Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 2 of 6

The travelers came through the time gate first thing in the morning, beside a river that rushed off to the north.  They stopped there to take in the lay of the land before they moved on.  The trees they stood by included pine and fir among the oak, spruce, and beech.  The meadow appeared covered in crocus, fuchsia, and daisies.  At first glance, it looked similar to the land they traveled in Syria, but the change in trees, flowers, and meadow grasses proved they landed somewhere else on the planet.

“Dacia,” Lincoln guessed.  “Modern day Romania.”

“We go south.”  Katie looked at her amulet.

“Late summer,” Boston announced as she pulled out her own amulet to confirm the direction.  “South,” she said, and pointed.

“Good thing it is not winter,” Katie said.  “We look headed into the mountains.”

Lockhart interrupted.  “Lincoln.  Help us get the wagon through.  This tree is right in the way.”

They had to coax Ghost the mule to pull to the right immediately on entering the new time zone.  Lincoln feared a corner of the wagon might not have enough room between the tree and the edge of the time gate, but apparently, the time gate had enough flexibility to let through whatever needed to come through.  Tony held the reigns, but Lockhart and Lincoln, on their horses, flanked the mule to guide it.

The travelers had decided to let Tony guide the wagon in the morning through the time gates.  He grew up driving wagons in the eighteen-nineties and early nineteen-hundreds, so by far, he had the most experience.  

Once they were all present and accounted for, Sukki pushed off to the west, Decker scouted the east, and Boston headed south, their expected direction.  They looked mostly for a road, or at least a well-used path that would not be too hard on the wagon.  Lincoln looked around for a landmark that he could set in his mind. He still remembered the landmark he saw when they traveled through the very first time gate, back in the days of the Tower of Babel.  Of course, he since learned that the time gates moved when the Kairos moved, but by then, he had developed the habit to look.

“Just wilderness,” Elder Stow spoke up.  “I see what looks like a road and habitations, but some distance from here.”  He studied his scanner and shook it once to be sure.

“Okay,” Lockhart responded, but he, Tony, and Katie focused on getting the wagon ready for cross country travel.  Alexis and Nanette stayed on their horses and kept their eyes open, but kind of supervised the work.  They did not pay much attention to the woods around them.

Sukki returned and reported nothing in her direction.  Decker stayed out, but Boston came racing back, screaming, “Bear.  Bear.”

People grinned, and a couple almost laughed until they heard a roar that sounded more like a monster than an ordinary bear.  The bear stopped shy of the group and stood.  They got a good look when the bear towered twenty feet over them all, reaching for the tops of the trees.  People scrambled for their guns.

Lockhart took the first shot, but he imagined his shotgun slug would not be worse on that monster than a bee sting on a normal sized bear.  Katie and Sukki followed.  Katie aimed at the bear’s face and tried to put out an eye.  Sukki, afraid of the power within her, nevertheless shot her handgun twice at the bear’s middle, before she turned to help Lincoln and Tony get the horses, mule and wagon away from there.

The bear responded by taking a step forward.  It roared again when it had trouble moving the other foot.  Alexis magically called up the wind to press against the bear, to keep it back.   Nanette concentrated to lift the monstrosity a smidgen off the ground, heavy as it was.  It clawed at the ground and tore up the grass and bushes at its feet but could not get any traction.  It roared in protest and scratched at the air but could not move forward.

Boston put her Beretta away and slipped out her wand.  She sent a ball of fire into the face of the bear but realized that was a good way to set the whole forest on fire.  She put her wand away and went for her bow and arrows.

Decker came riding out from the trees, firing his rifle.  He had to get down when his horse balked against getting too close.  They all got to their feet.  Lincoln, Tony, and Sukki had their hands full keeping the horses together and trying to keep them from running off.

Boston fired her best arrow.  She put as much magic as she had into the point.  Decker and Katie shot for the head.  Lockhart pumped shotgun slugs into the middle of the beast.  A dozen arrows came from the trees and riddled the beast, even as Elder Stow shouted.

“Move.”

Lockhart and Katie separated.  Elder Stow stepped between them.  He fired his weapon once and put a hole the size of a basketball through the center of the beast, about where the heart should be.  Boston’s arrow landed just below the neck and exploded, tearing out most of the muscles in the neck.  The head tilted to the side, and the bear body followed in that direction as Alexis stopped her wind and Nanette could not hold the beast up any longer.  The bear bounced once on the meadow before it stopped moving.

“Twenty feet, at least,” Katie said, as she, Lockhart, and Elder Stow walked up to look at the head and jaw.

“Maybe thirty feet,” Decker said, as he and Boston stepped up to examine the big hole in the middle of the beast.

“How did it get so big?” a young boy’s voice said.

“I smell a power at work,” a man’s voice murmured.  “Doing something not natural.  Something stolen.”

“We got company,” Lincoln shouted.  He had rushed up from the horses when Alexis and Nanette collapsed to the ground.  They sat on the grass to catch their breath.  They would be all right in a minute.  Meanwhile, they stared at any number of little lights dancing around their heads.

“Fairies,” Nanette named the lights in a delighted tone of voice.

“Like seeing stars,” Alexis said, and when Nanette and Lincoln did not understand, she said, “Cartoon-like.”  At least Lincoln understood.

“My name is Willow,” a fairy woman spoke softly to the group.

“And I’m Snowflake,” a young fairy girl added, rather loudly.

“Yes, dear,” Willow said.  “And I think it is a good thing Lady Greta sent us out to find you.”

“Name’s Reed,” a fairy man told Lockhart, Katie, and Elder Stow.  “Icechip, here, was the one who thought we might find you along the Samus River.  Good thinking for one so young.”

“I’m not that young,” Icechip protested, but the travelers all heard the teenage tone in the protest.

“But what do you mean power?” Boston asked.  Decker followed her to join the group around the jaw of the beast.

“What do you mean, something stolen?” Katie asked as well.

“Young elf,” Reed said, turning to Boston.  He seemed most comfortable talking to her.  “I mean a power, much greater than us.  Someone that should have gone over to the other side at the time of the dissolution of the gods.  Only the food of the gods could make giants out of the ordinary, and that was a closely guarded secret of the gods.  If it isn’t one of the gods still here, then some power has learned that secret, though what they have against you folks I cannot imagine.”

“There are still a few gods around,” Willow explained to Alexis, Nanette, and Lincoln as they went to check on the horses.  Sukki looked delighted with the fairies.  Tony simply stared with his mouth open.

“Rhiannon is around,” Snowflake interrupted.  “She is Celtic.”

“And Mithras.  And the great sea god of the Celts,” Willow agreed.  “But I know of none that are not friendly with our lady, so I can think of none that would have anything against you travelers.”

“So, we are talking about a greater or lesser spirit,” Alexis concluded.  She stopped walking, so Willow hovered in front of her.

“Not a greater spirit, surely,” Willow decided.  “They are too tied to the earth and the natural order of life.  The lesser spirits sometimes interact with the human world, and some of them can be quite nasty, but I can’t think of any capable of stealing the secret of the gods.”

“Unless some nasty god gave him the secret before going over to the other side,” Lincoln suggested.

“Or her,” Willow said, and she and Alexis thought and shivered a bit on imagining some nasty lesser spirit getting their hands on the food of the gods.

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 5 of 6

“I remember the thousand and one nights,” Alexis finally admitted, softly.  Nanette rode to her right and Lincoln to her left.  Tony had the wagon, and Katie and Lockhart, with Baba behind him, rode out front in their own conversation.  Schaibo ran ahead with Boston and Sukki where they presumably could not hear.

“What?” Lincoln asked.

“Ali, the middle son, won the archery contest and married Princess Nuronnihar.  Hussain, the older son became a priest, like his father.  Sasan was a priest before he took the Persian throne.  Ahmed, the youngest son, secretly married a fairy—a Peri, Peribonou.  She is, or was, a tulip fairy.  When Ahmed’s father, King Sasan finds out, he starts making all sorts of unreasonable demands of his son.  Sasan gets paranoid.  He fears his son will dethrone him.  Sadly, one of the demands is Ahmed should find an extra-small man with a beard longer than himself who carries an iron staff.  Schaibo shows up, gets ridiculed, and uses his iron staff on the king and most of the court.  He gives Ahmed and Peribonou the throne.  Peribonou is his sister, I think.”

“Half-sister,” Nanette said.  “Same fairy father, but fairy and dwarf mothers.”

“That may be why Schaibo is so short,” Lincoln suggested.  “Fairy father,” he clarified.

Alexis nodded, but then shook her head.  “Maybe.  But no.  The world of the little spirits of the earth usually doesn’t follow logically like that.  But the point is, it has not happened yet.  We can’t say anything.  I get the feeling Ahmed’s father hasn’t found out yet about his marriage.  I probably should not have told you.  Benjamin, you can’t let on that you know anything.”

“Don’t worry,” Lincoln said.  “I have read lots of things in the database and kept my mouth closed.  They won’t hear it from me.”

 “I won’t say anything,” Nanette said.  She dropped her voce and her eyes.

“I almost wish you would,” Alexis told her.  “Tony doesn’t say much, but neither do Lockhart, Decker, or Elder Stow.  Most males are not talkers.  You can’t judge men by my blabbermouth husband, Benjamin.”

“Witch,” Lincoln returned the compliment.  Alexis gave him a hard look.  “Of course, my lovely witch wife is smart.  You should listen when she talks,” Lincoln added, and Alexis smiled for him.

“I won’t say anything about the thousand and one nights, but I understand what you are saying,” Nanette said.  “I was a talker back home.  I learned to talk around the Romans, once the Professor explained that being shy only made me more alluring to the powerful people there.”

“So, what is the problem with us?” Alexis asked.  “Even Benjamin’s a likeable fellow.”

“And I underline, witch,” Lincoln said, and returned Alexis’ smile.

Nanette shook her head.  She noticed the horses stopped moving, as Lockhart and Katie stopped.  Boston and Sukki, with Schaibo were returning from the front, and people were dismounting to walk the horses for a while.  Nanette got down, but Alexis was not going to let her go without a word.

“So, what is it?” Alexis asked.

Nanette found a tear in her eye but held it back.  “I’m still coming to grips with the fact that you are all, mostly, white people, and I’m a black woman, but you treat me like an equal.  I grew up in 1900.  My grandmother was a slave.  I’ve never been friends with real white people before.  Even the professor and the others treated me more like a servant than a friend.  They did not mean bad.  It was just the way they thought—the way we thought.  But now, I have seen how much you like and respect Decker, though he is a black man.  You treat him like an accomplished soldier, like the military colonel he is, and without any hesitation.”

“More like family, as Elder Stow would say,” Lincoln interjected.  “But don’t tell him I said that.”  Nanette nodded, dropped a couple of tears, but then laughed as she thought about it.  Alexis stepped up and hugged Nanette.  Katie, Lockhart, and Baba watched, as Katie spoke her mind.

“We are from a hundred years after your day, but you see, we have learned a thing or two,” she said.  “America is something the world has never seen before.  We have struggled with the old way of doing things.  The struggle against slavery got bloody.  But free and equal is the way we are all trying to be, even from the beginning of America.  There are some in our day that refuse to let go of the old way of thinking.  They want to keep us divided by race, sex, religion, and money and success, and all that—what they call identity politics, though most realize outward things like skin color do not make a person…”

Lockhart nodded.  “Some people think they are smarter than others, and deserve to run things, and that ordinary Americans are stupid.”

“We call them Democrats,” Lincoln interjected, and Alexis nudged his shoulder.  

“…But most people just want to be good neighbors and don’t let race, color, creed, or social or economic circumstances and all that get in the way,” Katie finished.

Alexis added, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ, the apostle said.”

“I remember that quote,” Baba said, and smiled at some memory.

Boston ran up and hugged Nanette, clearly having heard some of the conversation.  “Welcome to the family,” she said.  “Now you can be sisters with me and Sukki.  I never had sisters before.  I grew up with a bunch of brothers.”

“An offer from an elf—” Alexis began.

“—You can’t turn that down,” Sukki interrupted.

Nanette nodded and kept back the tears as Lockhart shouted at the sky. “Lunch.”

“I’ll get the leftovers from the wagon,” Alexis said.

“I’ll help,” Sukki and Nanette said together, and smiled at each other, and looked at Boston.

“No.  You don’t want her to help,” Alexis said, sounding like a mom.

Boston stuck her tongue out at Alexis, and said, “Fine.  I’ll get the fire started.”

“We go with our strengths,” Decker said, as he rode up.

Katie turned to Lincoln.  “And we need to check a couple of horseshoes.  I think Robert’s horse picked up a stone.”

Lunch did not take long.  They just ate up what they had.

“Not much of a lunch,” Schaibo described it after they finished, and tried hard not to complain about the meager repast.

“You’re a dwarf,” Boston teased.  “Since when are you not hungry?”

Schaibo grinned at the thought.  “I like you, too, Miss Boston.  Even if you are an uppity elf.”

The others ignored them.

“My boss is a black woman,” Lockhart said, having finally thought of something to say.

“Wait,” Tony objected.  “I thought you worked for the Men in Black, whoever they are.  How can a woman be a Man in Black?”

“Good lawyer, too,” Alexis added.

“Well, obviously, she is not a man,” Lincoln said.

“A lawyer?” Nanette sounded surprised.

“But she is black,” Baba said, and smiled again at some more memories.

“Bobbi, er, Roberta,” Lockhart named her.

“We recruited her out of the FBI,” Lincoln said.

“Wait,” Tony started again.  “FBI?”

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation.  They are like federal detectives.” Lockhart explained

“A woman detective?” Tony asked

“A black woman, who is a lawyer and an FBI detective?” Nanette shook her head in disbelief.

“Like I said earlier,” Katie spoke to Nanette.  “We learned a few things in the hundred years since your day.”

Nanette would have to think about it all.

After lunch, Nanette tied her horse to the wagon, while the others packed to travel.  She would ride with Tony to Lord Baba’s camp.  She stepped out from the others to think about where they might be headed.  They had a long way to go to reach the nineteenth, or rather the twentieth century.

Nanette stood in a field of yellow flowers under a blue sky, and decided it looked like the place she grew up.  She tried to imagine being home.  Her mother would wonder where she had been for the last seven—more like nine or ten years by the time she got home.  She wondered if her mother would like Decker.  She wondered how Venus imagined that would work since her experiences and his were separated by a hundred years.  Where would they live?  She could not imagine following him into the future.

Nanette shrugged off her worries.  She would trust God to work things out.  Besides, they might not survive the journey.  None of her worries might matter.  They had a road to travel, first.  She looked in the direction they headed, held out her hands and closed her eyes to try and glimpse where they were headed.  She screamed, over and over.

It took a few moments for the group to calm her down enough to get a word out of her.  She looked at Decker.

“The Wolv.  They found the camp.  The big ship is coming.”  She turned to Baba.  “The Wolv think,” she said, and barely kept from screaming again.

Katie extended her elect senses in the right direction.  “I sense something, but nothing clear.  They are not a threat to us, yet.”

Boston looked with her elf senses, and caught the thoughts of Aemir, the chief little one in the camp.  Aemir warned the people there, who immediately took up positions behind the makeshift Roman palisade.

Lockhart said, “Damn.”

Baba reacted.  “Boston?”

“Aemir is warned,” Boston said.

“Elder Stow?”

“The scout-transport is still too far for details, but I am picking up an energy signature, like they are charging the engines for flight.”

Baba turned to the group.  “Schaibo, stay with the wagon and guard the people.  Lincoln, Alexis, Nanette, and Tony, bring the wagon, and Tony, let me borrow your horse.  The rest of us need to ride.  Elder Stow, bring the transmitter we have worked on.”  He marched off to Tony’s horse, and the rest got ready as quickly as they could.

They had something like a road, so the ride was not too difficult, but they were still an hour away.  Elder Stow tried to keep one eye on his scanner, but it bounced too much to see it well, not to mention he needed to watch where he went.  They rode hard and fast.

Fifteen minutes from the camp, Elder Stow’s voice rang from the wristwatch communicators.  “Stop.”  People stopped, but some had to come back to hear.  “The Wolv transport has reached the camp.  The three in the scout ship that found the camp kept back to wait for the others, but they look like they will charge as soon as they form up.”

“Damn,” Baba said, in English.  He called.  “Jasmine and Cedar.”  A young fairy couple appeared, and Baba took the Wolv transmitter from Elder Stow.  “Cedar,” he said to the fairy.  “Hold this carefully.  Don’t drop it or break it.  You need to fly this ahead to the camp and when you are between the Wolv ship and the Romans, Jasmine, you need to press this button.  No!  Not until you are in between the Wolv ship and the Romans.  Now, fly.  Fast as you can.”

“Lord,” Cedar said, but Jasmine hurried him.  They flew out of sight in maybe a second.

“Good luck,” Decker said.  The others were polite enough not to say anything as they started to ride.

The travelers rode hard for ten minutes, and extra hard when they saw the smoke in the distance.  They stopped on a small incline where they could see the camp to their left and the metal edge of the scout-transport to their right, among the trees.  The palisade that protected the castellum burned and sent billows of smoke from the treated wood high into the sky.  A few trees on their right also smoldered, but Baba figured the transport main guns increased the size of the small meadow so they could land safely.

M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 3 of 3

Owien did not move.  He could not believe seeing a real unicorn, and when he saw the fairies, he almost fainted.  They were holding hands and dancing in a circle about five feet from the ground, chanting.

“Hurry, hurry Avalon

Under moon and under sun

Make a way to Kairos hold

Make a door for travelers bold.”

The children imagined listening to a bear thrash through the woods, the growl of the cat and the serpent slithering through the leaves, but with that chant, Margueritte perked up.  “How many miles to Avalon?” she asked.

“Three score miles and ten.”  The fairies answered in unison.

“Can I get there by candlelight?”

“Yes, and back again.”  The fairies, oblivious to the danger they were in, fell back and laughed and laughed, an enchanting, infectious laughter, and it cheered them all.  And then the door opened.  A mere shimmer in the air at first, it quickly became an arch, high and wide, that touched the ground.  The children saw another world altogether, with a carefully manicured lawn so richly green it nearly hurt the eyes to look at it, and a sky so blue that Owien claimed after that he never really saw a blue sky again.  On a hill in the distance stood the greatest castle any of them had ever imagined, with more towers and pinnacles than they would have guessed possible.  Near at hand stood the most beautiful woman any had ever seen, and she glowed all around, ever so slightly, like a true, angelic vision.  The woman stepped into this world, looked around and took in the whole scene with one sweep of her eyes.  The fairies bowed and backed away.  Margueritte just had to step forward.

“Lady Alice,” she said, for she knew who it was.  “Is it time for me to come home now?”

“No, my little self,” Alice said.  “You have much yet to do here, but soon enough, and you may come.”  She turned to Elsbeth who thought it only right to curtsey.  “Do not be afraid, child.  Your days, too, will be long and happy.  And what do you say Owien son of Bedwin.  Will Sir Owien and Sir Tomberlain, the best of friends, not come into this high adventure?”  She stepped aside first for the unicorn and invited the beast to enter in.  The unicorn did not hesitate.  It reared up once, the earth shook, and lightening pierced across the sky.  Then it dashed through the door and quickly became lost in the distance as it raced across that sea of green.  “And my children,” Alice said to the fee who fluttered passed the door.

“Come on, come on-ey.”  Goldenrod prompted the others.

“Yes, hurry.”  Little White flower added.  Margueritte started and that got everyone’s feet moving.  Tomberlain came last with his horse.  When they turned, they could not see a door at all, and Alice was also not with them.  Looking out across the pasture, they saw great fields of perfect, golden grain not far from a river which ran deep and wide, and which seemed to come from the castle on the hill.  Behind them was the sea.  Indeed, they were almost on the golden shore and it seemed as if the drab world from which they had come must be buried beneath the waves.  Beyond the pasture in one direction and beyond the fields and river in the other, there were deep forests.  The one past the pasture looked like pine and fir and rose in great procession to where it undoubtedly became cliffs fallen off into the sea.  The one past the fields looked like oak, birch, maple, elm, and a thousand species they could hardly name, and it seemed to stretch off into the distance without end.

They felt reluctant to go too far for fear of disturbing the pristine perfection that they saw.  Even the fairies, who seemed at home, hardly dared move from the moorings of the children.  Then they saw someone come from the fields and river. They waited, because they felt they could hardly do anything else.  At last he arrived, a man, deep bearded and hard to look upon, but with a kindly face and a warm demeanor.  He came barely clothed, wore only the least cloth such as the Romans once wore, and in his hands, he held a sword.

“Caliburn,” Alice said.  They all spun around and saw that she had somehow come up behind them.  “It was made for a princess by the gods of old, but it has been carried by others since.”

“Would that I could carry a weapon like that someday,” Tomberlain said with a sigh.  Owien nodded, but Alice laughed.

“You gentlemen will have swords a plenty,” she said.  “But true and proper will be the swords carried by you men.  Even Arthur, who once pulled this sword from the stone, later gained another sword from the Lady of the Lake that he could bear with honor.  I said this sword was made for a woman, but there is a man who will bear it.  Margueritte, dear, you will know him when you find him.  Now you must go home.”

“Oh, Lady, must we?”  Little White Flower whined.

“Of course.  Your father will miss you.  But you may come again.”

“Promises?”  Goldenrod asked.

“Promises, my sweet,” Alice said, and she waved her hand to open a door to another place.  Tomberlain and Owien stepped out first with the horse.  The girls took hands and followed with the fairies.  The door vanished.  They stood in the triangle and their mother ran to hug and cry over her children, before she sent a man to find their father.  The man did not have to go far.

The king left without his tents, and only sent men back to fetch them.  Lord Bartholomew told the story that evening.

“There we were, racing for the site where the girls had been left.  I was obliged to follow, not knowing the location.  Fortunately, I had sent Tomberlain ahead to search as soon as I knew of Urbon’s foolish plan.  And, I must say, when I explained to Urbon what he had done, he was most reluctant to let the girls be harmed by whatever beasts might be driven to the center of that circle.  He did not say he was sorry, but I could tell he hadn’t thought things through very well.  So, we raced ahead of the people and arrived in time to see a rather incredible and unexpected sight.  If I say she was the most beautiful woman my eyes have ever beheld, you must forgive me, dear wife.  She was angelic, glowing even in the daylight and floating some two feet above the ground.  Neither would I have had those dainty sandaled feet muddied by the grime of this world to which she obviously does not belong.”

“Poor Urbon fairly fell to his face and trembled before her, and Duredain the druid went right with him.  I kept to horse, but only because I was so astounded at the sight of her.  The Irishman also stayed up, but I believe it was shock that froze him.  He is like a man who uses words for his advantage but does not actually believe in anything but himself.  I am sure he never believed there was a unicorn.  The woman fairly froze him in his saddle.”

“The children are safe,” the woman said.  “And I will see them safely home.  Do not be too hard on yourself for putting their innocence in harm’s way.  The unicorn is out of this world now and out of your reach.  Alas, the old ways have gone and the new has come.  Embrace the new, but also remember you must show grace to those who still see things differently.  This universe is bigger than you think, and always remember there is more you do not know than there is that is known to you.”  And she vanished.  It’s true.  She utterly vanished off the face of the earth.”

“Alice,” Tomberlain said.

“Huh?”

“Her name is Alice,” Tomberlain said.

“And she was most very beautiful,” Elsbeth added.

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

MONDAY

The years go by, but finally some questions just need to be asked, and Margueritte has to answer them, if she can.  Until Monday

*

M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 2 of 3

Things were about settled when Marta came sheepishly in and interrupted.  “Your pardon, but I must set the table.  There will be eight and the children?”  She asked, judging the table too small for that many.

“Let the children and Tomberlain,” Brianna added to single him out, “eat with you and Maven this evening, unless my young squire would rather share with Redux?”  Tomberlain said he might carry enough to the barn to do that very thing.  “And here,” she said.  “We will help.”

“I’ll help Maven with the cooking,” Elsbeth said, but Margueritte grabbed her arm.

“You need to think harder than that to get out of work.  You can’t cook, or did you forget?”

Everything got settled amicably that evening, and the supper went very well overall.  Margueritte helped Marta serve since Lolly was not there and Maven got so tired out from all that cooking.  Elsbeth went with her brother and Redux, and the little ones, probably had a wonderful time dancing to the sound of Luckless’ mandola and Grimly’s flute.  But that was all right.  Margueritte did not mind.

They almost got into trouble when Chief Brian wondered where that midget had gotten off to?  The others became excited for the possible distraction since the supper table was not exactly tension free.

Marta stood stiff as a board, her eyes darted back and forth, with sweat ready at any moment to break out on her forehead.

“She had to go home.”  Margueritte spoke up quickly and sent Marta outside to the kitchen.  True enough.

“Drat,” Chief Brian said, and he explained his encounter with the little one, embellishing it just enough for a good laugh.  By then, Maven had come in, presumably to help clear dishes.

“Yes.  Dear Lolly had to get on home,” Maven said.  “She has seven mouths of her own to feed, you know, in that little rundown old shack of hers.  Why, the place barely keeps out the rain, it does, and that does not help her husband, arthritic and all the way he is.  He can barely farm enough to keep his family from starving, though he might have done better if his oldest and only son had not lost a foot in the badger hole.  Come to think of it, they would have had eight children, that is a second son, if the wart hog had not got him when he was a young one.  I almost forgot about him.  Of course, Lord Bartholomew, saint that he is, does everything he can for the poor, wretched family, but there is only so much one can do.  And here, Lady Brianna, the good lady let Lolly come up to cook just for her king whom she loves with the hope that in his abundance he might send her just a little to see her and hers until they can get in the rest of the scraggly bits of grain from the field.  Even with all the little girls helping, though, I can’t see how they will get it in before the frost.  Yes, I really feel for the poor old dear and help her myself every chance I get.”

“Oh my,” Chief Brian said.

The king frowned.  “I may be able to send a little something.”

“And I will, too.”  Chief Brian agreed.  Everyone agreed, except Bartholomew who seemed to be having a hard time to keep from laughing, and Brianna whose ears were red from hearing such lies, and Finnian McVey who looked up at Maven and tipped his hat ever so slightly to a master.  Finnian was apparently no slouch in the matter of lying.

Going out the back door with the dishes, Margueritte turned to Maven.  “You lie like an elf.”  She said it bluntly and did not mean it as a compliment.

“Well, having a few around has given me some chance to practice,” Maven admitted.

###

In the morning, almost before day had fully broken, Margueritte and Elsbeth were dumped, not too softly, in a pile of leaves.  Obviously, the place had been well worked out in advance as the riders shot for it in a straight line.  Margueritte wondered what other parts of King Urbon’s plans he had neglected to share with her father.  But then Goldenrod and Little White Flower showed up and the girls got busy having fun.

“I told the ogrees like you asked,” Goldenrod said.  “That was scary for me, the most scary, ever.”

“I bet it was,” Little White Flower said.

“How come fairies don’t always talk right?”  Elsbeth asked out of the blue.

Margueritte had to think for a minute.

“Is it because when they are young, their little brains can’t hold it all in?” Elsbeth suggested.

“Mostly too many feelings in this world,” Little White Flower said.  “It’s hard to be happy, feel proud at having done well, and scardy remembering all at the same time.”

“No,” Margueritte said.  “Well. Probably something like that, but I think it is because young fairies were made to be terminally cute and sweeter even than cotton candy.”

“What’s cotton candy?” Elsbeth wondered.

“Whipped sugar,” Margueritte answered.

“I knew some cotton fairies once,” Little White Flower said.  “But I never knew a cotton candy.”

“Hmmm,” Goldenrod interrupted.  She wanted to say something intelligent, too, but she could not think of anything to say.

“Unicorn.”  Elsbeth called out when she remembered her instructions.

“Unicorn.”  Goldenrod echoed, and for a while they all called, though none of them seriously supposed the creature would come.

Meanwhile, King Urbon had moved the entire male population, and quite a few females out of the village of Vergen, and also brought about a hundred members of the court along to make nearly seven hundred people altogether.  He even offered a lesser sentence to those stuck in the fens if any would be willing to help.  These people slowly spread out at first light until they made a line, a mile in length.  Ever so slowly, they moved into the Banner.  They carried whatever nets, fishing nets, cloth or sacks they could which might help to catch a unicorn.

After a while, the girls stopped calling.  The sound of hounds could be heard, far away, closing from the other direction.

“I’m cold,” Elsbeth admitted, and she and Margueritte got up and began to walk in a great circle.  The calling started again but stopped quickly when they heard a rustling in the leaves not far away, but out of sight.  They stiffened as a face popped out from behind a tree.

“Owien, Son of Bedwin.”  Both girls called out together.

“I see you bathed,” Margueritte said.

“Look nice,” Elsbeth added.

“No time for that,” Owien said.  “I came to warn you.  It’s a trap.  The people are circling all around to keep the unicorn from escaping, but Mother says they will drive all beasts to the center, and not just the unicorn.  That means Bears and Great Cats and Wart Hogs and snakes, too.”

Elsbeth shrieked at the word, “Snake.”  They paused again, because the leaves rustled once more.  A man jumped out and grabbed Owien, took him down, and held a big knife.  Owien fought well, but the man, or rather boy was much bigger than him.  Margueritte hit the boy in the arm.

“Tomberlain,” she yelled.  “Leave Owien alone.”

“Yes, leave him alone,” Elsbeth agreed.

“You know this boy?”  Tomberlain asked.

“Of course,” Margueritte explained.  “He risked himself to come and warn us about the circle closing around us.”

“Oh, sorry,” Tomberlain said and he sheathed his knife and helped Owien to his feet.  “I thank you for caring about my sisters.”

“No, thank you, Squire,” Owien said.  “I never wrestled with a real squire before.  It was an honor.”  Margueritte thought she better step in before Tomberlain’s head swelled to where it became too big to fit between the trees.

“What can we do to get out of here?” she asked the practical question.

“No broomsticks handy,” Tomberlain said.  “But I brought my horse.  He is young and strong and might carry the four of us.”

“Three,” Owien said.  “I can just blend in with the circle as it closes.”

“Nonsense.”  Margueritte and Tomberlain spoke together.  Tomberlain finished.  “You’re in as much danger here as the rest of us.”  For a third time, everyone stopped then, to listen.  The leaves sounded agitated this time.  To everyone’s surprise and wonder, the unicorn came into the little clearing.  It would not let the boys near it, but it seemed to be offering itself to the girls to ride and to take them out of danger.

“Looks like the matter’s settled,” Tomberlain said.  “We have two chargers, but we have to hurry.”  They could already hear the drums and distant shouts.  “It took too long to find you,” Tomberlain admitted.  “But we can make a dash for it.  Hurry Owien.”

M3 Margueritte: Beltane, part 3 of 3

Margueritte cried out and concentrated her thoughts even while she held to the horse for dear life.  She seemed to hear Lady LeFleur’s answer.

“I can control the broom if the young Squire and his page can hold your sister to her seat.  I will see them safely home.”  Then silence.

Margueritte grabbed the horse’s mane, but already she could smell the salt rising in the air.  This was one of the horses of the deep and the waves who could often be heard crashing their hooves against the rocky shores and thundering along the beach.  Very rarely, one broke free to wander across the land, looking for one to ride upon its’ back, forgetful of its’ place in the sea.  A powerful magic, indeed, drew the innocent to try the steed, but once mounted, the horse remembered the weight of the sea on its’ shoulders and instantly sought to return to its’ proper place.  Many a person had been brought to drown in the bottom of the sea for wanting to ride that beautiful creature.

“Is this it, then?”  Margueritte wondered to herself.  “Will this life be so short and snuffed out by the deeps in a wink.”

“No, little one.”  Margueritte heard the answer echo to her down through the wind of time.  The Danna herself spoke, and Margueritte began to cry for hope.  Just as the horse touched hooves to waves, Margueritte was no longer there.  Instead, Danna, a life from ever so long ago, traded places with her, and the goddess simply let the horse swim free.

Since it remained Margueritte’s lifetime, Danna’s first thought of Elsbeth and Tomberlain, but even as she thought of them, the goddess knew they were safe.  Her next though turned to Little White Flower as Danna disappeared from the surface of the sea and appeared in the grotto of the fee where all the little ones bowed to acknowledge her presence.  Lord Yellow Leaf had already scolded his daughter, but Danna had another concern.

“I fear if Little White Flower is taken from Elsbeth’s company at this time it will truly hurt her heart.  Elsbeth is very young and such a bond should not be lightly broken,” Danna said.  She thought the wisdom of letting such a bond form in the first place was another matter.

Little White Flower looked hopeful.  She was also attached to the girl.  Lord Yellow Leaf paused to consider.  He dressed in a long green robe and looked like a lord of the Breton but for the darker hue of his skin and a bear claw necklace with which he was reluctant to part.

“I will bow to the wishes of my goddess,” he said.  “But only after Little White Flower has done her penance.”  Danna raised her eyebrows.  “Is that not the right word?” Yellow Leaf asked.

“It is,” Danna confirmed.  “This is a new world we live in.  The old ways have passed away.  My children have gone over to the other side.  The new has come, and even I do not belong here, now.  Lady LeFleur.”  The fairy queen appeared as if summoned, which she was.  “I forgive you for disturbing my husband’s festival.  The old ways have passed away,” she repeated.  “Now no harm will befall you for your actions.”

Lady LeFleur could not contain herself.  She rushed forward and put her little hands on Danna’s cheek and kissed her goddess with her tears.  Danna was pleased, but not finished.

“It would be a good thing to let Goldenrod continue to visit with Margueritte some in her youth,” she said.  “My presence in her place will be dim in her memory.  As I said, I do not belong here.”  And she vanished from there, appeared in Margueritte’s room, and paused only for a second to repair the nightgown with a thought, even down to the last stitch, before she let go of that time and stood as Marguerite once again.

Margueritte saw the door to her room still open and her mother standing in the doorway.  “Elsbeth.  Tomberlain,” Margueritte said, without asking.

“Asleep,” Lady Brianna answered.  She came into the room and took Margueritte’s hand, and together they sat on Margueritte’s bed.

Margueritte looked down and told the whole adventure, beginning with what the Don heard from Little White Flower’s mouth.  “Little White flower should never have spoken of it in the first place, but after that, Elsbeth cried so hard and became so miserable, what could she do?”

Lady Brianna looked briefly in the direction of Elsbeth’s room.  “Yes, she can be hard-headed when she wants something.  She has a terrible stubborn streak.”

Margueritte went on and paused only when Danna came into the picture.

“I saw her,” Lady Brianna said and squeezed her daughter’s hand.  Then, with tears, Margueritte told the rest, and then she had to explain about being born again and again.

“How many times?”  Brianna asked.

“A hundred and three.”  A voice spoke from the still open window.  Goldenrod had rushed to the manor after Danna had vanished from the glen.

Lady Brianna stiffened a little, but softened again as Margueritte began to cry great, big tears.  “But Mother,” Margueritte said.  “You don’t understand.  Each time I have to start all over again and it is hard.  I’ll never get it right.  And then I hurt.  Mother I go through all the pain.  Mother I die, but I never get to go to heaven.”  She became racked with tears, part fright from her experience, part exhaustion, and part self-pity, though only a little part, and her Mother held her and rocked her until the crying subsided.

Lady Brianna put Margueritte in her bed and covered her.  “Well, this time you are my daughter,” she said at last and kissed Margueritte’s forehead.  “And you will always have my love and prayers and help in any way I can with this burden that the Almighty, in his wisdom, has laid upon you.  Do not be afraid, and don’t forget to count your blessings before you sleep.”   She turned to Goldenrod.  “And you, little lady.  The next time you see your mother, be sure and thank her for me.  God willing, I may be able to repay her someday.”

“Yes m’lady,” Goldenrod said and added a little curtsey.  As soon as Brianna left the room, she raced to Margueritte’s pillow and snuggled up beside her true friend.

There came a second time when Goldenrod helped Margueritte that summer, though it did not seem nearly so serious a matter.  Maven had just left the pasture and Margueritte and her growing hound settled in for an afternoon of fun.  Goldenrod had long since gotten over her fear of the beast and had taken to sometimes riding in her little size on Puppy’s shoulders, like a cowgirl might ride the back of a horse, the only difference being that they rounded up sheep rather than cattle.  Margueritte always laughed at such times and watched the two of them stumbling around, yelling and whooping and barking and tending to confuse the sheep more than anything else.  On that day, however, Goldenrod barely finished her thimble of milk when she dashed to the treetop to hide in the leaves.

“What is it?”  Margueritte asked with some concern as Puppy also stood and began to look in a certain direction and pant.

“Horses.”  Goldenrod’s whisper barely reached Margueritte’s ears.  “And two men with them.”  She pointed in the direction Puppy faced.

“Come out!”  Margueritte yelled, only a little afraid that they might be robbers.  “You’ve been seen.  You might as well show yourselves.”  Silence followed, before they heard the whinny of a horse.  Gradually, two men stepped from the edge of the woods, led their horses and argued about it.  Margueritte recognized Roan and Morgan and frowned.

“You’ve been spying on me.”  Margueritte stood and accused them forthrightly.

“No,” Roan lied.

“Yes,” Morgan said at the same time.

“You didn’t have to tell her that,” Roan yelled at his partner.

Morgan just smiled.  “I had an uncle once who lied about things like that,” he said, with certainty in his grin.  Roan did not ask.

“Chief Brian has told us to fetch you.  He has heard strange tidings and said he wants to see you,” Roan said.

“Tell him to bring his fatness to the triangle.”  Margueritte got rather rude and miffed at being spied on.  “I have nothing to hide.  And anyway, you must speak to my father first before I can say anything.”

“Nope,” Morgan said.

“Chief Brian does not want your father involved,” Roan explained as he stopped a couple of steps away.  Puppy began to growl.  “You get the dog.  I’ll get the girl.”

“What am I supposed to do with it once I’ve got it?”  Morgan asked.

“Do with what?”

“The dog.”

Roan frowned and turned back to face Margueritte even as Goldenrod from overhead sprinkled golden dust on Margueritte’s head.  Margueritte began to fade from sight along with Puppy.  Even then Roan might have grabbed her if he did not have to stop and sneeze.  By the time he got his nose under control, Margueritte got out of reach and became completely invisible.

“Do I still have to get the dog now that it’s invisible?”  Morgan asked.  He could pinpoint the dog, more or less, because Puppy kept barking.

“Fool,” Roan said.  “Find the girl.”  They began to reach out and walk slowly first one way then the other.

“I never had to find an invisible girl before,” Morgan said.  “Though I had a grandfather who was pretty good at disappearing.”

That did it.  Roan hit Morgan on the head, as hard as he could.  Puppy took that violent act as an invitation, jumped up and clamped down on that arm which caused Roan to fight and scream.  “Get it off!  Get it off!”

“Let go Puppy.”  Margueritte raised her voice which risked giving her location away.  Puppy let go but continued to bark.  Roan and Morgan paused to look in the direction of Margueritte’s voice, but she had already circled around behind Morgan.  She reached down behind his pants, which tickled him a bit, and pulled his underthings as far up his back as she could.

“Woohoooo!”  Morgan squealed.

“Tricky fixy, bees to sixty.”  An invisible Goldenrod joined the fun and buzzed around Roan’s head like a whole hive of bees.

“Let’s get out of here.”  Roan yelled as Marguerite began to giggle.  She couldn’t help it.  Roan grabbed his skittish horse and mounted, and so did Morgan, but not before Puppy took a snap at the back of his pants and tore them all the way to his leg.  They rode off as fast as their horses could carry them safely through the woods, and the girls collapsed in laughter.  Puppy licked them both.

When Margueritte told her father that evening what happened, he did not find it so funny, and that became the end of Margueritte’s days as a shepherdess.

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

MONDAY

The same year Elsbeth danced came to be called the year of the unicorn.  Monday.  Happy Reading

*

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 2 of 3

A crack of lightening split a rogue apple tree down the middle, and a roar came that sounded like thunder.  “I am here.”  Horses danced and skidded away in pure fright, and everyone paused, in the midst of their life or death struggles, to look.

They saw three men, dressed resplendently for battle.  They all glowed a bit with an unearthly glow.  Somehow, Margueritte knew them all by name.  Birch, the eldest fee, stood full sized, big as a man.  He had gray hair like a well-seasoned warrior.  He came dressed all in German-like chain mail of black and silver, though much finer than any German made chain, and the silver looked to be real silver.  Beside him stood young Larchmont, also a full-sized fairy lord, dressed like a druid prince in black and gold that matched his golden hair.  The third was a sight, in wooden chest protection, feathers on his head, a wicked looking war club in one hand and a wooden shield in the other on which the thunderbird had been painted.  Yellow Leaf was his name, and he was not long arrived from the other side of the world.

Beside those three fairy lords, there were three more figures.  Grimly, the hobgoblin stood only three feet tall, pink faced, and dressed all in green like a midget Robin Hood, but no one doubted the determination written all over his grim face, and no one wanted any part of the long knife he brandished with what appeared to be great skill.  Beside him, and a foot taller, stood Luckless the dwarf.  His armor showed neither gold, nor silver, but it looked ancient as if made before human beings ever entered that part of the world, and it also looked like it hardly fit him.  The double headed ax he held, however, appeared to fit him very well.  Last came Hammerhead, the ogre, the youngster from Banner Bein.  He stood eight feet tall, almost as broad in the shoulders and ugly enough to make a stomach turn just to look at him.  The tree trunk of a club he held over his shoulder seemed superfluous.

Lord Birch spoke first into the stunned silence.  “Unhand the Lady.”  He pointed his glimmering steel at the two who held Brianna to the ground.  They did not argue.  They let go immediately and backed away.

Margueritte took that moment to try wriggling again.  “Let go of me.”

“Yes!”  Luckless the dwarf yelled to gain everyone’s attention.  “Let go of our special lady.”

The soldier that held Margueritte did not move and may have even tightened his grip a little out of pure, unthinking fear.

Hammerhead took one step forward and opened his mouth like a shark, wide enough to bite a man’s head off and showed several rows of teeth.  “Let-Her-Go!” he said like thunder and with a great wind that exploded from his gut.

The soldier dropped Marguerite like a hot coal, screamed, and ran off down the road the way he came without even stopping to collect a horse.

Margueritte fell hard onto the mud and rocks.  Concern quickly crossed the faces of Sir Barth and Lady Brianna, but it passed when Margueritte came up laughing, wrinkled her nose and waved her hand through the air.

“Good Lord, Hammerhead,” she said.  “When was the last time you brushed your teeth?”

“I’m supposed to brush them?”  Hammerhead responded in his more normal deep gravel, and honestly, quite scary enough voice.

The Franks laughed, however nervously.  The Saracens were mortified to finally realize that these apparitions actually answered to the young girl.  Immediately they began to grab what horses they could, and each other, to run, except Ahlmored, who took the distraction to take a swing at Bartholomew.  Sir Barth was not so distracted, though, when any enemy threatened his flank.  He blocked the swing of the sword and followed up with a thrust of his own that went right under Lord Ahlmored’s chinstrap, through his throat, and out the back of his neck.  It only stopped against the chain that draped down from the back of Ahlmored’s helmet.  With that, the enemies were all gone.

“Tomberlain!”  Margueritte remembered.  Tomberlain moaned and tried to sit up.  He bled beneath his helmet.

“Luckless!”  Margueritte turned quickly.  “Is there a doctor?”

“Doctor Pincher might be available,” he said with a bow.

Margueritte grinned at the name and made the call.  “Doctor Pincher,” she commanded his attention in a voice she did not know she had.  Doctor Pincher, a half dwarf, appeared out of thin air.  He looked confused at first until Luckless pointed to Margueritte.

“Ah, so it is true,” he said.  “Great Lady.”  He bowed low to Margueritte, but she was concerned for her brother.

“Tomberlain.”  She pointed.  “He got bonked on the head.  Help my brother.”

“Hmm.  Let me see.”  The doctor drew a big black bag out from the inside of his coat, though the bag clearly looked bigger than any pocket he might have had inside the coat.  Immediately, he helped Tomberlain remove his helmet and quickly announced, “It’s only a flesh wound.  Nothing to worry about.”

Margueritte then remembered her manners.  “Thank you, Lord Birch.  Thank you, Lord Larchmont.  Thank you, Lord Yellow Leaf and welcome to this side of the Atlantic.” The three fairy Lords bowed without a word and became small together and flew off into the woods.  Lady Brianna crawled up beside her daughter and helped Margueritte and herself to their feet.  She held Margueritte because Margueritte appeared to have twisted her ankle a little.

“Thank you Grimly, Luckless, and dear Hammerhead,” Margueritte said.

As she held her daughter and saw for a moment as if through Margueritte’s eyes, Lady Brianna asked her daughter a quick question.  “Are all these yours?”

“Yes, indeed, m’lady.”  Grimly tipped his green hat.

“No, mother,” Margueritte answered.  “They belong to themselves as we belong to ourselves, but sometimes they help me and do what I ask, and I am always grateful.”  She smiled for her mother because her mother seemed to understand far more than most would on such short notice.

“And the unicorn?”  Sir Barth asked.

Brianna answered for her daughter.  “No dear.  Nothing so grand.  Only the littlest spirits and certainly not even all of them.”

“Elsbeth!”  Lady Brianna and Margueritte reacted together.  They paused to listen and heard giggles come from under the wagon.  They peeked.  Elsbeth lay on her back and tried in vain to catch the fairy that buzzed around her face, and she giggled.  Beside her was a dwarf wife who held her cooking spoon like a war club.

“Is it safe?”  The dwarf wife asked.

“Yes Lolly.”  Margueritte called the spirit by her name.  “You and Little White Flower can come out now.”

“Elsbeth.  Stop playing with the fairy and come out here so I can look at you.”

“Aw, Mother,” Elsbeth protested, but complied.  Little White Flower grabbed onto Elsbeth’s hair, came with her and took a seat on Elsbeth’s shoulder.  “This is Little White Flower.”  Elsbeth introduced her friend.  “And this is Lolly, my other friend, even though she is threatening to make me learn to cook.”

“Hmm.”  Lady Brianna saw that her daughter was unhurt.  “That would take some very strong magic.”

“Well, that’s that,” Doctor Pincher interrupted.  “All bandaged, disinfected and cleaned.  Some dead though.”  Three Saracens and one of the Franks would move no more.  Two other Franks were bandaged, but like Tomberlain, neither had been wounded too seriously.  The Africans seemed to have taken their wounded with them, which spoke well for their training to have done so despite the loss of their leader, and the fact that they were frightened out of their minds.  “If you don’t mind my saying, you might tell these mudders it would not hurt to get clean once in a while.  The water won’t melt them, mud though they be.”

“Thank you, Doctor Pincher,” Margueritte said.

“Yes, thank you,” Lady Brianna added.

“Ahem.”  The doctor coughed.  “Don’t mention it, but I do have lots of ‘pointments this afternoon.”  He whipped out a list which stretched to the ground.  No one asked where his black bag went.

“Oh, yes,” Margueritte said.  “Go home.”  She waved her hand and the dwarf instantly vanished.

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 1 of 3

The afternoon got spent with Maven again, shopping, while Tomberlain went with the boys to practice feats of skill and stupidity, as Margueritte had come to call them.  Sir Barth and Brianna also made the rounds before they had to get ready for the feast and the evening festivities at the king’s court.  For most of the time, Roan and Morgan were not too carefully shadowing the girls.  Margueritte once pulled Elsbeth quickly behind a booth while Maven went after some sweets and when the fools came racing up to look every which way for the girls, she and Elsbeth jumped out.

“Surprise!”  Margueritte stomped on Roan’s foot as hard as she could and Elsbeth kicked Morgan in the shins.

“Girls?”  Maven turned around.

“Here Maven,” Marguerite said, sweetly.

“Don’t do that,” Maven breathed and completely ignored the two men hopping around, each on one foot.  “I lost you once.  I’ll not lose you again.”  Margueritte simply smiled.

Not long after that, the fat old village chief, Brian himself caught up with them.  He came decked out in a long blue robe with gold trim and looked every bit a prince, though he was not.  He also had the chain and oversized symbol of his office around his neck, and Elsbeth laughed at the way it bounced off his plump tummy with each step.  He wanted to know a bit more about the unicorn.  He could not quite grasp that the unicorn had a plain, silver horn rather than one colored like the rainbow.  “Or at least white,” he said.  “Maybe it just looked gray in the dark of the woods.”

“No, it was gray,” Margueritte said, as her eye caught a sight, she felt surprised to see.  A little gnome pinched a sweet.  She gasped.  Suddenly she saw a dozen little ones, imps, brownies, pixies, and the like, all taking little bits of food and drink here and there.  A snatch of cloth and a broken needle, and she wondered why no one noticed, but then she realized they were all invisible to mortal eyes, except her own.

“What a shame,” Brian said.  “If only I could believe you.  What a wonderful find that would be, to catch and preserve a real, live unicorn, right here in my village.  Prosperity and health would be ours forever.”

“No.”  Margueritte shook her head.  “A unicorn can heal the heart, only.  It is not a fertility or prosperity beast.”

“And how do you know this?”  Brian asked.

“Well, I’m not sure.”  Margueritte said, as Elsbeth reached for her hand, curious at what could be on her sister’s mind.  Immediately, Elsbeth had to stifle a shriek since on touching her sister, she saw all that her sister saw.  “But I think that is right.  You understand unicorns are greater spirits, way beyond my little ones.”

“Your little ones?”  Brian tried to follow.

“Mmm,” Margueritte said.  “Like these.”  She took Brian’s hand and pointed.  Brian saw and gasped.  Maven reached to move Margueritte along, thinking the conversation had finished, but as she touched Margueritte’s shoulder, she also saw and screamed.  Some of the little ones ignored the scream and assumed it was what “mudders” did once in a while, but some looked up, and one particularly little gnome-like dwarf leapt up on a table and shouted.

“We been had!”  With that the Pixies, elves, and hobgoblins vanished from the fairgrounds in a matter of seconds. Elsbeth hugged her sister and whispered in her ear.

“Do it again.”

Chief Brian went off, silent in the wonder of his vision, his great iron symbol of office bouncing all the way.

Maven stopped screaming after a while.

That evening when the fires were put out, there were no untoward incidents.  Tomberlain chose that time to tell the story he heard about the robbers of Cairn Brees and how they broke into the tombs of the kings in search of booty.  When the next Samhain came, the ghosts of the kings and queens rose-up in the dark and exacted a terrible vengeance on those unfortunates.  He did a fairly good job for an amateur storyteller.  Margueritte felt frightened at the proper time.  Maven laughed.  Marta did not say a word the whole next day.  Elsbeth did not speak to her brother for a whole week.

The next day, the day of Samhain felt like a bit of a let-down.  Much of it got spent in the company of Lady Lavinia who took the girls to many of the same places they had already visited with Maven, except she made them talk and name everything the whole time in Latin.  Every time Elsbeth got something nearly right, Lavinia praised her.  Every time Marguerite so much as conjugated incorrectly, she got scolded.  Margueritte noticed.

After that, they began to dream of home and being in their own rooms and sleeping in their own beds.  Even Tomberlain said as much, and they started out early in the day, nearly at daybreak, so apparently, it was a well shared feeling.  Around ten that morning, a strong drizzle started, which did not help their spirits, but perhaps hustled up their feet.  They passed the coast road and the south road, and the rain slackened off.  They got within three bends of the triangle when they stopped completely.  Behind them they heard the sound of many horses coming up fast.

They had no time to get the wagons away safely, so Sir Barth ordered Redux, Andrew and John-James on their honor to guard the women, and especially the children.  When he turned to face the horsemen, they had already arrived.  The Moors appeared, and their swords were drawn.  The melee began at once along with Elsbeth’s scream.  Margueritte joined her scream when they saw Tomberlain knocked from his horse by a wicked hit on the head.

Few of the men were able to keep to their horses on the slippery grass and in the mud and rain.  Slick saddles sent men to the ground while horses sauntered off into the woods, away from the commotion.  Margueritte found herself and Elsbeth pushed down into the wagon and a wet, woolen blanket thrown hastily over them by their mother.

Lady Brianna sat still with a dagger in her hand while Redux the blacksmith took the tool he brought for the wagon wheels, something like a tire iron, and faced off with one of the enemy.  Brianna got startled, when one came up behind her, still on horseback.  She spun with the knife and cut the man’s hand, and then thought fast and kicked the horse which bucked and threw its’ rider.  With her back turned, however, it became easy for two strong hands to grab her from behind and pull her from the wagon seat.  It took two of them to hold her, and even then, it was only because she landed flat on the ground, on her back, and had no leverage.  Unfortunately, she had dropped the knife.

Margueritte, who thought, “Way to go, Mother,” when Brianna cut her attacker, cried out when her mother got grabbed from behind.  She reached out of the blanket to try and catch her mother and keep her from being dragged from the cart, but it was too far to reach.  Then, she felt herself lifted right out of the back of the wagon, and though she kicked, her feet could not quite reach the ground.

“Let me go!” she screamed and wriggled.  “Help!” she yelled.  “Hammerhead!” It was the first name that came to mind.  Perhaps she did not think at all but merely bubbled something up from her unconscious.  Her mother and Tomberlain were both down and who knew in what condition.  Elsbeth was surely no help, and her father fought face to face with Lord Ahlmored who kept shouting, “Save me the woman and the older girl.  Kill the rest.”  So Margueritte shouted for Hammerhead, odd as it seemed.  Odder still was the fact that he answered.

M3 Gerraint: Winter Games, part 2 of 3

Hunting and tracking were her strongest abilities, thanks to her friend.  She knew she would have no trouble catching up with the others.  That did not prevent her from grousing, however.  “Gerraint obviously wants to freeze me to death,” she said.  She shortened her cape again to climb, but she kept it white, and that made her nearly invisible in the snow.

At the top of the hill, the Princess paused.  She found a rock face cliff on the other side.  The trail petered out.  She did not like the look of that cliff, even if it stood only about three stories tall.  “Diogenes,” she said his name.  Many of the lives of the Kairos were not enamored with heights, but the Macedonian had mastered his feelings more than some others.  She went home, and Diogenes stood there looking for the best way down.

He appeared to be the perfect reflection of the Princess, a male match to her female self.  The lives of the Kairos always came in pairs, no matter how far apart in time they might be separated.  As the Princess’ genetic reflection, Diogenes also shared, in a lesser degree, her gift of the Spirit of Artemis.  He, too, could find the others even in the storm; but first he needed off the cliff.  And he could hear the Scots behind, which meant they arrived at the base of the hill.

Diogenes shrugged and sat.  He slid himself slowly off the edge and held as tight as he could to the rocks that presented themselves.  Step by step, he carefully made his way down.  It was inevitable that he slip.  The fall to the ground was only about eight feet, and he was able to land easily in the snow, and without injury.

Diogenes did not pause.  He turned his white back to the cliff and began to run.  It was not far before he found his friends, only he forgot to change back to Gerraint before they saw him.

“My Lord.”  Uwaine knew him by his clothes right off.  He had his arms around Trevor who limped.  Gwillim fell into a panic, not thinking too clearly.  There were shouts behind and a temporary lull in the falling snow.  The Scots reached the top of the hill, and they got spotted before they could push into the woods.

“Damn it!  Damn it!”  Gwillim continued to swear.

“Q-q-quiet.”  Diogenes said, not from the cold but because he had a stutter which never really left him.  “Th-this way.”  He led them into the woods as the Scots began to navigate down the rocks behind.

Gerraint came back, even as Gwillim nudged him and pointed.  He saw a face in the distance that stuck out from behind a tree, and it beckoned them.  “A Scot.”  Gwillim sounded afraid.

“No.  A friend,” Gerraint said, and Uwaine saw it, too.  They hurried as well as they could and practically carried poor Trevor between them.  The face appeared again, just as far away as the first time, but in a slightly different direction.  They changed course, and again, a third time.  At last, they came to a place where the whole world changed.  The shouts behind them got cut off suddenly, as if someone closed a door.  They stood still, and listened, and took in the vision.  Even Trevor stood up, carefully.

They heard no sound and felt no wind in that part of the forest.  Curiously, it also stopped snowing in that place, though the ground appeared covered in a white blanket, and more.  A mist rose from the surface of the snow suggesting the ground beneath might be warm enough to cause some melt.  The mist obscured their sight, but it did not entirely blind them.

“A man could get lost in here and never find his way out,” Gwillim said.  His voice sounded strange as it broke the quiet.

“This way.”  A man’s voice echoed amongst the trees.  It felt hard to tell which way he meant, but Gerraint started out and the others were obliged to follow.  They saw lights of a sort to their left and right which appeared to flutter about, almost like floating light bugs only much bigger, and their makers always remained shrouded in the mist so they could not see exactly what they were.

“A little further.”  The man’s voice spoke.  After a moment, it spoke again.  “Just a little more.”

They came to see a light in front of them, much stronger than the lights that danced through the trees.  The ones around them were pale, nearly white as snowflakes.  The one before them looked warm amber, the light of a warming fire well lit.  Gwillim pushed ahead, and even Trevor tried to hurry up, though he could only go as fast as Uwaine on whom he leaned.

It indeed proved to be a fire, deep inside a cave, and it felt warm and so home like in their hearts, it seemed all anyone could see at first.  Gerraint alone, noted that the door closed behind them and shut them in as they gathered around to warm themselves.

“Ought to find some tepid water for Trevor,” Gwillim said.  “He looks frostbitten.”

“Already taken care of.”  The voice came from above them, but only Gerraint and Gwillim looked up.  Uwaine watched the elf maidens who brought shallow bowls of water to soak Trevor’s extremities.  Though Trevor looked frightened at their appearance, he did not resist them.

“Macreedy.”  Gerraint named the elf lord who looked at him with curiosity.  “Thank you, and be sure and thank Lord Evergreen, Queen Holly, Princess Ivy and their clan for guiding us to your safe haven as well.”

“So, it is true.  You are the one.”  Lord Macreedy needed no other evidence.  He started to rise, but Gerraint waved him back to his chair.

“Right now, I am simply a man, half frozen and starving,” he said.  “But tell me.  How did you know to look for us?”

He could see Macreedy wanted to tell some lie about the magic and mysteries of the spirits of the world, but that would not have impressed Gerraint at all.  And Macreedy knew it.  Instead, he looked aside and looked a little embarrassed.  “Runabout does tend to talk,” he said.

“Quite all right,” Gerraint assured him.

Avalon 6.10 Alexander’s Eyes, part 5 of 6

Lockhart, Katie, and Boston got down, with Harpalus and his soldier behind them.  At that point, two lights flashed up to Boston, and they spoke.

“Lady Boston.  They got a witch,” Maren, the young, and Boston thought very young fairy wife screeched.

“They got a cowboy,” Philoxes said, some excitement in his voice.

Katie smiled.  “And do you want to be a cowboy?”

Philoxes and Maren both looked surprised at being seen.  Most humans who tried to see fairies saw only swirls of light and colors, and heard only faint sounds unless the fairies fully manifested.  These travelers seemed able to see them clearly, and Harpalus saw them, which suggested he spent plenty of time in his youth hanging out with the Kairos, Diogenes.

“That is the temptation, Ma’am,” Philoxes said.  “I reckon.”

Lockhart laughed before Maren got serious.  “But they have a witch.”

Wallace, who spent so much time with Diana, and Justitia, had no trouble hearing, and he turned in the direction of the enemy fortifications.  “Nanette,” he yelled once.  He knew his voce would not carry that far.

“Harpalus,” a young man, roughly the same age, rushed up and gave Harpalus a hug.

“Erigyius,” Harpalus named the young man. “I forgot you were assigned to come and hold the pass.”

“Lysimachus is really in charge,” Erigyius said.  “But I volunteered to come to get a break from the master.”

“The master?” Evan asked, as he, Millie, Decker, and Elder Stow came up from tending the horses.

“Our Tutor, Aristotle of Stagira.”

“Haven’t you graduated?” Millie asked.

“We are all in our last year,” Erigyius said. “Me, Harpalus, Ptolemy, Alexander, Hephaestion…”

“What about Diogenes?” Boston asked.

Erigyius spat.  “That left-handed freak graduated last year,” he said. “Lucky for him.”  Like Hephaestion, Erigyius did not talk like he had anything against Diogenes, as a person.  But he spoke like Diogenes was of no account, and generally to be ignored and forgotten, even if he was Alexander’s cousin.

Erigyius wanted to take Harpalus to Lysimachus in the upper rocks where they could look down on the Athenian fortification, and plan how to dislodge the enemy from their strong place, but he had to wait for Harpalus to settle his charges.

“You can set your tents by ours,” Harpalus said, and pointed to the two big tents that blocked the entrance to the hollow.

“Wallace and Evan, would you mind? Lincoln can help.” Katie asked. “And Millie, you might help Alexis with the wounded.”

“I was just going to do that,” Millie said, and they walked off.

“Alexis will do what she can, but sometimes men die or cannot be fully healed,” Katie explained to the Macedonians, and added, “No promises.”

Harpalus nodded.  “Diogenes explained to us more than once, the gods don’t make promises.”

Maren settled down on Boston’s shoulder, and just then, Philoxes accepted an invitation to rest on Lockhart’s shoulder. Lockhart squinted when the fairy settled down, like he thought it might hurt, but of course it did not.  Erigyius’ eyes got big as he noticed the fairies for the first time.  Decker had to grab the young man’s arm to keep him from running away, and Lockhart laughed.

“I reacted that way the first time I met an elf—an earth sprit.  But I am living proof you can get used to anything,” Lockhart said.

“You have an enemy to deal with, soldier,” Decker sad.  “Don’t let the little things distract you.”  Decker grinned at his own turn of phrase.

Katie had her rifle and her scope. Decker never put down his rifle. Lockhart pulled out his binoculars, and spoke.  “So, let’s go get a look at this enemy.”

Erigyius led the way up the hill. Some of the soldiers among the rocks watched, but said nothing.  Lysimachus, a man who looked to be in his early twenties, frowned at their approach. Lockhart thought to mollify the man. He held out his binoculars. “Here, try looking through these.” And he helped Lysimachus focus them, who then smiled.

Decker held up his rifle, looked through his scope, and said click, click, as he looked around the Athenian compound.  Boston just looked, and could easily see without the need for binoculars.  The fairies could see well enough to make out the threads in the enemy clothing.

Elder Stow studied his scanner for a minute, before he began to program adjustments to his screen array.  “It is a serious stretch.”  He mumbled while he worked.  “Like when I stretched it out to keep the werewolf out of that Celtic village. That was a long time ago.  Lincoln would know when…”  His voice trailed off when Lockhart got his binoculars back, and shared them with Harpalus.  He got a good look though Katie’s scope, which she had detached from the rifle.

“So, what are your plans for dislodging the Athenians from the bottleneck?” Lockhart asked.

Lysimachus paused, because he glimpsed something on Lockhart’s shoulder.  Besides that, he did not know what a bottleneck was, but he understood well enough.  He prepared to speak when they got interrupted.

“Bogramus,” Boston said, and smiled her biggest smile.  “Good of you to join us.”

The dwarf, and four others with him appeared out of the rocks, or they gave up the glamour of looking like rocks so the others could see them plainly.  Boston held back from her inclination to hug the dwarfs when Maren offered a name for them. “Grubby Doodles.”  It sounded like she had her nose turned up.

The other travelers, who understood that dwarfs rarely traveled alone, hardly blinked; but Erigyius’ eyes got big and his mouth clamped shut.  Harpalus saw and laughed.  Lysimachus also got big eyes before he squinted and spoke.

“The people of legend,” he named them.

“What?” Bogramus stepped forward and objected.  “We live here, local, over in Bog Mountain.”  He pointed behind him and then pointed at the travelers.  “These are the people of legend.”

“And good of you to come,” Katie said, echoing Boston’s thought, and Bogramus, and two others took off their hats. The other two stayed busy giving the humans hard, mean stares, which risked appearing comical on those bearded faces.

“Glad to help out, Lady—your majesty. Ragtide and Bellywattle could not be kept back once they found out you folks from Avalon were around.”

“But the princess did not say there was a witch,” one of the dwarfs spouted.

“I hates witches,” another one added.

“We were just about to hear how Lysimachus planned to deal with the witch and dislodge the Athenians,” Lockhart said, and Lysimachus shook his head and got back to the situation.

“They are mostly Thebans,” he said. “Only a few Athenian officers.” He shook his head again and got down to business, doing his best to ignore Lockhart’s shoulder passenger, who he now saw clearly, and the dwarfs, who apparently did not like any ideas. Somehow, they ended with a plan that the dwarfs did not hate.

That evening, around the fire, Lincoln finally got to read some out of the database, which he could not read while others were present.  Philoxes and Maren were present, but occupied with each other.  Bogramus and his four dwarfs had their own little fire going and had their own deer cooking.  Of course, they would eat their deer down to the bones, where the eleven travelers, and two fairies, would not eat half of theirs.  Alexis and Millie, tired as they were, planned to share the rest with the wounded soldiers.

“Diogenes,” Lincoln said, in answer to Katie’s question.  “The reason he does not appear in the history books is because he is not considered important enough to write about, even if he is Alexander’s first cousin.  His mother is the older sister to Alexander’s mother, Olympias.  His father was one of Phillip’s bodyguards, which in these days means close, personal friend.  No doubt he introduced Phillip and Olympias.  She is a Melossian Princess, as is her sister.  His father died protecting Phillip when Diogenes was four and Diogenes’ younger sister turned one.  His mother went half-mad… that is what it says.”

“So Hephaestion called Diogenes the Melossian,” Katie remembered.

“And they call him fatherless.  And he stutters.  And he ls left-handed.  His friends all respect him,” Lincoln said.  “But they consider him of no account, and so do Phillip’s and Alexander’s official biographers.  Apparently, Diogenes and Alexander’s official biographer, Callisthenes of Olynthus, had words, and Callisthenes scratched his name out from every place it got mentioned. Alexander, however, found great use for his cousin.  Diogenes commanded a Thessalian cavalry troop in battle, but mostly, Alexander sent him out well in advance of the troops, not just to scout and track the enemy, which he did sometimes, but mostly to spy on the enemy, ferret out their intentions, and discern their weaknesses.  Diogenes contributed more than maybe anyone else to Alexander’s success in Asia, but he was rarely around, so his contribution never got noticed or recorded.”

“Company,” Boston interrupted.

Bogramus came up, hat in hand. “The boys said I should ask if you have enough to eat.  Ragtide admitted to stealing the bigger one, but felt guilty about it after.  That is not an easy thing for a dwarf to do.”

“What?  Stealing?” Lincoln asked.

“No, feeling guilty,” Boston clarified.

“No, thank you,” Katie said.  “You enjoy your feast.”

Bogramus made a face.  “Personally, I don’t have much of an appetite right before a fight.”

“I have that same problem,” Lockhart confessed.

“Not me,” Decker said.  “You learn to eat when there is food, especially before battle, because you never know when you might get your next meal.”

“There is that…” Bogramus agreed and turned to get back to the dwarfs before the others ate it all.

“More company,” Boston said, softly, and patted herself on the back for knowing when humans were present.  It was something all of the little spirits of the earth had to do to avoid contact with the mortal world.  Though a learned skill, Boston knew that eventually it would become automatic, like a habit requiring no special effort.

Harpalus, Erigyius, and Lysimachus came to the fire.  Lysimachus stayed focused on the human travelers.  He had questions.  Erigyius came to hear the answers, but he turned his back on the dwarfs and tried very hard not to look at the fairies.  Boston considered removing her glamour and showing the man her true elf form, but she imagined that would be mean.  Harpalus sat and watched the dwarfs eat, and laughed.

Lincoln put away the database.  He figured he would not get in anymore reading that evening with the Macedonians in the camp.  Besides, after they ate, he, Boston, and Sukki, helped Alexis and Millie bring the remains to share with the wounded soldiers.  Harpalus helped with that, and Erigyius, though maybe because he started feeling uncomfortable with dwarf eyes on his back.  Evan and Wallace stayed with Lockhart, Katie, and Lysimachus; Evan because he was curious, and Wallace because he was lazy and did not think to help.

Lockhart kept everyone to the watch, even if Elder Stow’s screens protected the camp.  He said in this case, it was not the witch so much as he wanted to watch out for the Thebans and Athenians.  He suspected the Thebans might try to get at them in the dark, or at least scout their position and prepare a better defense for the morning. He wanted someone up to watch for that and be able to get everyone up if necessary.

Katie agreed, and sure enough, around two-thirty that morning, Elder Stow said his scanner picked up about twenty men crawling out from the enemy fortification.  Decker and Elder Stow had the watch, but Katie and Lockhart were not yet asleep.

“Don’t wake the others,” Lockhart said. “Let’s take a look first.”

“My sentiments, exactly,” Bogramus said, which startled the travelers who did not realize he stood there, listening.

Avalon 6.10 Alexander’s Eyes, part 4 of 6

Boston and Sukki rode out front, as usual.  Decker and Elder Stow still took the wings, but on this trip, Harpalus and one of his soldiers came behind Boston and Sukki.  Katie and Lockhart got relegated to the third place in line, with Lincoln and Alexis, and then Evan and Millie behind them.  Wallace rode at the back, next to the mule that drew the wagon full of the traveler’s things.  That would have been it, but Harpalus assigned his last two men to act as a rear guard.  They rode thirty paces back and passed the time with quiet conversation.

The group made good time, but they would not reach Thermopylae until afternoon on the second day.  Then, it would be a few days across the Thessalian plains, and they figured they would find the time gate just shy of the Macedonian border.

King Phillip had sent word to the Athenian garrison that had been assigned to block the pass.  Harpalus assumed the Athenians abandoned their position and returned to Athens and a Macedonian garrison now watched the narrow place.  He had an optimistic view on life, and his conversation came out as positive and complimentary.

“I can tell you folks are used to traveling in the wild,” Harpalus said over lunch on that second day.  They had stopped just shy of entering a copse of trees before the pass.  “You seemed uncertain at the inn, last night.  But here, out on the grass, under the blue sky, you seem perfectly at ease.”

“Lots of practice,” Elder Stow responded, absentmindedly.

“Plus, we have a few secret weapons, like a fire starter,” Alexis said, pointing at Boston.

“And a good cook to compliment the good hunters,” Lincoln agreed, and gave Alexis a pat on her shoulder as he leaned over to smell the roast.

“Everyone does their job and it works out,” Lockhart suggested.

“We go with our strengths,” Decker added, as Evan, Millie, Wallace, and two of the soldiers came from tending the horses.

“What?” Boston watched Katie who had her eyes turned toward where the road ahead entered the trees.

“Yes, what?” Millie looked up and echoed the question.  Sukki turned her head to look down the road to see if something might be coming.

Katie shook her head and appeared to come back to reality.  “It’s just… We have been a day and a half and haven’t run into a single trap set by the witch.”

“I hear that,” Decker mumbled.

“Maybe we went in an unexpected route,” Lockhart suggested.  “We came up to the coastal road, rather than traveling the one we were on.”  He made a space beside himself.

“Maybe,” Katie said, as she took that seat by the fire.  “But Thermopylae is a narrow place.  If she expected us to go this way, that is the place where we need to look out.”

“I’ve been looking out for traps this whole way,” Boston said.

“Me, too,” Sukki echoed.

“Me, too,” Lincoln whispered.

After lunch, the woods appeared darker and more foreboding than before.  The sky did not darken, and the woods did not crowd the road any more after lunch.  The travelers just spent lunch thinking about Katie’s words, and the witch, and they got wary.  Elder Stow scanned the little wooded area and saw no sign of people, but it did not prevent anyone from being careful.

Boston rode out front to where she could see the road exit the little woods.  The soldiers in the rear just moved fully into the woods.  Boston got ready to shout about the light at the end of the tunnel, when the trees moved.  They did not pull up their roots and move, but they bent over the road, like trees in a strong wind, and the branches grabbed at the people.

People shouted.  They panicked.  Swords and knives came out to hack at the branches.  People pushed their horses toward Boston and the edge of the woods.  Even as the rear guard closed the gap with the group, Sukki got snatched right out of her saddle.  The branches tried to close around the girl, but Sukki flexed her Gott-Druk muscles, grabbed one of the branches, and ripped it right off the tree.  She fell to the ground.

“Get out,” Lockhart yelled, though it was unnecessary.  After the initial shock, people rode for the exit from the woods as fast as they could. Boston rode back to Sukki, and shot flame from her wand, setting that tree on fire.  In true rodeo style, she reached down.  Sukki grabbed Boston’s hand and leapt up behind her.

The ground beneath their feet began to shake.  Boston and Sukki on Honey rode like wild women as the ground started to open up.  Honey had to leap over a tear in the ground at the end, but they made it to the grass beyond.  They got down right away to try and stand while the ground trembled.  It would not have been good to stay on horseback during an earthquake.  The people and horses protested, but it ended quickly.  People made sure everyone got out in one piece.

Katie and Lockhart stepped up, and Harpalus limped over to the edge of the road, while Elder Stow checked the readings on his scanner.  They examined the crack in the surface of the road which ran into the woods for as far as they could see.

“Strictly local,” Elder Stow reported. “Not really an earthquake.  No depth to it.”

“That crack in the ground would have ruined the horses if we hadn’t gotten out of it,” Lockhart said.

“We might have broken our own legs,” Katie agreed.

Harpalus smiled.  “Good thing I already have a limp.”

“Speaking of broken legs,” Lincoln joined them.  “Alexis says the mule is down.  Decker says the wagon is still in good shape.”

“Pioneer built for the Oregon Trail,” Lockhart said.

“They still make that game?” Katie asked.

“Thanks a lot,” Lincoln frowned. “Now I am going to have that song running through my head for the rest of the afternoon.”

Harpalus could not even imagine what they were talking about, but he could laugh with Katie and Lockhart.

Sukki found her horse Freedom, safe and sound.  The horse had followed the others when Sukki ended up in the tree.  She got right up, but then had to wait while they hitched Wallace’s horse to the wagon.  Wallace would still ride the horse as it pulled the wagon.

“Just don’t expect me to ride very fast,” he said.  The others understood, but up until then, the whole trip had been at a walking pace. Sukki got sent back to keep Wallace company, which neither minded.  Wallace liked the big girl, though he did not really grasp the concept that she was a Neanderthal wearing a magical, human-looking disguise.  He got shown back in Diana’s day, but he forgot. Katie suggested that the fact that Wallace did not remember details well could be why he was not a very good scholar.

“No,” Lockhart countered.  “He reminds me of lots of people I know.  He has a very narrow and limited view of reality. Anything that doesn’t fit with his pre-conceived notions he justifies or rationalizes away, or just erases from his memory.”

Lincoln butted into the conversation. “What a sad little way to go through life.”

Alexis nodded, sadly, but Katie added a thought.  “If we can get him back to Professor Fleming, we need to encourage him to stay there. He will never survive this journey.”

They all looked back.

Sukki, on the other hand, also liked Wallace well enough to talk to him, where she stayed shy around some of the others, so it worked out well for the moment.

Katie and Lockhart moved up to the front, and put Boston behind them.  They opted to keep to the road for the present, but Katie and Lockhart wanted to keep their eyes open.  Decker and Elder Stow sharpened their watch on the wings.

Boston extended her elf senses, trying to find any little spirits that might be in the area.  She sensed a dwarf village in a nearby mountain, but when she sent her thoughts ahead, the dwarfs, in typical fashion, had no interest in helping. One dwarf named Bogramus said he might meet them in Thermopylae.  Closer to the pass, she sensed a fairy camp well off the road and in a different section of woods.  Most of the fairies took the same stance as the dwarfs.  Boston felt their reluctance to get too close to the humans that seemed bent on killing each other at every turn.  Philoxes and Maren, a young fairy couple, thought they might look ahead, but they were not sure what they were supposed to be looking for, and Boston felt reluctant to mention the witch.

The travelers came to a rise in the road and Harpalus spoke as they started down the other side.  “Up ahead, there, where the mountain presses toward the sea, is Thermopylae.”  He expected them to stop and gawk, but the travelers pressed on.

“We have been here before,” Lincoln explained from behind.

Katie spoke from the front.  “Here, three hundred Spartans stood against all the hordes of Asia.”

“True enough,” Harpalus said, and nearly fell as his horse stopped suddenly.  Lockhart and Katie stopped, and Boston stopped short behind them all.  Lockhart pulled out his binoculars.  Katie grabbed the scope for her rifle.  They saw bodies of dead men up ahead, near a fortified position.

Elder Stow’s voice sounded out from the wristwatch communicators.  “Get to a defensive place,” he yelled.  They saw him riding hard, being chased by a troop of soldiers.  Though the soldiers were still some distance off. Lockhart turned his binoculars in that direction and saw one of the cowboys leading the pack.

Decker came up from the other direction, waving for them to join him.  He also got followed by a dozen riders, but these looked like Macedonians or Thessalians.  “Get off the road.  The road is mined.”  Even as he spoke, the two in the rear hit something.  It exploded between the two horses, and the horses went down while the riders got tossed to the ground.

Four of the Macedonians broke from the pack and bravely went to check on their compatriots.  The rest, with Decker, stopped short of the road, while the travelers quickly vacated the highway.  Wallace got the wagon to the grass, and wisely did not stop.  Sukki, Evan, Millie, Lincoln and Alexis stayed right with him and encouraged him in the direction from which the Macedonians had come.

Decker pulled his rifle.  As Elder Stow neared the road, Decker let loose with several streams of automatic fire.  The cowboy recognized the sound and backed off, letting the others get in front of him, even though he could outrace them all on his big mustang. Several men and horses in the attacking party went down before Elder Stow crossed the road, and Decker turned to ride with him.  Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device and let loose behind him.  He expected the pursuing horses to complain, but he managed to set off several of the explosives buried in the road.  They were large enough to damage anyone close, and while the enemy did not yet reach the road, they stopped short and looked hesitant.

The travelers found a sheltered hollow in the rocks that held nearly a hundred horses, nibbling on whatever they could find.  The Macedonians filled the rocks, and most had bows and arrows to defend their position. They had several wagons, but only had two tents set up, so clearly the men had slept in the rocks over the last two or three days.

Alexis found wounded men in one of the tents, so she, with Lincoln to assist, got right to work.