R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 1 of 3

After lunch on a Thursday, Percival took Uwaine, Gawain, Bohort and his brother Lionel up the road to the port to check on the little fleet Thomas had assembled in case things went badly and Arthur needed a quick getaway.  They would spend the night in an inn and probably talk into the wee hours since they had a lot of stories and catching up to do.

Arthur took Gerraint across the road just before dark and dragged him into the woods.  Gerraint felt obliged to say he did not think it a good idea, but then he closed his mouth; because like Arthur, he had been anxious to see this mysterious lake ever since he first heard about it.  Neither felt the need for troops, because like the forest of Bringloren, the land around the lake had a reputation for ghosts and other bump-in-the-night things.  People avoided the lake, but for Arthur and Gerraint, that only made the pull that much stronger.

With the sun set, the moon came out and so did the owls. The forest did have a haunted feel to it, especially with the mist from the snow that looked to be finally giving up to the spring rains and warmer weather.  Neither talked, because the forest seemed to require silence and who knew what might be attracted by the sound?  When they saw the lake, it appeared shimmering, calm and crystal clear under the moon and stars.  The waters looked perfectly tranquil and serene, but somewhere out in the middle of all that splendor, there appeared to be an island, and on top of the island, they saw the first genuine stone castle in Europe.  The stones themselves glistened like the water in the moonlight and spoke of great mysteries beyond the gate.

Arthur and Gerraint found an enormous oak standing between them and a full view of the lake.  Arthur stepped around one side.  Gerraint stepped around the other, and he immediately noticed Arthur vanished. He called softly, “Arthur.”  He heard no response.  He turned toward the big, old oak, except it vanished.  Only a few saplings stood where the old tree should have been.  Gerraint raised his voice a little.  “Arthur.” No response.  He imagined that he must have been transported, somehow, away from the big tree, but when he checked his view of the lake, and especially his view of the distant castle, everything seemed the same.   He yelled, “Arthur!” and startled several things in the upper branches of the trees, birds and small animals, he hoped.  He took a couple of steps in the soft leaves and found himself getting dizzy.  Swamp gas, he thought, as he fell to the leaves, fast asleep.  His last thought was to wonder if Enid would have to come and find him and kiss him to wake him up.

A woman appeared and bent down to touch Gerraint’s cheek.  A host of little ones and lesser spirits along with the Naiad of the lake and the Dryad of the oak appeared with her.  “If he is the man of honor you say, he is not going to like this,” the woman said, but she duplicated some of the things the little ones willingly gave her and placed them gently in Gerraint’s heart.  Then the host vanished, all but one young man, and the woman stood back while Gerraint woke.

“What?  What happened?  Arthur!”

“Hush,” the woman said.  “Let the sleeper sleep.”

Gerraint stood up to get a good look at his visitors. The young man looked like a big one, about Gerraint’s size, and looked strong and well made.  He appeared dressed in armor that could only have been crafted by dwarfs, and the sword at his side had something of the dark elves about it.  All of this got taken in with one glance, since the woman took all of his attention. She looked far too beautiful for an ordinary mortal, and what is more, he saw something very familiar about her. It came to Gerraint after a moment, and what came out of his mouth even startled him.

“Rhiannon, what are you doing here?  You naughty girl.”

The young man reached for his sword.  “How dare you speak to the Lady Nimue in such a manner.  Apologize, or I will make you apologize.”

“Wait,” the Lady said.  “I think I may be in trouble.”  Gerraint had his hands to his hips and frowned.  The Lady Nimue was in fact the goddess Rhiannon, one of the multitude of ancient gods of the Celts.  “Mother?” she said.  And Gerraint indeed went away so Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts, could come to stand in his place.  Her hands were still on her hips and the frown still on her face.

The young man fell to his knees and looked down as Danna scolded her many times great-granddaughter.  “The time of dissolution came and went centuries ago. You should be over on the other side with your brothers and sisters.  What are you doing here?”

Rhiannon looked down humbly at her feet.  “I did not realize it was you, but Mother, I still have work to do.  I still have this young man, Lancelot, whom I have raised, and I am certain there will be another in a breath of years from now.  I feel there may even be one more after, and I have a part to play in the days of Arthur the King, though it is not fully known to me yet.”

Danna tapped her foot and paused before she reached out to hug her daughter.  “If you still have work to do, I will not interfere.  But Rhiannon, all of the others have gone.  I will worry about you being so alone.”

“Not all,” Rhiannon hedged.

“Yes, I know the stubborn offspring of Lyr and Pendaron is around.  He keeps telling me soon, but his is not an example to follow.”  Rhiannon shut her mouth.  “What?” Danna wondered as she took a step back.  “But Talesin does not count,” Danna said.  “That unfortunate offspring of a fee may be immortal, but he is mostly fairy by blood.”  She interpreted Rhiannon’s silence correctly, but could think of no others, and Rhiannon would not say.  Instead, she changed the subject.

“Oh, but Mother.  Your fee and dwarfs and elves dark and light prevailed on me to gift your young man.  They said like Althea of old watched over Herakles, so the Lion of Cornwall would have to watch over Arthur.  I should have guessed it was you.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

Danna went back to frowning and tapping her foot gently.  “What did you give him?”

“Only things your little ones freely offered. They said he was one human worthy of such gifts.  They said they were afraid for him because a terrible man with great power had evil plans for the future.  I’m sorry. I didn’t know.  Please don’t be mad at me.”

“Rhiannon, Rhiannon,” Danna said, and she left so Gerraint could return and finish the sentence.  “What am I going to do with you, you naughty girl?”  He stepped up and kissed the goddess on the cheek before she could stop him, and then spoke to her again.  “Please try to be more careful in the future.  You need to not be such a patsy for every sad and pleading face.”

Rhiannon dropped her eyes again.  “I know.  I will do better.”

“I know you will do better,” Gerraint said, and he added, “Soon,” with a smile. Rhiannon returned the smile before she vanished.

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 3 of 3

By mid-afternoon, the town looked totally in flames, and even the wall in some sections looked on fire.  The stream of refugees which became a river when the bombardment began, dried up around noon.  The brave men manning the walls kept waiting for the assault, but it would not come.  Gerraint packed up his catapults and lead his men east.  He left strong groups of little ones behind, the kobold, the brownies and Larchmont with his fairy troop.  They would be sure no soldiers or otherwise would attempt to follow, or go in any direction other than south.  After two days and several attempts, the defenders of the town went south by horse and by foot to catch up with the refugees and left the smoldering wreck behind them.

When Gerraint’s men reached the village on the inland road, they found a surprise.  A Frankish troop of about a hundred had moved in and they were enjoying the local ale and entertainment.  Gerraint and Lord Birch went alone to confront them.  There were arguments, not the least from Bohort and Uwaine.  Sergeant Paul wanted to send a troop of escorts, but in the end, Gerraint prevailed.

No one stopped them at the village edge.  The villagers were too busy cowering in their homes.  The Franks watched them, but did not interfere as they rode to the one inn in that village and dismounted.  Several Frankish soldiers greeted them there, or rather greeted their horses and began to discuss what fine specimens they were.  Gerraint ignored them and entered, then took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and his nose to adjust to the abundance of alcohol.

“Who is in charge of these soldiers?” Gerraint asked. Lord Birch repeated the question in the Frankish tongue.

“Who is asking?” a man said, rudely.

Gerraint went through the litany.  “I am Gerraint, son of Erbin, High Prince of Cornwall, Knight of the Round Table, sometimes called the Lion of Cornwall, and in the name of Arthur Pendragon of all Britain, Cornwall and Wales I ask again, who is in charge of these soldiers.”

The man stood, but Gerraint made an imposing figure and this man did not look nearly as impressive.  “I am,” the man said without giving his name.  “I have heard of this Arthur.”  Gerraint waited for no more information.

“You should not be here.  I am working here right now and I don’t appreciate the interruption.  You need to stay on Frankish lands.”

“This is Frankish land.”

“Not until I am finished.  Listen, and tell your king.  Arthur and Hoel have no designs on the Atlantique.  When we have forced Claudus to bring up his army and we destroy his army, you can play with the Atlantique province all you want, but not before.  You are just getting in the way.  You can kill any Romans who enter fully into your territory, or do what you like with them, but not here on the border.  Right now, you need to go away.  Am I clear?”

A man grabbed Lord Birch, but Gerraint raised his hand and an electrical charge sprang from his hand like lightning and threw the man hard against the men at the side table. The two who had gotten around Gerraint and were about to grab him hesitated, but then Gerraint went away and the Nameless god came to fill his boots.

“Lord Birch.”  Nameless tapped his shoulder and Birch reverted instantly to his true fairy form and took a seat on that shoulder.  “Let me repeat,” Nameless said, as if he was the one who did all of the talking, which in a sense he did.  “Go away until I am finished here.”  Nameless did not wave his hand like Danna or wiggle his fingers like Amphitrite.  He did nothing overt, but a hundred Frankish soldiers, their horses and equipment instantly found themselves deposited a thousand yards into Frankish territory outside of the village.  They rode off in panic, but the commander of the Franks had a thought.

“He did say we could kill any Romans who came on to Frankish lands, didn’t he?”  He heard an answer, out loud and in his face.

“Yes.”

He tried to make his horse run faster.

Gerraint returned with Lord Birch to the camp.  He did not say much as he turned his men to head back to the coast.  After that, he did not bother with the inland road.

Gerraint gave his men a week around Samhain.  It remained time in the wilderness, but the men started getting tired.  They took a village around the winter solstice, and Gerraint stayed for what he called Christmas week.  The only grumbling he got from his troops came because he made them all go to church on Sunday.

Things continued then until late January.  Long range reports said men started marching out of Vascon lands.  Close by, five hundred Roman cavalry got sent to find the Lion and his men.  It did not turn out fair, in a way.  The Romans camped in a large clearing not far from the main road.  It had snowed in the night and threatened more snow all day, so the Romans were not going anywhere for the moment.  Of course, Gerraint knew exactly where they were thanks to his fairy spies, and they had no idea where he might be.  So, it was not really fair, and in some sense too easy.

Gerraint mapped out where the lancers would reenter the forest on the far side.  Then he lined up two hundred of his men and they rode straight through the enemy camp at dawn.  Tents got burned, horses run off and men got run through the middle.  Some lances were lost and some got shattered, but Gerraint did not stop to fight.  He rode his men out the other side of the camp and back into the woods to be swallowed up by the deep shadows under the deep gray sky and the light fog that filtered through the trees.  Then he let his remaining men, all his best hunters, join with the elves in target practice.  As long as they kept to the woods and moved around so as not to be caught, they could shoot as many as they could reach.

One group of twenty Romans on horseback charged a section of the woods where the kobold stood.  One horse, devoid of rider, made it to the tree line.

At noon, the Romans abandoned their tents and equipment and rode hard for the main road.  Gerraint had his eyes watching, but on reaching the road, the Romans went south so Gerraint let them go.  He returned to the abandoned camp to count one hundred and thirteen Roman bodies. Gerraint had some wounded and lost three men in the charge.  They were the last casualties Gerraint suffered in the campaign, and they were remembered.

Uwaine had a comment as they sent out men to round up as many locals as they could find.  “Next time we need to bring more arrows.”  They put the locals to work digging a great trench beside the road. The Romans got buried there, laid out, but in a mass grave.  When they got covered, they made a nice little mound.  Gerraint had simple wooden crosses planted, one hundred and thirteen to mark the graves, and then he left the Roman armor and equipment laid out like it was ready to be worn by the dead.

“You are too kind,” Bohort said.  “You should have left the men hanging from the trees.  That would have sent a much stronger message.” Gerraint sighed.  Bohort was not particularly bloodthirsty, it was the age they lived in.  They had a chance to do that very thing when they caught several groups of advanced scouts from Claudus’ army.

Gerraint affected an orderly withdraw, giving up ground only as fast as the army approached.  He sent fifty men with Sergeant Paul to the inland road and sent Larchmont and his troop with him.  They had to watch ahead and behind, and also be sure the Franks stayed away. He had no trouble, but Gerraint wanted to be sure Claudus did not get the idea of sneaking up the back road in order to get behind him.

Gerraint sent a hundred men with Uwaine to the coastal road.  They found a few places where the locals snuck back to rebuild, but he left them alone. His job was simply to make sure Claudus did not send any more cavalry units in an attempt to get on their flank.

Gerraint kept the last hundred and fifty with him on the main road, though by then it had become more like a hundred.  They had taken some casualties over the year.  He backed up slowly.  Bohort called it terminally slow.  Gerraint understood that the army of Claudus did not feel motivated.

The Romans built the roads so they could move men and equipment quickly.  The men of Claudus were clearly not Romans, despite the publicity, and they despised the road because they did not want to move quickly.  They counted two full legions coming, roughly ten thousand men, though only about six thousand were actual fighters, the others being supply and auxiliary troops.  They were being led by Claudus himself, but even with all that preparation and leadership, they moved like snails.  Gerraint got to calling it the escargot army, though no one knew what that was.

Gerraint sent messages to Hoel and Arthur as soon as things were confirmed.  Apparently, Claudus also managed some messages to his men that were still in Amorica. Gerraint could not imagine how, except maybe by boat.  Arthur and Hoel had been having slow success all year and just about had the land cleared, but whatever Romans remained at that point withdrew and went beyond the Vivane forest to hide in the hills and knolls of the open land, as close to the Frankish border as they dared.  There, they no doubt planned to await the army of Claudus.  Gerraint wrote that they should be taken out, but Arthur and Hoel decided that would take more time and effort, and risk more lives than it would be worth.  So, the allies settled in on the edge of the Vivane forest and waited in the snow.

Hoel lost most of his army when the Romans vacated the land.  The men went home for the winter, but they would be back in the spring or when called. Arthur’s men did not have the luxury. They camped on the cutoff that came down from the north-coast road and skirted just below the mysterious Lake Vivane. That road met the north coast at a very good port where Thomas of Dorset was able to supply the men with many of the comforts of home in lieu of their actual homes.  Arthur kept the men busy with a building project they started in January.  He wanted a fort literally on the other side of the road from the lake to take advantage of the lake to help keep out any invading force.  They just about got the fort finished when Gerraint arrived.  Claudus came a week behind, and Hoel’s men still straggled in.  Gerraint guessed it would be another week to ten days before the deadbeats all caught up and the two armies settled in to face each other. In that time, Arthur had a notion, and he would not be talked out of it.

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Next Week: The Lady of the Lake

M T & W, 8 o’clock, EST

Lake Vivane, is not haunted, as the locals claim, but it does have its secrets, and Arthur and Gerraint can’t resist a look.  They recover a young man that everyone thought was dead, and Arthur sees his first real medieval castle as well as his first real knight.  MONDAY.

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 2 of 3

Two weeks later, Gerraint, Uwaine and old Sergeant Paul dismounted at the command tent which had been set up at the southern edge of the Amorican forest of Bringloren.  Bringloren was an ancient and more pristine wilderness than the northern forest of Vivane.  In Vivane, many apple trees had been seeded and large sections had been cut to build villages and for planting.  Uwaine wondered how the people could grow anything in that rocky, sandy soil, but the people managed.  The Vivane seemed user friendly, as long as one stayed away from the mysterious Lake Vivane.

The Bringloren got avoided.  They named it as the place where the old Celtic gods and ancient kings were buried, and said their ghosts still haunted the woods. They said there were wraiths and spirits who delighted in getting people hopelessly lost and then sucked out their souls.  The discarded bodies were left where the ogres and goblins could eat them and the trolls could suck the marrow out of their bones.  Gerraint did get wind of some ghouls and a few other nasty things in the woods, but they avoided the large, armed party.  He also found any number of little ones, and spent the last two days in negotiations.

He found a tree village of Kobold who came west with the Franks from the forests along the Rhine.  Heurst was the chief and happy to help.  They were also friends with a troop of brownies that migrated to the continent from the swampland of Somerset when the Romans pulled out of Britain. Their chief was Ringwald and he thought his troop might lend a hand.  The trouble was, neither Heurst nor Ringwald knew the Atlantique coast.  For that, they had to visit the fairies in the Glen of the Banner.

The fairy King, Lupen, proved old and grumpy. “Those humans can kill each other off as far as I am concerned,” he said.  But Queen LeFleur, and many of the young fairies knew the territory well, and not unlike some young humans back home, they were anxious to take on the adventure.  LeFleur herself, seated on Gerraint’s shoulder for safety, took him into the caves and burial mounds of the kings.  Gerraint left Uwaine and Sergeant Paul on the surface with Heurst, Ringwald, a middle-aged, sensible fairy male named Birch and a young one named Larchmont to watch over them.  He went to visit the goblins.

They met some Pixies in the caves along the way. They seemed nice enough to Gerraint, but LeFleur buried her face in Gerraint’s long hair and called them “batwings and corruptibles.”  Down in the deeps, the dark elves were the worst sort of goblins, having little to do other than steal sheep and scare any humans foolish enough to wander into the forest.  The land, not exactly being rich in minerals or metals, made the dwarfs move north long ago, though Gerraint did hear the sound of a distant hammer the whole time he was there.

The goblin chief, Manskin, said no way he had any interest in what the up-world people were doing.  “But, we will do one thing for you.  Any humans who try to run north won’t get very far.”  He grinned a grin full of teeth and bits of last night’s supper, but Gerraint stared hard in the goblin’s beady eyes until the goblin chief got very uncomfortable.  “We will turn them back south,” he added in a shaky voice.  “Just like you want.”

“You better,” Gerraint said, not that he expected any of Claudus’ people would escape to the north or dare the forest, and not that he expected the goblin chief to keep his word once Gerraint moved on. “You know my rule about eating people.”

“Yes Lord,” the goblins all said.  “Yes lord.”  Hats finally got removed and several goblins bowed.  “We’ll be sure to tell the trolls down the way as well,” Manskin added, as Gerraint left.

Gerraint whispered to LeFleur when they got near the surface.  “You can uncover your eyes now.”

When he picked up Uwaine and Sergeant Paul, they were more than ready and rode more swiftly than necessary back to the camp where Bohort waited.

“We will have help scouting the land ahead and guarding our flanks as we move,” Gerraint said, as he went into the tent.  Bohort looked at him and then looked at Uwaine because Sergeant Paul started laughing again.  He spent the last two days laughing.

Uwaine simply said, “Don’t ask.  You don’t want to know.”  As he spoke a bright spark of light zoomed past their faces and went into the tent.  “Trust me,” Uwaine added, and he went off to check on the disposition of the troops.

The troops entered the first three villages from the north, gathered the villagers and told them to flee south while the troop burned their homes.  “Tell Claudus he is not welcome in Amorica.”  That became the only message.  Since it turned mid-May, they could hardly burn the crops, but they could trample them.  They found the warehouses for the grain and barns for the sheep and cattle, and after taking what they wanted for their own needs, they slaughtered and burned the rest.

The fourth village brought them a distance inland, and it looked like the villagers were armed and guarding the north end of town. Gerraint brought his troop by secret elf paths so he could enter the village from the south.  Resistance did not last long.  One young man named Alden became the first casualty among Gerraint’s troops, and he was remembered.

Coming from the south worked well on villages five and six, but when they came to the seventh village, one not far from the sea, the found the ways north and south both blocked.  It turned to mid-summer by then and they had heard nothing from Amorica. Bohort worried a little, but Gerraint kept telling him that no news was good news.

In this armed village, Gerraint came up with Uwaine, Sergeant Paul, Bohort and Lord Birch, all on horseback.  They had discussed it.  When they stopped just outside of bowshot, Gerraint took hold of Lord Birch’s reigns.  The fairy got small and fluttered up to the north barricade.  He raised his voice for the gawkers.

“You have until tomorrow sunrise to be gone or die.” Gerraint felt no point in mincing words, and Birch flew back to his horse, returned to his big size which made him look like an ordinary enough man, and they rode back to the camp. Gerraint thought no telling how many of his soldiers caught a glimpse of Birch in his true fairy form, but no one ever said anything.

By dawn, the village had emptied.  That felt fine.  Gerraint did not like the killing part.

Things continued into the fall where they came upon the first true town complete with a city wall.  The architecture looked purely Roman, and though most of the people were Gaelic, they thought of themselves as Romans and that was what counted. The townspeople and soldiers that manned the walls wore Roman armor and carried Roman spears and bows and characteristic short swords, which were really only good in close combat in phalanx formation.  But this seemed where many of the people who fled south ended up, so the streets of the town were overflowing with refugees who had nowhere else to go.

Gerraint was not about to see his men killed trying to take the town.  He called for the six, an affectation from the Pictish campaign.  Six mules carried the halves of three small catapults.  Twelve other mules had been overloaded with the round balls of flammable pitch and tar tied up with strong twine. The catapults could only throw the balls about twice bowshot, but fortunately this city wall only stood about ten feet high.

Most of the town had been made of wood.  They had limited stone, some cobblestones, stone courts and columns, and even a bit of Roman concrete, but most of it had been made of wood, and even if it got covered in plaster, it would still burn. Gerraint thought it only fair to give warning.

“I feel it is my Christian duty and an act of charity to give warning to the innocents.  Move south before dawn, and you will live.  If you go west or east or north, you will be shot and killed.  Move south while you can.  In fact, I recommend you run.”  He went back to his camp and ordered the men to rest.  The kobold had the west and the brownies had the east, and Larchmont and his fairy volunteers, invaluable in scouting ahead and scouting the land, stood between Gerraint’s men and the town and would not let anyone pass.

By dawn, they saw a regular stream of people pouring out of the south gate and on to the main north-south road.  There were two main Roman roads in the Atlantique province and both were north-south.  The coastal road ended in the north at the southern edge of the Bringloren forest where it met up with the southern road through Amorica.  The main road went all the way from the Aquitaine up along the edge of the Vivane, near the lake, and to the north coast of the Channel.  There was a third road, an inland road, but it had not been well kept since Roman days.  It marked the boundary between the lands of Claudus and Frankish lands.  The poor villages along the inland side did not run at Gerraint’s approach.  They went straight to surrender, watched their homes burn, and set about rebuilding after Gerraint left.  Gerraint decided that at least it would keep them too busy to think about joining Claudus’ army.

The townsmen and soldiers in this particular town still stood on the walls when Gerraint started the bombardment. Flaming balls got lofted over the wall and splattered flame wherever they hit, and it made a grease fire, hard to extinguish.  The small catapults got moved regularly to be sure they hit every part of town they could reach.  Gerraint and Uwaine sat on a grassy knoll and watched.  Lord Birch, and eventually Bohort and Sergeant Paul came to join them

Uwaine sipped from a water skin before he asked his question.  “So, how do you tell the difference between a kobold and a brownie, or one of Deerrunner’s elves for that matter?”

Gerraint sat up a bit.  “It’s an art, not a science,” he said.  “But basically, the kobold are more rugged and the brownies more plain folk, if you follow me.”

“A fair description,” Lord Birch said.

“Deerrunner’s people are elves from the Long March out from Elfenheim.  They are generally a little taller than the others, the brownies being maybe the shortest on average, but in a real sense they are all elves.  None of them would get mad at you for calling them elves.”  Uwaine shook his head.  He still didn’t get it.  Sergeant Paul merely laughed.  Bohort had a different thought.

“Lord Birch.  What does the schedule look like?”

Lord Birch pulled out a small piece of velum to check.  “The inland road and then back to the coast.”

Bohort nodded.  “I wish Claudus would get his act together, as you Brits say.”

“Only Gerraint says that,” Uwaine said.  “But I agree.  This is getting boring.”

Sergeant Paul stood and yelled at the nearest catapult crew.  “A little more to the right.”

R5 Gerraint: Danes

“Heilbraun seems a good man,” Gerraint mentioned to Arthur as the two rode side by side in the evening.  One flaw in the plan was the lancers, which included the knights, their squires and the RDF, had to swing around in the dark and be in position by dawn.

“He is, and not terribly old yet,” Arthur agreed. “But he must have some persuasive counselors to push him into war.”  The leading lights, the fairy lights Pinewood provided, curved in to enter the back of the forest.  Come dawn, they would charge out the other side.  Arthur turned to the men behind him.  “Keep your eyes on the horse in front of you.  Pass it down the line.”

“What you are saying,” Gerraint continued.  “He must have his own version of Meryddin pushing and tugging him against his common sense.”

Arthur huffed.  He did not like that comparison, so they rode in silence through the trees.

At last, the fairy lights vanished and Arthur halted the column of riders.  Two of the lights then reappeared and came right up to face Gerraint and Arthur. They were two lovely women who Gerraint named as Rose and Mistletoe, and they had a report.

“The Norwegians in the woods are all dead. They got shotted full of arrows and moved away.”  Mistletoe covered her eyes like she did not want to remember.

“But the horses were all taken by the gnomes and given to Deerrunner,” Rose finished the thought.

“Deerrunner?” Arthur asked.

“The elf King,” Gerraint answered softly.  “Go on”

“Bogus said to tell you the way is clear on the other side,” Rose went on.

“But now there are scardy dark elves keeping their strange eyes on the enemies,” Mistletoe said.

“Goblins,” Gerraint said, before Arthur could ask. “Thank you Missus Rose and Miss Mistletoe.  Now we have work to do, but not until morning.”  The fairies vanished, even as a rider came up dangerously fast in the dark.

“Where did they go?”  It was Meryddin.  He was supposed to be back helping to get the nags and riders ready, but obviously he snuck along.

“Where did who go?” Gerraint asked as Arthur dismounted and sent word down the line to keep quiet and move up into position.

Meryddin yanked his horse around and rode off at not quite so dangerous a speed.

Meryddin did not catch a little one during the engagement, but there were some close calls.  Poor Gerraint felt more worried about his charges than he felt about charging the enemy.  When it got to actually moving out of the woods, though, his mind focused on the task. He drew Salvation when he lost his lance in the back of a fat, fleeing Dane.  He watched as the Danish and British foot soldiers clashed, and the Danish line crumbled.  Too much of the line was moving sideways and getting in the way, and soon too much of it started fleeing over the little rise in the ground.  Sergeant Paul and his thirty riders from Cornwall with Melwas with his twenty from Lyoness hit the other side and Gerraint felt Bogus’ frustration because few men would flee to those woods as a chance to escape. Gerraint stopped and looked up the little rise.  He had mayhem all around him, but he stood still for a whole second which felt like an hour.  Then he started up the hill.  Men ran before him and dove to the side to get out of his way.  Gerraint got there in time to see three men cut down with arrows, each one a perfect shot.

“Deerrunner!  Cut it out!” The arrows instantly stopped, but then the elves charged, about a thousand of them, and if Gerraint did not have to defend himself, he would have put his face in his hand

In short order, the Danes realized they were surrounded and began to surrender.  Even as Arthur accepted the sword of Heilbraun, Gerraint yelled go home to whatever fairies, dwarfs, elves, or whoever might be listening.  “No next time,” he added.  “That’s cheating.”

Arthur had seven hundred dead and wounded, and such were wounds in those days they often referred to them as the dead and dying. Heilbraun and the Danes lost over three thousand men, an astounding number, but Gerraint knew at least half of those casualties were due to the little ones.  The elves alone may have accounted for a thousand, a number equal to their own, and without losing a single man, or rather, elf.

Heilbraun’s forces were crushed beyond reason and he pledged that there would be peace as long as he was alive and remained King of the Danes.  Of course, in Gerraint’s mind, he imagined the Danes could send for more ships and more young warriors at any time.  By contrast, the loss of seven hundred Britons and Welsh felt irreplaceable. After two days, Arthur found Percival protecting Greta as she tried to bandage a leg wound that she feared would get infected.

“Goreu,” he started, but Greta growled at him.

“Do I look like Gerraint?”

Arthur started over.  “Greta.  I just got word from an RDF courier.  The Irish have come up against north Wales and they have poor Leodegan under siege.”

“Pirates, a band of brigands, or the whole Irish army? Gerraint is asking,” Greta said.

Arthur paused.  “I don’t know.”

“We need better information before we drag the whole army across the whole island,” Greta said, and stood.  “Percival, please escort me to Gerraint’s tent.”

“My lady,” Percival responded and put his arm out for her to hold.  Arthur watched and after a moment, closed his mouth.  Then he made a decision even as Meryddin found him.

“Who was that blond?” Meryddin asked.

“Greta.  A healer,” Arthur said, and walked off so Meryddin had to follow.

Arthur let the army go home.  He said they needed time to bury their dead and grieve for their losses.  “Three victories in three weeks,” seemed about the only thing he said the whole way across the island, but he understood, as they all did, that the last victory became one to cry about, not one to rejoice over.  Gerraint said nothing at all.  And poor Uwaine also remained silent because he did not know what to say.

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

Wednesday…………Yes, WEDNESDAY, again

Skipping over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the story will be posted on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week.  Arthur meets Gwynyvar.  You won’t want to miss that.   Until then:

*

R5 Gerraint: Picts, part 1 of 2

Arthur moved the army by the obvious route toward York.  He figured if Colgrin had any sense, he had scouts out spying Arthur’s progress, and a whole army would be kind of hard to hide.  Gerraint, Arthur, Meryddin and the old men went over the map again and again, looking for some way to limit their exposure, but it seemed impossible until Arthur pointed to the open hill beside the Ure River.

“We can turn aside here in the forest of Bedegraine and come out here on the hilltop.  As long as we set our camp within the trees, we might stay hidden a few days anyway.”

“Might.  Maybe. Could be,” Meryddin did not actually object.

“Slim chance,” Peredur said.

“But still a chance,” Pelenor sounded optimistic, which surprised the group.  “You have men keeping an eye on the Picts and Kai and Loth have joined to chase them from behind.  No reason they can’t chase Caw toward the Ure.”

“This will, by necessity, be a different kind of battle,” Gerraint mused out loud.  “Lancers are not effective in the woods.”

“A company of stout hunters would certainly help our cause,” Arthur said, with a long look at Gerraint.

“But most of our men are hunters,” Pelenor said. “Have to be these days since it got colder.  The growing season has gotten short and the snows of winter have gotten deep.”

“This will be bows and arrows,” Meryddin agreed with a sharp look at Gerraint.  It was not the first such look Gerraint got from the man.

“It would be good if we could catch them between us and the river,” Peredur seemed in general agreement.  “They will have nowhere to run with their backs to the water, and we will have the high ground.”

Gerraint answered Arthur and avoided Meryddin’s eyes. “I’ll need to think about it.”

Two days later, Gerraint went into the woods, Uwaine, his faithful squire behind him.  “Now, don’t be scared,” Gerraint said.  “No matter what happens, they won’t hurt you.  You have to trust me.  You always have to trust me and this is a good time to start.  Do you understand?”

Uwaine nodded.  “Should I shut my eyes?”

“No, Percival,” Gerraint called him.  “You must always keep your eyes open so no enemy can sneak up on you.”  He turned to the woods and hollered.  “Pinewood!” and a man dressed like a hunter, but with a tunic that showed the lion of Cornwall stepped from the trees.

“My Lord.  So you know, I have a rather large company of hunters anxious to help.”

Gerraint shook his head.  He would not put them at risk for a transient human event.  “Got any dwarfs and dark elves on tap?”

“Right here,” a dwarf with a long black beard that covered his face and chest apart from his bulbous nose and two bright eyes, and dressed in chain armor that fell to the ground, and hefting an oversized ax for his height, stepped out beside Pinewood.  Gerraint knew him immediately, though they had never met.

“Bogus.”

Uwaine shrieked and stepped more behind Gerraint, but kept his eyes wide open.  At least Pinewood appeared human.

“My squire, Uwaine,” Gerraint made the quick introduction.  “Lord Pinewood and Lord Bogus.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the little ones said, and Uwaine tried to smile for them but his tongue appeared to be tied.

“Now, to business.  I know that you and Dumfries’ people have all sorts of enchantments to scare the poor humans and keep them out of certain places, particularly in the woods.  What I am asking is for a hedge on either side of the Picts and Scots that will guide their forward motion toward the Ure.  In a perfect world, they should end up by the river right below our current position, with Kai and Loth right behind them.  Pinewood, I need you to visit Kai and Loth and direct them to the battle point.  You can take a few hunters with you as long as they wear the lion of Cornwall.  But that means you have to remove all your tricks and traps after the Picts have moved in the correct direction and before Kai and Loth arrive.  We don’t want poor Kai scared witless.  Now, can you do this?”

“Easy,” Bogus said.  “Especially since they are headed in that direction anyway.  But where then do you want us in the battle formation.  On the south end opposite Kai and Loth so we can close the trap?”

“Nowhere,” Gerraint said.  “The lancers and RDF will dismount and take the south end.  I do not want you to expose yourselves.  You are not allowed any casualties; do you understand?”  Pinewood and Bogus nodded, but looked terribly disappointed.

Uwaine tugged on Gerraint’s tunic.  He looked down at that face which said, “What if the Picts swim the river?”  Gerraint smiled.  He thought much the same thing.

“Okay.  You can take up positions across the river, and any Picts or Scots smart enough to escape that way, you have my permission to chase them all the way back up to the wall. I would think a couple of ogres, some goblins and maybe a troll should do the trick.  Meanwhile, when the battle starts, Bogus, I want your people to set a circle around York.  I want no one to get in or out of that place until we get there, so Colgrin has no way of knowing what is happening.”

“You are confident of victory?” Pinewood asked.

Gerraint nodded.  “But only because you folk have never been much for following orders.” Bogus and Pinewood both grinned, slightly.  “But Bogus, especially if we are victorious as I hope, Colgrin better not find out. That is one order you better pay attention to.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes lord.”  Bogus and Pinewood bowed, and Bogus vanished back into the woods in only a few steps, while Pinewood got fairy small, much to Uwaine’s delight, and flew off at top speed.

“Son,” Gerraint said, sounding very much like master Pelenor.  “This is one thing you are not allowed to talk about.  You must never mention dwarfs or fairies or anything of the kind to anyone.  Okay?”

“Don’t worry.  If I told my mother she would think I lost my mind.  But…”

“But what?”

“Can we do that again sometime?”

R5 Gerraint: The Sword in the Stone, part 2 of 3

Gwillim interrupted.  “I thought the Norwegians were completely new, like only in the last ten years or so.”

“And don’t forget the Irish threat in those days,” Tristam added on the side.

“No, the Norwegian shore has been invaded for some time,” the Bishop said.  “Our own Loth knows the trouble there very well.  And yes, we should not forget the Irish.  In fact, when Ambrosius died and Uther became Pendragon, he built many forts along the Welsh coast to defend against that very threat.  But now, Uther has been gone for twelve years, poisoned, like his father.  And neither Ambrosius nor Uther had sons, and there are no more brothers.”

“So, will they find one to pull out the sword of the Roman?” Gwyr asked.

“I fear they will not,” the Bishop answered. “I fear they will choose one at random, and like the people of Israel who demanded Saul for king, the choice will most likely be a bad one.  All of the Lords here have squabbles and grudges.  It is inevitable that no matter who is chosen, some will be unhappy.”

“But isn’t that always the case?” Gerraint asked.

“Perhaps so,” the Bishop said, and he stood with a final word.  “Sorry to interrupt.  Go back to your important meeting.  I was a boy once, too.”

The boys looked at each other in silence for all of a second before they ran to the courtyard of the sword in the stone.  The next hour got spent tugging on the sword, though Gerraint and Arthur only stood back and laughed.  Urien said he wiggled it and Arawn supported him.  Gwillim said he also wiggled it, but his brother Thomas laughed and denied it.  It did not take long before the game became two sides playing at war, but with sticks instead of swords.  Arthur’s group always won because Thomas was not much of a leader.  Gerraint avoided the game at first because he wanted to check something out.

Gerraint snuck out to the alley beside the church where they had a garbage dump and several perpetually brown bushes.  It looked sheltered and secluded enough for him to try something.  He called softly, “Hunters,” but nothing happened and no hunters appeared.  So he thought hard about his experience on the road. He grabbed what he imagined was a name. “Lord Pinewood,” he whispered, but the alley remained empty.  Finally, he put some command in his voice, though he still tried to keep the volume down so as to not attract attention.  “Pinewood.”  He got ready to give up when the elderly hunter appeared from behind a bush in the alley.

“Trouble young Lord?”  The elder grinned, while Gerraint shook his head

“I’ve been thinking,” Gerraint started right in, and stopped.

“And a good thing for a young man to do,” Pinewood encouraged, and his grin became a smile.

“Just now, when we were playing around the sword in the stone, I noticed something.  I don’t know if anyone else noticed.  But I saw something that made me think.”  Pinewood stayed patient.  Gerraint continued.  “I saw, whenever one got near to the stone, anything metal, their knives and such, I think iron, it did not seem to affect silver or gold, but the iron looked like it pulled toward the stone.  So I was thinking the stone is some kind of load stone.  It must be magnetized, and that is why the sword is impossible to pull out.”

Pinewood nodded.  “The sword, Caliburn, your sword is finer steel than can be made in this day. It is by virtue anti-magnetic. But it got specially treated, if I can say that, so the magnet could hold it fast.”

“Can it be demagnetized?”

Pinewood shook his head.  “Bogus and Dumfries have been arguing about that for fifty years. I believe the current thinking is to temporarily disrupt the magnet when the right hands are on the hilt.  Once the person intended has the sword, it can be demagnetized later.”

“Bogus and Dumfries?”

“A dark elf and a dwarf,” Pinewood said, and Gerraint knew he spoke true, even as Pinewood said it.

“Good.  That will be good.”  Gerraint was still thinking.  “But I better get back before the others miss me.”

“My lord.”

Gerraint paused.  “Is there something else?”

“We must know which hands are the right hands.”

“Of course.”  Gerraint laughed at himself for forgetting the main part.  “Arthur.  It has to be Arthur.”

Pinewood smiled again.  “I guessed, you know,” he said, and became fairy small, with wings and everything, and flitted rapidly out of sight.  Gerraint headed back inside, but ran smack into Meryddin who rushed around the corner with two men following.

“Move, boy.”  Meryddin shoved Gerraint, but only a little to get him out of the way, and Gerraint paused to listen.  The men turned into the alley.  “There is magic and fairy dust in this place,” Meryddin said.  “I can smell it.”

“They usually don’t come so close to a church,” one of the men responded; but then Gerraint felt it best to run so he did not hear any more.

All of the Lords, which is to say, chiefs of the many tribes and nations of the Gaelic peoples of Britain, Wales and Cornwall gathered in the courtyard of the stone first thing in the morning, along with the young Lords, and the squires, who were pushed back to the outside edges where they could barely see anything over the heads of their fathers.  The older ones knew the basic story.  Peredur said that anyone who was alive when the Roman planted the sword in the stone had to be a baby and could not possibly remember the deed.  Pelenor said this whole thing could have been avoided if Uther had a son.  His daughter Morgana, dabbler in the mystical arts though she may be, hardly qualified.  Then everyone grew quiet while the Bishop Dubricius said a short prayer for guidance and wisdom.

Dubricius stepped back to where he got surrounded by some twenty monks and clerics.  Meryddin stood on the other side of the yard with a dozen Druids to back him up.  This was a land where the new had come, but the old seemed far from gone.  Pelenor acknowledged that when he stepped up to the stone and addressed the crowd.

R5 Greta: Battle, part 1 of 3

“What is this place?”  Eldegard asked as he got weakly to his feet.

Greta conceded.  “Most who live here call it Avalon after the ancient tongue, but it has many names.”

“Is this Elvir?” Vasen asked.

“No, it is Usgard above Midgard,” Greta said. “Elvir is over there.  Nidelvir is that way, and Svardelvir is in that direction.”

“Usgard,” Bragi repeated.

“Usgard above Midgard,” Greta corrected.  “But you may as well call it Avalon.”

The fairy queen arrived at that point and became big, even as she landed.  Her court followed suit.  Immediately, she walked up to Greta, got on one knee and held up her hand.  “Lady Kairos.  All is well?”  She asked.

Greta took the hand, but made the Queen get up. “I don’t know,” she said.  “I cannot stay this time.  My anxiety is too great.  I must get back to work.”

“My Lady works too hard sometimes, I think,” Thumbelin said.

“This is Lord Eldegard of Boarshag.”  Greta introduced him.  “And this is Vasen the Priest of the Temple on the Mount.” Vasen had been staring at Thumbelin and Greta.

“And this?”  Thumbelin asked, sweetly.

“This is my brother, Bragi,” Greta said.

“Sir Bragi.”  One of the ladies of the court nearest him offered her hand.  Bragi took it, but since he did not know what to do with it, he merely held it for a second before he let go.

“And that.”  Greta pointed to the last of her party.  “Is all that remains of Brunhild.”

“She had become a powerful sorceress.” Thumbelin confirmed.  “What then of her god, Mithras?  What game is he playing?”

Greta shrugged.  “Same old?” she said.  It was time to go.  “Please take Brunhild to an outer isle where she can live out her days in peace.  I don’t want her eaten by dragons or cyclopses or any such thing.”

Thumbelin suddenly hugged Greta and whispered through a small tear.  “I love your kind heart,” she said.

“I love you, too, Thumbelina.”  Greta returned the same as she received.

The door appeared behind them.  It would let out at the outpost.  Everyone took a last look before they left, and Bragi especially had to partly drag Vasen back to reality.  Once through the door, Avalon vanished, but several men, Romans and Dacians, saw them step out onto the Earth.  They stopped what they were doing and stared.

Greta took advantage of the moment and pointed to Eldegard and Vasen.  “Take them to safety,” she said.  “Treat them kindly.  They have had a hard morning.”

“Indeed I have, Lady Kairos,” Vasen said, having caught her name.

“Forgive this old fool, Mother Greta,” Eldegard said, and for her part, Greta did forgive him.

She watched for a moment as the man hobbled away, head lowered.  “The rest of you need to follow me.”  She said that in both Dacian and Greek.

“Where are we going?” Bragi asked.  She could tell he was beginning to enjoy this.

“We are ordered to stay and guard this post,” one of the Romans spoke up.

Greta ignored them both.  She focused and held out her hands.  Her shield appeared in her left hand and Salvation vanished from its’ sheath to appear in her right hand.  They were heavy, but she held them well enough.  Some men stepped back in surprise, but she was not really showing off. As before, she did not feel sure if she could draw Salvation without cutting her own ear off.  This felt safer, but then she immediately handed them to Bragi. “Here,” she said.  “You know how to work these.”  She did not wait.  She started running across the field and about ten of the thirty or so men followed her.

It looked and smelled like a slaughterhouse. She saw bodies of the dead and dying everywhere.  A few might recover if they received help in time, but that seemed unlikely.  Some of the bravest survivors were out on the long field trying to help those that they could, carrying men on makeshift stretchers back to the outpost or the forest’s edge.  Greta knew she could help, but she had something more important to do first. She turned toward the mount and caught her breath at the sight. The mount looked gone, along with the temple, and the water which bubbled from the sides, still crumbled parts and carried away boulders.

“The explosion blew the temple off the top.” A man said, as he stepped up beside her. It was the Centurion, Alesander. The water did the rest.  It must have shot a hundred feet in the air and threw the walls of the mount for hundreds of yards in every direction. The rest then collapsed all the way around.”

“I said it was full of water under tremendous pressure, but I never expected this,” Greta said, then she had to save her breath to run.  She had the feeling she might be too late.  “Come on,” she said, but Alesander paused, and grabbed at her arm to stop her.

“Wait,” he yelled.  “The fighting is over there.  It is not safe.  Damn!” He followed.

It felt like running through a nightmare, even on the edge of the battle.  Greta had to run around and twice leap over men who were not quite dead.  The sounds of agony were deafening.  Some tried to grab for her legs or arms.  She heard the word “Valkyra” over and over.  She imagined a woman in armor with straw colored hair flowing behind would invoke that image, but for her own part, she wished the Valkyra were still around.  She could use their help.

A man jumped in front of her and made her pause. She did not know from his blood-soaked clothing if he was Dacian or Quadi.  He stared at her for a long second in disbelief, then he held out his arm. His hand was missing and the stump poured out his life’s blood.  She brushed past even as Alesander and Bragi caught up, followed by the rest of the squad.

Greta passed by other horrors.  She could not stop.  She began to panic and reminded herself that she did not respond well in panic situations.  But she feared she might be too late.  It was her vision.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 1 of 3

Something bothered Gregor.  “And where will you be in all of this?” he asked.

“I have to confront the Lady Brunhild,” Greta said.  “Which reminds me, Thissle.  Under no circumstances are you to be in the same room as Lady Brunhild.”  She turned to Bragi.  “I do not know the extent of her powers, but I will not risk Thissle, Okay?”

Bragi nodded again.

“I understand, my Lady,” Thissle said.  “I don’t like witches.  No, no, no.”

“She said that right,” Bragi interjected. “Lady Brunhild is a witch.  She bewitched us all.  I know you have the sight, but you have no power like hers.”

“She turned one man into a dog,” Gregor said. The others looked at him as if he had lost all sense, but he insisted.  “It is true.  Hagen confronted her and she turned him into a dog right in front of my eyes.”

“You can’t confront her,” Bragi said.

“But I am the only one who can,” Greta responded. “And this rebellion will never be over until Lady Brunhild is finished, one way or the other.”

“Bragi.”  The guard stuck his head in the door.  “The Lady is returning from the Quadi camp.  You need to get out of there before Kunther finds you.”

Greta gave her brother a last hug.  “Good luck,” she said.  “Take care of my Thissle.”  Greta let go, and Bragi left with the invisible Thissle beside him. The door got shut and bolted once again.

After that, Vasen became full of questions for Thorn. Curiously, no one questioned her authority over these gnomes except for Vasen’s one comment near the end.

“Truly you are Mother Greta.”  Gregor started it.  “Only the woman of the ways would know such things.”

Vasen shook his head.  “There is more here than mere tales of the woman of the ways.”

“Yes, that’s right.  Much more.”  Thorn started, but Greta hushed him.

“You don’t want to be a tale teller,” she said, as she went over to examine a tapestry on the wall.  Thorn shrugged, but got the message and got quiet.

“There is a lot of fairy work in the wall hanging,” Thorn said after a while.  “I can smell it.

“Yes,” Greta agreed.  “Grandfather Woden had it on the wall when this served as his hunting lodge.  The haunted forest started as his hunting preserve, you know.”  Thorn smiled.  Greta rolled her eyes and slapped her hand to her mouth almost hard enough to start it bleeding again.

“Grandfather Woden?”  Vasen caught it.

“The wise woman keeps silent, but the fool’s tongue cannot keep still,” Greta said through her fingers just before they heard a sound at the door.  “Thorn. Behind the tapestry.”  The little one complied.

Four guards stepped in and then stepped aside to let Lady Brunhild enter.  She looked as haughty and cruel as ever, Greta thought, yet something else as well. It disturbed Greta to look at the woman because she could not pinpoint what was wrong with the picture.

Lady Brunhild glanced at Greta, looked at Gregor who had a scowl on his face, and looked briefly at Finbear who did not look sure he knew what was going on.  Vasen turned his back on the Lady, but she stared at him, and he knew it as everyone saw the back of his neck turn red.  She walked casually to the tapestry and examined it, as if she sensed something.

“An exquisite piece of work,” she said. “Don’t you think?”  Greta heard something different about the woman’s voice as well, but it still eluded Greta’s grasp.

“Fairy work, one might say.”  Greta spoke pleasantly.  “It is very finely done.”

“Indeed,” the lady said.  Her hand came away from the tapestry to focus more fully on Greta. “I have been smelling the annoying things all over the Quadi camp all day.  No wonder they were in no condition this morning to mount an attack.”  She took a few steps closer and looked at Greta as if trying to penetrate her mind, but Greta, or more precisely, the Kairos would not let her in.  “Why do I feel you know something about all of this?” she asked.

Greta shrugged and smiled.  The woman would not read her thoughts, and after a moment, Lady Brunhild gave up trying.  She turned quickly toward the door.

“Bring her,” the Lady commanded.  Two men grabbed Greta roughly and seemed to delight in dragging Greta into the sanctuary.  It felt like Vedix all over again.  They returned to the alter which got towered over by the Odin statue, and there the men held her and did not let her so much as touch the scab forming on her lip. Greta saw her own small statue still on the altar, but then she realized it was only a glamour left by Thissle to fool the men.  The real statue had already gone.

Kunther also stood there along with a half dozen other men, including the man with the burned hands.  “Mother.”  He started to speak but became silent when she looked up at him, sharply.

“You must remember to call me Brunhild, Kunther dear, now that I am younger than you, Mother will not do.”  She said it.  That was it!  Lady Brunhild was no longer an elderly woman in her late fifties.  She was now no older than twenty-five, or perhaps twenty, and she spoke as if she expected to get even younger.  She walked up to Greta and squeezed Greta’s cheeks with her boney fingers. She caught the moment of recognition on Greta’s face and thought she might try once more to penetrate Greta’s mind; but no way she could.  Lady Brunhild had obviously gained a great deal of power and strength since their last meeting.  She was probably even more powerful than the Hag at that point, but the Traveler knew too much about the future.  Greta’s mind had been covered under the contract, so to speak, that the ancient gods in unison made millennia ago in the halls of Karnak.  It was the same contract which allowed her to manifest a power far beyond her natural abilities in relation to the little ones for whom she had been made responsible at that same meeting.  For Brunhild, no matter how strong, the attempt to read Greta’s mind became like a fly attempting to penetrate a concrete wall.

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 1 of 3

“Thissle!” Greta saw the little one and wondered what she was doing there.  She was invisible, so in no immediate danger from the men in the room, but still…

“Gods you’re beautiful,” Darius said.  It took a moment for Greta to realize he was talking about her.

“I am not,” she said.  “Have you been here all night?”

“Yes he has. Just about,” Thissle said.

Darius recovered himself.  “Nice outfit.”

“What, this old thing?”  Greta joked, but when he laughed she rebuked herself.  She was not going to play lovers games with him.  “All right, Thissle.”  She turned her back on Darius.  “What is this all about?  Why are you here?”

“You see?” Greta heard Darius interrupt.

“I see, but I don’t believe it.”  The Roman guard answered in Greek.

“Agreed.” The Dacian also knew some Greek.

Greta knew what they were talking about.  Thissle stayed invisible after all.  “Do you want to see?”

“No Mother.” The Dacian responded quickly and in Dacian.

The Roman sounded more thoughtful.  “If Lord Darius has not been talking to himself all night, I really do not want to know it.”  Berry laughed and started to hand him a tart.

“No!”  Greta jumped.  “That’s fairy food,” and to the Dacian she said, “Food of the elves.”  The Roman politely said, “No thank you,” and stepped back while Greta closed the door to Usgard above Midgard, and let it dissipate and disappear.  Darius asked the guards if they would rather wait outside, and they readily agreed. But Berry had not finished.  She offered a tart to Darius who examined it carefully, and sniffed it.

“Is it safe?” Darius asked.

“It’s too late for you,” Greta answered.  “You might as well enjoy it.”  At which point he took a bite and lost himself in contented munching sounds. “Well?”  Greta turned again to Thissle, confident that this time she would not be interrupted.

“Well, Lady.” Thissle curtsied.  “Thorn and I were awakened around sundown by the sound of a whole army setting up to camp beside the road.”

“Thorn?” Greta asked.

“Yes, it’s just Thorn, now, if you please,” Thissle said.  “And, well, we did not know if they were goods or bads, so we thought we had better come and warn you.  He knows all the ways, you know.  Forwards and backs and overs and unders.  We got here around midnight, I guess, and my Thorn found us all the way to your room.”

“The legion is still a day and a half away,” Darius interjected.

“My Lord thinks so, but Thorn and I think it is more like two days the way they move so slow and all,” Thissle continued.  “But then when we got here, you were not here, but the door was, so we figured out where you were.”

“You figured it out, Miss Thissle,” Darius said.  “I heard you say she’s gone to Avalon.”

Thissle reddened a bit and turned to Darius.  “It was a lucky guess, is all,” she said.  “But then came the real surprise.  You saw us plain as day, you did.”  She turned back to Greta.  “Thorn said to stand still and quiet and maybe he just saw a glimpse or heard something like the wind, but he walked right up to us and he said we had better come right in and tell him who we were, he said, “My lady will want to know why you have come, but she won’t be back until morning.”

“I could go fetch her,” Thorn said, but my lord blocked his way.

“No, she said I was the only one to fetch her if she needed to be fetched.”  And as the doorway was closed, there wasn’t much else we could do except sit down and explain ourselves.  Lord Darius caught on real quick.  He knew we were invisible to the guards, but he just ignored them and talked free as if he did not care if they thought he was crazy.  We told him all about the army and he figured out from some of the things we said that it was his seventh legion.  So he got a paper and wrote some words, and then took Thorn to wake up his friend Marcus so Marcus could put his seal on the paper. Then Thorn is up and gone to take this message to General Pontius, and my Lord is back here to keep me company all night.”  Greta looked at Darius and she did not give him a soft look.

“I outlined the situation here with a note that we might be able to hold them for a day, but once they broke into the city, they would be fortified and able to mount a real defense.  Then it would be impossible to dislodge them except at great expense.”

“How could you do that to Thorn?” she asked.  “He will be in as much danger with you Romans as he would be with the Quadi.  Do you trust this General not to stick him in a cage and do—who knows what?”  Out of deference to Thissle, she did not suggest that the General might roast him for supper.

Darius nodded thoughtfully.  “General Pontius is a true believer.  He would not dare hurt Thorn, especially since Marcus wrote at the top of the letter, if you hurt one quill on my little friend, I will have you crucified.” Darius seemed to think that would answer everything.

“My Lady.” Thissle spoke innocently, but out of turn.  “You must love him very much for him to have such authority to see us invisible and all. And here, you are only betrothed and not even properly married and all.”

Greta felt embarrassed, and with her fair skin that became easy to see.  It made her freckles stand out and that felt even more embarrassing.  “I don’t,” she lied.  “This wedding was not my idea.”

“Well it wasn’t mine, either.”  Darius shot right back.

“But you’re a soldier, and a loyal Roman,” she said, sharply.  “What do you want with a wife?”

“Look at you, wise woman.”  He also returned her tone.  “With all of your little ones and every man and woman of the Dacians doting on your every word, what need do you have for a husband?  What am I?  Just some burden you have to bear.”

“What do the Dacians matter?  I suppose you will want to live in Rome.”

“I thought about it,” he answered honestly.

“Well, you can forget it.  I’ll never be your submissive, obedient little wife to stay at home with the servants, cooking and cleaning your villa so you can run off to your Roman lover.”

Darius gave her a hard look.  “That’s not fair.  I never asked you to cook or clean.  You never asked what I want, so don’t start putting words in my mouth.”

“You said yourself that you wanted that Roman woman.”

“That’s not fair, either.  I haven’t even thought of her for almost a month.  But what about that lover boy of yours?”

“He’s a jerk,” Greta said, in all honestly, and with a bit more softness in her voice.

“And she never answered any of my letters.”  He also softened his response.  “It was all one sided.  She may even be married by now.”

“So, where does that leave us?” Greta asked.

“Where we started, I guess,” he answered.

“Ahem!” Berry interrupted.  “My Lord Darius, I mean, Darius, would you make an escort for me and Hans to visit my sister, Fae?”

“I can do that, Berry,” Darius said.  He still looked at Greta but took Berry’s hand.

“Wait.” Greta stopped them.  She stood on her toes and planted a quick kiss on Darius’ lips.  Then she stepped away and looked down.  “I’ll see you in the hall.”  She could not tell the expression on his face.  She could not bring herself to look up at him.

“I’ll see you at breakfast.”  He touched her hair, but she still would not look at him.  She did hear Berry, however, as they left.

“I hope me and Hans don’t have to say those things.  I could never ‘member all that.”

Greta looked at Thissle and almost laughed.  “You love him and he loves you,” Thissle said.  “You humans are the strangest creatures in all creation.”

Greta did laugh, and she also cried, smiled and sniffed.  “I do love him, you know.  I tried calling him the enemy and the oppressor of my people and whatever awful thing I could think of, but he is all I can think of no matter what I do.”

“Not like my Thorn,” Thissle said.  “We spent a hundred years, hardly able to touch each other, praying that we would find you, and praying that you would help us when we did.  And you did help us.  But then there is you.  Lady, all you need to do is help yourself.  He is already as much yours as anyone can be.”

Could she really give up her friends, her family, her home?  Could she really be a Roman wife and not feel a traitor to her own people? “But if I help myself, I might be…” She started to speak her thoughts but they all sounded hollow and foolish.

“Might be what?” Thissle asked rhetorically.  “Might be happy?  Yes, you might.”  She answered herself.

“Hear hear!” An echo came from the statuette. Greta had forgotten about Madwick and the others, covered as they were under the cloth she brought, but they had been privy to everything.  Greta pulled down the cloth.  “Please to make your acquaintance, Miss Thissle.”  Lord Burns popped his head out.  Greta had to introduce them all, but then she reminded them that they were supposed to be a dead idol, and she covered them again, picked them up carefully and headed toward the Great Hall.

R5 Greta: And Back Again, part 3 of 3

Berry thought about calling Greta by her given name.  “Oh, no.  I couldn’t do that.”

“I am Han’s sister,” she reminded her.  “And if you marry Hans, that will make me your sister, too.  Call me Greta.”

“You mean, I have your permission to marry Hans?”  She got excited.

“I said “If,” Greta said, but then she had some insight as to how it would look.  When Hans became a man of eighteen, Berry would still look thirteen.  Even if Hans should live to be seventy, Berry would still only look fifteen or at most sixteen.  She would have to think about that.

This time Berry got quiet, so Greta completed her earlier thought.  “Calling me lady makes me feel so old.  Call me Greta.  I’m not that old.  Or maybe Lady Greta, as I said.”

“Oh, Lady Greta.” Berry turned suddenly serious. “He loves you so very much.  I wish Hans loved me like that.”

“Darius?” Greta asked.  Berry nodded. “I wish.”

“But he does. I can tell,” Berry insisted.

“No sweet,” Greta countered.  “He will do his duty to Marcus and Rome.  He is a soldier.  Marcus just wants to make sure my father stays loyal to Rome, that’s all.  It is all political, and besides, I think he really loves someone else.”

“No way,” Berry said.  “He looks at you with zombie eyes.”

“Zombie eyes?”

“That’s what Mab calls it.  It means he has no will of his own.”

Greta laughed at her own thought.  She made a spooky face.  “Resistance is futile,” she monotoned.  Berry laughed, too, but Greta knew Berry had no idea to what she referred.  They indulged a little in the breakfast sweets.

“The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summer’s day,” Greta said, absentmindedly.

“I know that story.”  Berry perked up.  “Were you the Queen of Hearts?”

Greta laughed again.  “No, sweet,” she said.  She remembered, though she was not sure which life she lived at the time.  She decided it did not matter.  “Aphrodite.”  She named the Queen of Hearts.  “She made them for Hephaestos on their two or three thousandth anniversary or something. Cupid stole them.  Hephaestos found out, and let’s just say Cupid promised never to do that again.”

Berry’s eyes got big.  “Lady goddess.  You shouldn’t tell me stories like that if you want me to call you Greta.”

“Don’t worry,” Greta said.  “Take me out of Usgard and the company of my little ones, and you will see.  Even as the woman of the ways, I have very little real magic.  Hardly any at all.  You will see how human and mortal I really am, and it won’t be a problem calling me just plain Greta.”

“Hans called you Gretal once, like you were just a baby.”  Berry giggled, and tried to picture Greta as a baby.

“Oh, he did, did he?”  She pretended to be upset.  “Hansel!” Berry giggled again, and Greta thought Berry had better grow up some.  Sixty years of that little girl giggle would drive anyone crazy.  “Time to go.’

“Oh, wait.” Berry got little and flew around the room, touched everything and did several back flips and fancy dives along the way.  When she flew real fast, she even left a little fairy trail, though only light, without the sparkles.  It appeared a meager thing, but a true sign of her quarter blood.  Then she settled on her feet again.

“Mab was nice,” Berry said, and Greta knew they would never be the best of friends.  “But she was not impressed until she found out I had a twin sister.”  Greta nodded. Twins were a very special thing in the spirit world.  “We looked at her twice in the Pool of Reys, and once in the Looking Glass, but she was always sleeping.”  Greta nodded again.

“Time to go,” she repeated herself.

“But can we come back again?” Berry quickly asked.

“Someday,” Greta said, and then she tried to explain that two days and three nights had gone by on Usgard, while back home the same night they left just came to a close. Berry did not understand, so Greta concluded by saying, “That was why Fae was always sleeping when you spied on her.”

“We didn’t spy. Not really,” Berry said, even while she realized that spying was exactly what she had been doing.

“Well anyway,” Greta said.  “It will all straighten out when we get there.  I want you and Hans with a troop of guards to go over and visit Fae, and stay there.”  Greta decided that if there was going to be a battle, they would be safest where they could hide in the woods if need be.  It also seemed one way to keep them all out of her hair for a while.  She would be busy.

Greta picked up her statuette and examined it closely.  The dolphin had its’ mouth open to sing.  The bear reared up and roaring.  The cat had a roar of its’ own going, and the horse, standing on the rest, looked still.  Greta pushed gently on the horse’s tail and the horse reared up and its’ nostrils flared. She opened the window.  “All right.”  She thought to the distant sprites, and four dashes of light penetrated each of the four animals.  Greta thought to try the contraption once more.  She pushed down.  The horse reared up and a young fire sprite named Scorch stuck his head out of the horse’s nostrils and eyes.

“Fancy cigarette lighter.”  Greta called it.  “Be good. Be careful,” she told them all.

“All set.” The hollow echo of their voices came back.

The eastern horizon started getting bright at last.  The sun looked moments from rising.  Greta raised her hand, and the door appeared right there in the room. She opened it and saw Darius jump up from the floor.  The guards he had posted, one Dacian and one Roman, stepped up, drew their swords and peeked around the door to be sure there were no more beasts in the other room.

Greta stepped through with the statue and Berry followed with a handful of tarts.

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MONDAY

Returning from the rarefied atmosphere of Avalon is just the first step.  Greta needs to find out how things are progressing.  Where is the legion?  How many germanic Quadi invaders have shown up?  And what  do the Romans plan to do about the rebels fortified on the temple mount? And what about the guns?… Monday, Connecting the Dots.

Until then, Happy Reading

 

 

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