly used his sonic device to collapse the entrance. The titan’s head, however, got set up on the ledge by the cave, and no doubt would be set up on a pole, as soon as they managed a tree bit enough to handle the job.

The celebration seemed almost caveman primitive to the travelers.  Sukki might have been the only one to appreciate certain parts of the party. Even Rama found the festivities backward.  He asked what was wrong with calling them monkey people?

They got the recipe for bug repellant, and first thing in the morning the headed for the ashram.  Lakshme got to ride behind Katie, and Rama rode with Lockhart. Libra rode behind Alexis, scared though she was.  Pokara, Salipsa and the gang had to use their own feet, though Lakshme admitted that they would probably move by secret ways and get back ahead of them.

About two hours out, Katie had a question.  “So, explain to me why in India, the Devas are the good gods and the Asuras are the bad ones, while in Iran it is the opposite, with the Ahuras being good and the Devas being bad.”

Lakshme looked at Lockhart and Rama.  “Would you two mind riding to the point?” she asked.  “When we walked this way yesterday, I did not have horses in mind. I would like to be sure the way is safe for the horses.”

Lockhart nodded and spurred to ride out front, hopefully out of earshot.  Then Lakshme explained.

“The Ashri were the native gods in this jurisdiction.  The Divas, as in either divine or devils served the Brahman next door, really Afghanistan, in the center of the old world.  You remember the titan Bhukampa held Iran itself.”  Katie nodded.  “Well, when the Indo-Aryan people invaded, and the Divas came, it was trouble putting two houses together, peacefully.  Eventually, the Ashri who fit themselves into the new house of the gods got called Devas, whether they were, originally, or not.  The ones who refused to fit in remained Ashri, which became Asuras. They resisted the new order and caused much trouble.  Still are causing trouble. Sita will be kidnapped by an Asura.”

“I understand that part,” Katie said. “But in Iran the names are reversed.”

“Well, when the Divas came into India, some Ashri moved into Iran and Afghanistan, which were pretty depopulated, god-wise.  Mita, who became Mithras went there.  Varuna, who moved into the sea, kind of touched both places.  Agni, the fire god is still straddling the fence.  But in any case, the reverse happened.  With much less struggle, a new house got formed there, only this time the ones who fit in with the immigrant Ashri came to be Ashri, which became Ahuras.  The resistors there, which is to say, the troublemakers became the Devas who stayed Divas.  You see?”

“I get it.  But now, what about the Aesir.  Where do they fit in?”

“Same root word in the primal language of the Caspian peoples.  Some moved east, into India and Iran.  Some earlier moved down into Greece, Italy, and all the way to Iberia.  Then came the Celts, who eventually got pushed west by the Germans, who eventually filled Germany and Scandinavia, when they were pushed in turn by the Slavs, and in the south, the Scythians that had kind of Iranian connections by then.  The Hati, the Hittites, then the Scythians.  There were others, but they were all rooted in the original people between the Black Sea and the Aral Sea, and the language they spoke.  Aesir.  Ashri. Ahura.  All from the same root.  Even Diva if you follow it back far enough.”

“I see.  But Divas?”

“James is James in most major Western European languages, French, German, Spanish, but in Italian it is Giacomo. Go figure,” Lakshme shrugged.

Avalon 6.1 Little Things, part 3 of 6

Decker moved from his rock with bad news, even as Elder Stow came to more or less the same conclusion.

“In the distance, beyond the river,” Decker reported.  “Though I could only see and not fly that far and get back, I saw swarms of what looked like nasty insects.  They swarmed outside the forest areas, but I have no reason to suppose they are not in the forest as well.”

“More jungle, I think,” Elder Stow said. He looked up, aware that he interrupted. “More jungle-like than forest. Sorry.”

“And people who hide when the swarms come near a village,” Decker continued.  “Though they look like tents more than houses, so no telling how mobile these people may be.”

“Elder Stow?”  Lockhart turned the question.

“Much the same,” he said.  “I did not pick up swarms, exactly, but what Major Decker says makes sense of the data.  Meanwhile, I mapped several alternate routes to the river, and where I believe we may cross, though it is hard to tell exactly from this distance.”

“Alternate routes?” Katie asked.

“One that is mostly straight.  One that avoids the people.  One that avoids the people and the jungle.”

Lockhart nodded, but made no decision. “Sleep on it,” he said.  “Keep the screens up tonight, in case one of those swarms decides to visit.  In the morning, we will see if you can identify the swarms from a distance. That might be good.”  Elder Stow nodded.  “Standard watch,” Lockhart said.

“Boss,” Boston whined.  “We got the screens up.  Why do we have to watch?”

“Better to stay in practice,” Katie answered, and thought she might take a nap before the nine to midnight shift, if Lockhart would lie down with her.  They did not get the chance.  They got most of their supper cleaned up when Devi arrived.

“Sorry,” Devi said, first thing. “It took a second to figure out how to get through Elder Stow’s screens.”

“Hey…” Alexis, Katie, and Boston all got hugs, and Boston introduced Sukki, who also got a hug, since Devi seemed to be in a hugging mood.  She acknowledged the men, and they all sat around the campfire while she explained the situation they were facing.  She explained the swarms of insects, but then told them about the spiders.  That did not sound good.  She said she had work to do, and could not travel with them, but maybe she could figure out how to charge up Elder Stow’s equipment, and that might help.  Then the women sat and talked about life and everything, like dear old friends catching up on all the news.

###

In the morning, Pokara and his sidekick, Salipsa moved out front. The rest of the Yaksha followed behind. These ones were mostly like elves, Lakshme decided.  They were certainly not dwarfs, though a few had stubbly beards.  They were not goblins being out in the daylight, though some people called any such things, goblins.

“Elves,” Lakshme said out loud, before she added, “Mostly.”  Lakshme recognized they could act rather impish at times.

“Elves,” Rama said.  He walked beside her and otherwise said nothing.

Lakshme looked back.  Libra dutifully followed in her footsteps despite her protests.  Rama took a look back, and Lakshme spoke again.

“Once they get attached, they are very hard to separate.”  Rama nodded, as Lakshme looked ahead again.  “They are loyal, once they make up their minds.  But they do have minds of their own.”  Lakshme clicked her tongue.  “Like people, I suppose.”

“Like any sentient being,” Rama said. “Even the gods.  They decide for themselves, and then there are consequences.”

He was saying he knew why she came. He did not say, don’t offer a chance for the Asura to repent of their wicked ways, only that he came prepared for them not to repent.

That ended the morning conversation. Lunch would have also been a quiet affair if Pokara and Salipsa had not argued the whole time about the cooking. Libra had to good sense to put her fingers in her ears.

###

The travelers had to pause, and eventually stopped for lunch as a swarm of insects came upon them.  Devi put up a screen, much better and stronger than even Elder Stow’s recharged equipment could produce.  The travelers and their horses remained comfortable, while the insects might as well have been trying to break through a fifty-foot thick brick wall.

“I must not go further,” Devi said. “I have neglected my work long enough.”

“You have people to care for?” Katie asked.

Devi nodded.  “But not like you think.  Lakshme is teaching Karma Yoga.  Like attracts like.  Doing good, even in the least little things, attracts good.”

“I thought opposites attract,” Boston said.

“No,” Alexis explained.  “I think this is more like birds of a feather.”

“Maybe what goes around comes around,” Katie suggested.

Devi pointed at her, like she got it right.  “Lakshme says as you sew, so shall you reap.  She confesses no action will ever be perfect, clean, pure, or holy without extraordinary grace.  She sometimes calls it good deed doing.  But sometimes, she says between Martha and Mary, this is Martha devotion.”

“Hey, I know that story,” Boston spouted, and Alexis interrupted.

“And not one you should tell a thousand years ahead of time.”

Boston looked down, and so did Devi as she spoke.  “The future. I understand.  I will not pry.”

By the time lunch was over, Elder Stow declared himself ready to throw up his screens as soon as he identified incoming insects or spiders.  Devi said again that she had to go.  She had victims of those insects and spiders to tend.

“Poor Valmiki has had his ashram overrun with victims.  Even with Doctor Mishka’s medicine, not all survive.”  She vanished, and Katie looked hard at Lincoln.

“Valmiki?” she asked.

Lincoln looked up and nodded.  “And Rama, Sita, and Rama’s brother, Lakshmana. I thought it best not to talk about it with Devi around.”

“Wow,” Katie’s eyes got big.  She looked excited.

“Wait a minute,” Elder Stow interrupted. “Where are we?”

Boston had her amulet out to check their direction.  She first said, “Thank you.”  Then she explained.  “I think Devi just took three or four days off our journey.  Lakshme is only a few miles that way.”  She pointed.

“Can we reach her?” Lockhart asked.

“Maybe in the morning,” Boston said with a look at the sun.

Lockhart nodded and turned to Katie. “So, who is Rama?”

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

MONDAY

The groups will meet in the face of the demon, but first, the travelers will be introduced to the cowboy-outlaws and the real wicked witch.  Until then:

*

Avalon 6.0 Monkey Brain Fever, part 3 of 6

The little people came out from hiding.  They had their feast, with plenty of stories, songs, and good cheer, but it did not seem like the great celebration they planned.  Lincoln explained as he read from the database. The world of the Olmec people was being all but destroyed by a disease more ruinous than the bubonic plague.

Katie and Lockhart sat beside the fire and whispered little to each other.  Lincoln and Alexis sat near them and said nothing that evening.  Decker stayed on watch, despite the promise of the little people, that they would keep their eyes and ears open for intruders.  Elder Stow kept watch with his portable scanner, and set it to put up an impenetrable particle screen as soon as his scanner picked up human life forms headed in their direction.  Only Sukki and Boston clapped and danced with the little ones in the night before everyone had to get some sleep.

In the morning, all the little ones turned out to shout good-bye and good luck.  Many reminded them to stay between the fields of corn.  Katie waved, and Lockhart confided to her, “If Lincoln or Decker start singing about follow the yellow corn road, I’m going to hit them.” Boston heard with her good elf ears, and hummed through the morning, but she did manage to keep her mouth from singing the words.

Since he could not ride out on the flank, Decker took the point. Often enough, he rode back to Lockhart and Katie at the front of the group to double-check his take on turns in the road where the corn became less evident.

Lincoln and Alexis took the center, and appeared to take up Lockhart and Katie’s idea of whispering to each other every now and then.  Boston and Sukki straggled in the rear, with Elder Stow acting as rear guard.  He only looked up every now and then, and generally only when a deer or other large animal could be seen or heard out among the corn rows.  For the most part, he kept his eyes glued to his scanner. It acted as their main version of an early warning system.  Boston, with her elf senses, could tell when humans came near.  Katie, with her elect intuition, could sense when something or someone got near that might pose a danger to the group.  Still, the scanner could plot one to several miles distance on a grid, and track whatever might be in the area.

Lunch became a somber affair.  They had plenty of food, gifts from the little people for their journey; but no one felt much like talking until Lincoln broke the ice.

“This journey seems spooky for a change.”

Decker and Lockhart laughed at the “for a change” comment, but Alexis responded kindly.  “It does feel a bit like a funeral procession.”

Elder Stow nodded.  “Good thing we have not come across any villages.”

“Especially ones full of dead bodies,” Alexis agreed, and people paused to think about it.

“That necromancer sounds creepy,” Boston said.  “Maybe, in that village, the dead bodies will be walking around.”

“I don’t like that idea,” Sukki said, and shivered.

“I prefer not to think about that possibility,” Lincoln commiserated.

“So, explain something,” Lockhart wanted to change the subject. “If this disease has been rampaging around the countryside for five years, who has been around to plant these cornfields?”

Katie spoke up.  “I assume Maya has kept the corn growing in season.  I imagine she is spread rather thin, trying to hold things together.”

“Maya said, only half of the human population will die,” Elder Stow said.

“Over half,” Lincoln corrected him.

“Still,” Elder Stow continued.  “The other half has to be around somewhere.”

Alexis shook her head.  “Probably got infected and sick, even if they did not die from the disease.  We have no way of knowing what shape they may be in. They might not be able to plant, and Maya might be keeping them alive by growing the corn for them.”

Decker offered a thought.  “Probably ran away to escape being eaten by the diseased half.”

“Stop,” Sukki raised her voice, looked down at her lap and shut her eyes.  Elder Stow took her hand.

“There, there…”  He gave it his fatherly best.  “We will be all right.”

“I know just how you feel,” Boston, the empathic elf looked at her with exceptionally big eyes.

An hour down the road, they came across a crow that hopped back and forth on the road, and apparently, had been doing so for some time, since they saw a clear, visible line indent in the road.  Decker stopped to watch, and when the others came up behind him, they all watched.

“What is it doing?” Sukki asked.

“Ask him,” Decker said with a grin.

The crow stopped and faced the travelers.  Then it spoke.  “I’m pacing, trying to decide which way to go.  I found this great path through the wilderness.  I have been turned into a crow, in case you didn’t notice.  I need help, only I can’t go both ways.”

Boston pushed up front.  “We’re going to the Emerald City to see the wizard—the wizardess of Oz.  Maybe she could help.”

“City of Jade,” Lincoln corrected her.

“Still green,” Boston said, and gave her best elf grin to Lockhart, who rolled his eyes.

“Why don’t you fly there?” Katie wondered.

“Eagles, Hawks, Falcons,” the crow responded.  “Besides, I’m new to this flying business.  I’m not sure it would be safe.”

“I guess you better come with us,” Lockhart decided, with a hard look at Boston.

The crow thought about it before Alexis interrupted with a question. “How did you get turned into a crow?”

“It was the monkey god,” the crow said.  “He said I was immune to his disease and that was not allowed.  He changed me, probably thinking I would be eaten by a predator soon enough.  I found this path first thing in the morning.”

“You survived so far,” Katie praised the bird.

“I had some immature corn last night,” the crow said.  “It was okay.  But then this morning, all my pacing dug up a couple of worms.  I found that disgusting, but they tasted pretty good…”

“Here,” Alexis said.  “You can ride in Misty’s mane.”

“Your very big animal?”

“My horse, yes.  Misty won’t mind as long as you hold his hair and not scratch him with your claws.” She started to get down to pick up the crow, but he flew up to settle on Misty Gray’s neck, so Alexis kept her seat. The horse nodded twice, to shift the bird to a more comfortable spot.  Then they rode, and the crow said his name was something like Wexalottle, or it sounded like that.  It seemed hard to pronounce with a bird beak and tongue.  They settled for calling him Mister Crow.

Another hour down the road, and Elder Stow’s scanner started making that annoying alarm sound.  “People coming,” he shouted from the rear.  Boston and Katie both looked in that direction, like they sensed the people, and sensed they were hostile.  Lockhart directed everyone to the opposite side of the road, and Mister Crow returned from overhead, once Elder Stow turned off the alarm.

“I see them,” Mister Crow said.  “They are running straight at us.”

“I have them on the grid,” Elder Stow added.  “They will arrive any minute.  No time to put up a screen to halt their progress.”

“Arm up,” Decker yelled as he arrived from the point and got down from his horse.  It was not Decker’s place to say that, but Lockhart was not going to argue with that assessment.  Seconds later, faces appeared in the corn rows.  Clearly, they were diseased faces.  Seconds after that, guns began to fire, and in only a minute, ten bodies stretched across the road.  Less than a minute later, Alexis cried out.

“They are children.”  She wept. The eldest looked maybe fifteen. Everyone but Decker and Lockhart found some tears.  Lockhart, the former policeman, remained stoic.  Major Decker remained a marine.

Mister Crow returned from overhead.  He got angry. “Why have the gods permitted this?”

“The gods have done this,” Katie said.  “I assume the monkey god is not working alone.”

“Probably why Maya couldn’t leave the city long enough to bring us there the easy way,” Boston suggested, and Sukki and Katie agreed.

“Keep moving,” Lockhart interjected.  “Walk ‘em.”  He moved them out of the area as quickly as possible.  Lincoln did what he could to comfort Alexis.  Mister Crow sat on Alexis’ saddle and cawed a couple of times. Sukki, Boston, and Elder Stow followed along behind, heads lowered like people in mourning.

As the sun began to set, the travelers came upon a forest.  The road left the corn fields and moved in among the trees.  They had not been warned about the change in their surroundings, but clearly the road went among the trees for some distance.

“I think we still need to stay to the road,” Lockhart said.  People agreed, and settled down to eat something before bed.  “Regular watch,” Lockhart insisted.  That put Alexis and Lincoln up first, from six to nine in the evening.  Katie, her elect senses stretched into the wilderness, and Lockhart with his police instincts got the nine to midnight shift. Decker, the marine, and Elder Stow with his scanner took the wee hours, which left Sukki and Boston with her elf senses in the early morning, to watch the sun come up.

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

MONDAY

Following the yellow corn road isn’t so easy, and there are infected people in the way.

*

Avalon 6.0 Monkey Brain Fever, part 1 of 6

After 939 BC, La Venta Island. Kairos lifetime 72: Ozmatlan (Ozma)

Boston and Sukki appeared in the village, having gone first through the time gate.  The little people that lived in the village called for their friends and neighbors. Some applauded for the visitors. Some cheered.

Lincoln and Alexis followed, and little children ran up with flowers for Alexis.

Katie and Lockhart came next through the time gate, and the little people began to dance in their joy.

By the time Major Decker and Elder Stow came through, the others were getting down to follow Boston and Sukki.  Boston and Sukki walked across what appeared to be a village square.  They went surrounded by cheering, happy little people, who led them to a platform where the village elders looked ready to welcome them all.

Decker cradled his rifle for the moment and Elder Stow put his things away before they followed.  Lockhart whispered a comment to Katie.

“If they start singing about lollypop kids, I’m leaving as fast as I can.”

Katie grinned.  It did sort of look that way.

Boston recognized most of the dwarfs, gnomes, and elves among the little people, though they dressed strangely and looked more tanned than she was accustomed to seeing.  She also felt unaccustomed to seeing them living together, side by side.  “This is the new world,” she mumbled, and looked at Sukki.  Poor Sukki looked distressed, not the least from having so much attention focused on her. Boston took the girl’s hand both to offer comfort and keep Sukki quiet.

“Welcome travelers from Avalon.”  One exceptionally small little person on the platform stepped in front of the others.  “Welcome friends of the Kairos.  We have waited for you through these long five years.  Welcome.”

“Five years?” Sukki softly wondered.

“How do you know we are the ones you are waiting for?” Boston asked, nice and loud.

The small one spoke.  “Well, you are the elf with the flaming red hair.  A very unusual color, you know.”

A tall man stepped up.  “And Quetzalcoatl the giant stands with his wife, the blonde elect, the one-in-a-million warrior woman.”  Katie touched Lockhart’s arm and they shared a smile.

One that looked to be all beard spoke next, sounding surprisingly like a woman.  “And the man who carries the future in a box stands with his dark haired former elf wife.” Alexis took Lincoln’s arm, but Lincoln looked surprised.  He carried the database that held all of the vital historical information they depended on, but he wondered how these people knew that.

Then the bearded one beside the bearded woman, who might have been her twin, except he sounded male, spoke.  “And you travel with two elders of the earth, one female and one male.” Sukki smiled, and Elder Stow raised his hand to identify himself, though he wore a glamour intended to make him appear human.

Finally, a brown-haired woman who might have passed for human, but for the bulbous nose, pointed at Major Decker.  “And the great warrior with skin as dark as a Shemsu watches over you all, and never lets go of his weapon.”

“Not to mention the horses were a bit of a giveaway,” the tall one added.

“Besides,” Lockhart smiled as he spoke to Katie and to all.  “How many people have come through the time gate to appear in the middle of this village, like out of nowhere.”

“Um…” the small man hedged.

“What?” Lincoln caught it, and he looked like he did not want to hear the answer.

“The witch came through…” the small man admitted, and thought.

“A real wicked witch.”

“Bad news all around.”

“And the Necromancer…” the small man continued.  He appeared to be counting on his fingers.

“He says there are plenty of dead people around, what with the fever and all.”

“But they rise-up still infected, so that is no good.”

“Then we had three men, outlaws, I believe,” the small man rubbed his chin, though he had no beard.  “They rode horses like yours and had six-shooters, but claimed to be saving their bullets, whatever bullets might be…”

“They came through about a month ago and said they are looking for a place where they can make gunpowder and take over.”

“Some place worth taking over, they said.”

The bearded lady spoke up.  “Don’t forget the wraith.”

“They said people,” the small man insisted.

“The wraith counts,” one of the elders said.

“But they didn’t ask about the creatures,” the tall man said.

“Can we eat now?” the bearded man asked, totally changing the subject.

“Yeah,” the woman with the big nose interjected.  “We are supposed to feast the travelers.”

“Yeah,” the little people liked the idea of eating, and they all cheered.

Someone started the bonfire which had already been set up in the middle of the town square.  It waited there for five years, as far as the travelers could tell.  In mere moments, corn and deer began to roast, while several little people started frying cornmeal bread.  Alexis, Sukki, and Boston got out some elf bread crackers.  They heated some water, and the crackers became hot, steaming loaves of the best fresh baked bread, which they promptly shared.

Lockhart, Decker, Katie and Elder Stow set up the tents where they were shown.  They took some time with the horses, but found some of the little people knew horses well and volunteered to watch them and care for them.

Lincoln went to ask about the creatures that came through the time gate, if he could get a straight answer.  He reminded Lockhart that the Kairos said if they could follow the travelers through the time gates, they had to treat them as a potential threat. Lockhart did not argue with that idea.

Alexis turned to acknowledge two dwarf wives as Sukki finally spoke her thoughts.  “These people all belong to the Kairos,” Sukki decided, but it came out like a question.

“Ozmatlan,” Boston nodded.  “She is their goddess as she is mine.  I can’t wait to meet her.”

“I think it is just Ozma,” Alexis said, over her shoulder.  To answer Boston’s curious look, she added, “Think Wizard of Oz.”

“But that makes us…” Boston thought for a minute.  “Hey!  We’re not munchkins.”

“What are munchkins?” Sukki asked.

Alexis shrugged, but smiled, as Elder Stow interrupted them.  He came over with his glamour removed, so he looked like the Neanderthal he was, or as they call themselves in their own language, Gott-Druk.

“You might as well remove your glamour,” he said to Sukki.  “No point in going disguised when they see right through you.”

Sukki looked at him and said, “Yes, father.  I forget that I have it on.”

Elder Stow came into the past from a distant future where the Gott-Druk had long since mastered space flight and all sorts of technological wonders. Elder Stow and the travelers were all making their way slowly back toward the future.  Sukki came from the deep past, and her thoughts and knowledge remained primitive.  She slept in suspension for more than eight-thousand-years on an Agdaline slower-than-light ship before she made it back to earth.  Elder Stow kindly adopted her as a daughter, and he started teaching her about modern Gott-Druk things.  They were all teaching her things about life in the twenty-first century.  She came across as a sweet but shy girl, especially in front of the humans, who she still thought of as stealing the Earth from her people.  But she seemed to be slowly adjusting.

Sukki removed her glamour, and Boston raised her eyebrows before she smiled.  With the glamour on, Sukki looked like a big girl.  Without it, the squat, muscular shape, brow ridges and sloped forehead of the Gott-Druk gave her quite a different appearance.

“Why do you always raise your brows?” Sukki asked Boston.  She sounded a little put off.

“It is always a surprise.  You look so different,” Boston admitted.  “Besides, you do the same thing.”

“I do not,” Sukki insisted, and Boston removed her own glamour to show her skinny elf figure, pointed ears and all.  Sukki’s eyebrows went up.  Sukki paused to touch her own forehead.  “Yes, I do,” she confessed, and they both laughed.

Holiday Journey 17

When Chris got up in the morning, he found himself dressed in his clothes from home. He recognized the little hole in his jeans and the stain at the bottom of his flannel shirt.  His down jacket was not from 1812, but he assumed the hay and the barn he sat in were, so he figured he did not go home in the night. Besides, back home, Merry would be in her own apartment, and not laying comfortably beside him.

“So, this has not all been just a dream,” he mumbled.

“Like a dream come true,” Merry whispered before she opened her eyes and said, “Good morning.”

Chris leaned over and gave her a small peck on her lips before he said, “Morning. Plum said Lilly was in this place. Stick close, I have a feeling things may get weird before we get there…weirder.”

Plum came from the fire.  “We got bacon, eggs, and whiskey soaked beans for breakfast,” he said, and let out a big smile.  “We got a long way to go to reach the tree, so eat up.”

“Weirder,” Chris repeated.

Merry took him by the arm.  “I have no intention of leaving your side.  Not ever, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind,” Chris said, and let out a little smile.  “But you could wait until I ask.”

“Yes…” Merry said, and added, “Just practicing.”

Chris nodded, dropped her arm, and got a plate of breakfast.  Roy found some real coffee, and Chris blessed him before he thought to put Plum on the spot.

“She is still in this time zone, near as I can tell,” Plum said.

“Near as you can tell?”

“She is. She certainly is.  I would know if she was not in this zone.  The thing is, she is at the far end, and she might slip away at any time.  That is a long way to go.  We should get moving.”  Plum did not want to say any more.  He appeared afraid of once again saying too much.  Chris did not push the issue, as long as they had a chance of catching up with Lilly by nightfall.

Merry came up, riding on the back of a horse.  She looked like she knew what she was doing, while Chris never rode a horse before.  Chris quickly looked around.  He figured he might manage a motorcycle, but he felt unsure about going on horseback. Fortunately, Roy got his attention and pointed.  They had a wagon pulled by two of the largest horses Chris ever imagined.  A mount appeared tied to the back of the wagon. Chris assumed that was Roy’s horse, in case he needed it.  He took a deep breath and climbed aboard, and slid down to let Roy get up.

Chris looked in the back of the wagon, and along with all of his things—their things, he saw plenty of blankets, pots and pans, and another bag of beans beside a slab of bacon.  He shrugged. He imagined there were not many options for food they could carry across country.  The curious thing was the evergreen.  They carried a young tree, its roots tied up neatly in burlap.  Chris wondered what it might be for, when Roy shouted, and the horses began to strain.  The wagon jerked, before it settled into a slowly increasing pace.  Chris figured they would never go fast.  He imagined most of the day would be spent going across country.  Still, he would not have minded a seatbelt, and maybe a cushion for his seat.

Chris noticed they picked up a few fellow travelers.  Three men on horseback drove a dozen cows into the wilderness.  He looked close.  One looked like the German officer from the World War One time period. The other two looked like the British soldiers that followed him out of the trench; though one might have been the sergeant.  Chris shook his head.  No matter what they looked like, he imagined they were Christmas elves of some kind. No doubt there to give some colorful backdrop to his journey.

Chris turned to Roy, who seemed to concentrate wholly on driving the team of horses.  He felt glad Plum did not drive the rig.  Plum would have talked his ear off all day and not said anything worth hearing. Roy, by contrast, seemed a man of few words.  Chris feared it might be hard to get the man to talk at all.

“So, where exactly are we headed?” Chris asked.

“The Clausen Christmas tree,” Roy answered readily enough.

“Clausen? Santa Claus?”

“Clausen,” Roy nodded.  “Old Dutch family out of New York.  They first settled in New Amsterdam around 1660.  They remembered Sinterklaas, though Kris Kringle carried the Spirit of Christmas in those days.  Since 1600, I believe.  I was rather young at the time.”

Chris had to think about that before he asked, “What happened?”

“After the French and Indian War, when things settled down on the frontier, the family emigrated to Pennsylvania.  Then came the Revolutionary War, and in 1811, when it looked like another war on the horizon, Mister and Missus Clausen emigrated down into Indiana Territory. They thought to escape the war. They did not count on all the trouble with the Shawnee Confederation.”

Chris shook his head.  “Why can’t people live in peace?”

Roy shrugged.  “The Clausens went west, and on Christmas eve, 1811, they ran into a massive snow storm. That should happen tonight…” Roy shrugged again.

Chris asked no more.  He did not dare.  He got down when they stopped for lunch, and tried to smile for Merry while he rubbed his sore bottom.  Merry, at least, appeared to be thoroughly enjoying herself.

“You could ride with me,” she offered, but Chris shook his head.  He would only get hurt trying to ride a horse.

“You enjoy yourself,” he said.  “Just say a prayer for my bruised backside.”

“Oh, poor baby,” she said, honestly enough.  She returned his kiss from earlier before she let go and got them some lunch.

Chris spent the afternoon looking for the Clausen Christmas tree, not having the least idea what that might look like.  The temperature dropped, and he saw the clouds pull in overhead.  Then he saw something that surprised him for all of a second.  He decided he really should not have been surprised.  The cattle being driven by the three cowboys were not cattle at all. They were reindeer, and Chris wondered why there were twelve and not eight, and they did not look too tiny.

Chris looked at Roy and saw the slightest grin on Roy’s face.  “You should see the tree soon, if the clouds give a break,” Roy said.  “No sunset tonight behind the clouds, but the tree should brighten things up nice until the snow starts to get thick.”

Chris nodded.  Nothing should surprise him at this point.  He was going to find Lilly, safe in the hands of Santa Claus—Clausen.  He fell madly in love with an elf—a Christmas elf. And there were three elf cowboys presently herding a dozen reindeer.  “Seven of us,” he said to Roy.  “There are seven of us on this journey.”  Roy nodded, and Chris continued.  “The magnificent seven,” he said, and squinted.  There appeared to be a light in the distance.  He expected it would be the most magnificent Christmas tree ever, and somehow, he knew he would not be disappointed.

 

Cue: O Christmas Tree

A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Don Jackson.  Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001

 

When Chris got down from the wagon and stretched his back, Merry dismounted and ran to him.  She threw her arms around him and spouted, “It is beautiful.  It is so beautiful.”  The tree certainly was, with all the lights and ornaments up to the star and angel on the very top.  Chris could not exactly see the top from where he stood, being up close, but that did not matter.  He looked at Merry, and thought she was beautiful.

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.

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MONDAY

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

Until then, Happy Reading

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