R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 1 of 3

Greta wore her red cloak to the battlements and pulled it tight against the cold.  The moon had set and the stars were hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. Greta expected another cold rain, and maybe some thunder and lightning to go with it.  She knew she had eight weeks left before the baby, but she felt plenty big already and her ankles started swelling again in the cold weather.

“I can’t see a thing,” Greta confessed. Fortunately, Ulladon stood there to do the seeing.  Mavis came with the extra blankets, and Briana stood there as well, she said, to be Greta’s bodyguard against so many strange men.

“The enemy camps are stirring,” Ulladon announced. “But after not sleeping much for a second night, I imagine they were stirring all night.”

“You can see that?” Briana squinted into the dark.

“Too far.”  Ulladon shook her head.  “Even if my eyes pierce the darkness as they do, I don’t have fairy eyes.  That is too far to see details.  My husband Crag, Rotwood and others are sending me information and pictures.  I can even smell the bacon cooking, which is making me hungry.  Time for my supper.”

“That may be our bacon,” Alesander interrupted as he came out of the bunker.  Soldiers brought a dozen chairs, now being used to the women and their needs. Alesander stayed to hug Briana and took the seat beside her.  They stared off into the dark, but only for a moment before they reached for each other’s hand.

“My bacon,” Pincushion said, as Rhiannon, Pincushion and a big fire appeared on the top of that man-made ridge.  Pincushion had an oversized pan of eggs scrambling on one side of the fire, a whole side of bacon frying on the other side, and in the middle of the fire, she had a cauldron full of oatmeal that she called mush. Rhiannon squeezed into a seat between Greta and Ulladon and announced that she liked bacon.

“You missed lunch yesterday,” Pincushion scolded. “I felt it my duty to see you got a good breakfast.”

“Hush,” Greta said.  A mist rose up from the ground to meet the cloud covered sky.  It looked like the last gasp of the few piles of snow that held on here and there around the town.  Greta heard whispers at first, but they became clear when two small clouds drifted close and spoke.

“Lady, we are here.”

“Here we are, Lady.”

“Fluffer and Sprinkles,” Greta identified them. “Is Bubbles with you?”

“He is high up above.”

“He is not down below.”

“Good.”  Greta said, and considered her options before she spoke.  “I would appreciate it if you kept the sky covered and the sun hidden today. I fear after yesterday’s disasters, the Heliodrom will show himself, and I want the source of his strength hidden as far as possible.  Keep Bubbles and his people with you if you can.  I will let you know when to let him fall and drive into the face of the enemy.”

“That will be hard to do, do you think Sprinkles?”

“Yes Fluffer, hard for us.  The heavier we get, the more we leak.”

“Some will leak when we get heavy, but we will try.”

“We will try our best.”

“That is all I can ask,” Greta said.  “Now fly into your sky and give my greetings to the Lord of the Rainclouds and Lord Zephyrus of the winds.”

“We will.”

“We most certainly will.”

Fluffer and Sprinkles floated up and disappeared rapidly in the dark, while Darius, Bogus, Hermes and Vedix came down the ridge, followed by Stinky the mule.  “Was that our sky friends?” Hermes asked, and Greta answered affirmative while Mavis got up to fetch him and sit him beside herself.

Vedix leaned over to speak to Briana.  “I left Nudd with his brothers.  They are all jealous that he is married to Heidi, a sweet girl, and they are still just engaged.”

“Pincushion,” Bogus interrupted.  “You hover over that cauldron and the fire in the night like the veritable Witch of Endor, or maybe Madea herself.”

“Please, no,” Greta said with a roll of her eyes. “But maybe the Witch of Balmoor.”

“Who was that?”  Rhiannon started to ask before she shook her head and answered her own question.  “Someone not born yet.”

Pincushion started to serve up, and as usual, she cooked more than anyone could possibly eat, even after Father came with Cecil, Olaf, Venislav and Tribune Hadrianus; and Olaf and Venislav both did their best, like they were in an eating contest.  The men went off to their own meeting place when the Lords Treeborn, Horns, Crag and General Redbeard arrived.  The Ladies Oreona and Goldenrod took their seats, and Karina came without the children because she said at least one utterly, ordinary human being ought to be there.

A couple of women got up and hugged her, as did Pincushion when she brought her some eggs.  The rest encouraged her, verbally, and told her what good children she had. They were presently with Liselle, Drakka’s wife, “And she laughs when Padme and I talk about all of you.”

“Oh,” Mavis spoke with a glance at Greta.  “We are not exactly a secret, but in general, the less humans that know about us, the better.”

“Those of us who went with Greta to the Land of the Lost know,” Briana explained.  “And I understand my father of the Eagle Clan, Olaf the Goth, Venislav of Moldav and Tribune Hadrianus know because they have to.”

“Olaf and Venislav met us in the Venedi town.” Greta reminded her about Bonebreaker being there.

“Oh yes, and Darius and your father know, but I understand your father just learned about it since being here.”

Greta nodded.  “I kept it from him for years, and Mother still has no idea.”

“But why should you trust me?” Karina asked.

“You and Bragi and your children are family, with Hans and Berry and whatever children they have.  My sprites can’t help caring about all of you.  It comes as natural as a bird on the wing or a flower in bloom. For the sprites, it is what the storyteller calls a no-brainer.”

“Snowflake would not go to Liselle’s except in her big size,” Karina said, like now it made sense.

“Being big for a long time is hard for a fairy,” Goldenrod explained.  “But I am sure she will hide to take a break and won’t let Liselle see her in her natural small fairy form, I hope.”  She turned to Greta.  “She is quite young.”

“I wouldn’t mind if Liselle saw,” Karina interjected. “She might not laugh so hard next time,”

“I don’t mind if Liselle knows, or Drakka for that matter, him being Bragi’s best friend,” Greta said.  “You know, I had a crush on Drakka when I was young.  It shows you how stupid I can be.”

Karina turned away to hide her laugh.  The others protested, but softly, and mostly they looked over at the men who appeared to be pacing, impatient, and morose, thinking about the coming day.  The women laughed and talked, and tried not to tell too many jokes about the men, and generally had a good time, while they waited for something to happen.

###

Mavis and Oreona heard it first with their good elf ears. The sun was due to rise but Ulladon did not worry as long as the clouds were thick.  She described the object making the sound as a box floating in the air, and Greta jumped even before she heard it.  “Lord Needle and your smidgen troop,” she commanded, and when she heard the floating box herself, she knew it was the Wolv shuttle, and it was landing,

“Fudge,” Briana said it this time when she recognized the sound.  She looked at Greta as a hundred little lights appeared to flutter and zip around Greta’s hand.  They were pin lights, and Briana asked what they were.

“These are nano-bites or nano-chits, the spiritual version.  They are smidgens, but some have called them gremlins for the way they love to gum up sophisticated machines.”

“Now, Lady,” a man said, as one pin light separated and turned into a five-inch fairy looking fellow, though even in his big size, he became not quite as big as a fairy.  “That is hardly fair since the only machines we have gummed up, as you say, are alien contraptions and thingy-ma-bobs that you told us about.”

“Right, and I have another one,” Greta said. ‘You will find it across the field, just landed.  I’ll get you through the screens and send you a picture of what to fry.”

“Lady,” Lord Needle bowed and returned to being a pinprick of light, and all of the lights followed him into the sky which by then had the faintest glimpse of light on the horizon.

Greta stood, and Amun Junior came to take her place. “Sorry, Ladies,” he said.  “But it is my turn.”  Of course, Junior could see the shuttle and the field perfectly, and he said as much.  “Fudge. I believe that is the current word. The shuttle let off six Wolv who are right now sneaking up to our lines.  Treeborn.  Horns.” The fairy and elf came right away, and Junior told them what they were facing.  Alesander, Hermes and Vedix followed, since conveniently, or by godly design, they were not really part of the command group.  Briana stood, and together they wondered if they might help.

“We still have the weapons and wristbands of the Wolv,” Alesander pointed out.

Junior shook his head, and then changed his mind. “If Rhiannon will hold up an energy screen against return fire, you might be able to draw the Wolv fire.  Maybe my elves and fairies can get close enough without being fried in the attempt.”

The humans were willing to draw the enemy fire, even if Rhiannon got stubborn, but Rhiannon was willing and only said one thing. “You do everything the hard way and make people work for their bread and butter.”

“I do,” Junior said.  “We do this by the book.”

R6 Greta: Battle Lines, part 2 of 3

“Quiet,” Greta insisted.  “Everybody just be quiet for a minute.”  The little ones got quiet right away, and the humans followed after Briana finished her sentence.  They heard a sound from the back room.  A child was calling.  Karina got up right away, and Mavis excused herself from Ulladon’s company to follow. A moment later, Karina returned, struggling to keep six-year-old Kurt up in her arms, her hands clasped beneath the boy’s butt and a look on her face which said how heavy the boy started getting. Mavis carried Padme, and they giggled. She sat down facing Ulladon, Padme in her lap, and Padme immediately protested.

“Let me see.”

Ulladon looked at Greta who shrugged, so Ulladon let her glamour drop and Padme clapped and reached for Ulladon’s horns.  She giggled again when Ulladon stuck out her skinny and far too long forked tongue.  Padme tried to grab the tongue, but her little hands were not fast enough.  They played that game for a while and the rest of the group watched and smiled until Kurt woke up enough to look around and scream. He continued to scream after he shut his eye and Karina took him toward the door.

“No offence,” Karina said.  “But he might never get back to sleep.”

“Rather a compliment,” Rotwood said with a big tooth-filled grin, and he tipped his hat to Karina and again to the boy, even if Kurt screamed in his face.  Bragi got Karina’s cloak.  Kurt stayed wrapped in his blanket, and mother and child went outside.

“Now,” Greta began to get everyone’s attention again, but Bogus interrupted, as soon as everyone got quiet.

“Lady, I must protest again.”  Bogus looked around the table and apologized to the newcomers before he spoke.  “I have more than a thousand spirits in every shape and size waiting just south of the town. They are all volunteers from all over the province.  You know, normally we want nothing to do with human conflict and human wars, as you have taught us.  Some believe the world would be better off if the mortals just killed themselves off and were done with it.  But in times of rebellion and invasion, the world becomes a dangerous place, even for us. People run everywhere through the woods and hills, and they tend to kill everything that moves.  I am glad our friends from beyond the mountains are willing to help in this time of need, but you have people right here who are willing to help as well.”  He dropped his voice to a mumble.  “I was just waiting for a safe time to tell you.”  He sat down.

Greta nodded, and she reviewed the actual numbers, or as close as the various little ones were willing to admit.  “So that adds up to about four thousand extra arms,” Greta said, pleased that she added it all in her head without having to write it down.

“So, they only outnumber us two to one,” Darius whispered to Greta and Greta lost her smile, and doubly so when she had a thought.

“Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.”  Greta got everyone quiet again as she looked around the table.  “Where is Willow and her troop of frost fairies?”  People looked around the room and shrugged. “Chip?” she asked out loud. “Snowflake?” she asked more softly to the fairy on her shoulder.  They did not know.  They had not thought about it.  They became worried.

“Why weren’t we warned this morning, or a couple of days ago come to think of it, when the new armies came in from the east and west?” Darius asked.

Greta stood and turned to face the kitchen, the only open space in the room, and she called.  “Willow.  Willow!” She had no response, and Rhiannon and Darius stood on each side of Greta for support while everyone else watched. Greta got worried because only the greatest of powers could block her ability to contact her little ones.  Greta felt some urgency and grabbed Rhiannon’s hand for the extra power boost while she went away and let Danna, the Celtic mother goddess take her place.  “Willow,” Danna commanded with that single word.

Danna’s voice sounded soft, but it had an intensity about it that reminded some of the roar of a hungry lion.  It reverberated through everyone’s insides, like it searched their souls, and not finding what it was after, it went out into the town to echo down the streets and alleys.  By the time it reached the Roman, and Celtic battle lines, it rumbled, like a belly ache deep inside a mountain about to go volcanic.  It knocked down men and tents in the enemy lines where the earth itself shook, and men wondered if this invasion was really a good idea.  The little ones in their camps looked up and felt encouraged and loved, and the millions of little ones who were insubstantial and invisible and working hard across the face of the wilderness, paused and said a little prayer to their goddess.  In the wild places, the wolves of this world howled, the owls looked at the rising moon and hooted, while the great cats roared in echo to the roar of the queen.  The startled deer ran while badgers, beavers, rabbits and songbirds kept their young ones close in the dark.  Far away, in a secluded northern forest by the Muskva River, the Wolv who do not have a word for fear in their vocabulary, looked up and felt afraid.

Deep in a cave in the Carpathian Mountains, the call found its reason for being.  A picture formed in the air of Bragi’s kitchen, and everyone saw poor Willow, beaten, broken, burned and in despair.  She had been badly tortured, and everyone became furious, but Willow looked up and spoke.

“I never stopped believing.  Lady, it is the Helios.  The Sun-runner has held us captive for three days.”  She stopped talking when she ran out of energy, and Danna pulled the window back to broaden the view.  The whole troop of fairies was there, in cages, and the titanic demon was there as well, by a great fire in the middle of the cave.  It turned to look at them.  People screamed and looked away, not because he looked scary like a goblin, or detestable like an ogre, but because he looked like a nightmare, a demonic presence who bore more than the fires of the sun.  The fires of Hell itself danced in his eyes, and at the sight of Danna’s distress, he looked ready to laugh and spit in her face.

Danna grabbed an apple off the table and heaved it. It went right through the window, which surprised the Titan, and it hit the demon right between those eyes, which caused him to stumble and raise his hands.  Danna already started yelling.

“Rhiannon.  Pull.” Willow came through the window, followed by two, then three, then the whole fairy troop.  By the time the Titan found his angry face, Danna snapped her finger and the window vanished.

Willow flew to Danna’s worried face and hugged her. Snowflake and Icechip flew around the room, hugging their families and cousins and friends.  The kitchen became full of flashing lights, but Fae wisely stood and opened the door.  Clouds had pushed up from the south in the last half-hour and it began to drizzle, but most of the fairy troop went out into the cool of the evening and were glad to let the water drops cleanse them from the terror and pain of the last three days.

Greta came back to her own place and sat heavily in her seat.  She put her hand to her belly and cooed for a second to her baby, but she spoke out loud to whomever listened.  “See what we have to look forward to?”

###

Lord Crag and his goblins and trolls did their job in the night.  They came up from the solid earth, out of sight from the enemy and their guards. They took any that wandered too far from the camps, and screams could he heard here and there throughout the night. Going against orders, Lord Crag and Rotwood formed several teams to race through various camps to burn the tents and scatter the men and equipment only to disappear again in the dark.  They scared off plenty of horses, and though the horses did not wander too far, despite how frightened they were, some at least were stampeded through the camps, and the goblins found that great fun.

By dawn, the enemy had lost some good men and had little sleep, but their commanders offered their men no respite and plenty of men were angry enough to want revenge.  By mid-morning, the Scythians were ready to charge.  The Lazyges and Dacians on the left and the Capri, Costoboci and Roxolani on the right all sent a couple of hundred men as a token of support for the initial attack when the Scythians charged.

R6 Greta: Battle Lines, part 1 of 3

Just after sundown the family gathered one last time around the double tables, with Cecil of the Eagle Clan, there to represent the Celts, and Mavis and the Tribune Hadrianus squeezed in.  A place also got set for Rhiannon, in case she decided to show up.  The children were in bed, and the conversation stayed quiet enough not to wake them.  In fact, very little got said, out loud, because no one could think of what to say. Their position might not be hopeless, but it felt near enough to cause silence to fall over the table like a shroud.

There came a knock on the door and Bragi slid his chair out of the way so Alesander could answer it.  They assumed it was some report from the front line.  It turned out to be a woman.  She appeared to be a fine looking young woman from a family of money, and it took those who knew her a minute to see through the glamour she wore.

Briana jumped up and hugged the woman.  “Ulladon. I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“You weren’t supposed to recognize me,” Ulladon said, with a big smile.  “I have a friend of yours outside, and one for you, Mavis my friend.”

“Me?” Mavis raced to the door.  There were several men outside holding torches, and Rhiannon stood near, lighting up the area with more light than the moon and stars would normally provide, not that anyone particularly noticed.  Mavis and Briana ignored the goddess and ran to the men.

“Nudd!”  Briana hugged him and then saw he had a young woman beside him.

“Heidi,” Nudd said.  “This is my amazing cousin, Briana, the sister I was telling you about.”

Heidi said something so soft it was too hard to hear, and then she dropped her eyes to the ground.  She seemed terribly shy.

“Papa,” Mavis ran into Hermes’ arms and wept. Hermes still felt sore from the wound in his side, but he was whole, and he hugged Mavis with his whole heart and shushed her because now everything would be all right.

Bogus, Alesander and Greta all spouted at the beast that stood between the two men.  “Stinky!”  The mule pushed up to Greta and bobbed its head, looking for a carrot.

“I found them on the hill, trying to sneak through the Scythian lines.  I thought you might want them.”  Rhiannon grinned.  “More to the point, you must hear what Hermes has to say.”

“Come in,” Bragi invited them all, but the men with the torches opted to stay outside on watch, and hold the mule, which would have otherwise followed them right into the house.

Karina and Pincushion were by the kitchen counter dishing out the supper, which had miraculously doubled, with plenty of duplicate plates and cups, enough for all.  The table, now melted into one big table, got magically extended to sit everyone comfortably, with a half-dozen empty seats besides.

Bragi still sat at one end, and Father did not seem too far away at the other; yet somehow everyone became able to sit and see and hear everyone.  Father squinted his eyes to try and see how it was done.

“Now you know I can make a chair or two,” Rhiannon said to him with a touch on the old man’s hair.

“And kind of you to do so,” Father said, and let his smile replace his scowl.

“Lady,” Cecil touched his head since he had no hat to tip.  He had seen the lady about when she trained his daughter, Briana, but he never knew her name, so it was just Lady.  Vedix’ eyes got very big, and he nudged Cecil, but Bogus was right there with a hand and a word.

“Steady now,” he said, and he helped Vedix sit and stay quiet.

“My Lady is the kindest and most wonderful person in the whole world,” Briana spouted and found some tears as she sat an innocent Nudd in his chair and put Heidi between them.

Alesander took over the conversation with a nod from Darius.  Darius appeared too busy enjoying the show to begin any serious discussion.  “Time for pleasantries later.  We all want to hear about Nudd’s adventures, but right now we are facing a terrible enemy that has the skill and numbers to overcome our defenses and set the whole province to flames.  Hermes.  I understand you have something to tell us.”

Hermes stood, patted Mavis’ hand and gave a nod to both Ulladon, who sat beside Mavis, and Rhiannon, who sat on his other side, beside Greta.  He cleared his throat.  “I spoke with Lucius.  He is still the man of few words we all know, but he spoke this way.  After a hundred and fifty years, he has come to realize that the time for the gods is over.  Though he bears the name of Mars, he is not consumed with the blood lust like Ares.”  Greta nodded. Mithras was always a meek and humble soul; a bit of a scaredy-cat, truth be told.  Hermes continued.

“Since living in the Land of Aesgard, he has come to hear about and admire Tyr of the one hand, the war god of Aesgard.  He says war and combat must be noble and an act freely entered into for the sake of faith and high ideals.  He says in the old days, the gods encouraged and supported and inspired the people, but they never controlled them.  Now, the aspects of Mithras have twisted men’s minds and stolen their hearts, and he wants no part of that.  He says it is time for Mithras to go over to the other side, and time to give the people a chance to make peace.”  Hermes sat down.

“If only peace was so simple,” Greta said softly.

“Maybe we can use this division in Mithras to our advantage,” Darius suggested with equal quiet.

“Like Scops and Dames,” Alesander heard and spoke up.

“Scots and Danes,” Greta corrected.  “But we don’t have the time to sew distrust between the tribes that have gathered, and I don’t know if it would work as long as Mithras is twisting the men’s minds, as Hermes said.”

“And there are more men coming from the north,” Ulladon said.  “But I have brought some good help, if the Lady will let us help.”

Darius and Rhiannon both grinned, but Greta put her head in her hands.  Everyone waited and Greta finally sighed, “Bring them in.  I suppose it won’t hurt to hear what they have to say.”

Ulladon stood and stepped to the door.  She opened up and waved, and then put her fingers to her lips and let out a shriek of a whistle.  Briana turned to Heidi.

“It’s all right to close your eyes.  Nudd is very good at closing his eyes.”

“I am.  See?”  He showed her and she giggled, gave him a peck on the lips and shut her eyes with him.

“You didn’t bring Bonebreaker into the camp, did you?” Greta asked.

“No,” Ulladon responded with a roll of her eyes. “Give me some credit.”

“That closing the eyes thing sounds like a good idea,” Karina said.

“I think you don’t want to miss this,” Bragi responded as Alesander and Hobknot together held Tribune Hadrianus to his seat.

The first to fly in the door were Icechip and Snowflake who landed in front of Greta and Chip asked in a loud voice, “Can we watch?”  Greta invited Snowflake to her shoulder and Father wiped off his shoulder.

“Well, son.  come on.”  Chip waited for no further invitation.

The Lords Longbow and Horns came in talking about the Scythians on the hill, like they were in the middle of a private conversation.  Lady Oreona said hello to everyone, and especially to those she knew before she took a seat.  Lord Treeborn and Lady Goldenrod came in full sized, so apart from their extraordinary beauty, they seemed normal enough.  Portent the dwarf came in and Bragi and Hadrianus shifted in their seats at this obvious sight of someone that was not human.

Portent introduced his friend.  “My General, Redbeard.  We brought a whole army from the Alps to retake Movan Mountain.  But I figure we might as well get some practice.”

Grassly the gnome scooted in without many noticing because the last to arrive came on his heels, and they were the Lord Crag and Rotwood, the goblins.  Hadrianus opted to close his eyes.  Karina shrieked but tried to hold it in.  Bragi and Father on each end of the table turned pale and looked away.  The only reason everyone kept their seats was because Rhiannon caused a feeling of calm to fall on the people.

“Are we all here?” Lord Crag asked, and Cecil only stayed in his chair on the chilling sound of the goblin voice because Briana reached across the table and grabbed her father’s hand.  Greta thought it curious that anyone heard anyone, because by then the whole house became full of little conversations everywhere.

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 2 of 3

“Scythians.  Thousands of them on the main road just over the mountains.  They will be here in three days, and it is just Chip if you don’t mind.”  Chip, older than Snowflake, appeared as a fifteen-year-old in his big form.  That made him a full-blown teenager, and Father had practice dealing with those.

“Mavis,” Greta nudged her handmaid who had hardly left her side since Greta arrived in Porolissum.  “Take Chip to find Darius.  Give Darius the message and then come back here.”

“What are you thinking?”  Greta’s father asked and waited for Greta to answer.

“General Pontius left the legion fort two days ago. He will be here right at the same time as the Scythians.  How did he know when to start for Porolissum?”

“He had to have got word from the Scythians to time things so well.” Father came to the obvious conclusion, and Greta confirmed as much.

“Darius, Alesander, Bragi and the others have been arguing about whether or not to trust General Pontius.”

“I have heard the arguments,” Father admitted.

“I would say this is circumstantial evidence, but it says don’t trust him.”  Greta moaned a little.

“The baby?” Father asked and held out his arm for her before he paused to rub his own leg.

“My ankles are swelling in this cold and rainy weather,” Greta answered.  “I calculated the middle of June, but I may have miscalculated.  I may be entering my eighth month now.  I may be due in the middle of May, about six, not ten weeks from now.”

“I could limp you home,” Father offered.  He did that, but as they got to the door, Greta had to ask.  “So, no questions about the fairy?”

“Only if you want to tell me,” he said.  “I decided a long time ago some questions were best not asked.  I decided that back when Mother Hulda died, and then that awful woman, Brunhild came to town, and then you disappeared into the haunted forest.”  Greta reached up and kissed her father on the cheek.  “Of course, if your mother was here, I would ask her.  But that is safe because she doesn’t know anything.”

“Papa!”  Greta protested and went inside only to find Snowflake in her natural fairy size, wings fluttering, riding a wooden toy horse across the kitchen floor while Padme followed with her doll and Karina stood at the wash basin on the kitchen counter where she was washing up the breakfast dishes.

“Careful, young woman.”  Karina spoke kindly to the fairy.  “You are supposed to be watching Padme, not encouraging a madhouse.”

“Icechip came by a few minutes ago,” Greta said as she found a chair to sit while Father went into the other room to rest by the fire.

“My Icechip?” Snowflake asked, excited, and Greta nodded.

“Another fairy?  How many fairies do you know?” Karina asked and dried her hands.

“A very big number,” Greta answered.

“All of us,” Snowflake said.  “And elves and dwarfs and spooky dark elves and everyone.”

“Lady,” Mavis came in, followed by a streak of light. Chip caught Snowflake and they circled and danced in mid-air while Karina scooped up Padme.  “Everyone is coming to discuss what to do,” Mavis finished her announcement.

“Father,” Greta called, and she heard the moan of an old man who would rather be taking a nap.  “Snowflake.  You need to sit on my shoulder and be quiet.”  Snowflake flew over, Chip beside her.

“Yes, Lady,” Snowflake made herself comfortable. Father did not have far to go to sit in the end seat.

“Chip.  You need to sit on my father’s shoulder, and please don’t say anything unless you are asked a question.”

“Yes Lady,” Chip said, and to Father he added, “It is an honor, sir.”  Father brushed off his shoulder with one hand and when Chip got seated, Father found he had a few questions after all.

As Darius, Bragi and the others came in for the meeting, Karina spoke just loud enough for Greta to hear.  “Padme and I will be in the back, sitting on the pot.   I am sure we will be more productive than one of your meetings.”

###

The troop rode through the night and arrived at the legion camp well before dawn.  Everyone had their assigned tasks, and they moved swiftly after swearing the guards and the night watch to silence.  The word they put out was the Scythians had been spotted and they were there to discuss the situation in Porolissum, just in case word went ahead of them.  There always seemed to be one suck-up who would go running to the General.  They claimed to be gathering the officers for a conference, but in truth they rounded up two tribunes, six centurions, a dozen top sergeants, a standard bearer, a trumpet master, three scouts and several other commanders, and they arrested them along with the General.

Mithraism remained a religion whose ceremonies and sacraments were closely guarded secrets of the initiates.  But Mithraism itself got on the list of officially approved religions of the empire because Mithrites could also claim to worship the traditional gods of Rome, and even sacrificed to Antonius Pius’ dead wife, the love of the divine emperor.  Because of this, many men were open about admitting they were Mithrites. Christianity, by contrast, did not get on the acceptable list, primarily because Christians only worshiped Christ. Christians refused to participate in the pagan worship and festivals around them and steadfastly refused to sacrifice to the emperor.  This regularly got painted as disloyalty to Rome, true or not, and at times Christians got killed as traitors no matter how much they protested.  Thus, Christians tended to keep to the shadows in most places, but in this case, Darius and Alesander sought them out.

One hundred confessing Christians brought down from Porolissum now formed the foundation for the guards who held eight hundred Mithrites in an open field.  General Pontius had been working on his legion over the years, but affecting the various transfers seemed a bureaucratic nightmare and a very slow process. The general’s staff all got arrested, but some of general’s officers and troop commanders appeared to be Mithras free.

“Of course, we will still have to watch them.” Alesander stated the obvious.

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 1 of 3

Briana seated next to Hobknot the hobgoblin might have made her supper a bit strange, but Hobknot wore the appearance of an elderly man, the same as he appeared whenever he and Fae came to visit Berry in Greta’s home in Ravenshold, so this was not entirely a new thing for him, and Greta assumed that Briana, having been exposed to dwarfs, elves, fairies and goblins, would be nonplused and pleasant with the grumpy old hobgoblin, but spend most of the night with her attention on Alesander in any case.

“It is the best I could do,” Greta told Mavis.

“And exactly why I want to eat on the floor with the children,” Mavis said.  “Your brother and sister-in-law deserve to hear all about your adventures, and the children make me happy, and you know I am good with children.”  It was true.  After their nanny, Selamine, Gaius and Marta loved Mavis best.”

“If they make you happy,” Greta said and Mavis sniffed, but nodded.

Tales were indeed told, and the dwarfs, elves, fairies and goblins all got a human scrubbing to make them palatable to human ears. When it came to the Wolv, however, no one held back.  And no one hesitated to talk about Mithrite fanaticism.  “They will not hesitate to give their lives to further their cause,” Alesander said, which Father and Darius listened to closely where they might have argued with one of the women.

“But what is their cause?” Father asked.

“To crush the Germans and overrun Rome.  To turn the Empire into the Empire of Mithras,” Alesander concluded, and he stated it like a fact.  He did not say I think or I believe or I feel.

Darius took a breath and looked at Greta. Father looked at Darius and spoke. “I think they will find that Rome is not so easily overcome.”

Greta responded to her husband’s look. “General Pontius is a confirmed Mithrite.  You say he has the legion on alert in Apulum and is waiting to see if the Scythians come and where they strike.  I tell you, when the Scythians strike, General Pontius may bring the legion to fight on the Scythians’ side.”

“Surely not,” Darius said, and Father opened his mouth but remained silent.

“Surely so,” Greta countered, and Briana added a thought.

“You already tasted rebellion in the Roman ranks. Why should your legion not suffer the same?”

Father got it and stood.  He almost knocked his chair back into the fireplace.  “By the gods, we will stop them here,” he shouted.

Greta had grabbed Darius’ hand to keep him seated. Hans got Father’s chair and helped him sit again.  Alesander added fuel to the fire.

“The gods are working on it, I think,” he said. “But they will not do it for us. It is up to us.”  he looked at Greta who nodded for him and for Darius.

“We must cross our own bridges when we come to them, and if we have to build the bridge first, so be it.”

“Grandfather,” Berry interrupted with a look at Bogus. “What are you mumbling about?”

“I was just thinking your great-aunt Pincushion could win them over with a few good meals.”

“Great-aunt?” Fae looked up.

“Yes,” Greta said, grateful for the change in the subject.  “Pincushion and Bogus are half-brother and sister.  Same father.”  Pincushion and Bogus both nodded.

Fae and Berry stared at Greta.  Berry asked, “How did you know?”

Vedix spoke.  “It is not our way to question how the druid knows what she knows.”

###

The town became heavily fortified by the end of March, and none too soon.  Darius had pulled his troops back from the frontier passes to shore up the border defenses in January on condition that Greta send her little ones to spy and give word of any enemy advancement.  For that, Greta turned to Willow and her winter fairies.  Most of the fairies volunteered for the mountains, like their home in the Urals, but some were willing to keep an eye on Apulum and the legion fort.

April first arrived; a day when the sun stayed behind the clouds, but no more snow fell.  It was a day when the wind whipped and turned the cheeks red before a person walked ten steps.  Greta walked with Karina and the children when a bright streak of light came up from the south and stopped in Greta’s face.  Karina stopped moving, but Padma reached out with both hands from her mother’s hip where she rode.

“Fairy,” Padma spoke first.

“Lady,” the fairy spoke in a young woman’s voice. “The whole legion is on the road. They will be here in five days.” The girl’s voice shrieked with happiness.  “I remembered the whole thing!”

“Snowflake, get big,” Greta commanded.

“Fairy,” Padma reached for her.

Snowflake got big and appeared as a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl.  The girl looked shy and began to blush until Mavis reached for the girl’s hand to steady her.

“Mavis, take Snowflake to find Darius and tell him the message.”

“Yes, Lady,” Mavis responded and she coaxed the fairy to move away, even as the fairy recognized the children and began to reach for them.  Kurt did not buy it, but Padma looked upset to see the fairy go.

“Berry.”  Karina had a sudden revelation.  “She was a fairy.”

“She was, but completely human now,” Greta said. “Poor Hans.  He never stood a chance.”

“He doesn’t seem to be hurting,” Karina said and thought while they walked back to the house where she verbalized one thing. “And you have other strange friends, I guess.”

“They are not so strange.  Mostly good people once you get to know them.”

“I’ll have to take your word for that,” Karina opened the door and Greta waddled inside to sit by the fire.  She seriously wanted some tea.

Two days later, when it started raining instead of snowing for the first time in months, the boy, Chip, came racing into town.  He zoomed up to Greta’s face right in front of her father, and hovered for a second to catch his breath.

“Look out,” Father yelled and swatted at what he imagined was the biggest fly in history.

“Father.  No,” Greta stopped his hand and turned on the boy.  “Icechip, get big.”  It was not a request.  Father’s eyes got big along with the fairy, but he said nothing.  “Speak,” Greta commanded.

R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 3 of 3

“The big bird is after the big worm,” Bogus said it, and they all ran to the door in time to see the dragon grabbed by the bird beak and tossed into the trees.  The dragon protested with fire, and it looked like it held its own for a while, but the bird kept grabbing it and shaking it and banging it against the trees, until at last, the big worm ran out of strength.

The bird picked up the worm with its claws and headed into the sky.  It punctured something, as the people smelled the gas.  The hydrogen bladder that ran along the whole belly of the beast had a leak. The dragon waited until they circled enough to gain some altitude, then Nameless said a quiet, “No.” as the dragon flamed himself.  There followed a massive explosion. People screamed at the horror.  Pieces of dragon rained down on the forest along with all of the insides of the Raven.  The bird plummeted in a streak of flame, and Berry and Fae raced out to where the dragon fell.  The rest of the crew followed.

Nameless saw something in his mind, picked everyone up with a thought and transported them to where the dragon head had turned into a very old and broken man.  Nameless also caught sight of the spark of light that came from the Raven.  It shot to the south, well beyond the dome, but he said nothing as Berry and Fae fell down beside the broken old man and began to cry.

The man could hardly speak, but he looked first at Bogus and breathed.  “Sorry father.”  Then he spoke to the girls.  “You have my permission and blessing.  They seem fine men, such as they are.”  Then he turned to Nameless and stumbled over his thoughts.  “None of the parts of Mithras mean good for the human race. They want to be the new gods and they all want to lead their way.  Beware Mithras.  He is the Pater.”

The old man’s voice trailed off and Nameless raised his head and commanded attendance.  “Willow,” he called, and his command went all the way to the Ural Mountains where a snow fairy vanished and reappeared at Nameless’ side.  The fairy spun around several times, but halted on sight of the Nameless god.  “Your grandson,” Nameless pointed to the old man, “And your great-granddaughters.”  He stepped back, and let Willow find her own way.

Willow flew up to face the old man.  She took on her big form, which made her appear like a beautiful, older woman, perhaps just shy of fifty.  She knelt beside the old man and looked briefly at Fae and Berry before she smiled for the man and spoke.  “You are Oren?”

“I am,” Oren whispered.  “And now my days are complete.”

Willow took Oren’s hand, the one Berry was not squeezing, and found one tear to protest.  “But you are so young.”

“More than a hundred,” Nameless said softly. “More than long enough for a half-human.”

Willow looked up at Fae and Berry.  “Berry,” she said.  “Queen Thumbelin has told me wonderful things about you, and young Mab said you were all right, which I think at her age is a great compliment.” Berry’s eyes teared up so she could not say anything.  “And Fae. I have heard from far away, from my dear old friend, Thissle, that you are a kind and wonderful person.  How you ever got involved with the old stinker, Hobknot, I will never know.”  Willow paused to wink at Hobknot, who scowled appropriately in return.  Clearly, they had some history.  “But love is a strange and wonderful thing, and that is worth holding on to.”  Willow turned her eyes toward Bogus who stood that whole time, quietly worrying his hat.

“Mother.”  He spoke when her eyes fell on him.

Willow smiled for her son.  “Sometimes love takes us places where we could never imagine. Love had its way with me and your father, and though it was only for a short time, he gave me you, my son.”

“I’ve been not much of a good son,” Bogus said. He lowered his eyes and shuffled his foot.

“But you have.”  Willow smiled for her son. “I have been thinking about it now for more than a hundred years.  I was wrong. You loved your human woman, Clarissa. The Kairos has taught us that we are not to mingle with human mortals, but even she knows that love will have its way. I treated her badly.  I was terrible.  I was wrong, and I went away, and I am sorry.  I missed my grandson’s whole life, and now I can never get that back.” Willow looked down and a few precious fairy tears fell to dampen Oren’s side.  Oren extracted his hand from Berry’s grasp and with a great effort, he covered Willow’s hand and patted it twice.  Bogus found a few tears of his own and stepped up to hug his mother. Nameless spoke.

“There are only two things in life that everyone experiences.  Love and death.  And we have no control over when they will come.”  Nameless went away so Greta could return and finish the thought.  “Who would have thought I would end up with a Roman?”  She stepped up and looked down at Oren.  “Sleep now,” she said.  “The old life has gone.  The new life has come.”  Berry reached for the cross she wore around her neck and Oren closed his eyes and stopped moving.  Immediately, they heard a howl.  The Wolv were not far away.  Greta lifted her voice to the sky.  “Nameless! You are mean.”  He brought her back to face her own Wolv.

“What are we going to do?” Hans asked.

“Oh, Hans.”  Greta stepped to the side and amended her word.  “Hansel.”  She grinned as she waved her hand in the air.  A great archway formed, a doorway to Avalon in the second heavens.  Greta and Berry had been there once.  Now, the others were coming, but then her little ones were always welcome.  “Hans and Hobknot, carry Oren,” Greta commanded.  “Quickly now.  Through the door before the Wolv catches us by the heel.”

People scrambled as another howl came, closer than before.  They heard the yip-yip of the Wolv before they crossed the threshold and stepped out on to a perfect, green lawn beneath a beautiful blue sky and a magnificent castle on a hill.  A small river ran through the grasses and emptied into the sea at their backs.  To their left were great rock pillars, like guardians against the sea.  To their right stood a field full of grain ready to harvest.  The air felt crisp in the late fall, but they saw no snow to cover the ground.  Directly behind them all, in the doorway to Earth, Greta stood and waited.

A Wolv ran up, but stopped as it tried to make sense of where it stood as opposed to what it saw through the archway.  A second and third Wolv arrived and stopped as well.  The third Wolv looked like an old gray-haired Wolv.  Greta spoke to the gray hair, and since she spoke from Avalon, she knew her message would be understood.

“You know this planet is off limits.  Your fleet will be destroyed in space before it can arrive if your commander is foolish enough to come here.  As for your transport, I have other tasks to perform, but as soon as I am free, I will attempt to repair your ship so you can leave. You would be wise to confine yourselves to the forest of the dome in the meanwhile.  Do not interfere with the war between the humans, unless you have a wish to die and be no more.”

Greta snapped her fingers and the door to Avalon blinked out of existence.

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

MONDAY

After a stay on Avalon, Greta and her family need to visit her brother who lives on the north border of Dacia.  She sees only blood being spilled, and fears the war to come.  Until Monday…

*

R6 Greta: The Swamp of Sorrows, part 1 of 3

Morning found a middle-aged gnome woman in the camp. She looked about three hundred years old, or so Greta guessed in her sleepy mind.  The gnome woman cooked and whistled around the fire, and Greta had a moment of fear that the gnome woman might be an imp cooking her friends.  She blinked twice.  Goldenrod sat there, trying not to kibitz about the cooking, so Greta figured it was safe.  Greta squinted and then turned up her nose when she discerned the gnome’s name and thought the name translated into the Latin as Pincushion.

“Ah!  The sleepy one is awake at last.”  Pincushion raised her voice when she saw Greta move under her blanket.  “Late to rise fills a person with lies.” Pincushion had to stop to decide if that was a bad thing or not.  Goldenrod whispered in Pincushion’s ear.

“What?  I had a goddess once.  I didn’t like her so I threw her back.”

Whisper.

“No.  Just for us? I thought we were an independent lot, libertine and all that.”

Whisper.

“With child?  Lazy mama won’t get the house clean.”

Whisper.

“Oh.”  Pincushion put on a haughty face.  “We have servants for that sort of thing.  Hey!”  Pincushion’s hand snapped out quick as a snake.  Bogus had come up to the fire and tried to snitch a bit of breakfast.  He got his hand seriously slapped.  “Not ready yet,” Pincushion stared Bogus down, not an easy thing to do, while Goldenrod continued with the whisper, whisper.

“Lady.  Over here.” Mavis called from the reeds, and Greta staggered over to wash up in the lake.  She paused to see if she would throw up, but she got to thinking she had passed that stage.  Once the reeds stood between her and the fire, Pincushion’s voice got cut off, loud as she was.  That felt fine.  Greta had seen the hungry dwarf and fussy cook game played out a thousand times.

The lake water proved frigid, and Greta imagined it would freeze in the winter.  Greta hardly got in before she got out.  She dressed with only a thought and a call to her armor.  She knew the fairy weave she wore beneath her armor would absorb all the excess wet and yet remain comfortably dry.  It was a miracle with sweat.  Greta took the time, then, to braid her hair into pigtails.  The lake had been too cold to stay in long enough to wash her hair, but she had to do something with it, so she braided it, and Mavis helped.  When Greta got good and ready, and had some blush on her cheeks over her freckles and some pink on her lips because she felt like it, she and Mavis returned to the fire.  Everyone sat there, waiting patiently, even Bogus, though he had his fingers in his mouth which told Greta he tried more than once for a little advanced taste.

When Pincushion got good and ready, and to be fair it happened about when the sun first stuck a fraction of an inch above the horizon, everyone got more food than they could possibly eat.  It tasted wonderful, and no one spoke at first for fear of breaking the spell.

“This is as good as the elf feast,” Vedix finally admitted.

“Better,” Greta said quickly to prevent Pincushion from throwing a fit.

“Much better,” Bogus agreed, and held out his empty plate for seconds.

Once breakfast was done, and it took almost no time to clean up, King Treeborn arrived with thirty fairies, all volunteers, he said.  At the same time, a true gnome named Grassly arrived with six others just like him, the tallest of which stood about three feet tall. They were clothed in a kind of fairy weave that imitated the environment they were standing in, so they were hard to see; virtually invisible, without having to make an effort to be invisible.

“Grassly, here, has volunteered to walk with you to the swamp so we don’t fly too far ahead,” Treeborn said to Greta, Mavis, Briana and Alesander who were hanging around the breakfast fire.  Hermes, Lucius, Vedix and Nudd were packing while Bogus tried for fourths.

“We got more volunteers,” Grassly said.  “But they will be ranging out to the fields where they can keep an eye on any horsemen who might happen along.” Grassly called, “Pincushion.” He waved, and turned again to Greta.  “Sorry about her.  She doesn’t do gnome very well, but who else will have the unfortunate child of an imp and an elf?”  Greta looked closely.  Bogus stood a bit less than four feet tall.  Pincushion stood a bit shorter than that, but certainly taller than any of the true gnomes.  “I hope she didn’t poison you or make you sick or something, but she insisted on helping and, well, she cooks okay.”

“All are well,” Greta said.  “Lead the way.”  She looked at Treeborn who nodded and tried not to grin.  Obviously Treeborn and Goldenrod set this up.  No telling if Bogus the Skin and Pincushion might end up together. It kind of depended if Pincushion decided to trap him with her good cooking.  They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but that is even more true with certain dwarfish little ones.  Those two might not end up a couple, but Treeborn clearly grinned at the notion, and Greta thought, God help the world if they ever had children.

That thought caused Greta to miss her husband and her children.  She thought of them most of that day and hardly said a word.  When they arrived in a small wood, around four in the afternoon, Grassly said they did not have enough daylight to make it to more open land before nightfall.  Greta said nothing.  She just plopped down on the grass, damp though it was in that spot, and moped while everyone else set up the camp.

Greta said nothing during supper, and nothing when she went to lie down early, but her mind slowly turned from being homesick for Darius and the children to other, truly disturbing thoughts.  She imagined Darius as an old man, and their children all around him.  They fell prostrate before a man hidden by a fancy red robe with the hood raised to hide his face.  All Greta could see was the man’s hands.  He wore a big ruby ring on one hand, and held a staff in the other, a staff that exuded unimaginable power.

Mithrasis stood beside the man, and she laughed her wicked laugh and pointed at the action, which drew Greta’s eyes to the outside. They were in Rome.  Greta recognized the forum, and the great coliseum where she had a bird’s eye view of the proceedings.  In the great open space where they raced chariots, and gladiators fought to the death, and Christians were crucified or filled the empty bellies of the lions, She saw a great raven chained to a perch.  It feasted on people who lined up to the lower doors.

Outside, a man with a lion head, and a serpent worthy of Eden wrapped around his legs, divided the endless line of humans.  Some went to the right and disappeared into the streets.  Some went to the left and entered the line for the evening meal.  Some few objected.  Greta saw the ichthys on them.  The lion headed man had lightning in his fingertips and fried all objections. Greta wanted to look away, but the birds eye view shifted again.

In the streets of Rome, the people were being herded into the line by soldiers.  Some of the soldiers were Romans.  Some of them were barbarians.  Over all of the soldiers were the Wolv, and Greta remembered again that the Wolv were front line soldiers of the old Humanoid empire.  Their allegiance might have changed, but the work seemed the same. Now, she really wanted to look away, but again, her view shifted.

Greta looked down on the coliseum and saw the one forcing people into the raven’s beak.  He looked like a demon, with horns and fangs and claws in place of hands. He appeared a titan-like creature, being twenty feet tall, and in his claw, he held a whip of flames.  Any person touched by the whip became charcoal and then ash to blow away on the wind, but mostly the creature just snapped the whip, and laughed a very Mithrasis, wicked sort of laugh. Suddenly Greta wanted to look under the hood of the man with the ruby ring, and she forced her sight to go back to where old man Darius kept trying to keep the children behind him, to protect them.

Another man stepped up to the left of the hooded man, as Mithrasis stood to his right.  This man appeared darker skinned, not like a tan but like a true Persian. He wore a Phrygian cap and carried a sickle.  Greta thought he should have had a robe, a black robe because death with the sickle always wore a black robe.  The man laughed like Mithrasis and pointed his sickle at Darius and the children to suggest they were next to die.  Then he did the one thing no one does in dreams.  He looked directly at Greta and waved, and Greta sat up from beneath her blanket and screamed.

###

Greta could not speak right away.  Everyone gathered, concerned, but she indicated she needed some water.  Her throat tasted dry and her palms sweated.  Finally, she spoke in a soft voice so everyone had to stay still and quiet to listen. “We are being used.  Someone is betraying Mithras, and is using us to do the dirty work.  Berry, Hans, Fae and Hobknot are prisoners in the Land of the Lost to force my hand.” Greta sipped her water and thought things through as well as she could, given her limited information.

“I had a nightmare,” she said.  “It was not a vision and it was not a dream.  All day long I felt homesick and thought if Berry and the others were safe I should go home and not worry.  I think someone started working on my mind, because when I think clearly about it, I know if Berry and the others are trapped I am very worried.  But I was missing Darius and the children very much and leaning toward going home, so the aspect of Mithras that is betraying the others gave me a terrible dream. I saw what the future might look like if I don’t follow through with this quest.  It was a nightmare.”  Greta sipped again, and Alesander dared to interrupt.

“The aspect of Mithras?” it was a question.

“How can I explain this?”  Greta took one more sip of water and handed Mavis the cup.  She sat up and spoke a little louder, with her eyes closed so she could focus on the story.  “When the time came for the dissolution of the gods, the great sign for them was all of the lands of the dead, like Hades, emptied, and all the spirits of the dead gathered through the centuries vanished and went over to the other side. Most of the gods went with them, but some refused.  Baal, god of the dead from the sea coast of Asia, the bull god refused.  He wanted to refill the land of the dead that he ruled, and he did not care if he had to kill the entire human race to do it. Only Mithras stood against him.”

“We know the basic story,” Alesander said.

“Mithras lost,” Greta said to everyone’s surprise. “He went to the deepest pit in Baal’s kingdom.  Technically, he died.”

“But that is not true,” Lucius objected. “Mithras defeated the bull…”

R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 1 of 3

The travelers spent the next three days moving through the woods that Greta called the Brugh.  They were mixed fir and pine at the higher elevations, but deciduous further down the slopes.  It did not look like a forest of fire to anyone, especially when it rained on the second day.  Much less did they expect to find a lake of gold.

“Believe me,” Bogus declared.  “If there was a lake of gold, the dwarves would be mining it right now.”

On that first night, Greta finally sat down with Bogus and let him speak what stayed on his mind and in his heart.  “I dearly love my granddaughter, Berry,” he said. “When she was just a baby, three-quarters human and all, so many of us worked so hard and with every ounce of magic we could muster to release the fairy within her.  And we succeeded.  She found her wings, and though she could not fly as fast or as far, or reach as high as a real fairy, like my mother could, and though she had no magic of her own to speak of, I loved her dearly and took the very best care of her I could.  I did.”

“I know you did.”

Mavis and Nudd finished caring for Stinky and came to sit and listen while Vedix and Hermes tried to put together something edible without a fire.

“And her twin sister, Fae, though she found a small bit of magic in her one-quarter spirit blood and despite her three-quarters human blood, I kept the agreement and never sought her out, and never knew her at all.  Berry was given to us and Fae was given to the humans, and I left Fae to her own people, though it broke my heart every day to know she was out there, but I would never know her”

“I know that is true.”

Lucius came in from the south and sat.  He picked at a bit of dried beef that they brought from the village of the Dragon Clan and had left over from their time in Movan Mountain.

“But then, Lady, when you came along after seventy years, and Berry as a fairy was just a teenager of maybe thirteen or twelve human years in looks, and Fae as a human was a poor, old woman of the full seventy years, I thought something might be done, even if I could only have both of my granddaughters together for a short time.  I was determined to be content to love them for however brief a time I had, but then you made a miracle, you did.  Poor Fae, when she was struck by that arrow in the battle, she was sure to die, being as old and frail as she was.  But you took all of Berry’s fairy blood and gave it to Fae, and filled Berry with Fae’s human blood, so Berry became a one hundred percent human, poor child, and Fae became half-fee, like her father.  And then, as easy as a blink of your eye, you healed Fae and brought the fullness of her spirit blood out, so seventy was suddenly not so old, and Fae was a happy dwarf.”

“I know that she is happy.”

Alesander and Briana came in together from the north where they scouted out the land and saw no sign of the Wolv.  They were not holding hands, but they might as well have been.

Bogus took off his hat and laid it gently in his lap before he continued.  “I’ve never been so honest and straight-forward in all my whole life. Normally, for spirit folk it goes against every fiber to be pure honest, but I honestly don’t mind telling all of this to you.  It is like a confession those humans talk about, and a great, life-long burden lifted from my heart.”

“Go on.”

Vedix and Hermes joined them so everyone began to listen, and everyone had the good sense not to interrupt.

“Well, I can’t say I am happy that Fae has taken up with that old curmudgeon, Hobknot the Hobgoblin of the Hardwood, but Berry being married to your own brother I don’t mind at all.  He is a fine young man, human though he is, and I will tell anyone the same.”  Bogus paused and looked down at his hat.  “It is not my place to question the way of the gods, but I don’t know what might have possessed you to let those four go off on such a daft errand.”

“They wanted to find their father,” Greta said quietly.  “It is not my place to say what my little ones do.  I can encourage, inspire, enthuse and ask, but I will not control. Ultimately, what you decide to do will be up to you.  You make your own choices, and have to live with them.”

Bogus nodded slowly.  “It was still daft,” he said.

“But you have not spoken of their father, your son.”

Bogus nodded again and began to worry his hat. “Damn stubborn and stupid boy.  He went off in search of his grandmother, my mother, and got himself trapped in the Land of the Lost.  And now Berry and Fae have followed him into the same stupid place.”

“Softly,” Greta said, and she touched Bogus and calmed the hands on his poor imp hat.

“I loved her, you know.  Sweet Clarissa.  She was so young and vulnerable when the Romans came stomping into the forest. She was hurt and cried so softly, like a bird with a hurt wing.  I hid her and cared for her as well as anyone could.”

“And you fell in love with her.”

Bogus paused at that stark statement.  He stared at Greta before he looked down and began to worry his hat again.  “I would have kept her, enchanted, you know, but she was so sweet and fragile I knew keeping her in a cage would kill her, so I let her go, knowing I could not go with her.  She ran, I tell you.  She ran into the arms of that man from the Eagle Clan, but she was with child, and the son she had was mine as he proved many times.  Oren was a beautiful child.  When he was older, he began to spend some time with me and some of the others, which I felt was only fair, him being half mine. He found out his grandfather was an old imp who ran off at the ripe old age of eight hundred and fifty-two, about the time Oren was born, and he cried for his grandfather, though he never met the old bastard.  But when he found out his grandmother, my mother Willow, was the sweetest fairy of light this world has ever known, he became obsessed.  There was no living with him.  He began to range far and wide through the land, calling her name, even though he knew, some two hundred years earlier, her troop had migrated into the north and would not likely be found by any means.”

“I tried to stop him,” Bogus’ words burst out.  “I tried to tell him not to go, but his younger brother, my Clarissa’s human son was old enough to help keep and raise the family, and he said he was free to go.  Stupid and stubborn, I tell you.”  Bogus let his words trail off and thought the rest quietly to himself. Greta felt glad for that.  He did not need to say some of those words out loud.

“Fae and Berry found their father,” Greta took up the telling.  “But they are all prisoners in the Land of the Lost.  We have to go and set them free.”  With that, she laid down, turned her back on them all and pulled her blanket up to her shoulder.  She feigned sleep until sleep finally came for her, and she would not answer any questions, though she did hear some of the conversation.  Lucius, of all people, got it right.  They were headed right into the jaws of the Wolv and the home of the goddess.

R6 Greta: The Quest, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what do they mean?”  Hans asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is it special?”  Fae asked.

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

“Does it have a name?” Hans asked.

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

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

“Don’t cut yourself,” Greta intoned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you Mother,” Berry said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Daughter, Marta,” Greta said.

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

R6 Greta: The Quest, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She knows,” Berry said with surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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