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.

R6 Gerraint: Mount Badon, part 1 of 3

Gerraint did not get much sleep that day.  He took Lancelot, Lionel and five hundred horsemen of the RDF up the mountain road first thing that afternoon.  They planned to meet Arthur on the other side of the mountain where the roads rejoined, and Gerraint hoped to find Percival and at least the majority of the men under his command still alive and ready to fight. Percival had three thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall, Devon, Southampton, Dorset and Somerset.  It added up to a whole army in the old days.  Arthur was bringing four thousand more from the British Midlands and Wales.  When they got word that the Saxons were moving, they could not wait for whatever men Kai and Loth might be bringing from the north.

Arthur stuck to the main Roman road that skirted the rougher Highlands.  They figured if the Saxons got past Percival, that seemed the mostly likely route they would take.  Gerraint and his five hundred were designed to stop the Saxons from using the mountain road in a flanking maneuver. They were to meet in five days where the two roads rejoined.  Arthur wanted to take a week and Gerraint argued for three days, so they compromised.

Gerraint got a fresh horse, a sturdy mount trained to the lance, and he started right out, flanked by Lancelot and Lionel. Lancelot seemed a lot like Uwaine. He did not say much.  Lionel seemed more like Bedivere.  He asked questions, which Gerraint honestly did not mind.

When they arrived at the village on the up-side, as Gerraint called it, they found the people in mad preparations.  There were people streaming in from all the outlying farms and the streets were jammed with carts and mules.  Gerraint chose to skirt the town and camp the five hundred in the fields on the far side.  He wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but he had to wait for the expected delegation of village elders.

“We have it on firm authority that the Saxons are coming here,” one elder reported.

“How many?” Lionel asked.

“We don’t know.  A lot.  Plenty. A whole army.”  Every elder had a different thought in mind, but no one had any numbers.

They argued with Lionel for a time.  Sergeant Brian, who corralled two dozen men and took it upon himself to act as aid-de-camp for the three Lords, scoffed now and then, but said nothing.  Lancelot said nothing, but watched Gerraint closely.  The villagers wanted the five hundred to fortify the town and begin construction of a real fort to protect the village.  Lionel said they were not sent to garrison one village with five hundred valuable men, especially since they could give them no definite information as to how many Saxons, where they were or how far away, or anything. Lionel concluded they were acting on ghosts of rumors, and the village elders felt insulted.  Then Gerraint spoke up.

“There were a half-dozen Saxons seen four days ago near the mountain village, but the Little King caught them and killed them all. The woman in the woods and her two sons confirmed this,” he said.  The elders grew quiet because Gerraint obviously knew the neighborhood and what he was talking about.  “We are traveling this road to be sure the Saxons have not come this way.  Do you know the three graves of the thieves by the side of the road, up from here?”

Yes, they all knew the graves.  “We found them one morning.  It was all very mysterious.  They were well known thieves and cutthroats who had their way in this village, but one morning they were all three slaughtered, and in a very gruesome way. Some say it was ogres or goblins or trolls, or something worse, but most people don’t know what to think.”

“It was worse,” Gerraint said.  “That was my handiwork.”  The elders gasped, though a few did not know whether or not to believe him. “I say, don’t worry.  If we meet some Saxons up the road, Maybe I will send them back to you so you can make a real cemetery.  Meanwhile, if you have any brave young men, Arthur can use all the help he can get when we arrive at the real battle.  I will tell you what I told the village on the other side of the mountain.  If Arthur wins, no Saxons will come here.  But if Arthur loses, no fortifications or garrison will be able to prevent the Saxon army from doing as they please.  So how about it?  Does your village have any young men who are brave enough?”

The elders were not sure.  They would mention it in the village meeting, but Gerraint should not count on any help.  Gerraint dismissed them, and then Lancelot spoke his peace.

“They are afraid.  They will keep all the young men they can close to home, and we won’t get any help.”

“Not a good recruitment speech?”

Even Sergeant Brian shook his head, no.

“But I was not recruiting.  One coward affects all those around him.  We don’t need that, so I told them straight that only the brave need apply.  Then I turned them off on purpose, because it will do no good having a brave young man whose mind is filled with worry about what is happening back home.  That is a way to get bravely killed.  If any men in the village understand enough to realize it is better to fight the Saxons in someone else’s front yard rather than wait until they come to your front yard, that might be a man we could use.”

The others would have to think about it.

###

In the morning, a dozen ill armed men showed up, and Gerraint took the time to pair them with a veteran.

Just before lunch, they reached the place on the road where he could ride to the house in the woods.  He took Brian and six men with him.  He made Lancelot and Lionel stay with the troop and made them break for lunch.

When he arrived at the house, he found more of a reception than he bargained for.  Flora knew he was coming, of course, but she somehow got word to her elf grandfather. Dayrunner stood there with a hand-full of elf warriors, all properly disguised to look like ordinary men. Bowen and Damon were also saddled up and ready to ride.  Gerraint swore.

“I was going to make sure you stayed here to protect your mother.  You won’t make good husbands if you get killed.”

Bowen looked at his brother Damon and spoke for the boys.  “We won’t make good husbands if we won’t fight for our wives.  We have to earn our way.  Arthur would expect no less.”

“Don’t ask me.”  Dayrunner caught Gerraint’s look.  “I will not bind my grandsons nor keep them here.  They must earn their way, as they said.”

Gerraint knew they were right.  In the end, he could not protect them.  They needed to fight their own battles, just like him and Arthur, and just like anyone else.

“These are fine looking lads,” Brian said. “Fine looking armor and weapons too for back-woods boys.”

“Only the best for my grandsons,” Dayrunner said.

“But you, sir.  Where did you find so many willing men in the wilderness?”

Gerraint interrupted.  “Hunters.  Don’t ask. Get the boys mounted and ready to ride. I need to talk to the hunters for a minute.”  He waited while Brian and the boys mounted, then he spoke softly.   “Dayrunner, what news?”

“As we speak, the Little King is besieged in his cliff caves by three hundred Saxon horse.  The village beyond is playing host to seven hundred more Saxons with horse. The word is they failed to engage young Percival’s trap and instead headed straight for the mountain road, an unexpected move.  There are a second thousand Saxon horse circling around Bath.  When you reach the meeting of the roads, you will face eight thousand Saxons afoot and two thousand horse there in reserve.”

Gerraint nodded.  “Very thorough.  Pinewood here?”  He was, of course, having anticipated Gerraint’s arrival.  He came dressed, as expected, in his hunter green with the faded lion on his tunic.  He also spoke right up.

“My men and Deerrunner’s troop have harassed the Saxon cavalry from the start.  We have picked off many on the road around Bath.  Bogus and his, with Dumfries in the night, have moved to block the road from Bath with only one complaint, that there will not be any Saxons left by the time they reach that point.”  Pinewood and Dayrunner both grinned.

“Dayrunner,” Gerraint fretted.  “I would appreciate if you deployed your men on the far side of the mountain village to be sure none of the Saxons escape to warn the seven hundred down the way.  With only five hundred men to their seven hundred, we are outnumbered.  Surprise will even things a bit, if we are not given away.”

“Lord.”  Dayrunner and Pinewood each gave a brief bow, which seemed perfectly reasonable from Sergeant Brian’s perspective.

R6 Gerraint: To Arthur, part 2 of 3

Gerraint got a fine room and an excellent supper. He was glad the village elders waited until he finished eating before they invaded his space.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said.  “If Arthur does not send men down the mountain road, I will bring men this way.  You might fortify your village as well as you can and be vigilant in your watch for any stray Saxons or scouts that come this way.  But when Arthur’s men get here, I say let the brave among you go with Arthur to the battlefield.”

“Shouldn’t we ask for a garrison of men to help us defend our homes?” one of the elders asked, one who was obviously not one of the brave.

“No,” Gerraint shook his head.  “Arthur needs all the good men he can get on the battlefield. If Arthur wins the battle, your homes will be safe.  But if Arthur loses, no garrison will stop the Saxon army from doing as they please.”

The elders made no commitment, and Gerraint moved on in the morning.  Festuscato had shared the night’s sleep, since both he and Gerraint spent about half the day each, present and awake.  The Roman only needed breakfast, but Gerraint secured some foodstuffs for the journey, and it proved sufficient.

###

Gerraint traded places again with Festuscato as soon as he got out of town, and this time he sent his lance to Avalon with Gerraint’s armor.  That way, he looked more like an ordinary traveler on the road and less like a knight of the Round Table.

By late in the afternoon, Festuscato came upon a tree across the road.  He had been following some tracks, a half-dozen horses with the characteristic Saxon horse-boot print. Festuscato traded places with the princess, and she confirmed the half-dozen horsemen, their recent passage and their direction, but she said she could not confirm the Saxon boot.  She was familiar with the Roman hippo-sandal the men of Arthur put on their horses and she said these prints were made by a different boot, but she could not confirm Saxon.  Festuscato said that would be fine.  He recognized the Saxon print and appreciated her confirmation.  He slowed down until he stopped and faced the fallen tree.

He imagined something familiar about the tree, but somehow, it had to do with Gerraint.  Gerraint came home to his own time, took his own armor in place of the armor of the Kairos to complete the transformation, and then looked hard at the tree.  Of course, it was not the same one as before, he thought, but he did not exactly remember the one before.

Gerraint got out his rope and tied it to the tree and to his saddle.  He lugged the tree far enough to make an open way on the road.  He returned his rope to its bag and then avoided walking his horse as something in the back of his mind said, be prepared.  When he rode around the edge of the tree, he became confronted with a dozen large and well-armed men.  Gerraint paused before he called to Avalon for his lance.  It appeared in his hand, and he imagined that bit of magic might not be something the opposing horsemen wanted to see.

“I know you,” the man out front spoke up in a voice Gerraint recognized.  The man dismounted and Gerraint exclaimed.

“Little man.”  He also got down from his horse.  “I see you are up to your same tricks.  Must we fight to teach you better manners?”

“No, no,” the little man said.  “I have kept your pledge.  We have kept the road safe for travelers.  Not two weeks after we met, Arthur himself came with many men. We hosted him in our village on the mountainside and he confirmed the words you spoke.  On my honor, we have kept the road safe.”

“So why then the tree?”

“Not two days ago, we found six Saxons, poorly disguised.  We slew them, but not before we discovered they were scouts sent out by the army. We sent a rider to Caerleon to give warning.  The Saxons are coming.”

“This I know.  I carry a message for Arthur’s eyes only.”

“Lord, let me prevail upon you to share our hospitality.  My men would be pleased to host so noble a night in their midst.”

Gerraint shook his head.  “As you said, the Saxons are coming.  Time is short.  But Arthur will send men this way, or I may bring them myself.  When we come, I invite you and your men to join us.  We can use good men in the coming battle. Just make sure the men are brave enough. We need no cowards on the battlefield.” Gerraint mounted and had another thought, but waited.

“Do not doubt. My men are brave enough.  We will be ready.”  As Gerraint started to walk off, the little man said one more thing. “But Lord, Arthur was vague in the telling.  Do tell us who you are.”

“The Lion of Cornwall,” Gerraint owned the name and rode out of sight.  When he was far enough away, he called.  “Pinewood.” He knew no one followed him or watched because Pinewood and two others appeared in fairy form.  “Is what the little man reported accurate?” he asked.

“Mostly,” Pinewood said.  “He extracts a contribution from grateful travelers and merchants to continue his work of keeping the road safe, a contribution which is not always graciously given.  But he has stopped the killing and he does not beggar them.”

Gerraint nodded before he turned in his thoughts. “I traveled this road before, the other way, with Enid.”  Pinewood said nothing, because Gerraint did not ask a question.  “Find me a place where I can camp tonight and not be disturbed,” Gerraint said.  “If you would be so kind.”

“It would be our pleasure,” Pinewood said, and he guided Gerraint to a small house and farm off the road and well hidden by the woods.  An old woman lived there with two strapping sons.  The farm looked well enough tended for an impossible, rocky side of a hill, but Gerraint almost turned down the offer, not wanting to impose on a poor widow.

“Lord,” Pinewood encouraged him.  “She is a seer.  She may help you find what you are searching for”

Gerraint nodded and rode up to the house where the two sons waited.  “Lord,” they said.  “Please come in and refresh yourself.  Let us tend your equipment, and the children of the grass have come to tend to your steed.”

“Thank you,” Gerraint said.  He felt tired, though Festuscato spent most of the day in his place.  He entered the home and the woman already had a meal set out for him.

“Lord,” the woman said, and she took his cloak with hands trembling from fear, not from age.  “Please be welcomed in my house.  You are a man of great power, not of this world.  All are welcomed here.  The bed is prepared.”  She stepped back to watch, and Gerraint did not disappoint her.  He went away so Festuscato could come and enjoy the food.

“Well spoken,” Festuscato told the woman, and when he finished eating, he added, “Now I must rest.”  The bed felt comfortable, and Festuscato fell asleep in no time. Some seven hours later, just a couple of hours after midnight, Festuscato woke and washed.  Then Gerraint returned to speak to the woman who appeared still up, puttering about.

“The boys feel it,” the woman said.  “But not as strongly as I.”

Gerraint nibbled on the bread and slurped some of the remaining stew.  “And what do they feel?”

“That you have the answers to my life and to their life.  We have walked a strange road, in the dark of knowledge, yet in the light of knowing things in and around this place that other people cannot imagine.  The children of the grass have come to tend your horse.  The whispers in the wind fly from tree to tree and watch over you in the night. The children of the earth make your armor shine beneath the moon, and the horrors of the night fill your pouch with gold and precious jewels.  Who are you to command such honor from the spirits of life?”

I am an ordinary man as you can see.  I am forty-three, and yet I have lived for thousands of years in one way or another.”  Gerraint stuck out his hand toward the woman because he sensed something in her he could not define.  She misunderstood and took his hand to kiss with her lips and her tears, like a supplicant might kiss the hand of the pope in Rome.  Gerraint meant to shrug her off, but when she touched him, a clear vision came to his mind.  He knew who she was, and by extension, her sons.  He took back his hand gently, and wondered if Pinewood brought him here because she was a seer or because she was in need of a seer.

“I understand,” he said.  “Please sit.”

The woman sat at the table, but her hands continued to tremble.  “Your father built this place to get away from the world, but the world caught up with him and he died young.  Your husband was pleased to marry a wise woman.  The people all around here depend on your wisdom and your cures.  The Little King in his mountainside village hears you when you speak, though he hears no one else.  But for all your cures, you could not save the Little King’s wife when she was waylaid by three robbers on the road, or your own husband when he was taken by the flu.  Still, your boys keep the farm and you hear the little spirits in the night, like they come to you, unbidden, only you do not understand.”

“All that you say is true, though not many know these things and I have told you none of it.”

“This much I know,” Gerraint said.  “Your grandfather, your father’s father was an elf of the light, Dayrunner, brother of Deerrunner, the elf king.  Your father’s mother was a lovely woman who ran to the woods to escape from soldiers and became lost.  Dayrunner saved her and made her his wife for as long as she lived, and they had a son, your father.  He built this place away from other people and by the woods to be near his mother and father.  But the soldiers came again.  He and your mother were killed when you were a child, and your grandfather kept you safe, and raised you as a foster father, though you thought he was just a woodsman. In time, you found a husband of your own, and had a fine family.  Only now the soldiers are coming again.”  Gerraint paused.  The poor woman started to weep.

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 1 of 3

Arthur wintered at York, but not happily.  He missed Gwynyvar and felt especially unhappy when he considered her protector, Lancelot.  He trusted her, and he trusted Lancelot, but he felt unhappy all the same.

Gerraint made the trip when there came a break in the weather.  His men were tired and deserved the chance to go home.  Melwas and Cordella deserved their men back, and he took most of the men from Devon as well.  Tristam stayed in York with Arthur, though Arthur had plenty of RDF men who were pledged to stay with him, and all the more after Guinnon.

Gerraint arrived home at winter’s end, and he never felt so warm and comfortable as he did when he curled up in the night with Enid. He rested well, not that she often let him rest.  Together, Gerraint and Enid got in the habit of wandering down to the docks in the early morning to take in the sunrise and watch the fishermen and the occasional merchant ship that pulled in on the morning tide.  Sometimes, they heard the news of the wider world.  One morning, the news sounded especially bad.

The ship, one that belonged to Thomas of Dorset, and the Captain reported a fleet of Saxon warships out in the channel headed for the tip of Lyoness.  Gerraint hated to bother Pinewood and his fairy friends, but Enid insisted, despite her misgivings that it would mean losing Gerraint again for a time.  They needed to know where the Saxons were headed, and some estimate as to when they might arrive.

Word went out to Lyoness, Cornwall and all across Devon to be prepared to gather.  Messages went to the north coast, across the north channel to Caerdyf, and as far away as Clausentum, which was Southampton, to be prepared with whatever ships they could muster.  A week went by before Gerraint heard definitive news.

Heingest, son of Hueil was gathering an army on the border of Wessex.  Cadbury and Oxford appeared the obvious targets, but they were not accessible by sea. Caerleon became the clear target the minute Heingest moved to bypass Cadbury.  Gerraint’s only question was whether Heingest knew Arthur was absent from Caerleon or not.  He might have wanted to catch Arthur at a point unprepared, having just come back from a campaign and sent his troops home.  Then, he might have decided to destroy Arthur’s home while Arthur stayed occupied elsewhere.

Arthur and a thousand men still in the northern army left York as soon as Gerraint sent him word of his suspicions.  Gwyr, Arthur’s court judge sent couriers to all the British Lords, and especially to the Welsh Lords whose own lands were now threatened.  This time, it was not a distant British problem.  The Saxons headed for Wales.

Gerraint gathered a full thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall and Devon and crossed over to Caerdyf.  A second thousand gathered in the Caerdyf streets and camped on the fields, coming from all over south and central Wales leaving only the forts of the Irish watch manned.

At the same time, the Saxon fleet off-loaded their troops in a secluded bay half-way between Caerdyf and Caerleon.  The estimate there was about two thousand. Heingest appeared to be bringing closer to twenty-five hundred overland.  No deliberate attempt got made to stop him.  The troops at Cadbury tried to appear like they were cowering behind their defenses, when in fact they were waiting for Arthur to return south so they could join him.  The little man of Mount Badon organized a wonderful campaign of harassment, one that the Saxons would not soon forget, but Heingest suffered no serious delay or blockage between Wessex and Caerleon.

The city itself and fort at Caerleon spent the month redoubling their defenses.  All of the surrounding towns and villages were abandoned.  Most of the men, the women and children made for Leogria in the east and for north and central Wales in the west.  They were refugees who set up big camps by the border, but they brought their own livestock with them and as much grain as they could carry by mule and in their ox drawn wagons.  A number of the men went to fight, and doubled the number of defenders on the city walls and in the fort.

The Saxons felt somewhat surprised at the empty villages after Mount Badon, but it was common for villagers to flee at the approach of an army.  What seemed uncommon was the slim pickings they found—little food and not so much as a mule left to transport the food and maybe have for supper.  Heingest planned well.  His troops and the men from the ships arrived at about the same time to surround the city and fort, but the men in the west, who imagined their arrival would be a great secret, did not fare any better with goods and food in the empty villages they found on the route to Caerleon.

Heingest tried the city first, and found it much more strongly defended than he anticipated.  The Saxon Captains who were there to storm the port, hesitated.  Arthur’s half-dozen warships set out from the docks like a second wall.  Arthur’s Captains were confident, perhaps overconfident, that they could beat back any Saxon warships that might try them.  The hesitation of the Saxons suggested that the Germans were not prepared to test that theory.

Thomas of Dorset gathered as many ships from the south coast as he could.  They were essentially fat merchant ships who stood little chance against Saxon warships at sea, but they had great hope that they could catch the majority of the Saxon ships on the shore, or even pulled up on land and with only light crews left to defend them.  This they did, in that supposedly secret bay on the north shore of the channel.  The result was given.  The Saxons were going to have to walk home.  The merchants then mostly refused to continue on to Caerleon where the real battle would take place, but Thomas was able to get enough ships to join him to at least assist Arthur’s ships in the port defense.

After the initial test of the city and the fort, and the discovery that both were strong and this would not be so easy, the Saxons went into conference.  Without a quick and easy victory, some were determined to go home.  Heingest had his hands full with internal struggles.

Arthur and Gerraint, with fairy go-betweens, timed things about as well as such things could be timed in that age, arriving on the same day, if not in the same hour.  Arthur, having picked up a second thousand men as he came through Britain, camped in the east.  Gerraint camped in the West, and in the morning, Ogryvan arrived with a thousand men from the north of Wales, and they completed the encirclement.  The Saxons had the city and fort of Caerleon surrounded, but Arthur had the Saxons surrounded by a bigger circle with more men.