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.

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

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

 

 

*

R5 Greta: And Back Again, part 1 of 3

Greta stood. “I am sorry this refuge is not also the sanctuary I intended.  In truth, I am only human.”  She paused while there were nods and smiles all around.  This had been what they wanted.  They all knew it when they picked her, and the Ancient gods in concert anointed her for this work, to watch over the little spirits of the earth. They wanted a god who routinely got old and had to let go of life.  They did not want an immortal over them.  Being mortal themselves, they wanted someone who knew what it would be like when that time came.

Greta placed her hand on Berry’s hand.  “I will speak with the craftsmen.  There may be a way, and thank you all.”  She hugged Thumbelin as a symbolic hug for them all.  Then she turned to Berry who sat quiet and big eyed.

“What did you like best?” She whispered.

Berry licked her lips.  “The Wafflies,” she said.  “And the Apple Cinammons.”

“Me, too,” Greta said, though in truth she thought it all tasted splendid. “Thumbelin.”  Greta spoke up.  “Is Mab here?”  Thumbelin nodded and pointed to the children’s table.  “My, she is quite grown,” Greta remarked.

“Nearly fifty,” Thumbelin said.

Greta called Mab to the table.  “Get little,” she told Berry.  Mab appeared shy in Greta’s presence.  She stood on the table with her head down.  Berry, who had only known Thistle as a fairy, felt quite taken with the girl. She immediately went to stand beside Mab.  Berry stood taller, of course, partly because she was older and partly because she had so much human in her, but Mab glowed beside her with true blood fairy magic.

“Will you take Berry as a friend and show her Usgard?” Greta asked.

“Lady.”  Mab curtsied as well as she could, but did not do a very good job of it.

“Stay on this island.  Don’t go to the other islands,” Greta added.

“And no tricksies.”  Thumbelin instructed her daughter.  “Or anything like tricksies.”

“Be good to my Berry, please dear Mab.”

Mab looked at a pensive Berry from beneath her hair.  Suddenly, she sprang out and took Berry’s hand.  “I will,” Mab said, and to Berry she added, “Come on.”  They took to the air.  “You won’t believe the strawberry field, and the high mountain slides, and the cascade pools for swims.”  And they were through the window, followed by a host of other young sprites.

“I worry about her,” Greta breathed.

“She will be fine,” Thumbelin said.  “Mab may be headstrong, but she is true to her word.  And I am sure your brother will be a very lucky man.”

“Your majesty is kind,” Greta told Thumbelin, but really, at that moment, Greta felt worried mostly about herself.  She felt no closer to knowing what to do about the guns than she had before she came.

“It was my goddess who gave me a heart and taught me what loving-kindness was all about.” Thumbelin found a tear, and Greta found one as well.  Once again, Greta felt she got far more out of the relationship than she could ever possibly give.

At the craftsman’s they made a lamp, a bubbling fountain and a wind catcher which is sometimes called a dreamcatcher.  They went out to the nearest portal and set them up.  Then they built a guardhouse underground.  Greta’s became concerned for the comfort of her little ones who might volunteer for the hazardous duty.  The craftsmen, however, were far more concerned with tricks and traps and every devious thing they could think of to catch and hold any possible creature or spirit from a three-day-old human to a near god.  Greta sighed.  The year was only around 145 AD, and henceforth, every road to Avalon would be heavily guarded.  Even Lord Sunstone, the elf wizard who spoke for the knights of the lance, offered his every last ounce of magic if needed to secure Avalon, the seven isles and the innumerable isles beyond.

Greta looked at the next set of homes.  They were a pool of water, small wind chimes to blow in the wind, and a lantern on a short pole.  Greta spent a long time considering the lantern.  She would never risk a fire sprite in the open, but they could certainly explode Kunther, or rather, Lady Brunhild’s plans.

“Trojan horse.” The words came to her, and she caught a glimpse of a man, a life she did not know.  Diomedes.  She lived his life among the Greeks at Troy.  The image faded, but the Princess and Diogenes picked up the notion and repeated the words with certainty.

“An idol.  A peace offering for the Temple on the Mount,” said the Princess.

“Something cast of the strongest metal with air holes and a charcoal center to sustain the sprites for a day or two if necessary,” Diogenes suggested.

“A bear for the Nameless god of the Dacians,” Nameless said.

“A cat of the mountains for Danna and the Celts,” Danna thought.

“Salacia’s dolphin for the Romans,” Salacia added.

“But then it needs something on top, something over all to represent the unity of the three.” Bodanagus said, being no stranger to bringing the houses of the gods together.  Gerraint and FestusCato shared the answer.

“A horse.”

“A horse to rear up.”

“A horse whose nostrils flare when it rears up.”

“But the horse might give it away.”

“But the horse is the right choice.”

“But can they survive?”  Doctor Mishka always considered possible injury.

“Attach a string to Avalon so the whole contraption will be hurled home.”  Those words came from the storyteller.

“Can I do that?” Greta wondered.

R5 Greta: Usgard Above Midgard, part 3 of 3

By long standing tradition, meals were not to wait the arrival of the Kairos.  In fact, little of daily life changed when she was present, so little changed when she was absent, which became most of the time. All the same, Mrs. Kettleblack who had been cooking for the Kairos for nearly five hundred years, banged her wooden spoon on the urn when Greta came in, and everyone rose, including Lord Gotlieb, though he rose with two handfuls of food.  Still, he rose because he knew if he did not, Mrs. Kettleblack would have banged her spoon on his head.

Poor Mrs. Kettleblack, Greta thought.  The dwarf looked like she aged, and Greta felt sorry that even in the rarified atmosphere of the second heavens, her little ones still did not live forever.

“Buffett this morning.”  Mrs. Kettleblack announced.  “But any of my poppins will be glad to fetch.  Just be askin’ and we’ll be getting’.”  She pointed to a special place which had been set aside for Berry. Berry looked at her and Greta thought a moment.  She decided, no.

“Get big, please, Berry,” Greta said.  Berry paused to look around.  She had never seen so many full blooded, special little ones in her life.  She got big.  She felt very human and thought she might as well look it.  “She had better sit beside me this morning,” Greta concluded. The place at Greta’s right hand was empty at the moment.

“Good morning.” Thumbelin said, as they sat down.

“Good morning Thumbelin,” Greta said, and then she added, “Good morning,” generally to the crowd. Most responded, except a few, like Gotleib who had just stuffed his mouth full of eggs and sausage.

“Good morning sweet Berry,” Thumbelin added.

“Morning,” Berry said.  She got distracted, watching the young lady elves who looked like glittering young children of light.  They fixed plates for her and Greta with a little of everything, and they watched her, too, and giggled.

“For all of the magic that gave her little wings, she is still three-quarters human,” Greta explained.

“Oh, my sweet dear,” Thumbelin said, in a very sympathetic voice.  “That must be very hard for you, but I am sure it is a good thing, too.  Good will happen.  You will see.”

The two plates were delivered while Gotleib and an ogre Prince jostled for position in line so they could get twelfths.  Greta looked away, glad that the ogres had their own corner of the room, out of sight of most.  She did not want to look at one while she ate, and did not want to watch one eat.

“But you have the same things I have,” Berry said, which took Greta’s attention, and Greta thought she should explain.

“You see, Berry, I have never been here before, myself.  The last time I was here I was someone else.”

“Sheik Ali.” The Lord of the Rainclouds spoke up. “And a fascinating gentleman he was. I never knew much about the desert before, but now I see it is an intriguing world all its own, full of wonders and life.”

“Exactly,” Thumbelin brought things back to the point.  “But we have not seen our lord, now lady in twenty years.”

“But you got the same as mine,” Berry said, being very one tracked.

“But I have never tasted any of this before,” Greta said.  “Not with these taste buds.  I know what Ali liked, but I might not like the same things.”

“Uh-huh,” Berry said.  She did not really understand, but by then she got busy sampling.

“She is sweet,” Thumbelin remarked.

“Uh-huh,” Greta responded in the midst of her own sampling.  Then she thought to say more.  “Barring an unforeseen accident, she will probably end up my sister-in-law. I worry about her.”

Thumbelin and several others gave knowing smiles and nods.  “I thought it might be something like that,” Thumbelin confessed.

There were private conversations after that, but finally, when breakfast was nearly over, Lord Madwick could wait no longer.

“Lady Kairos, forgive this impatient spirit, but now that you have come we must do something about these unlawful intrusions into the realm.  With all due respect, the knights of the lance simply cannot be everywhere at all times.”  He sat down.

“What he means.” Lord Burns spoke without standing up. “The fire sprites are ready to guard all of the portals at your request.  There are more than enough volunteers to cover all known ways.”

“The ethereal spirits who have kindly taken the lance are insufficient in number.”  Lord Deepwell of the dark elves confirmed.

Greta looked around the room.  It was full of kings and queens, but these were not the rich and powerful as they would have been in a human assembly.  Instead, these made a righteous gathering as each of these spirits came acclaimed by their people as worthy to represent them in their affairs. Greta felt she did not come to Usgard often enough, but then, she always felt that way.

“My Lady.” Lord Zephyrus spoke.  “Do not think the children of the winds and the sprites of the sky are less serious about helping, even if the fire burns hottest.

“My Lady.” Lord Shoals spoke.  “Waters surround our home.  We are disappointed with ourselves.  Ours is the first line.  Ought to be enough.  We wish to do enough.”

“Lady Corallion?” Greta asked hoping she would explain what her husband just said.

“We want to help make Avalon safe, too,” she said.

“Us, too.” Princess Burntbottom spoke up from the ogre table.  The unfortunate child got born some sixty-six years earlier, during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Of course, as an ogre, she wore her disfigurement as a badge of honor.

“And us.” Everyone else chimed in, and Greta had to hold up her hands for silence.

“Lady Kairos.” The deep and eerie voice caused a hush. It was Lord Darkvein, the goblin king. “All of your people wish to help. It is gracious of you to provide this place of refuge and peace for us all.  The least we can do is help defend it from demons, unwanted.”

“It is decided,” Thumbelin said softly, and Greta frowned.  It got decided, as usual, without her having any say in the matter.

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

MONDAY

Th visit to Avalon is not over, but at some point, Greta knows she and Berry will have to return to Ravenshold, and reality.

Next Week, look for “And Back Again”, same blog, same website.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: Usgard Above Midgard, part 2 of 3

Berry became enchanted by the softest lawn, the brightest stars and most glorious moon she ever knew.  The trauma of the last few minutes went completely from her mind.  Greta turned to the knight who was in truth a knight, like something out of the latter Middle Ages, in full plate armor so that no flesh or anything else showed.  She knew immediately that the knights of the lance never spoke, so she voiced her thought. “Thank you.”  And then she realized that she knew a lot of things that Greta never knew.

Greta looked up toward the castle on the hill.  It was her tradition to enter the castle across the lawn and through the main gate to give the little ones inside time to prepare.  “Huh!”  She said to herself, but it felt like a comfortable word, not a curious one.  She felt more herself than she ever felt before, and she decided that in Usgard, she became more the Kairos, her true self that lived again and again, than any individual, given life, even though she remained the Traveler Greta more than any other Traveler.  “Huh!”  She said again, and she called for Branworth.

Branworth appeared nearby as she began to walk toward the castle, Berry in her train, and escorted by the remounted knight.

“Lady Kairos.” Branworth bowed.  “The knights of the lance have made wonderful progress in guarding the borders, but as you see, even they have not been entirely successful.”

“I would not call the front lawn before the Castle successful at all,” Greta said.

“No, my lady. You are right,” Branworth admitted. “But the knights are not nearly as numerous as the ways in and out of the land and the isles.  Since the cracks developed in the days of young Lydia’s difficulties, at the time of dissolution of the gods, even their sleepless vigil is not enough to guard all ways at all times.”

“So I see,” she said.  And she did see.  She did not condemn the effort being made.  Rather, Greta sounded grateful, and felt rather inadequate to guard even her small charge; to give the little ones a safe haven from the world.  “We will work on it, Master Branworth,” she said. “We will figure something out.”

Greta stepped up to the castle gate and felt overawed by the enormous size and complexity of the structure, even if she knew it as a small thing compared to the Great Hall of Valhallah, the Hall of Odin, or the home of her mother, the goddess Vrya. That is to say, Nameless’ mother.

“Lady Kairos.” Thimbelin arrived and she curtsied slightly.  Greta greeted her friend with a hug and a yawn.  She passed pleasantries with the Queen of the Fairies before she excused herself for the night.  She apologized to the fire sprites, Madwick and Burns, and said their concerns would have to wait until morning.  Then she led Berry to her own rooms where the mistress elves had already made up two scrumptious beds.  They had fairy cloth laid out, and Greta slipped into hers, grew it with a thought to a full-length nightgown and colored it pink before changing it to blue.

Berry spent a great deal of time in front of the full-length mirror, stretching and shaping her own clothes.  She changed the colors and tried dozens of patterns before she ended up very much where she began.  “It’s just no good,” she complained.  “I don’t have any shape.  No matter what I do, I still look like a stick.”

“You’ll have shape soon enough.”  Greta laughed as she curled up in bed, while Berry curled up on the window sill. “Don’t stay up,” she said. “Tomorrow will be a busy day.”

“But I want to have as much of the land of wonder as I can before we go home.”  Berry said.

“Don’t worry.” Greta yawned once again.  “There is time enough.  There is time.”  And she fell fast asleep.

Time under the second heavens, like everything else, is a relative matter.  They stayed two days and three nights in Usgard and Greta insisted that when they went home it would be the very next morning of the night they left, as she more or less promised Darius.  From the first morning, however, Greta felt rested and refreshed, like she came home at last.  She imagined no other word for it.

At some point in the night, Berry curled her small self up on the pillow next to Greta’s pillow and completely ignored the bed which had been made up just for her. Presently, she was lying on her face with her knees pulled up and her little butt sticking straight up.  Greta could not resist taking her finger and knocking her over.  Berry sat up. Her wings fluttered while she rubbed her eyes.

“I’m not awake yet,” she protested.  “Do I have to get up?”

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.  “It’s time for school.”

“School?” Berry’s eyes got big for a second before she snuggled down deep into the pillow.  “I can’t go to school today,” she said.  “I feel sicky.”  She pretended to sleep some more, while Greta got up and looked in the mirror.  She needed that bath and the time to wash and dry her hair; but then she did not want to keep Mrs. Kettleblack and all of the others waiting, especially on the first morning.  The sun had already gotten up and that seemed late enough.

Greta went to the mirror and shaped her fairy cloth into a plain brown dress such as she might have worn at home.  Then she decided that she was only seventeen, so she shortened the dress to knee length, then shorter, and got it as short as pixie length, and almost as tight.

“Too muchy,” Berry said, and made a face.  Greta sighed. She made plain shorts and a simple T, with sandals for her feet.

“Ready for breakfast?”  She asked quickly before Berry made her wear something ultra-boring.

“Breakfast?” Berry fluttered up and hovered about two feet above the pillow.  “I thought we were going back.”

“Not just yet,” Greta said.  “I think we will stay a while.”

Berry zipped around the room in excitement and then followed Greta out the door.

R5 Greta: Usgard Above Midgard, part 1 of 3

Greta went to the city that evening, escorted by Sergeant Gaius and an honor guard of Romans and Dacians.  They had a feast in the banquet hall of the Roman fort.  Fae stayed with her people at the outpost, but Hans went with his sister. He felt well recovered, being young, and since he went, naturally Berry went too.  Greta did not even have to insist.

Greta thought she ate less than Berry, and considering the size of Berry’s true stomach was smaller than a thimble, that said something.  Hans, on the other hand, got his old appetite back.  He ate with both hands, and Berry had a wonderful time feeding him.

The men argued about what to do.  In a way, it felt like being back in the village of the Bear Clan.  Greta’s headache did not feel improved by it at all.

Marcus looked up at her, concerned a little by her silence.  “Tell me, wise woman, what is your opinion on these matters?”

Greta just looked at him.  She suddenly felt very tired, and she yawned to prove it.

“Come now,” Marcus said.  “You came all this way and risked your life to cross the forest.  Surely you had a reason.  You must have something to contribute.”

“Sleep,” Greta said.  “There won’t be anything decided tonight that you won’t still be arguing about in the morning.  I intend to get a good night’s rest and take a fresh look at it all in the morning. Berry.”  She stood.

“Oh, please,” Berry said.  “One more potato.”

Hans pushed back from the table.  “No, I could not eat another bite,” he said, and Berry put down her potato, only a little disappointed.

“Hans, you need to get to bed, too,” Greta said.

Hans paused to look around the room, and then with an annoying tongue he said, “Yes, mother.” The men laughed.  Greta frowned, but Hans got up and followed without further protest.

There were rooms prepared for them in the fort.  Berry would be staying with Greta.  Hans would stay with Darius.  Berry had spent her own time in tears earlier in the afternoon, because four years was forever.  Perhaps because she had been worn so thin, when they reached their room, Berry curled up and went right to sleep.  Greta cleaned up, and then sat and thought and thought.  As tired as she felt, her mind would not let her rest.

It may have been as late as ten or eleven o’clock when she woke Berry.  Berry sat up, rubbed the sleepies from her eyes, and waited patiently for Greta to speak.

“Berry,” she asked.  “How do we get to Usgard?”

“My Lady knows the road to Avalon, certainly,” Berry said.  “I tried to find my way once, but all I did was get lost.”

Greta knew of Usgard, of course.  She knew all about it if she cared to think about it, but in some ways, it seemed like encyclopedic knowledge, lacking any real substance, and that being the case, it felt almost equally true to say she knew nothing about Avalon.  She knew she had to go there, but she felt reluctant to go alone, uncertain of what they would find once they arrived.  “Will you go with me?”  She asked.

“Yes.” Berry spoke with evident excitement. She grabbed Greta’s hand and said, “Let’s go.”

It would not be that easy, Greta thought.  Then again, maybe it would.  Greta and Berry stood and Greta simply raised her hand.  A doorway slowly formed at the back of the room by the window.  It took a moment to come into focus and solidify. Greta looked once at Berry before she reached out and opened the door.

Berry screamed. Greta screamed.  Two creatures attacked.  It took a few moments for them to cross the open lawn which appeared on the other side of the doorway.  They could see them clearly in the moonlight, and did not doubt their intentions. These were not like guard dogs. They were not Greta’s creatures. They did not belong there.  In retrospect, Greta should have closed the door, but at the time she stayed too busy screaming.  Another panic situation.  Even so, she saw the horseman in the distance, but feared he might be too far away to do anything.

The first creature leapt and Berry and Greta separated so it landed between them.  It turned immediately on Berry, but that became a mistake.  For the second time, Greta felt a power beyond reckoning surge through her.  She felt a bit like she had when, as Salacia, she stood in the eye of the hurricane.  She discharged.  The first creature collapsed and gave off the distinct smell of ozone and burnt fur.

The second creature hesitated.  It looked at Greta as if trying to remember something, or trying to figure something out. It took too long.  It had to turn because the horseman came upon it.  It growled an unearthly growl and leapt, but the horseman had a lance and knew his weapon well.  He caught the creature dead center, pushed through the door by his momentum and pinned the creature to the far wall, even as the bedroom door crashed open.  Hans ducked. Darius said something, but Greta could not hear.  He had a sword in his hand as did the dismounted horseman.  They made sure of both the creature on the floor and the one against the wall, then the knight went to one knee before his mistress. Greta looked away for most of the time. Berry, cradled in her arms, still screamed.  Then Greta moved suddenly, before she changed her mind.  She grabbed the knight by the arm and dragged Berry behind and through the door.

She turned to look at Darius.  “If you need me before morning, you can come fetch me, but only you.  No, Hans.  You must not come.”  She closed the door and left the facsimile of an actual door on the other side.

R5 Greta: The Way Things Are, part 2 of 3

Fae was lying down and looked very frail.  Berry looked at a scroll, upside down.  Greta bent over to search for Fae’s pulse, and she heard Marcus.

“Now there’s a woman built to carry children,” he said.  It sounded like his way of suggesting she had a fat butt.  Greta turned slowly.  She pointed to the roof of the tent and Marcus foolishly looked. Her foot came down hard on his toes.

“Oaf.”  She called him.  “I’ll probably be as fat as Mama soon enough, and then even Darius won’t want to look at me and you boys can have all the fun you want.”  Marcus laughed a hearty laugh, and that did not make things easy.  Greta had to still her feelings.  There were important things to do.  She introduced Fae as the wise woman of the forest people.  It turned out Fae’s Greek was passable, and she even knew some Latin. Then she found out Sergeant Gaius knew Gaelic well enough to recognize most of the words in the local dialect. There were rough spots, but she knew they would work things out and she really would not be needed.

Greta sighed and stared at an invisible Hobknot to be sure he stayed good.  Then she went outside and took Berry with her for safe keeping.  Darius followed, until Greta turned to face him.

“You don’t like me much.  That is obvious,” he said.  He got military, blunt and formal.  “But I will be a good husband and never give you reason to complain.”

Greta shook her head.  To his surprise, she took his arm and walked him to where they could have some privacy. Meanwhile, Berry said nothing, but followed a few steps behind with big eyes and open ears.  “That’s not it,” Greta said.  “I like you well enough.  You seem to be a nice man, only I don’t know you very well.  I never imagined myself with a Roman.  It takes some getting used to, is all.”

Darius turned and placed his hands gently on her shoulders.  He smiled a little and she let herself be drawn up into his deep eyes.  “I can live with that,” he said.  “I’m still getting used to the idea that my mother was one of your people, or I should say our people.  I understand. Maybe someday.” He did not finish that sentence and turned to another thought altogether.  “And, now that you mention it, I don’t know you very well either, I suppose.  I like what I see, and I suppose I am guilty of assuming the rest will be equally wonderful.”

Greta blushed a little, and she hated the way it made her freckles stand out.  She was not what she imagined as beautiful, and especially after so many days in the wild woods.  She imagined she looked frightful, but that mattered less than she thought as she finally began to understand her reluctance.  “But there are things about me that you know nothing about, and they are big and important things, and they would take a very special man to be able to deal with them, type things.”

He looked at her, and clearly wanted to reassure her that, whatever it might be, that he could deal with it.  But she knew he had no idea.

“There are things you need to know while there is still time to change your mind.”  She said, bluntly, and then for the life of her she could not imagine how to begin to explain.

After the longest time of silence, Darius took her hand and attention.  “Perhaps you could begin by telling me who this cute little shadow of yours is,” he suggested.

Berry sat on the ground to run her hand across the top of the grass.  There were all sorts of animals that grazed near the forest’s edge, so in spots the grass looke like a newly mowed lawn.  Greta pulled herself together.

“This is Berry.” She introduced her.  “She is my ward, and you had better get used to having her underfoot because she will be with me until she convinces me to let her marry Hans.”

Berry looked up at Greta with great big eyes.  “Really? Oh, thank you Lady.  Thank you, thank you.”  She scooted over on her knees and took Greta’s hand and began to kiss it.

“Berry,” Greta said softly.  “This man will be my husband so you had better get used to him, too.”

Berry looked first.  “I like him,” she said, and she scooted over and took his hand and began to kiss it. “Thank you, my Lord.  Thank you for giving me Hans.”

“Berry.” Greta spoke, and when she had the girl’s attention she finished her thought.  “You must wait four years.”

“Four years!” Berry fell over, nearly fainted dead away.

“Not before he is eighteen, don’t you think so?”  She looked at Darius.

“At least,” Darius said.  “But don’t you think Hans ought to have some say in the matter?”

Berry sat straight up.  “Why?” She asked in such a frank and innocent tone it seemed clear that she had never considered this thought before.

“I’m afraid he has no say in the matter,” Greta said.  She covered Darius’ mouth with her hand to stop him from speaking.  “You see, there are some things about me that you don’t know.  Big things.” Darius stayed wonderfully patient. “Berry.” Greta spoke at last, though she never let her eyes waver from his and the expression on his face. “Please come up to my shoulder.  I think there is a knot in my hair.”  Berry looked at Darius and tried to get up on her tip toes for a look.  “No, sweet.” Greta said.  “I mean get little.  It’s all right.”

Berry looked again at Darius and then flew straight to Greta’s shoulder.  Her head and hands went immediately into Greta’s hair and left only her wings and backside exposed.

“Great Gods!” Darius croaked, but then he stood there and watched.  He looked fascinated, and Greta felt glad he was not like so many humans who viewed the little spirits of the earth with fear and trembling.

“Hey!” Berry shouted, having forgotten all about Greta’s hair.  She turned and put her little hands on her hips.  “If you two are going to be married, what was that game you were just playing?”

“Traditional human mating ritual,” Greta said, without pause.  Darius hid his grin.

“Well I hope I won’t have to do that with Hans,” she said.  “I couldn’t remember all that foolish talk.”

Darius and Greta both turned a little red that time.  “That’s enough, sweet,” Greta said.  “You need to get down now and get big again.”

Berry did one back flip in mid-air and landed perfectly on her feet.

“I say.” Darius looked at Greta.  “But is it safe having her around?”

Greta shrugged. “Ask her.”

Berry spoke right up.  “Oh, I hope it will be safe.  I have been thinking about it and I am a little afraid of being around so many clunky humans all day, every day.  You will be there if I need help or get into trouble, won’t you?”

“Um, yes.” Darius said, though that was not what he had in mind.  He cocked one eyebrow at Greta, but this time she hid her smile.  “But now Berry,” he said.  “Will you be a good girl, and always be honest with us and do right away whatever we ask?”

“Yes I will,” Berry said, but then she thought about it and lowered her head.  “At least I will try very, very hard.”  She answered more honestly.

“Don’t expect too much,” Greta said.  “She is a teenager.”

Darius gave Greta a look and she stood up straight.  “Seventeen and a half.”  She lied. “But I feel so much older after these last couple of months.”  Darius nodded to that.