Reflections Flern-4 part 1 of 3

Flern nodded. “There are other lives,” she said. “But I don’t remember most of them, you understand.”

“But some of them are men, aren’t they?’ Pinn became very insightful. “Like maybe this Wolven you sometimes talk about?” It might have been a question.

“Wlvn.” Flern nodded and tried to say the name the right way, the way she had practiced it. It came out sounding more like “Ulvin.” “But he is from the past, about five hundred and eighty-six years ago.”

“I thought it might be something like that,” Pinn said, before she grinned a little. “I had an imaginary boyfriend when I was younger, but mine wasn’t real.”

“But yours did not turn out to be yourself from long ago,” Flern countered.

“It was me, in a way,” Pinn said, wisely, and Flern understood. They sat and watched the arguments for a while longer before Pinn spoke again. “So, can I meet this Wulvin? I assume you can find him the way you found the Princess.”

“Maybe someday.” Flern shifted in her seat and felt a bit uncomfortable about it all. “But only if the circumstances are right.” That was not strictly true, but she felt she had to explain, and only wished Vilder could hear as well. They were the leaders of this expedition and needed to know how it worked. “You need to tell Vilder. I can’t just make the Princess show up because someone thinks she might be needed for some reason.” Pinn raised her eyebrows again, so Flern continued. “This is my life. None of the others—the other lives I have lived don’t have any business being here at all. I am the one who has to go over the mountains and fetch the weapons—the bronze. I have to try and raise an army and come back and face the Wicca and her Jaccar warriors. That has to be me, and I have to make all of the decisions along the way, myself.” Flern dropped her eyes and yanked out a handful of grass. She slowly let it run out between her fingers as she finished her thought. “No other life is going to die in my lifetime and in my world. If it is my fate to die on this journey, I have to be there to do it.”

Pinn lowered her eyebrows. “A morbid thought.” She patted Flern’s hand and Flern took that action to grab Pinn’s hand and look at her straight on.

“I’m still just Flern, just a girl who started from nothing like any other person in the world. Pinn, we were babies together. I didn’t even know I had any other lifetimes until just a short time ago, and really not until I talked to Mother Vrya.”

“Mother Vrya?”

“Not for a couple of thousand years, but it is not what you think.” Flern honestly could not remember exactly when Nameless would be born, but she felt that was fine, because she decided it would be best if she avoided too many details about that life.

“The goddess of love will be your mother?”

“It’s not what you think.” Flern repeated herself.

Pinn nodded. “But it is what some of the others are beginning to think,” she said.

“Well, don’t let them.” Flern sounded determined and hoped Pinn would catch it. Flern dropped her eyes again. “I couldn’t stand it if everybody started treating me different—if everybody stopped being my friends.”

“How about if Kined started to think of you differently?” Pinn asked. Pinn nudged Flern in the ribs, even if it was not a physical nudge.

“Grrr.” Flern responded in her way before she confessed. “I wouldn’t mind if he thought of me differently. But not like that. Really, Pinn, sit on them if you have to.”

“I understand,” Pinn said. She patted Flern’s hand again before she took hers back to wrap her arms around her knees. “So, Mother Vrya. What is the goddess like?”

Flern smiled, broadly. “Lovely, and a wonderful person. You would like her, and I am sure she would like you very much.” Flern paused and imitated Pinn in raising her own eyebrows. “She probably already does, I suppose.”

Pinn nodded. “I guessed as much. You know, I used to pray to her every day when I was little.” Flern looked at her friend. Pinn had a big nose, little, squinty green eyes and lips which were too thick for her face. She kept her ordinary brown colored hair cut off at the shoulders because otherwise it would be as ratty and unmanageable as Strawhead’s. She might not be ugly, exactly, but out of all the girls, she was certainly the farthest away from pretty. Flern looked over at the boys. Vilder, on the other hand, had the clean-cut, sculpted look of a quarterback, or maybe a model for a trashy romance novel.

“She gave you Vilder,” Flern said in all seriousness.

Pinn let a few little tears well up in her eyes. “I know. It is all I ever wanted.”

Flern leaned over and hugged her friend. She felt happy for Pinn, and Pinn hugged Flern right back. They would remain friends, no matter what. They stood together without another word and got into the middle of how to cook the liver without a pot to boil it or a pan to fry it.

They did not leave that place until noon, and by then Flern started chomping at the bit as surely as the horses. She said if two of the Jaccar could swim to this side of the river, despite the assurances of the naiad, maybe others could, too, and they were risking another confrontation every minute they stayed. “And maybe this time one of us will get hurt,” Tird added, and Vinnu stood right there to agree with him.

“Yes, but maybe those two just wound up on our side of the river after being dumped. Maybe the naiad did not want to drown them. She seemed nice, I think,” Elluin offered.

“I feel we can trust her. She did seem nice,” Kined agreed.

Flern frowned but did not growl. Odin’s permission meant a lot. She doubted that even any of the gods would dare go against that; but still, she felt anxious and got worse by the hour. Vilder ended the discussion, however, when he became very practical.

“We have a long way to go and no telling when we might get a next meal. It is only sensible to take as much of this animal with us that we can safely smoke and burn in the short time we have.”

“Salmonella on a stick.” Doctor Mishka called it, but Flern deliberately did not listen to any of her other lifetimes at the moment. She felt seriously afraid of losing her friends, and maybe losing herself in the mix of so many lives and so much information. She did not want to stop being Flern, and she did not want to be alone.

They rode through the afternoon, though never at the pace Flern wanted. She knew they had no spirit guide like Badl to take them by the short cuts, so she feared the ground they covered could be made up easily by the Jaccar who were well practiced at moving in force at great speeds. She consoled herself by thinking that at least they were not being hunted by night creatures, slim consolation as that was. It would not be hard to understand why she did not sleep well that night in the wilderness. She dreamed about night creatures, and some of them were werewolves, and some of them were giants, and all they wanted to do was eat her friends and laugh at her in her loneliness.

The following day repeated the first, a slow and regular pace that did not help Flern’s stress. The area remained unchanged, being a gentle, rolling landscape where the meadows, grasslands and occasional swampy areas got broken up by mixed forests of oak and fir. The girls all enjoyed the ride, pointed out the lovely spring flowers at every chance, and the boys got frisky, not seeing the spring in the flowers but feeling it in their bones. The couples had agreed for the sake of Flern and the single young men that they would camp with separate boy’s and girl’s areas, but that did not keep the couples from riding side by side and whispering sweet thoughts all day long.

Pinn stayed all day beside Vilder in front, and Bunder brought up the rear, so sometimes it felt hard to remember that he was there. Thrud and Tiren came next to the front, but Vinnu and big Gunder wandered off sometimes into the woods. Flern’s stooges were not averse to showing off, pretending to be the great horsemen, which they were not. It actually became comical and entertaining, but it would have become really annoying if Flern did not have Kined beside her for most of the morning to offer his color commentary. Flern and Kined talked softly, but sadly all that day, and it was nearly all about her clowns and the fact that Elluin had seemingly trained her horse to ride a half step behind Drud. Flern found that disgusting. Kined called it sad.

They finished off the deer at lunch and Vilder started talking like he might stop them around the middle of the afternoon so they could hunt. Flern objected strongly. This was day two. The naiad only promised one more day and then the Jaccar would surely be after them.

“You don’t really think the Jaccar will follow us, do you?” Drud said, and he said it as if to suggest that Flern might be crazy to think it.

“I do,” Flern said, despite the threat of ridicule. The group actually split on that possibility, about down the middle. “They know what we are doing. The Wicca cannot afford to let us escape and raise a resistance against her. It will make her further expansion to the west much more difficult.”

“But we have come so far,” Thrud insisted. “Surely they would not come this far just for us.”

“Some have escaped before,” Kined pointed out, and Flern nearly growled at him. She counted on his support.

“A few ragged refugees,” Flern countered. “The Wicca probably let them go to spread fear of the Jaccar. That would make her job easier. That is not what we are about.”

Once again, Vilder ended the argument by being very practical. “Whether they follow or not, we still need to eat. We will have to stop long enough to hunt and gather.” Still, Flern pushed for them to ride as far as possible, and she spent the early afternoon wondering if Badl might still be alive and around somewhere, and if maybe she could find him, and he could lead them by swifter spirit ways so they could put some real distance between them and the Jaccar.

Reflections Flern-2 part 2 of 3

When Flern awoke, she found herself dressed in the same armor and weapons that Wlvn had been wearing. She thought of it as Diogenes’ armor, at least that was what she called it, but then that did not make much sense since Diogenes lived so far away in the future. It must belong to me, she thought again, to the Kairos I mean, all of my lifetimes throughout history; and that meant since this was her lifetime, it belonged to her. That felt good because she thought she might need the protection, even if she did not know what to do with the weapons. Flern sat up and felt for the long knife that rested across the small of her back. The knife poked her and woke her, though the sword sort of felt like sleeping on a metal rod. “Hey!” Flern shouted and pulled that long knife from its sheath. She looked at it closely and tried not to cut herself in the process. Bronze, she thought, and too bad she did not have a hundred of these. She put it back carefully in its sheath and checked the time. The sun looked about ready to set.

Flern stood, brushed herself off and thought that the armor felt remarkably light and soft. She reached carefully beneath her sleeve and confirmed that something came between her and the leather so wonderfully covered in chain mail. She touched her undergarment. She had a brief vision of elves spinning with spider webs and morning dew and she could not be sure what all else, but it made the garment extremely comfortable. The boots felt comfortable, too, as comfortable as her own ultra-soft winter moccasin boots, but with a hard sole and what she imagined as something like a steel toe. Of course, it isn’t steel yet. She knew that much.

Flern smiled and wished she had a mirror. She just started craning her neck to try and see herself from the back side when she heard a sound and stopped still. Voices, male voices sounded like they were coming up the hill. Flern panicked, afraid that she would surely be caught. She ran to the rugged side of the clearing where it became impossible to climb up or down the hill because of all the loose rocks and bramble bushes. She scrunched down to wait and see.

The first man she saw enter the clearing, Strawhead Trell, got followed in order by Vilder, Gunder, Tiren, Kined, Fat Fritt, and last of all, Tird, the skinny. “It is Flern’s horse, I tell you.” Kined spoke. “She must be here.”

“Flern.” Fritt called out, but not too loud lest his words echo off the cliff and reach some enemy ears. “Flern.” Others called, too.

Flern wanted to giggle, she felt so happy not to be alone, but then she could not resist a good tease. She lowered her voice as dramatically as she could and spoke into her cupped hands. “Who calls for Flern, the Elven Queen? Speak, or feel her wrath.”

Tird jumped, but the others recognized her voice despite her best efforts to disguise it. They mostly remained unsure of her location, except for Vilder and Tiren who looked straight in her direction.

“Not funny, Flern,” Tiren said.

“You could get in real trouble if the elves hear you,” Tird added.

Flern stood up and sighed. “Help me,” she said, unsure of her footing. Vilder and Tiren each grabbed a gloved hand and hauled her free of the brambles. “I didn’t know who might be coming. I was afraid it might be the Jaccar. What?” She asked what because no one said anything. They just stared at her in the light of the setting sun.

Flern understood, smiled, and spun once in a slow circle to model her armor. She asked, “Do you like it?”

“Yeah.” Three voices spoke at once, and three others spoke at nearly the same time.

“Is that a real sword?”

“What is it made of?”

“Nice legs.” That last word came from Strawhead Trell.

Flern’s leather skirt fell to just above her knees, and the boots that came up almost to her knees were form fitting. Normally, girls wore dresses that fell to the ground, so for Flern, this felt a bit risqué.

“We’re going to fight the Jaccar.” Fritt interrupted them all and wanted to get Flern’s attention back from Trell’s comment on her anatomy.

“What? The six of you and Tird against a thousand Jaccar warriors?” Flern scoffed.

“Hey!” Tird objected. He might not want to fight, but he would if he had to.

“We are waiting for darkness and plan to sneak in after the Jaccar are asleep.” Gunder gave the whole plan and Flern heard something else in the words. She touched the big man’s angry arm and reassured him.

“I am sure Vinnu is fine for now.” She broadened her assurances. “And Thrud, Pinn and Elluin. At least I did not see their heads up on poles.”

“What?” The boys all turned toward the village, still discernible in the dwindling light, and more visible in spots where the camp and home fires burned.

“What are you talking about?” Tiren asked because he was not sure he wanted to accept her plain words. “Heads on poles?”

Flern nodded and looked away as she felt the tears well up inside of her at the thought. “Some of the men have had their heads chopped off and they have been set up on poles in the village center.”

“What?” Both Trell and Fritt looked ready to tear down the hill and ride back to the village right then, but Gunder and Vilder stopped them. Then Vilder stepped up and took over asking the questions.

“How do you know there are heads on poles? We got as close as we dared, and we did not see anything like that.”

“Mother Vrya helped me see,” Flern admitted, and she saw no reason to hide that fact. “I have been up here all afternoon and I did not even know the Jaccar had come until she came and pointed it out.”

“Mother Vrya?” Kined asked. The smart one always got allowed to interject a question, even if the leader had the floor. Just to be sure, though, Vilder repeated the question.

“Mother Vrya?”

Flern nodded. “The goddess,” she clarified.

“And I suppose these are her clothes and weapons. Fit for a fight by the look of them.” Vilder said.

Tird tapped Vilder on the shoulder and Vilder looked at him as if giving a kind of permission to speak. “They say that Vrya is as quick with her sword as she is with her kiss.” Tird said, but now Flern shook her head again.

“No, actually, these are mine.” She touched her waist and chest. “Mother Vrya has her own, and very fine it is, too, I am sure.”

“Yours?”

Flern nodded again. “Vilder and Kined, I need to see you privately for a minute. I have something to show you before you make your mad dash into the village.” She tried to think of a way to keep the boys from committing suicide, and she felt sure that would be the outcome of any attack on the Jaccar at this point, even if they waited until it got really dark.

“All right.” Kined seemed game, but Vilder looked reluctant.

“No. You just need to stay here where you are safe. We will come for you later if we can.”

“Vilder.” Flern would not accept that. “I am not asking. You must come and see first, and then if you want to follow through with your madness, that will be up to you.”

“Come on,” Kined encouraged. Vilder frowned, but he made a general announcement.

“Wait here.”

Reflections Flern-2 part 1 of 3

Flern sat straight up in bed. Poor Wlvn just lost eight months of his life, somewhere in time. Hardly fair, she thought.

“Flern!” The reason Flern woke up from her afternoon nap became apparent when her baby sister came bounding into the room. Gurdi turned fifteen, hardly a baby anymore. The real baby in the family belonged to twenty-year-old Thul who already had a girl of her own. Flern felt glad for her older sister, and not the least because the infant took some of the pressure off of her to marry as soon as possible.

“Stenis is taking the young men out on a hunt this afternoon.” Gurdi spoke as she plopped down on the end of Flern’s bed. “Isn’t it wonderful the way he takes charge. He is so dreamy.” Gurdi looked up at the ceiling, so she did not see her sister’s frown.

“I’m going for a ride this afternoon.” Flern acknowledged that her nap had become impossible. “Alone.” She knew what her sister wanted. Gurdi wanted to take her to the market and make small talk all day long with a bunch of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, and maybe do some sewing or basket weaving with more gossip. No thank you.

“But Flern!” Gurdi bounced on the bed just to be sure Flern did not plan to go back to sleep.

“Not a chance.” Flern escaped the bed out the other side. “And yes, Stenis is dreamy, if you think so.” She would not quite concede that any sixteen-year-old boy could be dreamy. Flern dressed quickly while Gurdi exaggerated all of Stenis’ dreamy qualities, then Flern heard something that got her feet moving.

“Flern,” Mother called from the other room, and that meant there would be chores. Flern went to her window and stared hard at Gurdi. Gurdi crossed her heart and looked up once while Flern escaped to the outside. It did not matter what Gurdi promised. Flern knew her sister would tell Mother in the next few nanoseconds, so Flern had to hurry.

Flern ran to the stables and only snatched her bow and quiver along the way. No one rode or shot with her much anymore. Vinnu and Thrud were too busy being married, and Pinn stayed too busy not touching Vilder. Elluin also stayed too busy being stupid with Drud, and Flern’s stooges were not around much, thank the gods. Flern whistled from behind the barn. She did not dare step into the open for fear of being caught, and she let out a soft whistle besides, but she knew Bermer would hear. Sure enough, after a minimal wait, Bermer the mare came trotting around the corner. Flern got right up and took off for the river. She had in mind to ride up the back of the hill to the cliff’s edge, and maybe take her nap there where her mother and sister could not find her.

“Okay,” Flern confessed to Wlvn for the hundredth time as she rode. “So I named my horse after your sister, but only because she is the sweetest thing I could think of.” Then Flern stopped talking altogether. She did not want conversation at the moment. She wanted to be alone and undisturbed, and that included Wlvn and all of her other lifetimes, at least the ones she could remember.

Flern let her mind wander as she rode, the way Wlvn had when he rode to the edge of his universe. She realized that essentially Wlvn got it right about her and her friends. Pinn had her Vilder in a commitment, though they were not married yet, just engaged. Vinnu had her Gunder, and they were married, and Thrud, the not nearly as beautiful as her name might lead you to believe, had her Tiren, and they were about to be married. Elluin looked like she was not going to give up on Drud, though there was no official word there yet, and that left Flern with her three Bozo the Clowns. We are all Bozos on this bus, she thought.

Of course, there was Kined, even if Flern did not feel allowed to think of him in that way. He remained just a very good friend, maybe her best friend. He told her that, even as he seemed to finally be giving up on Elluin. In fact, the last time beautiful, blonde Elluin ran away from Drud, Kined had not been there for her, hard as it must have been for him. He confessed how hard it felt to his good friend Flern in private, and Flern did her best to comfort him. Hugging seemed to help.  Come to think of it, she and Kined spent a lot of time together in the last year; but Flern imagined it as no more than a sort of a misery loves company kind of thing. Kined seemed heartbroken over Elluin, and Flern needed some rest from her daily duty of telling her stooges, “No, I don’t want to marry you.” Good thing Bunder never asked. Actually, he never said more than two words to her in her whole life. She would have gone mad, though, if she had to say no four times a day.

~~~~~

Flern dismounted and climbed the hill to the little grassy spot at the top. The rocks still held a bit of ice, so she had to be careful, especially when she approached the cliff. She started moping by then and so she did not pay her full attention, but she managed not to slip. She had spent a year and a half badgering the Elders in the village to mount an expedition to go over the mountains and bring back the technology of bronze. At first, the Elders simply refused to listen to her. Then, the more she badgered them, the more stubborn they became against the idea. In the end, even some of her friends began to doubt what they had seen with their own eyes when they were, as they called it, “mere children.”

Couldn’t they see? This would be the only way they would have any hope against the Jaccar, and by then, no one doubted that the Jaccar were coming. Flern reached down to her side where she had begun to carry a copper knife. She said it helped cut her meat, but to be sure, it was the kind of knife with which she could skin her meat, not just cut it. She drew it out and used it like a pretended sword. She would be the woman warrior if she had to be, but her movements were awkward, and she knew it.

“Ga!” She spoke to herself. “All of the other lives I live are so dashing and capable.” She thought of the Princess as the true woman warrior, and Diogenes, sometimes called Alexander’s eyes, as a warrior in the extreme. Flern brandished her pretend sword again, pretending to be Diogenes, she cut down Persian after Persian. Doctor Mishka and the Storyteller had such skill, and they knew so much. “I ain’t got no edjumication.” Flern said, out loud, though whether it came out in her own tongue or the Storyteller’s English, it felt hard to say. Nor did it matter. She started to wonder why the goddess Amphitrite and the Nameless god put up with her as one of their lifetimes. What could she do? She began to cry, sat on the grass and felt like an ant, like a bit of temporal dust, totally useless. The women she had been in other days were all so beautiful, and the men were simply the best. Who was she?

“Now, now.” Flern heard a woman’s voice, and at first, she thought it might be the Princess. “You were just thinking about possible husbands and who might be a good father for your children. If you can handle that, surely you can handle a little southern vacation.”

Flern shook her head. “I’m not good enough to be the Kairos.” She felt shocked when she felt an arm slip around her shoulder. She looked, but all she saw at first was the cloak and the hood pulled up.

“My son,” the hood said. “Even when you are my daughter.” And Flern knew who it was; Vrya, mother of the Nameless god she would one day be. While she found it a little frightening at first to be held so tenderly by a goddess, that did not prevent her from having a good cry. Vrya pulled back her hood and let the girl cry it out while she spoke softly through the tears. “Sweetheart. We all don’t like ourselves, sometimes. Consider the responsibilities I carry. Many is the time I wished I was just a normal, mortal woman. After Od was taken from me, I thought I would be chaste and never have a child of my own, but here you are, even as you will be one day, and I am holding you and telling you that everything will be all right.” These were powerful words, coming as they did from the lips of a goddess. Flern could not help crying a little harder and burying herself in the warmth offered until she got it all out of her system.

After a while, Flern pulled back her head and tried to smile while she wiped her eyes. Mother Vrya smiled for her and brushed her red bangs back out of her eyes. “Feeling better?” she asked. Flern nodded. Of course, she felt the peace that so often comes after a good cry. Mother Vrya just nodded and tapped Flern on the forehead.

Flern immediately remembered the tap on Wlvn’s head all those years ago. “What was that?” Flern asked and looked up for a second as if she could see her own forehead, as if Mother Vrya pasted something there.

“I cannot stop you from being the Kairos and living one life after another after another. No god can stop you. You are not in our hands.”

“But I thought—”

“Every mortal human is in our hands, and even the half-humans, but not you. You live beyond the reach of the gods. You are a very special person despite what you may be feeling at the moment.” Vrya touched Flern’s nose and smiled as she spoke. “But what I can do is hide who you are for a time so others may not notice.”

“Like you hid Wlvn from Loki.” Flern got excited. She suddenly understood.

Vrya nodded. “Now then. I understand you have learned about the discovery south of the mountains. I would say you have a decision to make as to what you will do.” She turned Flern’s attention out over the Cliffside to the village and helped Flern’s eyes see what her eyes unaided would never have seen. The Jaccar had arrived, and it looked like they took the village completely by surprise. The men were already being herded into a hastily erected compound, though the women and children still appeared to be in their homes, for the present. Flern’s countenance dropped once again. She knew it was long past time she should have gone for the bronze, herself. She chided herself for waiting and pleading with foolish old men and believing that they would eventually do something. All this time, she should have known that it would be up to her. There wasn’t anyone else, and she felt like such a fool.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Mother Vrya said. “Go and collect what friends you can and plenty of horses. Some will suffer while you are away, but you stand a good chance of getting there and back, and on your return, you should save most.”

“Most? A Good chance?”

“About fifty-fifty,” Vrya said, which did not sound all that reassuring. “In part, it will depend on how willing you are to be who you are. Don’t be slow to ask for help when you need it and do your best. That is all that anyone can do.” And Mother Vry simply was not there anymore.

Flern sat there for a little bit and stared down toward her village. She would have to go over the mountains herself, she decided, though Mother Vrya had been right about one thing: she needed to have her friends with her. She needed to wait until dark. With that, Flern curled up on the grass. Now she needed that afternoon nap more than ever. She tried not to think about it all, though she did not imagine her mind would let her rest. She actually fell asleep thinking, It’s the stress that gets you.