R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 1 of 3

Late in the afternoon on the following day, the group came to the edge of the swamp.  From there, after a short bit of grassland, they saw the stone city wall, two stories high in most places.  Nudd called the city Samarvant, and he pointed off to their right where the road went up to a gate, the road they would have taken if they traveled the normal route, twenty-one days on the high road from the village of the Dragon Clan. Off to the left, they saw the river that Nudd called the Olevant.  The little ones called it the river Heartbreak, but Greta had another name for it.

“The Scythians own the Ukraine, but I hope we are beyond their area now,” she said.  “These great swamps and bogs and woods cover the border area, and they rest on higher ground where a thousand streams join together to form the river. The river on the future map that the Storyteller is looking at is called the Oka, it runs due north for a long way before it detours to the east where it runs straight into the Muskva River, and that is where we are going.”  Everyone looked at the river where it skirted the swampy area they were in and ran north along the edge of the city.  Everyone looked at the water since it was the route they would have to take, but the water was not the only thing they were looking for.

“Over there,” Alesander pointed toward the southeast side of the city where the wooden roof of a tower could just be made out. It looked burned.

“I see the scorch marks on the stones,” Mavis reported.  “But I see no one on the walls or around the gate and I hear nothing to indicate life.”

“Bogus?”  Greta turned to the dwarf.

Bogus shook his head.  “I smell trouble, but I cannot say what kind.  I think Wolv, but…” Bogus shrugged.  “Too much lime smell.”

“No cooking fires,” Pincushion added.  “This time of day I should smell cooking fires.”

“Briana?”  Greta turned again

“I sense danger.”  That seemed all she could say for sure.

“I recommend we wait until dark,” Ulladon said.

“Why wait?” Lucius spoke up. “No reason why we can’t find our way to the docks and grab a boat before they even know we are there.”

“Better after dark.  We can’t protect you until after the sun sets,” Lord Crag interrupted. “Rotwood,” he yelled in a voice that gave Nudd the willies.  “Run back and get the trolls and Bonebreaker, and hurry.”  Rotwood hurried, and Greta sat, so everyone found a spot and sat with her.

Pincushion, Ulladon, Hermes and Mavis set about building a fire to cook some supper.  Briana sat with Alesander and they looked at the city wall once in a while.  Lucius sat near them and stayed quiet except for the comment that he thought they ought to just go, now.  He said they would be all right and let the subject drop, but Greta wondered how he would know one way or the other, and surely caution would be called for.  She considered Lucius on this journey.  He had not betrayed them.  He had not done anything overtly to indicate he might be under the spell of Mithrasis, if she did not count almost being killed by his rockslide on the Rumbling Ridge; but there were subtle signs.  He urged them to return to Roman lands at the Dragon Village.  He went out all day from the elf village and Vedix said he and Lord Horns separated from him for a time, but that did not mean he met with anyone or set up any ambush.  Now, he urged a lack of caution, like he knew something but would not tell. There were probably other things as well, but her mind felt clouded.

“Lady,” Bogus and Vedix interrupted her thoughts with an argument.  “I thought maybe Chobar and the Dog Clan came up before us, and maybe that is the dog smell we are sensing, but Vedix says even if Chobar brought every dog, there would not be enough to attack a city like this.”

“I wish it was something as simple as Chobar and his dogs, but no,” Greta said.  “This is a city of the Bastarne people, as Ulladon said, and that is a Germanic people. I thought one or more of the outlying Scythians types might have attacked the city, like maybe the Capri or Costoboci, but no.”

“Why not?”  Vedix wondered.

Greta pointed.  “That roof is still smoldering, so whatever happened, it happened in the past day or two at most.  And there are no dead bodies or equipment, broken or otherwise, to indicate an assault on the city.”

“Maybe it got taken by stealth and subterfuge,” Bogus suggested.

Greta shook her head, but said, “Maybe.”  She twirled her right-hand pigtail, considered how light her blond hair was, and wondered if she could get away with being ditzy and feigning ignorance about the world.  No way, she thought.  Not if she knew words like feigning.  She sighed and considered their predicament instead.  No one said the city got razed by Wolv, but it was what everyone thought. Greta was probably the only one who knew that it would not take more than a dozen Wolv to kill a thousand men, women and children.  The Wolv had shielding and advanced weapons, and true, the weapons were pretty old and worn out, but even with their claws and fangs, and speed alone, they were pretty unstoppable.

“Lady.”  Nudd interrupted Greta’s thoughts this time.  She looked at him, but still had her mind wandering through La-la land. Poor Nudd.  He had not left her side since just about Movan Mountain, and she could not be sure if he opened his eyes even once in the swamp.  “Lady,” he repeated, which got her to pay better attention.  “I’ve been thinking about Samarvant.  I was very young when I came here, but I remember some.  I remember they built big underground tunnels, drains they called them, to take away rain water and filth from the streets.  I remember because they scared me when I thought about getting lost down there.  I feared wandering around forever and never finding my way back up again.”  Nudd got lost in his own memories, and from the look on his face, they were probably memories of nightmares he had as a child about getting lost in a labyrinth of underground tunnels.  Greta paused while the information sank in.  Then she shouted.

“Alesander.  Bogus. Lord Crag.  There may be a way through the city.”  She softened her tone to speak again to Nudd.  “Do the drains empty out into the river?”

“Yes,” he said and shivered.  “And sometimes they flood the tunnels to clean them out.” He closed his eyes and turned away while the others came to listen.

It took almost no time to figure their route. Lord Crag’s people explored all the tunnels when they were first constructed, including their path through a couple of natural underground caverns.  Crag and his people wanted nothing to do with those caverns since they were so wet and full of stinky limestone, and since the townspeople sent flood waters through every now and then, but his people knew all about the tunnels, and several had maps in their heads and claimed they could take them right to the drain opening next to the docks on the river.

“The only problem is we will have to enter the city by the gate to get to a drain opening,” Lord Crag said.  “The ground beneath the city wall is solid, and you folks can’t walk through solid rock.”

“They will smell us,” Greta pointed out, though no one had yet said Wolv with certainty.

“If we move quick, we should make the drain, unless they are standing on it, and the underground smells only of limestone,” Lord Crag countered.

“Indeed,” Bogus spoke up.  “I can smell it from here.”

With that, they settled in for a good supper while they waited for the sun to go down.  Mavis, Ulladon and Briana made sure Nudd got more than enough to eat. They seemed determined to overstuff the poor boy.  Ulladon even called him the poor and needy son she never had.  Briana smiled at that description.  Mavis let out a true elf grin, and Greta smiled for them, even if she felt a bit left out.

Feeling left out felt like nothing unusual for Greta. She remembered when she turned ten and eleven-years-old and started to seriously study with Mother Hulda, the woman of the ways.  People treated her differently almost from the beginning, though her childhood friends hung on for a time.  She only turned sixteen when Mother Hulda died in a night, and the burden of the people fell on her shoulders.  She felt unprepared for that.  She felt like she hardly knew enough to come in from the rain, but the people had no one else.

Greta looked at Mavis, Ulladon and Briana. They were becoming good friends, but sadly, Briana thought of her as one who spoke to her goddess Rhiannon like Rhiannon was the child in need of instruction.  This did not make Mother Greta appear like a normal woman, like a person one could have as an ordinary friend.  As for Mavis and Ulladon, Greta was their goddess, and no doubt that had seeped into Briana’s thinking as well.  She could never be just friends with any of them. She remained the Kairos.  She had lived too many lifetimes over too many years if she added it up, though it did not honestly add up that way.

Greta paused to think through what it meant to be the Kairos, the goddess of history, though out loud she insisted on being called the Watcher over history.  She claimed only to watch history, but she admitted that sometimes it became a struggle to get it to turn out the way it was written.  It felt curious how that written history extended as much into the future in her mind as into the past.  As an ordinary human, she had no idea what tomorrow would bring.  The next hundred years or so always stayed a mystery. But through whatever future lives she currently remembered, she could understand how things turned out and look back to see what endangered the present.  Things were happening that could throw the whole of history out of whack if she did not act.  A Mithraic pantheon of gods ruling over Rome was not in the books.  Greta sighed and considered the future more closely.

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

They found a woman under the canopy, waiting for them.  She looked slim, and graceful in a way that Oreona, the elf Queen and Goldenrod, the fairy Queen could hardly match.  She also smiled, which set people at ease in the dark, until they got close enough for a good look.  The woman had very sharp teeth, little horns above her ears, pink eyes that glowed a bit in the dark, a serpent’s tongue, too long and thin and with a fork at the end, and up close, the woman’s arms had a shine to them and a green tint that suggested something like lizard’s skin.

“Welcome,” the woman said, in a voice that sounded sweet but suggested she had a candy house in the woods with a great big oven.  “I am Ulladon, lady of the swamp.  You are most welcome.”

“You sent the ogres,” Greta said, as she stepped to the front, Mavis on one side and Briana on the other.  The men kept back.

“I was afraid for you,” Ulladon admitted.  “And ogres have no fear of the sun.”

“No, that was good of you,” Briana said. “Only it might help the men if the big one was not following us.”

Ulladon laughed, but it sounded like a nice laugh and not at all wicked.  “Bonebreaker,” she raised her voice.  “Keep to the back so you don’t scare our guests.”

“Yes Lady,” Bonebreaker said from the back in a startlingly deep and gravelly voice.  He sounded like he was breaking bones even as he spoke.  The men shuffled up a little closer to Greta and Stinky seemed nervous.  Hermes tried to calm the mule.

“There,” he said softly.  “At last we found something that stinks worse than you.”

“Oh yes,” Greta spoke up nice and loud. “He is frightening and disgusting both.  Why, I can hardly bring myself to look at him.”  Briana looked around and wondered why anyone would say such an insult to an ogre, but she glanced at Bonebreaker who stood in a patch of light, and she saw him lift his head in pride.

“It is a great compliment.  You are so kind,” Ulladon said to Greta.  “Please, follow me so we can get away from the light.  I fear my already weak eyes have been hurt all the more staring out into the morning.  Please, only stay in line.  The ground is not always solid if you don’t know where to put your foot.”

“Briana.  Alesander. You go out front,” Greta said.

“Yes, dear,” Ulladon spoke to Briana.  “Bring your man.  Sorry my husband Crag is snoring in the day.”

“Lord Crag.”  Briana remembered the name the elves in the forest gave.  She also remembered what Greta explained, that most of the names in the various languages of the spirits of the earth translated into Latin, like Bonebreaker, Grassly and Treeborn.  Oreona did not translate well because it came out “one who swallows moonbeams until her eyes glow” and that would not do for a name. “What does Ulladon mean?” Briana asked. Ulladon looked back and waved Briana to step up beside her, which Briana did without hesitation, though it surprised Alesander to see it.

Ulladon whispered, but Greta could not help herself and listened in.  “It means “large lizard”, and that is not an image I want to promote.”  Ulladon patted her own perfect little behind while she and Briana glanced back at Alesander.  He appeared to be looking around at the scenery at the moment.

Greta considered the relationship between women and the spirit world.  Most women liked fairies and some less liked light elves, like Mavis, well enough. Fewer liked dwarfs but most screamed and ran away from goblins.  Rarely, there were women who felt attracted to goblin women, and often many of those rare women and goblins ended up lifelong friends.  At the same time, Greta felt her butt had been too big even before she had children.  Her right hand reached around, as if it had a will of its own, and punched at her own cheek. It slapped several times on her hip as if that might slim it, while Mavis stepped up and whispered.

“Did I ever tell you how your armor makes you look so trim and fit?”

Greta stopped her hand.  “I swear Darius picked you because you are a natural born politician.” She added a note.  “I’m over the morning sickness and entering the moody stage so watch yourself, and don’t take it personally.”

“No.” Pincushion raised her voice.  Greta thought she was being interrupted, but to be sure, she had not realized Pincushion went with them.  “My mother is a light elf,” she explained to Bogus and Vedix. “She works in fairy weave.  Most of the gnomes and fairies, and even these dark elves wear her handiwork.  She moved with her troop down to the Black Sea some years ago, about the same time my father moved up toward the Urals.  He said he wanted a fairy.  He said he had a fairy once and wanted another before he died.”  Pincushion laughed.  “Mostly, I would say my mother had him.”  She laughed again, and Greta turned her ears off.  She really did not want to hear the gory details.

It felt better to hear Mavis say, “Watch your step.” Nudd still had not opened his eyes.

It took until late afternoon to reach the goblin lair, an exceptionally dark and dank place where the overlapping branches above let no sunlight in whatsoever.  All the way there, Ulladon stayed careful to avoid the places where the sun broke through the leaves and shot sunbeams to the swamp floor.  Other than that, they walked a steady pace and arrived in one piece, about three or four in the afternoon.

“Rotwood,” Ulladon kicked the sentry who slept, standing, but leaning against a tree.  Ants crawled all over his hand and arm, but he did not seem bothered by it.  He woke when kicked and made noises of protest, but did not actually protest.  Instead, he tipped his hat to the group as each one walked by, until Stinky came up and he whistled and shouted.

“Mule ribs!”

Bonebreaker arrived last and shook his finger at the goblin.  “No, no. Lady said don’t eat the mule.” Greta heard and sighed.

Ulladon brought the group to a nice, sandy mound with a large flat area on top.  She chanted something that Briana could not quite catch, sprinkled something like water and salt all around the mound and then stood up in the center of the flat space and threw her arms out, wide.  Everyone saw ants, spiders, lizards, frogs, wasps, rats, mice and roaches vacate the area at all speed.  A number of goblin women came up to the edge of the area and captured some of the things to cook, no doubt, for the goblin breakfast pot.

Several goblin children came up to the flat place, their arms loaded down with wood.  They built a nice pile in the middle and set some bigger logs to the side for later.  Ulladon took a stick, or a wand as Greta thought, and she chanted some more before she waved the stick at the woodpile and walked all the way around it in a circle. At last she struck the pile three times and a fine fire sprang up.  Like the fairy fire, the smoke went straight up all night.

“But like the dwarfs,” Bogus said.  “Some of that is in the ventilation.”  Vedix thought they were outside and what ventilation? But he said nothing.

Supper, fortunately, was not frogs and roaches. They had venison and all sorts of vegetables, which Pincushion knew how to cook until it melted in their mouths. “Perfection,” Bogus called it, and held out his plate for more.

“You see?”  Ulladon said to the women who sat together.  “Everyone has some talent.  As an elect, you certainly know that.”

Briana nodded.  Mother Greta nodded.  Mavis voiced a thought.

“At least the women are talented.”  The women laughed.

“Light elf.  I think I like you,” Ulladon said.

“Dark elf, the same,” Mavis said, and the two looked at each other before they spoke in unison.

“I won’t tell if you don’t tell.”

Briana was still back on the women having talent. “I think if the women ruled the world we might all be better off, like no wars and stuff.”  Mavis and Ulladon shook their heads.

“If women ran the world we would still be sending men out with stone spears to kill the beasts, because why change what works?” Mavis said.

“We would still be risking men to kill the bear so we could have the skins to keep ourselves and our babies warm,” Ulladon added.

Greta had a thought as well.  “We would still send the old ones and the children to gather the roots and berries while we sat around sipping fine wine and eating chocolate.”

“As you say,” Briana ended that conversation.

Lord Crag came by to assure them that they could sleep and they would be fine in the night.  Greta thanked him, and when he moved on she told Nudd he could come out from beneath his blanket.

Alesander came over to see Briana, as everyone knew, but his excuse was to ask how on earth Greta thought of turning the Dacians and Scythians against each other.

“Scotts and Danes,” Greta said, and then as so often lately she felt the need for further explanation.  “I figured Mithras has seven pieces broken off and every piece probably wants to prove themselves to be the big cheese.  It was some risk, but not hard to imagine those pieces competing and turned against each other with the right incentive.”

“Brilliant,” Alesander said, before Briana said she wanted to show Alesander something that Ulladon pointed out.  They walked off and Greta decided she felt tired and needed to lie down.  That left Ulladon and Mavis to talk about everything in the universe and scheme ways to get Bogus and Pincushion together.

“I don’t know,” Mavis said.  “She already has him eating out of her hand.”

“He is certainly interested in seconds,” Ulladon agreed.

“I would like seconds,” Nudd spoke up from his blanket. Mavis got him some and told him to go to sleep.

“Like a child,” Ulladon said.

“Makes me feel all motherly.” Mavis grinned at the thought.

“I would like a child,” Ulladon moped.

Mavis moped with her, empathetic elf that she was. “At least you have a husband.”

Ulladon rolled her eyes as they heard again from Nudd. “I would like a wife.”  Mavis kicked him.

About an hour later, Greta got up. She went to Stinky, gave him a carrot and patted his nose.  She thought about what Rotwood said, and thought about how she might protect their only beast of burden, a mule that despite everything had become part of the gang.  She knew Mithrasis knew Nameless and assumed she knew Danna as well, since Greta traded places with those two, recently.  She thought of Amphitrite, but decided on Junior.  He belonged somewhere between Egypt and the Middle East.  Maybe Mithrasis could get a headache trying to puzzle him out.

Junior let his protection cover the mule, to the tip of his tail.  Anyone that tried to have Stinky for lunch would be in for a shock, literally.  He made it enough voltage to drive away whatever goblin, ogre or troll got hungry in the night.  Then he let Greta return and she held her breath and kissed the mule on the nose.

“Who was that?”  Mavis spoke from her blanket when Greta went back to bed.

“Amun Junior, son of Ishtar, and go to sleep.”

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

MONDAY

Greta and company get escorted by the goblins to the city of Samarvant.  There are wolv, and the lion-headed piece of Mithras who is called Jupiter.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Gerraint: Mount Badon, part 3 of 3

Two days later, Gerraint, the boys Damon and Bowen and twenty-five men hand selected by Sergeant Brian gathered outside the next village at the top of the road.  It was dark, well before the dawn.  The Little King and twenty-five of his hand selected highway robbers joined them

Earlier in the evening, just after sunset, Gerraint sent dark elves into the town to map the town and the location of the Saxons billeted in town.  Gerraint naturally and rightly assumed those were the Saxon Chiefs, as the other six hundred or so camped on the fallow fields outside of the town itself.  With dawn, Lancelot and Lionel were prepared to rain fire arrows down on the Saxon tents.  When the Saxons roused and came out to escape the flames, the men were to ride through the camp and decimate the Saxon numbers.  They were assured the Saxons would not get to their horses, or find them useable if they did.  They had to trust.  Lionel looked skeptical, but Lancelot trusted implicitly.

One day earlier, their third day on the hill, Gerraint spent spelunking.  The Little King thought his caves in the cliff were just caves, and one abandoned tin mine.  Gerraint hardly took a moment to realize the caves were, in fact, an old abandoned dwarf mine.  The shafts went far deeper than the Little King knew.  What is more, as is often the case, down in the depths there sat a colony of dark elves, and that colony was still present.  He found some volunteers among the goblins and a band of pixies that lived in the caverns below.  The result turned out that now his makeshift spies had the village mapped and all of the Saxons pinpointed

When the men gathered, Gerraint thought to give some special instructions.  “Do not hurt the goblins, or the pixies.”

“I knew it,’ the Little King immediately interrupted. “I have seen the pixies twice in the night, as have others.  Some say we are imagining things.  The village has been roughly divided over the issue for years.”  He smiled to think he was on the right side.

“As I was saying.  If you see a goblin or a pixie in the night, do not stare at them. Go about your business and let them go about theirs.  They have agreed to ferret out any Saxons in the town.  Let them do their job and leave them alone.”

“Are they on our side?” Bowen asked what sat on many minds.

“Let me say, they are against the Saxons coming here. But we need to think of them like bumblebees.  If you leave them alone, they will not bother you.  Do you understand?”

Most of the men agreed, and the Little King nudged the big man next to him.  “I said he had an in with the spooky-bits.”  The man merely nodded and touched the scar on his shoulder where an arrow once knocked him off his horse.

“If any of you have a problem with that, there is no shame, but we need to find someone to take your place.  Listen, if you panic and harm one of the goblins, I will not be able to protect you from their terrible revenge.”  The men all said they were fine with it, but Gerraint suspected there might be incidents.  He hoped not many.  “All right. Now, here is what we are going to do,” and he got down to the details.

An hour later, still before dawn, fifty men moved into the village.  They stuck to the shadows and said nothing.  Groups of five men at a time broke off to go here and there to different houses.  Gerraint, Bowen, Damon, Brian and a man named Nodd went with the Little King and four of his cutthroats to the village inn.  Gerraint found the innkeeper’s daughter out back by the cooking fires. She took one look and ran to Gerraint. She hugged him and cried.  “I knew you would come,” she whispered.  The woman looked bruised and beaten.  No doubt she had been raped, likely over and over.

Gerraint pointed the Little King’s men to the upper windows.  Brian took Nodd around to cover the front door.  Gerraint and the boys planned to sneak in the back, but first they had to get the woman quiet.  She explained how the elders surrendered the village without a struggle.  The Saxons moved in and hanged the elders along with some thirty men who looked like they might put up a struggle. Then it became a hellish madhouse when the Saxons rampaged through the night.  “Drunks with swords,” she called them.  The Church got burned to the ground.  Some men and a few women and children were killed outright and others were grievously wounded.  In the morning, the Saxon chiefs finally restored order, but it was too late for some.  People were driven from their homes to make room for the Saxons.  I hid my husband Marcus in the barn, but he is wounded and has a fever.  I fear he is not getting better.”

“Hush.”  Gerraint finally succeeded when he put his hand over the woman’s mouth.  “One thing at a time.”  The Little King signaled and Gerraint threw open the back door.  They went in, swords drawn, and killed the half-dozen sleeping in the big room downstairs.  Only one got out his sword and Gerraint broke the sword with one swipe of Wyrd.  Brian then stabbed the man in the back and killed him, and Brian did not feel the least bit guilty about that.

One man escaped his bedroom and stumbled down the stairs, but Bowen and Damon were right there to stop him.  Then the little King called down that all was clear. They dragged the bodies of the Saxons to the yard, while the little King and his men tossed the upstairs bodies out the front windows.  Gerraint whistled, and the yard filled with pixies.  They were only two feet tall or so, but magically strong.  They picked up the bodies with their back claws and lifted them to where they disappeared in the night sky.  Dawn neared, but the pixies were not harmed by the light the way the goblins were.  They planned to bombard the Saxon camp at dawn with the bodies of their own chiefs before they flew back to their comfortable caverns.

Nodd stood on the front step and pointed. They saw a Saxon across the way who screamed as a goblin grabbed him.  The goblin, a big one, ripped the man’s hand off so the hand and sword it carried clattered to the ground.  Then the goblin bit the man’s head off at the neck.  Everyone turned away, and Brian said, “Now I understand the bit about if you see a goblin, don’t stare at it.”

“Check on the men,” Gerraint said to both Brian and the Little King.  “I’ll be here a while.  Boys.” Damon and Bowen came right up, smiling.  Now Bowen had a kill too, so he felt he could be the big brother again.  Gerraint looked at the woman repeatedly raped and the boys who in any other age would be called bloodthirsty and he felt disgusted with the times.  Yet, it was the times he lived in.  Not exactly chivalry and the Medieval ideal, he thought.

When they got out back to the barn, Gerraint took a hand from Damon and Bowen.  The woman waited as patiently as she could, and watched.  “Your job,” Gerraint said, “is to not let go.”  Gerraint did not ask for a promise.  He got used to giving commands by then.  He went away and Greta came into his place, dressed in her long dress and covered by her signature red cloak with the red hood.  She had a doctor’s bag, which she knew as technically the property of Doctor Mishka, but she felt grateful for the illegal drugs it contained.  Bowen let go and the woman shrieked, but that seemed fine since she had Damon’s hand to squeeze as she let out her smile.

“Now your job is to protect my person at all times.” She stared at the boys until she got non-verbal confirmation, then she took the woman’s hand. “Come Clara,” she remembered the woman’s name even if Gerraint had forgotten it.  “Let us see what we can do for your husband.”

That day became a bonus day before they were expected to rejoin Arthur at the bottom of the hill.  Gerraint spoke to whatever leaders the Saxons could produce from the rounded-up prisoners.  Between the two villages, there were five hundred weaponless men who sat in the fields and tried to be good.  They would stay in that field, receive one meal a day for probably no more than a week. They would be good, since they were made to understand exactly who, or what would be guarding them, particularly in the night.  Any misbehavior or attempted escapes and they could always be moved to an underground cavern where the goblins could watch them day and night.  “And I cannot guarantee that the goblins will not be tempted to play with their food,” Gerraint said.

At daybreak, the troop set out on the winding road back down the mountain.  Gerraint had lost a hundred men on the mountaintop, but he made up for it with a hundred new volunteers.   True, they were not lancers, and hardly the best horsemen, though they had plenty of Saxon horses to choose from, but they were men, and having now experienced what it meant to have the Saxons in charge, they would certainly fight.

Lancelot got happy.  He got to charge the enemy.  Lionel felt more worried about what might be happening down below. Gerraint had gotten word from Pinewood that Percival had pulled his fifteen hundred footmen and fifteen hundred horsemen back to a strong position at the bottom of the hill where the roads met.  They waited there for the arrival of Arthur.  The Saxons across the way, eight thousand footmen and two thousand horse also seemed content to wait.  They waited for their riders on the mountain and the ones sent to circle around Bath to get in position to attack Arthur from the rear.  Of course, the Saxons waited for an attack that would never come.

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

MONDAY

R6 Gerraint: The battle for Britain in Shaking the Earth.  Don’t miss it.

*

Avalon 3.8: part 3 of 5, Underground

They marched a long way into the mountain, and Boston was glad to see she did not take to claustrophobia, the way some light elves felt it. She never felt claustrophobic as a human and supposed there was no reason that should change. They picked up a few more goblins along the way, including one group that looked like they just returned from a hunt. They had two deer ready to be butchered and put on the fire, at least as much as goblins and trolls cooked such things. Finally, the group came to a big underground cavern filed mostly with women and children. There were a number of fires around the place, and one big fire up by a raised area. Boston guessed the one who stood up there was the goblin king. He certainly was frightening enough.

“Lord Mandible,” Flintskin spoke up as they approached. Chewy put Boston down, but held her so Boogern and Kraken could tie her hands behind her back and tie a big rope with a heavy weight on one end to hobble her so she could not run off. “Lord, we found this light elf wandering by the woods of the nightshade. She left the elf haven in the dark time so we brought her to you to decide what to do with her.”nal gobin king

Lord Mandible stuck his tongue out and licked his whole face up to his eyebrows. “I don’t like elf. They have a gamey flavor,” he said.

“She is an elf witch,” Boogern stepped forward.

“What flavor?”

“Fire, at least,” Flintskin said. “We didn’t exactly test her.”

“That might make it palatable,” Lord Mandible said. He looked closely at Boston for the first time and drooled, slightly. “Of course, eating the maid is not the only thing I have in mind.”

Boston caught the look. “You wouldn’t dare,” Boston said while two streams of laser light came from her eyes and caused a small explosion of the rocks at the goblin king’s feet. He jumped back while she spoke. “The Kairos would burn you feet off. She would pull out your tongue and blind your eyes. My Lady would make you human for even thinking such a thing.”

Mandible raised his voice. “Lady Nalishayas has said the humans have the light time and we can have the dark time as long as we don’t bother the humans. Light elves have no place on our island. We give them the small haven, but Issendilus knows better than to let his people out after sundown.”

“Who is Issendilus?” Boston asked, and the goblins all stared at her for a second.

nal goblins“Lord Issendilus, your chief,” Flintskin offered.

Boston shook her head. “I don’t know him. I’m not from this island. We came here from the deep past,” Boston said as she pulled her hands free and mentally praised herself for doing so magically without setting the ropes on fire this time. “We are on a special mission of the Kairos and headed to the next time gate. Didn’t you think to ask about the red hair?”

“I thought that was because of the fire inside you,” Boogern said, and Kraken agreed.

“Mandible,” A woman’s voice sounded out sharply from behind.

Mandible grinned suddenly, an awful, Grinch sort of grin. “Yes, Coressus, my dear. Sweetheart. Honey.” The woman stepped up beside Mandible and gave him a quick frown. She leaned down to Boston and spoke kindly enough, despite the frightening eyes and very sharp looking teeth.

“Come here child,” she said, having judged Boston to be very young. Boston was already working on the rope around her ankle, and it only took another second to pull her foot free and walk up to face the woman. She tried not to look at Coressus, but let the woman pull her aside for a private conversation. The woman directed her speech so only Boston could hear, and Boston had to try to do the same.

“Forgive my husband. He likes to think he is in charge and can do whatever he wants. He likes to act all frightening and mean, but he can be sweet.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Boston said.nal goblin queen

Coressus reached for Boston’s chin with her claw, but was actually quite gentle so Boston did not resist. Coressus looked into her face and let go with a word. “You are very young, despite being full grown. It is something I do not understand.”

“As an elf, I am only three and a half days old. I was older when I was a human.”

Coressus shook her head, like that did not make any sense. Then she gasped. “Red hair?”

A voice came from the back of the cavern. “Boston. Don’t worry. The others are coming to set you free.”

Boston responded to the voice. “Roland!”

“Mandible,” Coressus spoke up loud and clear. “This one is not for you. She is betrothed and under the protection of the gods. And so is the other one,” she shouted across the cavern. “You better not hurt him.”

“What?” Mandible, Flintskin and the others did not understand.

“The camp where this one was taken,” Coressus said. “There were humans and big animals that they ride upon, and they all wear fairy weave and sleep in houses that become no bigger than a ball, and they travel with an elder in the flesh and blood.”

“Yeah, so?” Flintskin did not get it, but Mandible did, and he hit the poor goblin hard enough to make him cry. Flintskin hit Boogern in the same way.

“You should have known.”

“Known what?”nal goblin extra

“Whatever.”

Kraken wanted to hit Boogern as well, but Boogern raised a fist to say he would hit Kraken back. Chewy stood like a statue, unwilling to move a muscle, and it made Boston laugh to see him.

“Come child,” Coressus said. “And you, Lord Roland. Your name is known to us.”

Roland came to the raised stone and did not look too roughed up. Then again, a couple of goblins looked like they might have black eyes, so it was about even.

“I am far too young myself to be called Lord Roland.,” Roland admitted, and gave the goblin king a bow.

“Sir Roland, then. I have also heard this.”

“Probably not for a few thousand years,” they heard Katie’s voice at the back of the cavern, followed by a great “ZAP!” A troll and two goblins flew though the air.

“Leave the animals alone,” Coressus shouted.

nal goblin cave“They are horses,” Boston said.

“Leave the horses alone if you value your life,” Coressus shouted, and she directed Boston and Roland to the back of the cavern where there was a cave set up like a comfortable living room, with rugs on the floor and cushions scattered about to sit and relax. “It is for you about breakfast time, I believe.” Mandible and his friends made themselves scarce.

When the rest of the crew arrived, they had a fine breakfast of eggs and some kind of bacon. They even had toast of a sort, but the goblin cooks did not know how to do anything but burn the toast. They had a pleasant conversation as well, but Lockhart, and in general the others, were all glad when the goblins escorted them to the exit.

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Coming next Monday and Tuesday, the conclusion of Avalon, episode 3.8,or, what good is escaping the goblin lair if you end up in pirate hands?  Don’t miss it.  The second half of Pirates Cove.  A free read to start the week off right.pirate cove 5

Avalon 3.8: part 2 of 5, Captive

The travelers saw some people during the day, and passed by a village, but kept their distance. The lifestyle looked primitive. People dressed in animal skins, the huts barely kept out the rain, and the fields of grain got worked with tools of sticks and bones. It was early spring, and people were planting seeds in the hope of a harvest come fall. There were no guarantees in that world, and Katie made some commentary along the way.

“Back home, these years are spoken of with simple, meaningless numbers, and it feels foolish now to set dates for the end of this era and the beginning of the next. These people, on Rhodes or Crete, whichever island we are on, are still living Neolithic lives. I don’t even see any soft metals, like copper. Yet we have already seen bronze in the Alps ages ago, and even earlier in the Carpathian Mountains. These people hardly have huts enough to form a village—a little hamlet they can pack up and move at cannibal 5anytime. They are hardly a settled people, still mostly hunting and gathering. Yet we have seen the great civilization city of Kish in Mesopotamia, cities in Weret’s Egypt, and even earlier, the city of Jericho. So where does the Neolithic end and the copper age begin and then copper end and bronze begin? Things blend into each other much more than I ever imagined back when I was at the university memorizing exact dates, and they go on for much, much longer than I ever imagined.”

“What did Nuwa say?” Lockhart asked rhetorically. “They did not call it Longshan culture. They just called it life. Same here I suppose.”

They camped that night in a field beside a forest full of tall bushes. Lockhart set a watch in the night. He did not expect that they would be disturbed, but after all this time, he erred on the side of caution. He and Roland took the second shift, around ten o’clock, when Lincoln and Alexis went to bed. Decker and Elder Stow would take the wee hours, when Elder Stow’s scanner would be most useful. Katie and Boston had the sunrise, and usually made some kind of coffee, which Lockhart appreciated. It was a relaxed watch, but a watch all the same.

Boston woke when Roland got up. She closed her eyes right away to go back to sleep, but could not get back to sleep. She checked the moon and saw it was a fingernail, which was good. If Bob the wolf followed them into this time zone, and she did not doubt that he did, at least he would not go wolf on them.

Boston sat up as Lockhart finished putting some wood on the fire and walked off to his place on the perimeter. It was still early enough in the spring to be chilly in the night. Boston blamed the sea nal Rhodes inandbreezes. She spent several minutes listening for the sounds in the night and touching the points in her ears before she stood. She wondered briefly how she might look with a dress like she saw on Avalon before they went though the Heart of Time and got whisked back to the beginning of history. Shaping her fairy weave would be easy enough, but she wished she had Alexis’ mirror to look.

Boston stood. She was always an energetic girl, no doubt why she graduated early from high school and college, and got her doctorate in electrical engineering at such a young age, but that was not all of it. She rode rodeo, and grew up with her brothers as a tom-boy, running around and getting into trouble. Redneck trouble, she thought, but to be sure, it was Massachusetts redneck.

“Psst,” Boston heard the sound and wondered why her human alert system did not warn her a stranger was near. “Psst, elf.” A goblin head poked out from between two bushes. Boston was wary, but she was thrilled that this little one talked to her, and called he elf, which she was. She could not help responding.

“What?” she directed her whisper to the head, almost without thinking about it, like it was a natural thing to prevent waking the others. The goblin pulled out his hands and waved them at her, tossing a bit of dirt in her direction, and a monster of a troll reached out with incredibly long arms and grabbed her. Boston was prepared to scream, but her mouth was magically sealed. As the three goblins and the troll forced her into the woods, she tried to think to Roland, but even that was stymied, and after a minute she passed out from something like lack of oxygen, but it was lack of connection.

Underneath her change from human to elf, Boston did not realize that when she was cut off from the human race, she was connected to the natural world in an absolute way. It was a literal connection to life around the globe that sustained her life and that she helped to sustain with her life. When that na cave entranceconnection was stifled, it was indeed like being cut off from oxygen. Fortunately, she came back after a short way, and the goblin complained.

“I can’t keep it up any longer,” he said, and looked drained.

“It’s all right, Boogern. We are close enough to the mountain. The light elves won’t follow us underground.”

“Hey, Flintskin,” The troll that was carrying Boston had to ask. “Does that mean we shouldn’t take this light elf underground?”

“No, Chewy, ya idiot. This one is our prisoner. We need to teach these light elves they have no business going about in the dark time.”

Boston tried not to laugh. Chewy the troll did look a little like something out of Star Wars.

“Kraken,” Flintskin spoke to the third goblin. Lead the way. They came to the entrance, a cave, and Kraken got a torch from some hidden place behind the wall. He got his flint, but as the torch came to bump Boston in the shoulder, she thought she could help. It was easy to cause the torch to light up. Magic in general was easier for her since she became an elf. As a human, she had to really focus and shove all her extraneous thoughts out of her mind to do anything. As an elf, she just reached into that compartment of her brain where she kept her magic, and there it was. Of course, the goblins were startled, and Chewy almost dropped her.

nal lit torch“Boogern. You didn’t say she had magic in her.” Flintskin hit the goblin who cowered.

“I didn’t know.”

“You know, I can walk,” Boston offered.

“Not a chance,” Flintskin responded. “You can run like the wind, ya mean. But we aren’t letting go until you are safely locked up.”

Boston pouted and looked up at her troll. “Chewy, be gentle with me.”

“Yes mum,” the troll responded, impressed with her little bit of magic

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Don’t miss tomorrow and the conclusion of the first half of Avalon, episode 3.8.  Avalon 3.8 will conclude next Monday and Tuesday.  Help yourself to this free read.  Enjoy.

Avalon 3.1: part 5 of 7, Down and Out

Bonesplitter the troll reached out to poke the rump of Lockhart’s horse like a man might check the marbling on a good steak. There was a great crackling sound at the back of the horse which caused it to buck while something like lightning came out of the horse and struck the troll’s hand. Bonesplitter was thrown back into the solid rock wall of the tunnel, hard. A number of rocks crumbled and several big ones fell from overhead, not that the troll was actually damaged, but he was pretty badly shaken.

“You okay?” Katie was the first to express her concern.

“Yes, didn’t I tell you?” Lockhart answered. “After the last time zone when the imps tried for horse bacon, Junior doubled the hedge around the horses the way the gods put a hedge around us. If any of the little ones try to harm the horses, they might not survive the attempt. I think this was just a warning that probably startled Dog as much as the troll, but we are all right now.”

“We have company up front, too.” Roland spoke from the front of the column as the column stopped.

“We have been traveling single file and downhill for several hours. Ask them if they will take us to a cavern where we can spread out. Better yet would be an exit on the other side of the mountain.”

‘I can ask,” Roland said. He was an elf who could hear even a whisper from the back of the column with those good elf ears. He could also make himself heard without having to raise his voice, and limit the hearing to the person he was speaking to by a technique he called directed sound.

“Well, if they know the horses are off limits and we are under the protection of the gods, they might think twice about hurting us or leading us astray,” Lockhart said.

“For now,’ Roland responded. “But give them time. They will think of something,” and he started the group moving again.Troll tunnel

While they walked, the goblin beside Lockhart asked a couple of questions. “So what stupidity got you to risk your lives going down into a goblin lair?”

“We dug a man’s body out of the ice—a crevasse in the glacier above. We promised to take it home where it could be properly buried, but it was stolen in the night.”

“You dug it out?” The goblin sounded surprised before he shouted with no concern that the sound might bring the roof down. “Hey Slither. I thought you said you dug that humebone out of the ice.”

The shout came back. “Well, not exactly. I said it was dug out of the ice, but it wasn’t hard. We found it outside the top door tied up like a present.”

“Okay. I just wanted to be sure you were lying.” The goblin turned again to Lockhart and shook his head in the dark. “You never know. But now, tell me something about your people.” Lockhart could not be sure, but he imagined the goblin was grinning in his most friendly manner.

“What did you do with the body?”

“Ah, well.” The goblin lost his grin and apparently had to think about what to say. “I thought we might thaw it and eat it. I imagined it would be good and ripe by now, but Hogface said the ice probably preserved it so it might be like fresh meat. I’m not picky. But our god sent us to fetch it, so we are bringing it to him.” The goblin appeared to shrug like he thought that was a waste of good eating.

“I have known the Kairos for over forty years. I think you made a wise decision fighting your desire for lunch.”

“Oh, you know him, do you?”

They emptied out from the tunnel into a big cavern. This one was well lit with torches spread around that naturally gave off no smoke. There were several smokeless cooking fires around as well, and several goblin women cooking. Lockhart tried not to look as the goblin next to him spoke to the troll

“Bonesplitter, go play with the children.” Bonesplitter made a sound which Lockhart interpreted as a sound of delight, though he could hardly imagine a troll being delighted about anything. He refused to look at the children and waited patiently as his goblin rushed up front to whisper words in another goblin’s ear. That goblin, a big and exceptionally frightening looking fellow stepped up to the travelers to speak.

“We can’t eat your horses which is a waste of good meat. And we can’t eat you since you are under the protection of the gods. So why are you here? There is the door. Get out.” He pointed to another rock wall like the one where they came in. It was another glamour designed to protect the entrance of the goblin home.Troll cave exit

“You heard him,” Lockhart said, and he encouraged the travelers to vacate the place. To be sure, they did not need much encouragement.

Back outside, they found themselves on the other side of the mountain and headed downhill. The sky had cleared of its ominous clouds while they were underground, and the sun came out, but the sun was only an hour or so from setting. Lockhart moved them downhill as much as he could and as fast as he dared. He wanted as much room as he could get between them and the goblins at night.

“Dark elves,” Katie kept calling them. It did not help. Lockhart said they were creepy and he felt some empathy for poor, old Lincoln.

They set a watch in the night, but were not bothered, and things looked better in the morning.

“We are much further down the mountain and out of the alps than I expected,” Elder Stow reported.

“As high up as we got, it was hard to tell what time of year we were in,” Roland spoke to Boston. “I think now we are gaining on spring.”

“I like spring,” Boston responded with a smile.

For much of the morning, Decker and Elder Stow were able to move out on the wings and get a good lay of the land. Boston kept an eye on her amulet so they would not get too far off if they had to detour, and Roland often raced out front to see what might be the easiest way down.

Lincoln and Alexis said little, but seemed content to ride side by side. Katie tried to get Lockhart to relax. She thought all of the little spirits of the earth were fascinating, including goblins and trolls, so she did not exactly understand the phobia. Lockhart said it wasn’t a phobia, their inhuman nature just creeped him out, that’s all.

alp mountainsideThey stopped for lunch when Roland caught a couple of doves on the mountainside. The trees were thick in the area, but there was a small upland meadow where they could build a fire and relax. It also gave the horses some variety in their diet, though it was only sprouts and not yet flowers.

They were approached when they settled in. Roland called them Kobald, but they looked more or less like elves to the others. There were three, Hart, Posen and Grieg, and they did not appear to be threatening. Hart was the one who did most of the talking.

“You are on the Lady’s mountain.”

“Who?” Boston had to ask.

“Oneesis, the oread of this mountain. They are all her mountains in a sense, but this one in particular she calls home.

“No offence to Oneesis,” Lockhart spoke. “We are trying to get off her mountain, but we have an errand first.”

“We dug a body out of the glacier above,” Lincoln picked up the story. “And against the better judgment of some of us, we promised the ghost we would take his body home for proper burial.”

“Ah,” Hart said while Posen and Grieg nodded to each other. “The one picked up by the dwarfs at the entrance to the goblin lair is on its way. That way.” He pointed. “The main path down this side of the mountain from the pass is over there. We were wondering why you were far from the easy path.”

“We didn’t know there was an easy path,’ Alexis sounded apologetic.

“With the Kairos, there is no easy path,” Decker said, and everyone laughed, including the Kobald who also nodded to one another and made agreeable sounds.. Among the travelers it was a bit of nervous laughter which was only mollified when Hart spoke again.

“Come, we will take you to the path and to the body.”

Avalon 2.6: Underground

            So, while the main group of travelers are in the wild being attacked by the enemy, Boston has been captured by what she hopes are friendly folk, even if they are goblins, and a troll.

###

            “Now missy, we won’t hurt you, much.” One of the goblins spoke to Boston when her feet were safely on the ground.

            “That works out well,” Boston said and hoped her voice remained on an even keel.  She did not need to show the fear she was feeling.  “Because I have no intention of hurting you either.”

            “Hey chief,” a goblin spoke up.  “She is not afraid of us.”  The goblins all scratched their heads.  This was not the usual response from outsider humans and they were not sure how to take it.

            “Shredder,” the chief goblin called and the troll moved to the front.  Boston most certainly would have blanched at that, but something else caught her attention across the field so she did not have to look at the troll directly.

            “You expecting company?” she asked and pointed.  The goblins and troll all looked and the chief shouted.

            “Traitors!”

            Of course that got the attention of the traitors who immediately turned and attacked.  Boston pulled out her pistol and killed or wounded three of the enemy before the two sides met.  After that she dared not interfere because she thought she could tell the difference between the goblins and their distorted images in the enemy, but she could not be sure.  One horribly distorted looking creature broke through to attack her.  She was sure of that one and three bullets made short work of the beast, but then she had to wait for the fighting to be over, and only hoped her goblins won.

            Boston held Honey and patted his nose to keep him calm while the six goblins and one troll survivor of the attack came to fetch her.  “We have to get underground,” the chief said.

            “Going to have to back fill the tunnel now that they found it,” one goblin said.

            “How did they find it?”  the troll asked.

            “No telling,” a goblin answered as he lifted a bush to reveal a dark hole.

            Boston stopped and faced the darkness.  She held out her palm and tried to make a light again.  It was a meager thing, but she was not going into the dark with goblins and a troll even if they were on her side.

            “Save your little magic,” the chief said.  He reached inside and grabbed a torch, which Boston noticed was smokeless.  Several of the others also grabbed torches and they provided plenty of light.

            “That banger did not look like little magic to me,” one of the goblins said as they started down the tunnel.

            “No wonder she wasn’t afraid of us.” Another pointed his finger and said, “Bang!” 

            “Credit for four kills. ” The chief stroked his chin.  “That is impressive.”

            “Hey!  What is she doing now?   Why, she is crying.”  Boston was crying because she did not like killing things, even distorted wicked things.  Several of the goblins showed surprising sympathy.

            “We better watch this one, she’s tricky,” the chief said, but to be sure, Boston was also crying because she was exhausted.  They walked in silence for what seemed to her like forever, but finally they came out of the tunnels and into a tremendous cavern, one where she could not take in all the walls and where stalactites and stalagmites met in the middle and appeared like pillars holding up a great ceiling

            Honey followed the whole way though the tunnels, content as long as he was following Boston.  When they got to the big cavern, however, there were too many strangers and too much noise in that closed in space.  He balked and would not move forward until several of the smaller little ones came up and began to speak to him.  Curiously, it looked to Boston that he could understand what they were saying.  Equally curious was the fact that she could not, but she imagined talking to animals was not on the Kairos’ translation program.  As far as she was concerned, everyone else was speaking English, unless she deliberately thought about it.

            “Little Witch,” the goblins were anxious to keep moving.  No doubt they had to report in.

            “Give him some oats if you have any,” Boston said, not the least concerned that these little ones might have in mind to eat her horse.  There was something about them she trusted, and apparently Honey did as well.

            “And a good rub and rest,” one of the little ones spoke.  “We care for horses, even in the wild.  We know our business.”

            Boston nodded.  She was too tired to speak again.  She grabbed her pack and followed the goblins.  They were really dark elves, she reminded herself.  It all depended on how she looked at it, and for her, looking at them as dark elves was better than goblins.

            The huge cavern room was full of different species, and plenty of humans as well.  Boston saw human children running around within reach of an ogre’s arms and no one said anything.  The human families were obviously seeking shelter from the war and devastation above.  This underground life was not the best option, but better than the no option they would have above.

            “How long has this war been going on?” Boston asked.  She saw dwarfs bring in straw from some tunnel.  Fairies fluttered over to strike the straw with their wands.  The straw took shape, something like a bed and that was carried off by elves for distribution to the people.

            “More than a year,” the chief dark elf answered.  “Things are beginning to get hard, and the food a bit thin.”

            “Why have the gods permitted this?” 

            “Which ones?  There are four different claims on this land, well, three, but Domnu is the only one so far willing to take it by force if she can.”

            “Well three?”

            “Yes, The gods across the Mediterranean have no claim this far north, but the Kairos has hope that his mother may yet persuade some of those at Karnak to join the effort against the titans across the channel.”

            Which three?”

            “Aesgard, Olympus and Domnu who claims the throne of Vanheim even if everyone knows it is not hers to claim.”

            “I see,” Boston said as the chief goblin stepped aside.  They had arrived at a room off the main cavern.  There was a man who recognized her immediately.

            “Boston?”

            Boston said nothing, but went straight to hug the two women who stood at each side of the man.  She hugged KimKeri gently because KimKeri was very pregnant.  She fell into AhnYani’s arms and spoke.  “Roland, Katie, Lockhart and Lincoln are lost.  I got separated in the snow storm.  Elder Stow went invisible, and I don’t know where he went.  Please help.”

            KimKeri spoke to the man in the middle.  “Not before daylight,” she said as another woman appeared in the room and took Boston right from AhnYani’s arms.  She lifted Boston in her arms like a mother might cradle a baby.

            “We will get them come sunrise.  Don’t worry.”

            Boston squinted.  “Artemis?”  She had never been held by a real, full blood goddess before.

            Artemis smiled.  “Can’t have my little Amazon wall maker dying of exhaustion.”  She kissed Boston on the forehead and Boston immediately fell into the first truly relaxing and restful sleep she had since leaving the castle of Avalon.

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Avalon 2.6:  Escape and Discovery … Next Time

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