Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 5 of 6

Arthur, Diogenes, Bedivere, Gwynyvar, Enid, and Guimier hid in a back room of the great hall.  The room had a big enough window that looked out on the barracks and the new tower.  They could not see much of the central courtyard where most of the activity seemed to be taking place, but in any case, Diogenes made everyone stay away from the window.  He said they had to wait until dark.  With that, Diogenes sat on the bed in that room and went away, so Gerraint could return and hug his daughter, who was worried about him.

“Besides,” Gerraint said, “Any trouble we face will come from the door, not the window, and that will only happen if they discover we have escaped from our cell.”

“You know I don’t like not knowing what is going on,” Arthur said.  “But we will wait.”  He examined the sword he held, the one they took from a sleeping Saxon.  The man had probably been posted to guard the downstairs cell, but figured since the cell was locked, he could take a nice long nap.  They took the man’s things without waking him.  Bedivere got Gerraint’s long knife, Defender, and gave Enid Gerraint’s cutting knife.  Arthur took the sword and grabbed the man’s wicked looking knife that had been set on the table.  He gave the knife to Gwynyvar.  No one doubted the women knew how to use those knives, and would use them expertly, if they had to, and to protect Guimier.

###

Outside Cadbury Fort, Elder Stow handed Sukki an invisibility disc and said, “Be careful.  A lucky shot can still hit you, even if you are invisible.  I have mini self-screens in my belt array, but you have no such help.”

“She has pressurized fish skin,” Boston said.  “She got shot once before, but the bullet did not penetrate far and quickly fell out.”

“But it hurt,” Sukki said.

Elder Stow assured her.  “If you cut along the bottom of the wall while I press down from the top, you should be able to finish cutting before they figure out where you are.  Hopefully, I will distract them, so they may not even realize what you are doing.  And when you are finished, you need to rush straight back here to the others.  Is that clear?”

“Yes Father,” Sukki said.  “I am ready.”  She rose up into the air, and Elder Stow touched his belt to fly up and join her.  Then he touched in another place on his belt and the two of them vanished from sight.

###

Inside the fort, the Saxons hurried to reinforce the east wall with their guns.  “They will be charging into the setting sun,” Odacer pointed out.  “That is one more point to our advantage.”

“It will be a slaughter,” Harwic agreed.

“It will be a waste of your weapons and powder,” the wraith appeared, and yelled.  “I care nothing for the men of this age.  You should talk.  I have seen humans talk before they fight.  You should insist the man and woman who lead the travelers be there.  Also, the one who carries the memory in a box, and his wife.  And the big, African.  Then, when they are all present, you can shoot them with your gunds, and kill them.”

“Guns,” Harwic corrected the wraith.

Truth was the wraith came from the year 3585 BC.  Domnu, the Titaness who tried to take the old lands of Vanheim for herself, laid a geis on the wraith.  The compulsion to kill the travelers would never go away on its own.  The wraith honestly had no idea what guns were, but she knew the travelers had guns, and somehow, she became convinced she needed guns to kill the travelers.  It would be an understatement to say the travelers frustrated her and made her mad. Wraiths are angry creatures, by nature, and mad as well, for that matter.  But she remembered.  She had to kill the humans traveling through time.

When she first followed them through the time gate, she aged about sixty years all at once.  It all but killed the human men that followed her, but sixty years is not so much for a wraith whose lifespan is counted in centuries.  After the initial shock of ageing so rapidly, she almost turned back.  She found she could not.  The compulsion to kill the travelers felt too strong to resist.  She hesitated before following them again through the next time gate, but discovered after going through the first gate, she aged normally, no matter what.  The travelers could have explained to her that once she went through the first gate, she became displaced in time and aged according to her own personal timeline without regard to what time period she entered.  Of course, she would not understand that.  She just knew the travelers had to die.

She had enough sense to lay low while the gods remained active in the world.  The gods seemed to favor the travelers, and while she made a few slight attempts, she dared not do more than follow them.  Then the day came when the gods all went away, and she felt, surely, she could kill them.  But then she realized the Elder Race man had a thing that she could not break through to get at her prey.  And he had weapons that posed a danger to her.  And the girl who had been an Elder Race girl had dangerous powers.  She contrived a way to break the thing stopping her and got the guns in that day to attack the travelers, but the travelers proved too strong.

“Talk to your enemy,” she yelled at the gun makers.  She had to resort to trickery, but that was something she was very good at.  The two men grabbed the idea the wraith put in their heads.

“Our supplies of powder and shot are about two days away, I would guess,” Odacer said.  “Talking would delay the battle and help preserve what supplies we have.”

Harwic looked over at the barracks where the powder got stored.  They all looked over and saw a girl going inside.  The men thought nothing of it, but the wraith knew it was no ordinary girl.  She screamed, even as an invisible Elder Stow, that she could see perfectly, began to clear off the men from the top of the wall.

The wraith sent something like a fireball at Elder Stow, but it dissipated around the elder’s personal screen.

“Save the powder,” Odacer shouted.  His suspicious nature told him the girl did something.  That girl came out the door, transformed into a ball of flame, and raced to hide in the cooking fires.  The wraith screamed once more and flew to the barracks, easily getting inside the powder room.

“Get down,” Diogenes glimpsed Spark flying away and shouted to the others.  No one questioned him.  They all got to the floor, and Enid, Guimier, and Gwynyvar ducked behind the bed.

Elder Stow finished sweeping the wall clean of men as Sukki finished cutting the bottom of the wall.  The wall did not rumble for long before it fell, though it may have been helped when the powder room exploded.  That massive explosion knocked Odacer and Harwic to the ground where they got skewered with splinters from the barracks.  It provided enough push to make most of the east wall fall outward, like a cleanly cut tree.  Spark had to hold on to her log to keep the kitchen fire from being scattered everywhere.  Any men in the barracks, died.  And the new tower shook, right down to the new dungeon cells down below.

It felt like an earthquake, but the two Saxons managed to throw their prisoner into the cell before they slammed the door shut and raced back up the stairs, followed by the two assigned to guard the prisoners.  Inside the cell, a sergeant of the fort soldiers stepped forward.

“Who are you?”

“A friend of Arthur,” Scorch said, while in the back of his mind he thought, “good girl, Spark.  I love you.”  He heard her answer his thought.

“I love you, too.”

Scorch looked at the men.  “So, are you ready to fight the Saxons?”

“Sure,” the sergeant answered.  “But we appear to be stuck here.”

Scorch just grinned and got one finger hot enough to melt the lock on the door.  “I don’t much like metal,” he said, softly.  “Leaves a bitter aftertaste.”  He swung the cell door open, and the men piled out.  One grabbed the keys left hanging on the wall.  He opened all the cells.  Two went to a cupboard where the weapons of the soldiers were not so neatly stacked.  As soon as the first ones were armed, Scorch yelled, follow me, and he practically flew up the stairs.

###

Arthur’s men saw the wall fall.  Percival did not blink.  He shouted.  “Prepare to dismount and climb over the wall.”  He expected the order would be passed along by the leaders of the various groups, not that what they had to do would not be obvious.

Sir Thomas, standing beside Lockhart and Katie, put his own spin on the order.  “Boarding party ready?”

“Aye, Captain,” one man answered.

The little army mounted, but before they even sat on their horses, they noticed about fifty dwarfs already halfway to the goal and charging with all their might.  They saw an equal number of elves rush passed them, running at a much greater speed, but even they could not match the fairies who looked like mere streaks of light.

“The sun is almost set,” Katie said.  “I am sure the dark elves will want to take a turn, too.”  The travelers started their horses at a walking pace, so Percival and the army matched that pace.  Boston laughed, and then reported to the others.

“Piebucket said those skinny wickets and fly-balls better leave something for them to do.”

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 4 of 6

Percival handed back Katie’s binoculars and spoke softly. “I always thought the southwest corner of the fort-hill was the weakest part.  If we can get close enough on horseback, we might be able to breach the wall.”

“They will expect ladders,” Gwillim said.

“The southwest wall is shorter because the hill is steeper, but no one thought to compensate after they put the road in.  Men can sling ropes with hooks on that wall, and it should be no worse than a farmer clambering up to the roof of a barn to fix a leak.”

“Slim chance,” Decker said.  “But it might work if we can keep the defenders busy and make them keep their heads down.”

“We go with it,” Percival said.

After the dwarf supper, about two hours before dark, three hundred horsemen sounded like thunder along the road.  Every man had a rope with a makeshift metal hook attached to their saddles.  The road zig-zagged up the hill and watchers were surprised the arrows did not start on the last zig before the zag that ran along beside the wall.

“We have caught them napping,” Tristam said.  Percival knew better.  He kept his mouth closed and waited.  When the men were committed, the Saxon defenders rose up all along the wall and let off a volley of gunfire.  It was a ragged volley, but enough to be affective.  Some men and horses went down, throwing the charge into confusion.  The sound of thunder badly frightened the horses.  Many bucked or ran, bumped others or stumbled over the fallen ones.  Only one fell off the road down to the road below, but the attack faltered before the first rope got thrown to the top.

The defenders began to fire at will, picking out individual targets, though their muskets were not very accurate.  The horsemen still on horses picked up all of the fallen comrades they could, and leaving the dead behind, headed down the road back to the woods.  By then, the men on the wall pretty much stopped firing out of fear for their lives.

Decker and Katie fired three-shot bursts and slowly cleared the wall.  The others all fired their handguns a couple of times, though handguns at that distance were not much help.  Lockhart fired a few extra shots with his police special, but even he was not sure if he hit anything.  Most of the men made it back to safety, but they likely left a few wounded there on the hill.  No one said anything, but that was the way of it.  They felt terrible about that fact, but there was nothing they could do about it.

Up in the fort, Odacer yelled.  “What do you mean they got guns?  They aren’t supposed to have any guns.”

“Good ones, too.  Much better than our matchlocks,” Harwic said.

“They are the ones you must kill,” the wraith screamed as she appeared.  “Kill them.  Kill them.”

###

When the Saxons first took over, they grabbed some of the villagers, the ones who did not move fast enough.  They put the women to work cooking and cleaning.  They kept some men in the barn for heavy labor and fed them once a day.  The guards were too dangerous for such use.  They stayed locked up in the new dungeon rooms beneath the tower and were used for target practice.

Scorch and Spark fit themselves in, and nobody said anything about them being strangers.  Scorch helped keep the cattle penned and fed until they were ready to be slaughtered.  He tried hard not to set the hay on fire.  Spark kept the kitchen fires burning, and one older woman noticed and asked.

“You have come to free the Pendragon and his Lady?”

Spark nodded, but her eyes looked at the barracks where the powder got stored in a room separated from the Saxon sleeping quarters.  Gerraint told her and Scorch that they needed to set a fuse long enough to get away before the powder exploded.  Thus far, she did not know if either had been able to do such a thing.  She tried to go earlier with the women who cleaned the Saxon quarters, but got told to stay in the kitchen.  She felt frustrated, and imagine Scorch felt the same way.  Of course, she could not know, since the men and women were kept separated.

Spark and Scorch watched the men load those weapons and shoot at still targets, at first.  They practiced shooting altogether in what one of the head men called a volley.  Scorch felt fascinated by the fire and explosion that sent the projectile reeling into the distance, but he knew, somehow instinctively, that it was too early in history for these weapons.  He would blow up the powder if he could.  They could make more powder, but he felt one step at a time.

Scorch did feel the frustration, but he bided his time. When all the men rushed to the south and west walls, and the fort got generally in an uproar, Scorch took the chance.  He left the cattle and ran to the powder room.  He found a small piece of old, rotted rope that he knew would burn well, quickly, and easily.  He honestly did not make nearly a long enough fuse for a human, but Scorch was not human.  He could transform into flame and fly to the nearest campfire, where he could chew on some wood while the powder exploded.  He wanted to see that but decided to wait until dark.

Scorch backed out of the room, only to come face to face with the wraith and a dozen men down from the wall.  The wraith did something as the men grabbed him.  Somehow, he got stuck in human form and could not transform back into flame for a few minutes.  He could not even burn the hands of the men holding him.

“A fire sprite,” the wraith said.  “It seems we caught him before he could burn your powder.”

The head man swallowed at the prospect of a fire sprite touching the powder.  The wraith had no idea how dangerous that would be.  “Take him to the tower and lock him in one of the lower rooms.  I will want to question him.”

They dragged Scorch off, and Spark saw from the kitchen area and wondered what she could do now.”

###

Down in the dungeon under the great hall, Bedivere opened the door to look out to be sure no Saxons were presently guarding the door.  He closed it quietly again and gave the all clear.

“What did you do?” Gerraint asked, still sitting on the edge of his bed.

Arthur smiled.  “Bedivere and I picked the lock just after you went back to sleep, after Scorch and Spark squeezed through the crack under the door.”

“And nearly set the door on fire,” Bedivere added.

“I helped,” Gwynyvar said.

“She actually succeeded with her delicate touch,” Arthur admitted.

“You were right,” Bedivere said.  “These skeleton locks are too easy.”

“So, why are we still here?”

“You were unconscious,” Enid scolded him, whatever he was thinking.  “We couldn’t exactly carry you.”

“It would not have been right for us to all escape and leave you here,” Arthur said, plainly.

“I’m awake now,” Gerraint answered.  “I have wings to fly, and all that rot… Allow me to borrow Diogenes.”  Gerraint vanished and a different man appeared sitting in the exact same place.  This man was tall enough for Gerraint’s height, and still had blue eyes, but his hair appeared a light golden brown in place of Gerraint’s darker brown.  He appeared wearing the armor of the Kairos, with the sword called Salvation across his back, and the long knife called Defender across the small of his back.  He spoke right away.  “I used to sneak around forts all the time when I spied for Alexander the Great.”

“Alexander?” Arthur asked, unable to place the name.

“Greek fellow,” Diogenes answered as he walked to the door.  “Overthrew the Persian Empire.”

“Persian Empire?” Gwynyvar asked.

“Nothing like a classical education,” Diogenes said.  He pulled Salvation, handed Defender to Arthur, found the knife he used to cut meat at the table and handed it Bedivere, shrugged for the women, as if to say he was out of weapons, and stepped out into the hall, motioning the others to follow and keep quiet.

###

Outside the fort, Elder Stow stepped into the meeting of the minds.  Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Percival, Tristam, Gwillim, Thomas, and Gerraint’s son all sat and tried hard to think of what to do.  Decker finished his comment before they all stopped speaking.

“Now that we know they have guns we need to do something.  The Kairos was clear about that.  Only the Masters would be making guns before they are supposed to be made, and that makes them enemy combatants.”

People nodded, but then waited.  Elder Stow spoke when he got their full attention.  “I would not have suggested this, but in light of what Colonel Decker said, which is what I remember the Kairos said about guns, I may have a way. Sukki and I could fly up there, invisible, and working together, I believe we can take down a section of wall.”  He pulled out is scanner device and projected a three-dimensional view of the fort and environs, with the travelers as red dots, Arthur’s men as blue dots, and the men inside the fort as yellow dots because, he said, yellow was for danger.

“Remarkable,” Sir Thomas said.  The others kept quiet, not sure what he was suggesting.

“Here,” Elder Stow said.  “The east side of the hill appears less steep than the rest.  I’ve ridden enough to know you should be able to get up to the wall quickly.  You will have to dismount and climb over the rubble when you get there, but that should not be too difficult.”

“What do you mean, invisible?” Gwillim asked.  Elder Stow touched his belt and vanished.  Thomas spoke over his younger brother.

“Oh.  You mean invisible.”

“Father?”  Sukki came up with Boston and Nanette.  Boston overheard the conversation and warned Sukki they were talking about her.

Elder Stow reappeared and spoke kindly to Sukki.  “I thought we might do as we did to the pirate ship back when we met the bishop.  I can make the top of the wall unstable.  You can cut it near the bottom.  I can cut out the ground beneath the wall if needed, and the wall should tumble right down.”

“We should travel secretly, then, to be ready to attack the east wall when it crumbles?” Percival said.

“No,” Lockhart countered.  “There is an hour of daylight left.  We should travel openly, so they see, in order to draw as many men as possible to the east wall, so they will tumble with the wall when it falls.”

Arthur’s men agreed, though they did not exactly understand the way it would work.  While the men galloped the road within sight, but well beyond bowshot from the fort, Lincoln and Alexis brought the wagon more slowly.  When they arrived beyond the east wall, they found a hundred and twenty men newly arrived from Caerleon and eastern Wales.  They were mostly rapid defense force trained and more than ready for a good charge.

R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 2 of 3

Greta remembered a river being near the base of the forest, but she thought after something closer to four thousand years, the river might have gotten trapped in one place to form a lake and further along, probably further up river, it might have bogged down into the swamp they called Sorrow.  She thought of the elves of Miroven, how they loved the woods.  She remembered the dwarves of Movan Mountain when it was a thriving community.  She feared to think what might be living among the trees all these centuries later, with the dryads and their protective warmth long gone, and she wondered why it would be called the forest of fire.  She did not like that name.

On the fourth morning, she found out what Portent meant when he talked about earth shakes in the area.  They came across a geyser, and then found some pools of hot, sulfur smelling water and Greta thought of Yellowstone.  “The earth has shaken in these hills over the centuries. There is still hot steam and probably lava deep beneath our feet.”  Greta spoke over lunch.

“Then we should move on quickly to get out of this area,” Alesander said.  His eyes went back up the hills in an automatic search for signs of Wolv following. Most of the eyes followed his, and even Greta looked, though she looked to the sky and wondered why the Wolv had not tracked them with whatever auxiliary craft the transport offered.  Despite Lucius’ warning, the group might be forgiven for not looking ahead since they thought the Wolv were behind them.  They were also not looking for men or horses, and so it came as a surprise when they ran into a dozen Scythian warriors.  The men, all on horseback, were richly armored and wore tunics finely embroidered with symbols of the sun.  They were across a short meadow and easily saw the group as soon as they were seen.

Greta cupped her lips and shouted in her best Festuscato voice.  “Riders of Rohan.”  That was all she got out before the Scythians lowered their spears and charged.

“Heliodrom!”  The warriors yelled the name like a great war cry.  The group made a dash back for the trees when half-way across the meadow a line of fire sprang up in front of the charging warriors.  Horses bucked, shied away and turned from the flames, but it did them no good.  The flames cut off any attempt to renew the attack and then began to chase the warriors, even moving against the wind.

One bit of flame broke away from the rest and appeared to fly up to land and face the group that still stood at the edge of the forest, mostly with mouths wide open. Neither were they more surprised when the flame took on the form of a finely dressed gentleman.  “My Lady.”  the flame-man bowed.  “Mithras said you might need help crossing through the forest of fire.  Allow me to guide you to where you can be safe and find refreshment.

“Thank you, Lord Fritz,” Greta said.  “Lead the way.”

Lord Fritz bowed again, turned and started to walk opposite the way the Scythians were driven.  Mavis stepped up beside Greta as Greta heard Bogus explain to Vedix.

“Fire sprite.  I thought I saw scorched trees and stumps along the way that would indicate as much.”

“Your eyes are better than mine,” Briana said. “I sensed the Scythians, but I did not understand what I was sensing, so I didn’t say anything,” she explained mostly to Alesander.  “I’m just learning, but I did not sense the fire sprites at all.”

“Because they are not enemies, at least not to the Lady,” Bogus butted in and responded to her.  “Your elect senses and intuition are very good for a human, but very focused. You sense the bad guys.”

The walk took all afternoon to get to a point where the forest suddenly turned dark, like a day full of deep gray clouds in the sky. They all felt something foreboding about where they headed, and it took some real courage to keep moving forward. Alesander, Hermes and Vedix all looked to Briana, but she did not seem especially troubled by it.  Bogus shared a thought.

“This is nothing.  You should have seen the hexes and whammies I put on the forest east of the River of the Bear Clan.”

“So I recall,” Vedix muttered.

Several fire sprites came in fiery form to guide the group through the dark and up to the inner circle.  There, suddenly, like stepping from night to day, almost like Dorothy from Kansas stepping from black and white to color, they came to an elf village and paused to take in the wonders of it all.  The enormous trees there looked bigger and stronger than any they had seen, and there were ladders and tree houses and walkways between the tree houses made of ropes and vines, planks of wood and oversized leaves. Greta called it the Ewok village, though no one understood her.  There were houses at ground level as well, one and two stories tall, with real glass in the windows and flowers absolutely everywhere, including growing in the roofs of the houses.  The streets were stone, flat and perfectly paved, and they had drainage ditches guaranteed to carry off the most torrential rain.  Most of all, the smell of a Roman, Dacian, or Celtic village was missing.  Everything smelled fresh and newborn.  Nothing smelled of dirt and manure—not even the stables where they left Stinky.

“It would take some strong magic to make this mule smell better,” Hermes said.

Every eye went to Mavis, at least now and then, to try and pierce the glamour she wore.  She kept it up, out of habit, and to not shock the humans, but of course the elf residents had no trouble recognizing her for who she was.  Some of the residents paused on Bogus. It seemed clear they had few good thoughts for the half-breed, but they kindly said nothing, and Bogus did not push the issue.  To be honest, in the universe of the little ones, at least among the earth spirits, most were some sort of mixed blood.  There were very few pure-breeds among them.  Darwin might have speculated that all the spirits began from one root spirit or couple and only differentiated over time into light people and night people, and every in between like dwarves, imps, gnomes, pixies, ogres, trolls, hobgoblins, leprechauns and so on came about from cross breeding.  That would not be correct, but one might speculate that way.

The group came to a long house where they could sleep on soft beds and where they found a table set with a marvelous feast. Lucius, Vedix and Bogus went straight for the food.  Hermes and Nudd waited for Miss Mavis and Mother Greta to be seated.  Alesander and Briana sat down together, Alesander on the end seat, and they appeared to be in a private conversation, so the others left them alone.  Greta noticed that Briana’s Latin was improving.  Vedix still had some to learn, but he functioned with Bogus’ help. They all began the feast before three elder elves came in and introduced themselves as Lord Horns, Lord Longbow and Lady Oreona, a name for which they had no easy Latin translation.  They took three seats at the end of the long table set for twelve, which filled the table nicely, and everyone noticed the elves gave the end seat at the head of the table to the Lady Oreona.

“Welcome,” Oreona said.  She had a warm smile and took a piece of fruit from the table. “Please.” She waved at the food and those who stopped eating on the arrival of their hosts began again.  “You have come some small way, but not nearly as far as you will go, I think.”