R6 Greta: The Quest, part 2 of 3

“Hobknot.”  Greta called him and gently compelled him to come to be sure he did not run away and hide for the next fifty years.  “You are also the eldest,” she said.  “And a little one with a good, sensible brain.  Use it.  I expect you to think clearly if the way gets muddled, and speak sense, even if the way appears nonsense.”  Greta took off the ring of Avalon.  It had the seal of the Kairos.  She put it on Hobknot’s thumb and it fitted itself snugly there so it would not come off. “I am trusting you to speak in my name. Just make sure it would be words I would actually say.  I want you helped, not hindered along the way.”

“Hear that, all of you?” Hobknot said, proudly. “My lady says you got to listen now when I talk sense.  I speak for the lady.”

“Fae.”  She called her over.  “Don’t let it go to his head.”

“Never worry,” Fae said.  “If his head swells up, I’ll just knock him down and sit on him until the swelling goes away, I will.”

“Listen everyone,” Greta said.  “Don’t forget Fae knows truth from lies.  Listen to her carefully, especially when she warns that someone is lying.”

“I wish I was there when the messenger came,” Fae said. Greta agreed.

“Fae, dear.  I made a small bag for you.  It has salves, physics, bandages and potions in it.  Everything is labeled, and since you served your people for seventy years as their druid, I know that you know the good they may do.”

“Thanks, my lady,” Fae said, as Greta fitted the bag over her shoulder.

“I do not know your future,” she told her.  “I don’t know what all you will face.  I had to guess what you might need.  There are no miracles in the bag.”  Greta felt very inadequate.

“Quite all right, Lady.”  Fae answered graciously.  “You would think after all of those years I would have thought of this for myself, but I didn’t.  So, you see? I had nothing, but now I have everything.”

“Hans.”  She made him repeat his three words again.

“But what do they mean?”  Hans asked.

“Stop.  Do no harm. Friend.”  Greta told him.  “They are Agdaline words.  Very hard for the human tongue.”  Greta paused to look at the fading stars above.  She supposed they did not need to know who the Agdaline were, nor that those strange people never expected their little pets to get loose, get big, and go wild. She spoke again.  “They are Dragon-speak,” she said.  “They are in the ancient tongue to which all dragons are bound to obey,” she said, hopefully.  Sometimes when dragons went wild, they got mighty slow in the obedience department. Still, it had been bred into the beasts. It was genetic, and even if they only paused on hearing the words, it might be enough time to let the quest get to safety.

Hans said the words once more and Greta felt satisfied that he said them well enough.  Agdaline was not easy.  Then she gave Hans a gift.

“Here,” she said.  “Take good care of it.  It is the sword of Avalon.”

“You have more than one sword?”  Hans looked surprised, though when he thought about it, he decided he should not have been surprised.

“I have had several,” Greta said.  “My very first got broken when Sekhmet took it and started to wipe out every living thing in Egypt.  Then I lost one up the nose of the wolf.”

“The wolf?” Berry asked.  She slid closer to Hans.

“Fenrus.”  Greta nodded like no big deal.  “Loki’s son. Then there is Wyrd, and Salvation, swords that you know.  This one is special.  It usually hangs over the fireplace at home and has not been used very much since the days of Alexander the Great.”

“Why is it special?”  Fae asked.

“It was made by little ones, not actually by the gods, but under contract, if you know what I mean.  The same crew that made Thor’s hammer.”

“Does it have a name?” Hans asked.

Greta nodded again.  “Excalibur,” she named it.

Hans drew it out and even in the dim light of the dawn, it glowed and glistened, almost as if it had a fire of its’ own.  “Wow.”

“Don’t cut yourself,” Greta intoned.

“We must go,” Berry said, stepped up and took Greta’s hands.  Berry had become a strikingly beautiful human woman.

“You are very young,” Greta said.  “As is Hans.”

“Older than you when you stepped into the haunted forest,” Berry reminded her.

“Yes, but I had encouragement and help that you do not have.  I am only twenty-two even now, but in a special way, I may be the oldest person presently on this earth.  You, on the other hand, have only your hope, faith, and wits to guide you.”

“We will find him,” Berry said and squeezed Greta’s hands.  She firmly believed what she said.

“And I believe you too.”  Greta smiled for her.  “But here, let me give you my heart.”  Greta wore a small, Celtic cross on a simple gold chain.  She had two made four years earlier in anticipation. Vasen, the old priest of Odin never took his off, and now she gave hers to Berry.  “Let my God be your God.  Look to the source to guide you and be your shield.  He is an ever-present help in time of trouble.”  Berry placed it around her own neck and then hugged Greta.

“I love you Mother,” Berry said.

“Oh look,” Greta interrupted and placed Berry’s hand on her tummy.  “Little Marta is saying good luck.”

“I feel her moving,” Berry said with delight. Her eyes went straight to Hans. He did not catch it, but then everyone crowded in close.

“Tight in there,” Greta said.  “Not much room to move around.”  Greta looked once more at the four.  “Go on,” she said, “before I change my mind.”  She turned without looking again and went into the inn to rest. Alesander sat waiting for her there, and Darius sat with him.  She had not told Darius, but somehow, he found out.  He always did.

“Will Berry be all right?” he asked.  He had become like a father to her, and Greta smiled because she knew he would be a good father to all of their children.

“I pray that she will,” Greta said.  “But who can know the future.  It isn’t written yet, more or less.”

Darius hugged her and they kissed and hugged some more while Greta’s eyes caught sight of a Celt who walked straight up to the Dacian innkeeper.  The Celt held out his hand and the innkeeper grasped it in a strange handshake while the Celt said, “Pater.”  Greta knew they were Mithraites, members of that ultra-secretive cult, and something in her heart turned cold, but then Darius finished with his hug.

“And you.”  He stared into her eyes and his eyes were dancing with joy.  “You should not be running off this close to delivery. I worry about our son.”

“Daughter,” Greta said, and tried to shake the image of coldness from her heart.  “And there is another month yet, at least.”

“And how is my son today.’  Darius spoke to the baby.

“Daughter, Marta,” Greta said.

“Son, Marcus,” Darius said, and Greta let him have the last word because she knew a month or so later she would have a little girl, and she did.

R6 Greta: The Quest, part 1 of 3

Only four years married, and Greta already started sneaking away from the house in the dark.  Her husband Darius, the roman governor of the province of Dacia would go looking for her, but by the time he found her, she should be finished with her task and on the road home.  Greta pulled the hood of her cloak over her face.  She was the woman of the ways for the Dacians, called a druid among the Celts, and the wise woman of Dacia for the Romans as declared by Marcus Aurelius himself. It was a triple whammy which meant she could not hide in a crowd, any crowd.  But this task felt important, so she covered herself as well as she could with her red cloak and hood, and tried to go unseen through the early hours before dawn.  She feared Darius might try to stop the others if he found out what they were planning. He would certainly try to stop Greta if she had any thoughts about going with them.

Greta had no such thoughts.  She just entered her eighth month with child number two.  A daughter to go with her son.  She smiled about that the whole way, and to her credit, she only once thought the others could have timed things better.  She also tried concentrating on what was to come as her faithful Centurion Alesander led the ox cart along the new forest road. He would follow her to hell if that was where she was going.

They arrived late in the afternoon at the Celtic village of the Bear Clan.  Greta rested at Mayor Baran’s house, as was her custom.  Several men came to pay their respects, but Baran’s wife turned the rest away.  The woman knew full well what the eighth month could be like.

In the wee hours before dawn, Greta got up and went out to the new stables beside the new inn.  The Dacian who ran the place made a home brewed ale which seemed very popular with his Gaelic patrons.  This was a good thing, Greta thought.  Dacians, Celts, and Romans needed to mingle and not be so divided.

She made herself as comfortable as she could on a small stool.  She waited, but she did not have to wait long.  She heard a bang.

“Shhh! Quiet.”  She heard a woman’s voice, one that Greta knew very well.

“Oh shush yourself, you old biddy,” the response came out of the dark.

“Old goat,” the woman came right back.  “I hope that was your head and it knocked some sense into you.”

“It was my toe,” the man responded.  “And if it wasn’t hurting I would use it to kick your butt.”

“Quiet, both of you,” a young woman spoke.  “If you two don’t stop making love we’ll never get anywhere.”  She called it right, and Greta heard a young man laugh.

“Ahem!”  Greta cleared her throat.  “Over here,” she said.  She just turned twenty-two, a young mother in her prime.  She could have easily gone to them, eighth month or not, but why?  Let them find her.  “Over here,” she repeated.  They knew her voice, too.

Berry and Fae were the first to come out of the shadows.  They came timidly, holding hands as sisters should.  The odd thing was no one looking at them would imagine they were sisters, much less twins.  Berry looked to be seventeen, and though fully human, she still reflected the beauty of the fairy blood she once bore.  Fae now had all of the fairy blood, the inheritance of their half-blood father, which made her much smaller, but a fine-looking dwarf woman in her way, and a bit of an imp besides, a match for Hobknot, the grumpy old hobgoblin of the hardwood.  She was seventy years old.  They both were, but that is a very long story.

Hans and Hobknot came behind with Hobknot’s mouth running.  “I told you it was no good sneaking off.”

“And I told you I was not going without saying goodbye to my sister,” Hans said.  “But I was not worried.  I knew I would see her.”

“Oh, you did?”  Greta got up slowly.  “Hansel.” She reached out and Hans came quickly to help her to her feet.  She hugged him and whispered three words in his ear.  She made him repeat the words over and over until he could say them perfectly.  Meanwhile, she hugged all of the others, including Hobknot who turned a perfect red and covered his face with his hands in case she thought of giving him a kiss.

“So, where is your father?” Greta asked Fae and Berry.

“She knows,” Berry said with surprise.

“Of course she knows,” Fae said with certainty.

“From the dragon village we go north.”  Berry spoke as if repeating a lesson.  “We must go over the Toothless Mountain and beyond the Way of the Winds.  Through the pass called the Ogre’s Jaw which is the only way through the Rumbling Ridge. Down the other side, we go through the Forest of Fire and pass the Lake of Gold which must be on our left hand. We must go through the Swamp of Sorrows until we reach the river called Heartbreak.  From there we travel down the river beyond the Giant Rock and the Troll’s Eyes until we see the Mouth of the Dragon.  The Mouth will take us under the Heart of the Goddess by the Road of Dreams and at last, at the end of the road, we will find the Broken Dome of the Ancient Master.  It is there that a secret door leads to the Land of the Lost, and our father is there, still living among the lost.

“North over the Transylvanian Alps and plateau to the Ukraine.  How far, then?  To Kiev? All the way to Moscva?” Greta translated.  “Sounds exciting, and complicated,” she said.  “You will remember all that?”

“Oh, yes, Mother Greta.  I will not forget,” Berry said.

“We will remember,” Fae insisted.  “We seek our father’s blessing on our marriages.”

“You and Hobknot,” Greta teased, and Hobknot spun around several times in embarrassment before he settled on a spot with his back to them all.  He turned scarlet.

“You didn’t have to tell her that part,” Hobknot protested.  “Make me sound like a love-sick puppy.”

“But you are.”  Fae, Berry and Hans all said more or less the same thing in near unison and then laughed.

R6 Gerraint: Claudus, part 3 of 3

They had serious casualties on both sides, but by far the Romans took the worst of it.  Among the footmen, the Roman short sword, while good in phalanx formation, proved no match for the Celtic early broadsword in one on one combat.  The Celts took a toll of almost three to one. The horsemen did even better, likely topping four to one, and the archers better still.  Barely one in ten made it to the top of the rise, thanks in no small part to the elves.  At the top, the Romans either surrendered or quickly fell prey to a dwarf ax or some other hobgoblin sword.

Uwaine, who got lost in the confusion of battle, found Gerraint again even as Lord Birch gave the score.

Gerraint lost a few little ones and he wept.  He lost some brave men from Cornwall, and he doubly wept.  But it was not long, and he looked at Lord Birch, he realized he saw things on the battlefield he had no business seeing—things that were much too far away for normal eyes, like seeing Claudus in his chariot.  He got angry before he put Fairy eyes on the list with his dwarf nose and elf ears, and eyes that could probably see even if he had no light at all. He sighed and sniffed, and quickly took Uwaine to find Arthur among the troops.

“Nothing ever goes to plan,” Arthur said, as he walked among his own men cut down in battle.

“No, but sometimes it works well enough,” Gerraint agreed.  He dismounted to walk and Uwaine held the reigns of all three horses.

“Your knights gone?”

“Yes, and most of the little ones back to the Lady of the Lake’s castle or the Bringloren forest.”

Arthur merely nodded.  After a minute he said, “Excalibur is an excellent sword.  It sliced a Roman sword in two.  A bit heavier than Caliburn though.”

“Diogenes always liked it.”  Gerraint paused to picture one of those short swords cut in two. Couldn’t have been much left.

Arthur and Gerraint halted when Percival and Hoel rode up.  Hoel smiled, and while not unaware of the serious nature of the moment, he just could not help himself.  “Remind me to stay on your good side,” Hoel said, as he got down from his horse to join them.  Arthur did something unexpected.  He hugged the man, and suddenly there were a few tears in the old man’s eyes.

Lionel came up next, and he came in a hurry.  “Howel is wounded,” he shouted, and they made him calm down enough to tell what happened.  A Roman planted his spear in the dirt and struck Howel in his shield. He knocked him back, right off his horse.  The spear nicked his shoulder, no big deal, but he fell on a sharp rock and bruised and cut his bum.  He is lying on his stomach on a stretcher and the only thing he keeps saying is “I am so embarrassed,” and, “How embarrassing.”

“He said nothing else?” Percival asked.

“Ouch?” Gerraint suggested.

Lionel grinned sheepishly and whispered.  “He said don’t tell anyone.”  He raised his voice.  “But I said I would tell his father.”  He returned to a whisper. “But I can’t help it if other people overheard.” He tried not to laugh.  Hoel tried to look stern, but he couldn’t.

“Better go comfort the boy,” he said.  They heard the laugh as he rode off.

“Before I go,” Gerraint took Arthur’s attention. “When my small troop went after the auxiliaries, Lancelot saw and sounded the horn.  Bohort saw and lead some five hundred to join us.  Two-fifty on three thousand would have been rough. They are good men here in this country.”

Arthur agreed but asked, “Where are you going?”

“Greta can help a small number of those good men,” he said.  “I’m sorry there is only one of me.  Percival and Uwaine.”  They were ready to protect her with their lives.

Greta sewed up Howel’s butt and kept telling him to shut-up.  She imagined he never got a good look at her, being on his stomach and all.  Urien, the Raven, had a cut in his arm, but not a bad one. Gwillim took an arrow in his shoulder, and that proved a bit tricky.  Both of them were drunk when she found them, so she felt certain their eyes could not have been in focus.  “Old Celtic cure,” Uwaine called it.  Greta felt the fewer of Arthur’s men who got a good look at her, the better.  Not that they would ever put her together with Gerraint, but on principle it felt better not to give such big hints.

By far, the wounded she treated were cut in their legs, the only place a foot soldier could reach a man on horseback.  Some might lose their legs, some might never walk well again, or run or ride well, but some would heal.  There was only so much she could do, and at last she got worn to a frazzle.  “I am done,” she said.  She pushed the hair and sweat from her eyes, splashed cold water on her face, took off her red cloak and opened the top button of her dress to fan herself.  Her breasts became only slightly exposed, but Percival stared and Uwaine turned away.  She thought they were being silly, but when she came to the tent door, she said, wait here a minute, sweetly.  She went in and hardly a second later, Gerraint came out.  “She only said wait a minute,” he said and walked off.  They caught up.

There were five thousand not only beaten, but broken Romans who walked back to Provence.  Arthur buried his dead by the fort, and stayed to finish the building. Hoel sent most of his dead home for burial and then took Arthur on a tour of the land.  Hoel still felt concerned about the Franks, even if Claudus was history.  Hoel found excuses.

Meryddin showed up shortly after the battle, and he seemed his old affable, nasty, and overprotective of Arthur self.  He may have been part of the reason Arthur got delayed.  Amorica still overflowed with believers in the old ways.  The church made few inroads in the land, and it seemed to Gerraint that Meryddin kept looking for ways to drive the church out altogether. Gerraint thought that Meryddin worked on Arthur to show him the value of keeping to the old traditions, but he felt confident Meryddin would not get far with that.  It never occurred to Gerraint that Meryddin might be working on him as well.

Arthur stayed all spring, even after most of his men went home.  Bohort, Lionel and Howel stayed busy taking Lancelot to the port to see the British off.  They delighted in getting Lancelot drunk and introducing him to what they called a nice young woman.  Lancelot accepted the challenge, as he accepted all challenges, but then he stayed with that nice young woman for several months and did not play the field, and he respected the young woman who did not know how to take that. When that young woman became pregnant, she refused to burden Lancelot with that knowledge.

Arthur stayed all summer, but come the fall he convinced Hoel to let him take some of the young men including Bohort, Howel, Lionel and Lancelot and train them to the lance and in the way of Rapid Deployment. Hoel agreed, and they set sail on a blustery day for Caerleon and home.

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MONDAY

Gerraint returns home after months away.  He loves Enid, but he wonders how she managed to keep those months.  He begins to doubt.  Don’t miss next week’s chapter, Over the Mountain.  Until then, Happy Reading

 

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R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 2 of 3

“But wait,” Gerraint frowned once again before he shouted, “Arthur!”  Then he leaned down, took Lancelot’s arm, and lifted him from his knees.  “Come along, Lancelot,” he said.  Lancelot stood, but looked like a man in a daze.

“But Sir, you know my name, but who are you that I may address you properly.”

“My name is Goreu, but Arthur and the others all call me by the British version, Gerraint.”  He lifted his voice again.  “Arthur.” Then he paused and sniffed, and he knew exactly which direction Arthur would be found.  Like a dwarf’s nose, he thought, good for finding your way underground amidst all those mines and tunnels, and he wondered what else he had been gifted with.

“Who is this Arthur?”  Lancelot asked.  “I have heard of an Arthur called the Pendragon, a war chief across the sea who is unequalled in battle…”

“That’s him,” Gerraint interrupted.  “Hush.  Come on.” Gerraint led Lancelot through the trees until they came to a place where they could watch.  Rhiannon, in all her splendor, stood on top of the waters of the lake and held out a sword.  She walked across the water and Arthur looked too stunned to move.  When she arrived, Arthur went to his knees.  He handed her Caliburn.  She handed him Excalibur.  “The big brother sword,” Gerraint whispered to himself.  Lancelot nudged him to say he should be quiet and more respectful.

When the exchange got made, a few words also got exchanged before Rhiannon stepped back.  Gerraint heard, though he tried to not listen since it seemed private.  He thought, elf ears to go with the dwarf nose.  He only hoped his actual facial features were not changed.

Rhiannon slowly became translucent, then transparent, until she vanished altogether.  “And she took my sword with her,” Gerraint mumbled before he waved.  “Arthur!”  Lancelot looked oddly at Gerraint, like he felt confused about how he should take this strange man.  Arthur did not help when he waved back and waved Excalibur.

“Big brother sword,” he shouted.  “Who is your friend?”

“Lancelot.”

”Hey.  I know a couple of cousins of yours that will be happy to see you.”

“I’m sorry?”  Lancelot shook his head against the confusion.

“Bohort and Lionel,” Arthur said, and Lancelot jumped, and for the first time he smiled.

“They’re alive?  I thought everyone got killed on that day.  How can they still be alive?”  He stopped walking so the others stopped.

“That happened almost five years ago,” Gerraint said. “You were much younger.  Do you remember that day?”

“I remember the battle,” Lancelot said firmly. “I remember the Romans in their phalanxes stretched across the plains from horizon to horizon, and our more ragged line of foot soldiers stretching out to be able to face the Romans one to one. I sat on horse beside my father, and Bohort and Lionel beside theirs, and all the Lords of Amorica sat on horse, the sons beside their fathers

“The foot soldiers charged the phalanxes, but they held firm.  We charged the Roman cavalry and great blood was spilled that day.  It all felt so confusing.  I didn’t know what was happening, when my father took an arrow and fell from his horse.  I raced to him and got him up on a stray.  I pulled him back to the edge of the forest where he collapsed and lay dying in my arms.  Then three Romans rode up, and I ran into these woods by the lake.  They dismounted and followed me in, but I had my knife and my father’s old sword.  I caught them, one by one.  I—I—I am not sure what happened after that.

“I awoke in the Lady’s castle.  Lady Nimue is the bravest soul I know.  She healed my wounds and tended my heart, and taught me how to fight.  Every Sunday at dawn we rode to a nearby village where the parish priest schooled me in my letters and in the faith.  I learned as well as my mind and arms could learn.  The Great Lady told me I had to prepare for the last battle, the Armageddon for Arthur.  For a long time, I did not know what she meant.”

“Armageddon,” Arthur looked up at Gerraint.  “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Rhiannon, the one he calls Lady Nimue.  All Celtic goddesses are a bit prophetic.  It comes from having a mother who is plugged into the future the way she is.”

Arthur pointed at Gerraint with a question written across his face.  Gerraint merely nodded an affirmative answer.

“But her name is Nimue, the Lady of Lake Vivane,” Lancelot insisted.  “She would never lie about such a thing.”

“How about we call her the Lady of the Lake?” Gerraint suggested.

“The Lady of the Lake.”  Both Arthur and Lancelot agreed.

“But Bohort and Lionel survived the battle? And what of Howel?”  Lancelot became eager for news.

“Alive and well,” Gerraint said.

“Let me see,” Arthur said.  He had spent the time they were standing attaching Excalibur to his belt.  He wanted to ask Gerraint if it had any magical properties, and looked a bit disappointed later when Gerraint told him that it was only as magical as the arm that wielded it, but for the moment he had to catch up Lancelot with five years of history, the first and main thing being the last time the people of Amorica faced the Romans.  He started them walking again as he spoke.

“As Hoel tells it, in the end, the Roman cavalry did not have the fight in them nor the numbers to sustain the battle.  They splintered and began to run, and many of the Amorican nobles and their retinue of horsemen were well suited to hunt them down. I assume the three that found Lancelot were like the others, trying to get away from the battle.  Anyway, it was Howel, Bohort and Lionel that rallied a large portion of the men to stick to the original plan.  They struck the flank and the back of the nearest Phalanx and slowly but inevitably, the Roman line crumbled.  The Romans who ran caused the other formations to come into disarray, and Hoel’s people were able to take the day.”

“Magnificent.  I am so glad, and my people are free.”

“It’s not that simple,” Gerraint said.  “Claudus waged a guerilla campaign these last four or five years, and just about overran the country.  Hoel appealed to Arthur, and here we are.  But Claudus is bringing up two full legions from Aquitaine, and I suspect these will be veterans of the Frankish and Visigoth campaigns.  These will not be so easy to turn.”

“The great battle,” Lancelot said with a faraway look in his eyes.

“I beg your pardon,” Arthur said.  “I am not ready for Armageddon just yet, if you don’t mind.”

They stopped at the sound of a horse.

R5 Greta: The Quest, part 2 of 2

“Fae, dear.  I made a small bag for you.  It has salves, physics, bandages and potions in it.  Everything is labeled, and since you served your people for seventy years as their wise woman, I know that you know the good they may do.”

“Thanks, my Lady,” Fae said, as Greta fitted the bag over her shoulder.

“I do not know your future,” she told her.  “I don’t know what all you will face.  I had to guess what you might need.  There are no miracles in the bag.”  Greta felt very inadequate.

“Quite all right, Lady,” Fae answered graciously. “You would think after all of those years I would have thought of this for myself, but I didn’t.  So, you see?  I had nothing, but now I have everything.”

“Hans.”  She made him repeat his three words again.

“But what do they mean?”  Hans asked.

“Stop.  Do no harm. Friend.”  Greta told him.  “They are Agdaline words.  Very hard for the human tongue.”  Greta paused to look at the fading stars above.  She supposed they did not need to know who the Agdaline were, nor that those strange beings never expected their little pets to get loose, get big, and go wild. She spoke again.  “They are Dragonspeak,” she said.  “They are in the ancient tongue to which all dragons are bound to obey,” she said, hopefully.  Sometimes when dragons went wild, they were mighty slow in the obedience department.  Still, it had been bred into the beasts.  It was genetic, and even if they only paused on the words, it might be enough to let the quest get to safety.

Hans said the words once more and Greta felt satisfied that he said them well enough.  Agdaline was not easy.  Then she gave Hans a gift.

“Here,” she said.  “Take good care of it.  It is the sword of Avalon.”

“You have more than one sword?”  Hans sounded surprised, though when he thought about it he decided he should not have been surprised.

“I have had several,” Greta said.  “My very first got broken, though, when Sakhmet took it and started to wipe out every living thing in Egypt.  Then I lost one up the nose of the wolf.”

“The wolf?” Berry asked.  She slid closer to Hans.

“Fenrus.”  Greta nodded like it was no big deal.  “Loki’s son. Then there is Wyrd, and Salvation, you know.  This one is special, though.  It usually hangs over the fireplace at home and has not been used very much since the days of Alexander the Great.”

“Why is it special?”  Fae asked.

“It was made by little ones, not actually by the gods, but under contract, if you know what I mean.  The same crew that made Thor’s hammer.”

“Does it have a name?”  Hans asked.

Greta nodded again.  “Excalibur,” she named it.

Hans drew it out and even in the dim light of the dawn, it glowed and glistened, almost as if it had a fire of its’ own. “Wow.”

“Don’t cut yourself,” Greta intoned.

“We must go,” Berry said, stepped up then and took Greta’s hands.  Berry had become a strikingly beautiful woman.

“You are very young,” Greta said.  “As is Hans.”

“Older than you when you stepped into the haunted forest,” Berry reminded her.

“Yes, but I had encouragement and help that you do not have.  I am only twenty-two even now, but in a special way I may be the oldest person presently on this earth.  You, on the other hand, have only your hope, faith and wits to guide you.”

“We will find him,” Berry said, squeezed Greta’s hands, and firmly believed what she said.

“I believe you,” Greta said.  “But here, let me give you my heart.”  Greta wore a small, Celtic cross on a simple gold chain. She had two made four years earlier in anticipation.  Vasen never took his off, but now she gave hers to Berry.  “Let my God be your God.  Look to the source to guide you and be your shield.  He is an ever-present help in time of trouble.”  Berry placed it around her own neck and then hugged Greta.

“I love you Mother,” Berry said.

“Oh look,” Greta interrupted and placed Berry’s hand on her tummy.  “Little Marta is saying good luck.”

“I feel her moving,” Berry said, with delight. Her eyes went straight to Hans. He did not catch it, but then everyone crowded in close.

“Tight in there,” Greta said.  “Not much room to move around.”  Greta looked once more at the four.  “Go on,” she said.  “Before I change my mind.”  She turned without looking again and went into the inn to rest.  Alesander waited for her there, and Darius sat with him. She had not told Darius, but somehow, he found out.  He always did.

“Will Berry be all right?” he asked.  He had become like a father to her, and Greta smiled because she knew he would be a good father to all of their children.

“I pray that she will,” Greta said.  “But who can know the future.  It isn’t written yet, more or less.”

Darius hugged her and they kissed.  “And you,” he said.  “You should not be running off this close to delivery.  I worry about our son.”

“Daughter,” Greta said.  “And there is another month yet, at least.”

“And how is my son today.’  Darius spoke to the baby.

“Daughter, Marta,” Greta said.

“Son, Marcus,” Darius said, and Greta let him have the last word because she knew a month or so later she would have a little girl, and she did.

END

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Tomorrow

A preview of the story of Gerraint in the time of Arthur, Pendragon.

Tomorrow

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