R6 Greta: Downriver, part 3 of 3

At four in the morning when people began to stir, Festuscato got his turn, and he did not gripe because at eight o’clock, Gerraint stepped in, which meant Festuscato still had the next turn.  The sun was due to come up, not that they would see it through the fog.  More important, the width and depth of the river changed overnight.  In some places, there were obstructions in the river and the place of safe passage narrowed.  Everyone needed to be awake and poles ready just in case they needed to fend off any rocks or other obstructions in the water.  Gerraint felt confident that his water babies would guide them safely to the dock, but it would be better to be prepared, just in case.

Gerraint picked at breakfast, and at eight o’clock he traded places with Diogenes.  Diogenes was not hungry, th-thank you.  He sat in the middle of the deck, pulled his sword and laid it across his lap.  Then he spent the next four hours making Lucius uncomfortable by staring at the man and trying to puzzle out just where the man’s loyalties lay.

At noon, Doctor Mishka took a turn.  She was more animated than most and did not mind sharing lunch and several stories from the future about the very land they were traveling through.  She kept her voice low, but she figured after all that snoring the night before, surely the Wolv knew where they were.  Unless, as she hoped, they were checking out the Muskva River awaiting their arrival.

There came one moment when the boat came rushing around a corner as it turned to the east.  The boat swayed and tilted heavily to starboard as it got caught in a side current.  Hermes almost slipped and fell overboard, but Mavis grabbed him and they both tumbled to the deck, laughing.  The rest of the group shouted Wee! and Aah! like they were on a log flume ride before the boat settled down in the new current.  The boat then slipped into the calmer waters behind a jetty, which had been built out into the river.  A short while later, they came around a second jetty, and there they came gently to the dock of a fine-looking village.  They did not exactly stop perfectly.  They felt a bit of a bump, but Vedix and Hermes jumped to the dock with the ropes and tied the boat fast.

“Where are we?” Alesander whispered, having spent the day without speaking at all.  People looked up and all around as the fog lifted from their immediate vicinity. They could still see where it clearly covered the river downstream and back upstream, but after twenty-four hours, the fog started to feel a bit suffocating.  People breathed, and looked all around.

The village where they docked had been carved out of the hills and short cliffs that penned in the river.  They found several buildings by the docks that looked to be warehouse buildings, and a three-story tower about where the central village square ought to be.  The houses looked odd, a style of building unfamiliar to both the Romans and the Celts, though to be fair, they had not gotten a good look at the houses of Samarvant. Mainly, there did not seem to be anyone around.  There were no signs of life in that village.

Mishka kept back to see which way Lucius might be interested in going.  He moved immediately to the left off the dock where the village actually ended at a kind of small fort.  The fort looked shut up tight and showed no one on the walls, so Mishka assumed the fort was as empty as the rest of the place.  True, she could not be sure about the dungeon.  She saw another big building there beside the fort, like a great hall for meetings, but it also looked to be closed, and probably locked. That building stood beside what looked like a cave entrance that let people inside the hill itself.  Lucius became self-conscious when he realized everyone followed him, and he said something to ease any suspicion the others might have had.

“I think we go this way.  I think the cave should take us under the heart of the goddess.”

Greta came back, letting the good doctor Mishka return to the future.  She looked at Mavis, but Mavis shook her head.  The only thing Greta remembered saying was they had to go north.  Neither Greta nor Mavis told anyone about the signs they had been following.

“Where is everyone?  Where are the people?” Hermes interrupted.

“Deserted the village,” Alesander suggested.  “Ran away, or headed downriver to get away.”

“At least there aren’t any half-chewed bodies in this place,” Vedix offered.

“Quiet,” Greta said, and they quieted and looked at her while Greta sighed at having to face her own cave.  I would rather have a bridge to burn, she thought, but she said something else.  “Alesander, Briana, stay out here and keep hidden.  Be prepared for us to come racing back out in case the cave is full of Wolv.  Bogus and Pincushion, see if there are any people around, but stay invisible.   My guess is this is a Venedi village, so they may become friends.  Mavis and Hermes, see if there are any horses here for the borrowing.  From here on we follow the Road of Dreams.  Lucius and Vedix, you go with me to check out Lucius’ cave.”  Greta turned to Lucius.  “After you.”

“Lady?” Mavis did not exactly protest, but Greta waved her off.

“It will be all right,” she said, as she stepped toward the darkness.

Lucius drew his sword, but Diogenes said in Greta’s head that it was for show.  Lucius walked slowly up what appeared to be a wide and well-kept path, not unlike the back-door path in the village of the Dragon Clan.  Vedix fingered his wristwatch shield, thinking worst case scenario.  Greta found a stack of torches by the entrance and lit two with her little bit of flint.  She handed one to Vedix while Lucius stared off into the dark.

They did not walk far before they reached a great chamber, like a massive entrance hall carved out of the dark.  It looked like a smaller version of one of the great dwarf halls they saw in Movan Mountain, but this looked strictly human made, with great columns regularly spaced to support the ceiling.  Greta saw the path continued up and out the back of the chamber, but first she became concerned to light the torches that she found spaced regularly around the walls.  She figured this would be the way her group had to go, and guessed that they were beneath the Heart of the Goddess, whatever that was.  She managed to only light the first torch before all the torches around the room came to life as if by magic.

Vedix growled like a true member of the Bear Clan as Greta’s eyes shot to the exit tunnel on the other side of the room.  A small man in a long cloak and Phrygian cap stared right back at her.

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

MONDAY

Greta faces the second piece of Mithras, the Persian.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 2 of 3

Hermes paused at the side of the ship, bucket in hand. “I don’t want to accidentally scoop up one of those water babies.”

“It’s all right,” Mavis heard and responded. “It is what they live for, and you would not know if you did.”

“They live for?” Alesander asked, and Briana looked up as well.

Once again, Greta felt the need to explain. “Water sprites live to make a splash. They are the white in the whitewater, the ripples in the pond, the waves in the lakes and at sea.  They are very regimented wave makers.  They bubble up from deep beneath the earth in the springs and wells, and live to throw themselves up on the sandy beaches and against the rocky places which they eventually wear down to sand.  They have a symbiotic relationship with the air sprites who they meet where the steam rises and in the rain that falls.  In fact, falling with the rain has got to be the best water slide, ever.”

“But the rain splats on the ground,” Briana worried.

Greta nodded.  “And the ground takes them in where they nourish and bring life to all the plants and animals, or they evaporate and go up again to fall in a new rain, or they sink down deep to rise up again with the spring waters that find their way back to rivers, like the one we are on, and eventually they once again reach the sea where my lovely dolphins frolic and play.”

“Your dolphins?” Alesander asked.

Greta nodded, but did not explain.  She made sure everyone was present around the cooking fire and said something else.  “The water sprites in the river will take us safely to our destination, but you all must make sure you don’t fall overboard.  I cannot guarantee your safety if you fall into the river.” Everyone looked around and wondered why she had to mention such a thing.  No one had any intention of falling overboard, and Bogus looked like she jinxed everyone to do that very thing the minute she said it, but he did not say anything out loud.

“Now,” she continued.  “It has occurred to me, in case you have not noticed, that the Wolv, and the Scythians for that matter, have all focused on getting to me and have become confused when I borrow a different lifetime.”  Heads nodded.  They had noticed.  Greta also nodded and checked her armor.  It would adjust in size and shape to whatever lifetime she currently inhabited.  Then she finished her thought.  “It is an oversight I am sure Mithrasis will correct soon enough, but in the meanwhile, I will be other people for a while.  You will know it is me from the armor I wear, so do not be afraid.”

With that, Greta stood and went to the back of the boat where she turned her back on everyone, sat, and dangled her feet off the edge.  Mavis came to sit beside her, but Greta did not mind.  At the same time, a fog rolled in from both riverbanks until it swallowed the boat, whole.  It appeared thick enough to make sight difficult more than a few feet away, and it felt very unnatural, but comforting in a way, like someone laid a warm blanket down for the boat to silently sail beneath.

When Greta felt sufficiently covered, she traded places through time with Amphitrite, queen of the waters.  Mavis turned her head away from the goddess out of respect and began to worry her hands in her lap.  Amphitrite smiled for her, but said nothing.  Her mind wandered all the way to the other side of the world, to the savannah lands of the Amazon.  She found the school of fish she was after and insulated them against the cold waters of the River Heartbreak.  With a thought, she transported them to where she was, and tied them to the boat, to follow in their wake and not get lost.

“I felt something,” Mavis admitted.

“Hopefully unseen by bigger fish,” Amphitrite said and stood, so Mavis stood.  As they stepped from the edge, Amphitrite went away and the Storyteller came to fill her shoes.  He paused a moment to take a good look at Mavis, a real, live elf maiden, a privilege he did not have in his lifetime; though that, as they say, is a long story of its own.  “So how do I look?” he asked.

“Lovely,” Mavis said, and the devotion was so genuine, the Storyteller staggered.  He wondered why he could not show such devotion to the King of Kings.  He turned and spoke to the group, most of whom he could just make out in the fog.

“Howdy Folks.”

“He says hello,” Mavis translated the English.

“You kind of missed the impact,” the Storyteller said. “Words.  That is my business, you know.”

Pincushion interrupted.  “Lord, how can I cook in these circumstances?  I can’t hardly see the food.”

“Hush,” the Storyteller said and Pincushions eyes got big and her mouth closed.  “Just do your best.  That is all we can ever do.”  He sat and Mavis sat next to him to translate his words.  “This fog should keep the Wolv from seeing us and hopefully keep them from smelling us.”

“True enough,” Bogus interrupted.  “I can smell the trees along the river, but nothing beyond that.”

“I hope it will also interfere with their instruments. The only thing is, it will deaden the sound, but not stop it.”  The Storyteller whispered.  “We have to be as quiet as we can to avoid detection by Wolv ears.”

“Eats.”  Pincushion spoke up like she called a whole regiment for chow.  Everyone jumped.  Then everyone ate a fine lunch.

Four hours later, the Storyteller traded places with the Princess.  Somewhere in the back of her mind, the storyteller remembered that three or four hours was not enough to throw off the sleep routine.  She imagined if she remembered enough lifetimes, she could probably stay up for a whole week without ill effect as long as she traded places with another life every three or four hours.  So at four hours, he became the Princess.  That happened about four in the afternoon.  At eight o’clock, when people began to get ready for bed, she became Martok the Bospori, an alien life that looked relatively human for a man only five feet tall, if he did not show his eye teeth and kept his yellow cat-like eyes turned away.  At midnight, Gallena of Orlan took over, which was not a person to frighten anyone, despite the pure white hair and lavender eyes.  Those things were hard to tell in the dark and fog; but she did have to keep her six foot, six inch Barbie-doll body seated the whole time.  This was not a problem since, apart from the one on watch, the others were unfortunately snoring.

R6 Greta: The Wolf and the Wolv, part 3 of 3

Stinky and the horses were taken by men who promised to tend them well while Greta looked around and asked if anyone else had wandered into the village in the last several days.  She felt determined to find the ones who were supposed to travel with her, but if they were not there, she thought she might have to leave without them.  She pulled her cloak tight against the rain and stepped up to join the argument.

Greta and her friends ended up by the wall and the front gate where the bonfire got built for the feast, if the rain should ever stop.  Dunova, Alesander and Briana tried to make the elders of the Dragon Clan understand the danger, which was difficult since they had only seen and heard the Wolv from a distance.  Hermes and Lucius both got up on the wall in different places and tried to make the same argument.  Sadly, the elders insisted that they had a good, solid wall and they did not grasp the urgency until a wolf topped the wall and shredded the watcher in that spot. It dropped to the ground by the gate, looking like a wet dog with matted fur, but it had death in its eyes.  One great whiff of air and its nostrils flared, and its teeth showed in a primeval growl.  It looked straight at Greta, but got distracted by Alesander, Dunova and an elder of the Dragon Clan.

All three men drew their swords, and Dunova and the elder charged what they saw as a beast.  The Wolv laughed a recognizable laugh.  It stayed covered with a personal energy shield.  Alesander paused on the laugh while Dunova and the elder’s swords received a strong enough electric shock to make the men stagger.

“My turn,” Festuscato spoke loud and clear in Greta’s head.  “The least I can do for your kindness to the wounded men who fought in Cornwall, and to Cador.”

“Be my guest,” Greta heard from Gerraint and she thought Gerraint’s imposing size would not impress the Wolv in any case.

The Wolv smiled a very doggy, toothy smile and pulled out its own weapon.  Everyone saw two red flashes of light and Dunova and the elder burst into flame with great holes in their middles.

“Go for the weapon,” Greta yelled, as she vanished from that place and Festuscato arrived in his armor and his own weapons in hand.  Alesander somehow understood the message, and he struck at the claw that held the fire pistol.  He got blown back by the electrical discharge from the personal shield, but the pistol cracked and fell with Alesander’s sword to the dirt.

The Wolv howled and looked again for Greta, but she was no longer there.  Festuscato and Briana managed to get close thanks to Alesander’s distraction. Festuscato struck first at the other claw where he saw the watch-like wristband that controlled the Wolv shielding. He cracked the watch, his sword being insulated against electro-magnetic discharges.  Festuscato struck just before Briana’s sword came against the Wolv neck.  Her sword half-severed the head, but still the Wolv managed a claw across Briana’s middle. Briana got cut, but not badly as her leather armor proved strong and her one in a million reflexes made her jump back.

Festuscato followed his first blow with a second that chopped off the main part of the Wolv arm, and Mavis sank an arrow into the Wolv chest where the heart ought to be.  Still, the Wolv refused to go down until Mavis sank a second arrow and Festuscato made a swing for the Wolv leg.  Then three men of the Dragon clan ran up and their two swords and an ax finally finished the job.

Alesander got up, groggy.  Briana held him and tried not to bleed on him.  Lucius shouted from the wall and Hermes jumped to the ground.  Three more Wolv came over the top, and Festuscato swallowed hard for everyone present. Three men died and it took four of them to defeat one Wolv.  Three Wolv seemed insurmountable, and worse, the Wolv knew it.  They were content to take their time and look for Greta; and Festuscato had no doubt who they were after.  The Wolv even talked among themselves in a language no one knew and with a tongue no human tongue could imitate.  They pulled out their weapons when the men of the Dragon Clan mustered the courage to attack.  But no shots were fired and the two sides never met as all three Wolv vanished. Rhiannon appeared next to Festuscato, and the first thing she did was make the clouds move off and the rain stop.

“Mother,” she started right in sounding defensive. “I know your rule about not killing alien people, but Wolv are hardly people.”

“If I had a copper for every time someone used that excuse.  Tsk, tsk,” Festuscato said and went away to let Greta return.  “They are near enough to being people, certainly smarter than dragons.”

“But Mother.”

“Hush.  And the technology?”

“Here.”  Rhiannon held out a leather bag.  It contained five pistols and five wrist bands for personal shields.  “There were six on Celtic land.  This was all they had.  I don’t know what you want to do with the broken ones.”

“It was all they would need for a hunt,” Greta said and accepted the bag.  “You can send the broken ones to Avalon.”  Greta stepped up and kissed Rhiannon on the cheek.  “I don’t blame you.  I thank you for saving many lives.”

“But Mother.  I won’t be able to help you once you leave these lands.  Mithrasis has twisted the minds of the Wolv and they won’t rest until they eat you.”

“Hush,” Greta said a second time.  “I have already told you.  The day for Celtic lands in this part of the world is long gone.  You need to unravel these lands and go over to the other side.  You say you still have work to do, and I won’t argue about it, only you need to stay in the Celtic homeland, in Gaul or Amorica or even Ireland if you have a mind.”

“I will,” Rhiannon said with conviction, but Greta knew it would be done when Rhiannon got good and ready.  “For Mother,” Rhiannon said and returned the kiss to Greta’s cheek, and she vanished along with the cracked pistol and broken wrist watch.

Greta watched Lucius and Hermes run up.  Mavis stood by her side as always.  Alesander and Briana stood in awe of the way Greta and the goddess were so familiar, and they kept silent and waited to hear what Greta had to say.

“We can sleep safely tonight.  Enjoy it while you can.  We leave at dawn, no horses.”

“Mother Greta.”  Someone called from a distance.  Greta turned and nodded, like it was about who she expected.  One tall and one short man came up.  The tall one was Vedix, the hunter from the Bear Clan who once kicked Greta before Danna herself put the fear of the gods in him. The short one wore a glamour that could never fool Greta.  He was Bogus the Skin, a full blood little one who lived up to his stereotype, which was an imp.  But he was also Fae and Berry’s grandfather, so his presence came as no surprise.

“Introduce yourselves to the rest of the crew and then get a good night’s sleep.  We leave when the sun breaks.”  Greta took Mavis and Briana with her to the place set aside for her.  Briana’s scratches needed tending and then Greta planned to follow her own advice and sleep while she could.

Briana remained quiet while Greta applied the bandages.  The scratches were not deep, but they had to guard against infection.  Normally, an elect would heal quickly from such a wound, but no telling what alien microbes might be lurking beneath the surface.

When Greta curled up beneath her blanket, she wondered if Festuscato ever got Patrick to Ireland, or if he found some new pirates to fend off first.  She imagined Mousden screaming about pirates and smiled.  She wondered how Gerraint’s marriage might be working out.  She thought with luck she might dream about them in the night and for one night escape her own troubles.  No telling what she thought about next because she put her hand to her belly and fell asleep.

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

MONDAY

The crew finds the only path safe from the Wolv, not over or around, but through Movan Mountain.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: The Wolf and the Wolv, part 1 of 3

It became several hours wait, and Greta had to cut Ardwyn before there was a successful delivery.  Ardwyn stayed very brave, but the cut was small and better than a tear.  She had a boy, and Greta immediately recited a litany of dos and don’ts.  She especially emphasized that Ardwyn must eat plenty of greens against iron poor blood, and the baby must get plenty of sun, a precaution against jaundice.  Once that got done, and they finished the tea, and the women and Gwydden were all cleaned up, they made for the feast.  It had been dark for a couple of hours, but in the way such things go, the party just started getting into full swing.

“I must say, I never realized what it meant to give birth.  It is far more complicated and dangerous a thing than I ever imagined.”  Gwydden grinned like a proud father, which was just as well because Meloch became speechless.  Ardwyn’s mother, aunt and cousins all showed up and threw Meloch out of the house altogether, and now Meloch plodded along trying to come to grips with the idea of having a baby.

“And painful,” Greta added.  “You have no idea.”

“Painful,” Eofach agreed.  “But let me add, if I was alone, I don’t know if Ardwyn and the baby would have survived.  You claimed to have no miracles, but what you did to relieve the pressure inside where you could not see was as close to a miracle as I have ever seen.”

“The goddess surely has blessed you,” Gwydden added.

Greta looked at Mavis who just grinned, but Greta had something else in mind.  She knew Mithrasis was not on her side.  She caught that much when Nameless kissed the woman.  So, which goddess were they talking about?  For that matter, which goddess trained Briana to the sword?

They came into the light and Meloch ran off to tell his friends the good news.  The elders of the Raven Clan came up to offer Greta a special seat, and Gwydden and Eofach sang Greta’s praises and said she deserved the best the clan had to offer, but Greta had something else in mind.  She spied Briana seated with Alesander and the Sergeants and headed straight toward her.

“Which goddess?”  She blurted out the question and threw her hands to her hips for emphasis. There were a few moments before Briana and the others figured out what she was asking.  An elder of the Raven Clan gave the answer.

“Why, Rhiannon.  Surely you knew.  To us she is simply the goddess.  She first appeared and saved us when we were driven from the land.  She brought us here and has watched over us ever since.” The man spoke like this was something even the smallest of children knew.  He got shocked by Greta’s reaction, and so was everyone else except Alesander, and Mavis of course.

“Rhiannon!”  Greta called to the sky, and her voice sounded angry.  “Rhiannon, show yourself here, now.”  Greta stepped away from the bonfire.  “Rhiannon, I mean it.  You are a hundred and fifty years passed the time of dissolution and I need an explanation.”

“What do you know about such things?” A lovely woman asked as she appeared beside the fire.

Greta grinned beneath her frown.  “I get the first crack at you, you naughty girl.  I know you are not Talesin, but turn around.”

Rhiannon turned slightly red but before she could voice her objection, Greta went away and let Danna stand in her place.  Greta considered the political implications of what she was doing.  “Mother?” Rhiannon breathed as Danna made them disappear from the sight of the people so they could talk in private

“I said turn around.”  Danna tapped her foot and Rhiannon turned, slowly.  Danna stepped up and slapped the goddess sharply on the butt. “You naughty girl.”

Rhiannon squeaked and turned again with one hand rubbing away the sting.  “Ouch,” she added.

“It wasn’t that hard,” Danna smiled for her. “I know you have work yet to do, but you need to stay away from my elect.”  Danna pointed at Briana.  “You may have some men to train in the future, but you have no business training women in force of arms.”

“But Mother.  She was so alone and afraid of her natural gifts.  I just showed her she had a purpose, a high calling to defend the women and children when the men were away at war.”  Rhiannon stomped her foot.  “I served on the Amazon High Council.  That must be worth something.”

“I won’t quibble,” Danna said.  Rhiannon served a couple of times when Pendaron was preoccupied. “But we have reached the age where the one-in-a-million warrior women have to work things out for themselves. Besides, the larger issue is this enclave of Celtic people you have built and hidden away.  You know this cannot be sustained.  All of this land belongs to the Germans and Greco-Romans. It is old German or Latin with a touch of Scythian or Slavic influence.  Your people here will have to integrate or they will be wiped out.”

“But Mother.”

“If you must work and cannot join your brothers and sisters on the other side, go to Gaul, Amorica, the British Isles, maybe Galicia.  That is your natural place, but not here and not now.  The days when the Celts, and the Amazons for that matter, were used by the gods as a border people, a buffer between the jurisdictions of the various houses of the gods is passed.  Work in your rightful place, but not for too long.  The time of dissolution has passed and even I do not belong here.”

“But mother.”

Danna stepped up and kissed the goddess on the cheek. “There now.  All better.  And now poor Greta will have some explaining to do.”

“Tell her Chobar of the Dog Clan has given himself to Mithras and is two days behind with many warriors, but there are others coming to go north with her so she must wait for them in the village of the Dragon Clan.”  Rhiannon said no more.

“Cryptic as a Celtic goddess,” Danna said and Rhiannon let out her radiant smile.

“I dare not say more.”  Rhiannon offered a small curtsey before she vanished.

Danna sighed.  She would not search the location or the mind of the men of the Dog Clan, and would not hinder them.  This was Greta’s life.  Greta had to fight her own battles, and cross her own bridges, and Danna could not be sure if Rhiannon said too much saying anything at all. Danna made herself reappear behind the crowd and became Greta once again. She called softly knowing Mavis would hear and respond.

“Lady!”  Mavis got enough attention as she pushed through the crowd so the crowd slowly turned around to see Greta standing there.  Alesander, Briana, Dunova and the elders of the Raven Clan followed, but Greta asked a question as soon as they were able to hear.

“What just happened?”  She really wanted to know what they saw and what they think happened, but if they got the impression that she did not know what happened, she would not dissuade them.  “I came up here from Ardwyn’s house and then I found myself standing here behind the crowd.” Greta always stayed careful not to actually lie.

“I remember the story,” Dunova spoke with enough volume to announce it to the many who were present.  “The mother goddess once possessed you and appeared in your place among the Bear Clan.  That is a story the people will not easily forget.  Well, it happened again.”

“Danna can be good in that way,” Greta admitted as she took Mavis’ hand and grabbed Briana’s hand and dragged them up to the platform that had been set up for her.  She knew how this worked.  They would seat her in the place of honor and promptly ignore her.  She became determined to have some company.  Either that, or she would sit down and fall asleep from exhaustion, not that the people would especially notice.

When they reached the platform and two more chairs were fetched so Mavis and Briana could sit on either side of her, Greta whispered.  “But then, Danna won’t be helping us.  She says we have to cross our own bridges.  Grumble.”  She turned to Briana and spoke up against the music.  “So, what do you think?”

“That was Rhiannon, the goddess.  I didn’t know she had a mother.”

Greta frowned.  “More like her great-great grandmother, but Danna doesn’t like to think that way, so all her children and grandchildren and so on call her mother.” Briana bowed her head to the wisdom of her druid and did not question how she knew what she knew.  That made Greta frown again.

After a time, Greta asked Mavis how she liked the music.  Briana, who clapped along, called it wonderful, thinking Greta was talking to her. Mavis shook her head.  “A bit flat,” she said, and then added, “I could call a few friends to come and liven it up a bit.”

“Don’t you dare.”  Greta imagined a bunch of little ones, fiddlers, drummers and flautists enchanting everyone so they danced until they dropped.

A short while after that, Greta did what she feared and fell asleep in her chair.

Elect II—13 Christmas Too, part 2 of 3

Lisa paced.  “Nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing!”  It was the only word she said for the last two days.  Every lead, substantial or remote was followed, eagerly, by anyone who witnessed the bloody ac-ashish-1mess the night creatures made, but they turned up nothing.  It seemed like the historians might be right.  The creatures of Set did not actually exist,

“Maybe the night creatures are taking a break for the holiday season,” Ashish suggested.  Lisa frowned, but did not respond.  Ashish got glib when he was frustrated.

“Nothing!”  Lisa spouted and slammed the papers down on her desk.

###

Latasha rolled her eyes.  Preston Caine was even on the cartoon channel.  Mama stopped cooking to watch.  James, who was home from the marines paid attention.  John and Leah, of course, stared dumbly like it was still their favorite cartoon.  Even Latasha’s older brother, Leon, stood by the kitchen counter and watched.

ac-latasha-a7“There is one white man even I would vote for,” Leon said.

“Why should his being white matter?” James asked as the cartoon came back on.

Fortunately, for Latasha, the doorbell rang.  It was Mini and Wendy, and they brought Keisha with them.  Keisha shuffled inside and looked at her feet as she spoke softly.

“I heard it was a spider that killed Janet.”

“That’s right,” Wendy said.  “The city medical examiner confirmed that.”

Latasha reached out and hugged Keisha.  “Merry Christmas,” she said.  Latasha and Keisha both found some tears, and some of those tears were for Janet.

###

There was no more trouble after the mall because Emily only went to Molly’s house for lunch with Molly and Cathy.  They refused to go to the bowling alley, and Emily could not blame them.  ac-riverbend-plusOtherwise, she hardly went out at all, and mostly because Riverbend wanted to stay home where David was.  It got sickening.  If Riverbend was not following David from room to room, he was following her.

Emily finally retreated to the back step, cold as it was.  She could not stand to watch them dance anymore and she did not know what she could do about it.  Riverbend came out after a short while and sat beside her.

“You shouldn’t disappear like that,” she said.  “I was worried.”

“I thought you were busy,” Emily responded a bit sharply.  She was jealous, truth be told.  She had not found a man attractive since Pierce, and it was beginning to frustrate her.  “I thought you and David were playing some kind of game.”

Riverbend looked away and spoke frankly.  “We eat and sleep and fall in love the same as humans, only I don’t know how you humans do it.”

“What, eat or sleep?”

“No, love.”

“Well, how do elves do it?”

Riverbend grinned a very elfish grin.  “If I was home and he was an elf I would just walk up to him and tell him I love him.”

goddess-2“Do you, love him I mean?”

“Yes.  Very much and I can’t seem to help it, though Lady Alice, the one you call Zoe would be very angry with me if she knew.”

“Isn’t she like your goddess or something?”

“Yes, goddess of all the little spirits of the earth, air, fire and water.”

“So what makes you think she doesn’t already know?”

Riverbend’s elfish grin got even bigger, if that was possible.  “But how do you do it?”

“It is always different, but I would say it would not hurt to try it your way.  But what if he doesn’t love you the same?”  Emily had to ask.

Riverbend looked upset for a moment.  It was the first time Emily had seen the elf upset.  “That is why I haven’t said anything,” she said.  “He isn’t an elf.  I can’t tell what he is thinking or feeling, exactly.  The human body reads differently.”

ac-pierce-2“Everything okay?”  David stuck his head out the back door and then he stepped out to stand on the top step.

“Just fine,” Emily said as Riverbend stood up beside David.  Emily thought they looked like a very fine couple, despite her misgivings about the whole thing.

“I was just wondering if Captain Riverbend needed help keeping an eye on you.”  He gave Riverbend a little salute.

Riverbend stomped her foot and looked up.  “David,” she said.  “I don’t want you to salute me.”  He needed no other invitation.  Riverbend’s left foot stomped the ground several more times after that, but it was softly.  Emily got up and went around front to get back into the house.

Elect II—2 Amazons, part 2 of 3

As Emily limped to her suite, her thoughts turned to Ms Maynard, her Earth Science teacher from last spring.  The woman was not like the other Professors.  She did not just hate the students.  She hated the whole human race and acted like she would not mind if everyone just died.  Emily wondered briefly why the woman came to mind.  She was trying very hard to forget that class.

Emily shook her head to clear her mind, but thoughts about her destiny kept bubbling up to the surface.  She decided that given the chance, this whole being elect business could make her paranoid.  She was seeing shadows around eye-witless news, professors Granger, Maynard and this new professor Orlov.  There might not be any shadows at all.  She took a deep breath even as something occurred to her that she had forgotten.  Pierce once mentioned that he had a younger brother.  And Doctor Zimmer, his maker was still missing.  Please, she prayed, don’t let them come back here.

zenobia-3“And why do you not want them to come back here?” A woman asked.  The woman was pacing Emily, and Emily did not even know it until the woman spoke.  It startled her, but in her mind she responded, because she did not want that kind of fight if she could help it.

“Yes, it is wise not to fight unless you must,” the woman agreed.  “But I thought you were afraid he would remind you too much of Pierce.”

“Yes,” Emily whispered her admission, but her mind mostly thought that she just wanted a quiet semester.  As far as it went, she told the reporter the truth.

“And I wish you could have a quiet semester too.”  The woman smiled and Emily stopped cold.  This woman was reading her mind.  “Sit,” the woman said, and Emily saw two chairs around a small table where there had been only grass.  She suddenly realized they were just outside her new dorm, but she knew she did not limp nearly that far.  She sat slowly because of her ribs, and saw a tall to-go cup on her side of the table.  “Chai Latte.”  The woman pointed to the cup and picked up a bottle of water for herself.

“Who are you?” Emily asked.

“Zoe,” the woman said, and added, “Yes I am real, and yes we are really here, not dreaming, and no I am not an angel.”  Zoe gave the answers even as Emily framed the questions in her mind.  “Honestly!” Zoe sipped her water and rolled her eyes just like Emily.  “Angels are sexless.  I can’t imagine it.”

Emily sipped her Chai Latte and examined the woman, and Zoe was all woman.  She was dressed in what looked like a toga, but more like a mini-skirt version.  The sleeves barely went beyond the shoulder and the neckline plunged more than necessary.  It was pure white besides, and clean, which at the least said something about the woman’s choice of detergent.  Zoe’s sandals tied up to her knees, and they were brown, a match for her light brown hair.  She also wore a choker with a small stone that Emily guessed was supposed to be an emerald.  The green stone matched the woman’s green, deep set eyes which were so piercing, Emily had to look away.  All the same, Emily put out her finger to touch the woman’s shoulder, just to be sure.

“There, feel better?” Zoe asked.

Emily nodded and got a question all the way out.  “So what do you want with me?”

“Here’s the thing.”  Zoe shifted in her seat so she could face Emily better.  “With all I have on my plate right now, what with the Kargill-Reichgo war starting up,” Zoe paused to point at the sky so Emily might guess that was something outer spacey. “And earth politics and international relations bottoming out.  Don’t get me started.  And Melanie fighting off dimensional interlopers, and poor Lockhart trying to take over after Bobbie retired.  And my little ones.  There is trouble in the ranks!  Who would have thought it in this late day and age?”  Zoe clicked her tongue.  “Well, it is more than a lot.  You see, I am not sure I can handle the revival of a real Amazon tribe right now.”

“I’m not sure I can either,” Emily admitted.

“But here is the thing,” Zoe repeated.  “There is something about this place, this campus that is hidden even from my sight.  If I had the time I would never let such a mystery go.  Alas, as my elect, you will have to figure it out.  You and your tribe will have three years to do it.”

“Your elect?”

“Of course, silly.  Who do you think elected you?”

“I thought it was all the ancient goddesses and stuff.”

zoe-1Zoe just looked at Emily and smiled before she spoke again.  “As my elect, you must be queen of the tribe, but you must learn that an Amazon queen never acts alone.  She listens to her counsel.  There are three to her left that face the darkness and three to her right that face the light.  On your left is the hunter, that is Jessica.  The spirit of Artemis is in her though she hardly knows it.  Beside her is the Sybil, your seer Amina.  She must learn it is not always wise to say everything she sees.  Closest to the darkness is your spell caster, Melissa.  I know her power is small, but she is the one always in most danger of falling into the dark.  Her rules are simple.  First, she should not practice her art against those who have no such power to defend themselves.  Second, she must never practice her art for selfish ends, not ever.”  Zoe shook her finger at Emily.  “All of you must do you own homework the old fashioned way and get a good education.  Am I clear?”  Emily felt the scolding in her gut, and nodded as Zoe sighed.  “Just like instructing my children, but then that was five thousand years ago.”

Emily swallowed.  “And what of the three that face the light?”

“To your right hand is your wise woman, Mindy.  She knows the lore, the legends and the ancient ways.  When you face something inexplicable, she is the one who can find a way to explain it.  Her stories are instructive as well.  Let her whisper in your ear.  Beside her is Maria, your healer, filled with the spirit of Eir, though she does not know it.  Every Amazon tribe needs a healer, and Maria has the drive and the smarts to become a great one.  And the last is your priestess, set a bit apart.  She is your Liaison with the source of all things, with the light, with me, and with the universe.  She will not only keep you morally grounded, but spiritually grounded as well if you let her.”

“But wait.”  Emily held up her left hand and counted.  “Jessica the hunter, Amina the Sybil, Melissa the witch.”

“Spell caster,” Zoe corrected.  “A much nicer term than witch, don’t you think?’

“Spell caster,” Emily repeated and held up her right hand.  “Then Mindy the wise and Maria the healer, but that is everyone.  Who is this priestess?”

“I will send her.  I got her reassignment rescinded.  She will be here for three more years with you.  Now I must go.”

“Go?”

ac-emily-7“Lead your tribe.  Solve my mystery.  Somewhere there is a door open to Avalon.  Creatures have escaped.  You met one.  The world is in danger of going mad, blah, blah, blah…”  Zoe disappeared.  She literally vanished and took the two chairs, the drinks and little table with her.  Emily fell hard on her butt in the grass.

“Hey!”  Emily instinctively reached for her broken ribs before she paused.  She stood and ran in place for a second.  She jumped up and down several times.  She Planted her feet and twisted her trunk to the left and right.  There was zero pain.  She was completely healed.  She could not help looking up to the sky and mouth her thoughts.  “Thank you.”

She only felt slightly surprised, and maybe a little disturbed, when she heard the words plain as day, “You’re welcome.”

Avalon 3.9: part 3 of 5, Showdown

“Listen up,” Lockhart said again, and the sound echoed off the distant mountains. The people held their breath. “This is not your stopping place. All of you said you were told to go until you reached the river. This is not the river. And we cannot protect you if you do not do what you are told. Remember, there are others behind you who want to take your place and rule over you. It is time to move on, before anyone else gets hurt.” He handed Elder Stow’s sonic device back to him and turned, as a man threw a rock at him, or more accurately, picked a rock up with his mind and heaved it at him. Lockhart raised his hand to fend off the missile, but at half the distance, the rock turned into two pigeons and they flew away.zis pigeons

“For your own safety, go.” Lockhart added, not in the echo voice, but plenty loud enough for the rock thrower to hear.

Roland and Lincoln moved up beside Lockhart and Elder Stow. “Nice moves,” Lincoln said. “More than half of these various shaded brown and dark brown people are mixed blood, but plenty of it is Shemsu blood. They should build some nice cities.”

“Not if they never get there, and we can’t help them,” Lockhart admitted. “It was fun playing god for a few moments, but we are not gods and have no business pretending.”

“As I told Boston,” Roland said. “She felt the woman’s pain. The woman lost her husband, or her man. Maybe you have to be an elf to really understand that sort of empathy. But I told her it did not matter because there was not anything we could do about that.”

“How did you turn the stone into birds?” Elder Stow looked stumped on a different point.

varuna on the road“I did that.” There was another man beside them that they had not noticed. He waved hello. “I hope you don’t mind. The people made up their own minds, I understand. But it does not look good to fail to a rock.”

Lockhart took a close look before he spoke. “Thank you, Varuna. That is two I owe you, at least.”

“You take responsibility for the one now turned elf?”

“It is my job to get us home, alive if at all possible, and disrupt history as little as possible in the process. Boston was dying. You saved her and gave her another chance to get home. Thank you.”

“Yes,” Varuna nodded. “I understand this sort of responsibility, and I wish you only well. For me, I only wish it was so easy.”

“You are facing a war,” Lincoln said.

“I am still trying to prevent a war among the gods.” Everyone nodded.

Out on the field, Katie found a woman pacing her, floating in the air to be eye level, and moving at the speed of the horse with no problem. The woman had blonde hair, and blue eyes, and Katie was afraid to say her name.

“Shivishuwa,” the woman said. “And you should not fear to say my name. I get called many things through time.”zis goddess 2

“A cathartic god. A god of the dead?”

“Yes, that’s right.” She seemed pleasant enough. “You know, I can’t get with Amazons, but I understand Anath-Rama has established a real Woman’s paradise over by the Black Sea.”

“Don’t tell me. We get to drink wine and have our nails done and get messages and pedicures while the men all cook and do the laundry.”

Shivishuwa laughed. “Something like that. I like you. Maybe not Amazons, but I think you can be fun. I know,” Shivishuwa held up her hands to forestall the objections “The elect are supposed to defend the innocent women and children, not be offensive.”

“For the record, I don’t like being possessed.”

“I didn’t possess you, exactly. I just nudged you to say the thing you were not willing to say, and do something you wanted to do.”

zis goddess 1“I did not want to hurt that man.”

“No, but you wanted a test for your skill., and it would not have been bad to kill him. He is a coward.”

“I didn’t kill him.”

Shivishuwa shrugged. “With his bad attitude, he won’t last long.”

“Whose bad attitude?” a man asked. Katie stopped her horse and stared. There were roughly three hundred men standing there. The missing men, she thought. Katie looked again to the side, but Shivishuwa was gone.

“Zisudra?” Katie asked.

“Right,” a middle aged man responded. “As usual, your timing is impeccable, either good or bad, depending on you point of view.”

“Zisudra!” A streak of running madness, faster than a cheetah full out, came racing up and threw her arms around the man. “Zisudra. I love you. I didn’t know if I would because you are a man, but I do. I really do, and I miss you when I am not with you.”Zisudra 1

“I don’t hug,” Zisudra said, and Boston extracted herself, looking embarrassed. “But in this case, I am willing to say, Boston!” He shouted her name and waved like they were far away, though they were face to face.

“Zisudra!” Boston returned the shout and the wave, and almost giggled for joy.

Katie turned her horse and spoke. “Now that the important things are over, let’s go and find out what is happening with the rest of the crew.”

“Captain Harper,” Zisudra said. “You are hanging out with Lockhart too much. You are learning his sarcasm.”

Katie put one hand to her mouth and Boston nodded. “You are,” Boston said.

“Men,” Zisudra spoke up. “You might as well catch up with the women and children while I find out why they are still here.”

“We kind of ran into them and they were delayed for a day,” Katie said.

“Sorry,” Boston added.

“I’m glad I sent them ahead so they could get to safety,” Zisudra said in his own version of sarcasm. He stopped at the edge of the camp and shook his head. “Now I have run out of options.”

Avalon 2.5: Getting Out Alive

            The Buffalo burgers were good, but now it is time to move on.  Lincoln and Lockhart especially want to get back to the twenty-first century before they became old men again.

###

            Lockhart secretly set a watch in the night.  It was only one person for a couple of hours each so no one went without rest.  Even so, when he woke up in the morning he found a stranger beside the campfire and a pile of their things beside him.  With his eyes half closed, his feet stumbling and his brain lacking his morning coffee, Lockhart nevertheless recognized that the stranger was not human and patted himself on the back for that realization.  For one, when the stranger stood and turned to face Lockhart, he proved to be nearly nine feet tall.  For two, Lockhart thought his sleepy eyes were tricking him at first since it looked like a bush grew up in the night beside the fire.  Even when the stranger faced him, he looked something like the trees with bark-like skin, vines for hair and tree trunk knots for his mouth and eyes.

            “I am Deep Roots,” the stranger introduced himself.  “I cannot stay long away from my trees, but I thought I should help.  Huyana is not always on top of every situation and I suspected the little diggers would rob you in the night.”

            “My thanks,” Lockhart said. 

            “Think nothing of it,” Deep roots said and let a smile creak across his face before he vanished.  Huyana came stumbling up, Aster trailing, as Katie brought Lockhart his coffee.

            “What is all this?”  Huyana pointed to the pile

            “Your dwarfs borrowed a few of our things in the night,” Lockhart said.  “I hope they didn’t break anything.”

            Huyana looked suddenly unhappy.  “Lady, remember the Earth, the sea and the sky,” Aster whispered.  Huyana took a deep breath and then called, “Dwarfs!”

            All seven appeared, tied together in a group with Decker’s rope.  They were gagged as well with bits of leather, and not one of them could wiggle enough to get free.  Boston came out of her tent in time to laugh.  Roland, who was with the horses also laughed as he came over to untie them and collect the rope.  The dwarfs pulled off their own gags and yelled, mostly all at once.

            “It was Deep Roots.  We found this stuff fair and square.  We could have been rich.  He stole it from us.  We just want what is ours.”

            “These are our things,” Katie said, reasonably.  Boston interrupted.

            “Three second rule.  All this stuff has been sitting here untouched for three seconds.  I claim it.”

            “Oh, buggers.  Toots.  Twaddle,” the dwarfs swore and added a few real words as well.

            Huyana put her hands on her hips and tapped her moccasin.  It made a surprisingly crisp sound on the dirt.  The dwarfs noticed, whipped off their hats and put on their most humble and sorry expressions.  Huyana was not fooled.  “Three seconds or not, everything these people brought with them is theirs, not yours.  You so much as touch one of their things again and you should have your fingers burned.”

            Aster stepped up and took Huyana’s hand, but it was too late.  Digger cried, “uh-oh,” and whipped something out of his pocket and tossed it to Picky who tossed it to the next one.  It was the ultimate game of hot potato, but the potato was Boston’s Beretta.  Finally, Gome had the sense to toss it to the pile.  It went off when it landed, but by some unknown grace, the bullet missed everyone.

            “Now, enough,” Huyana had to take several breaths and squeeze Aster’s hand several times before she could speak.  “I am asking you, will you escort my friends to the next time gate.  They will know the way, but I need someone to guard them from the bokarus.  Will you do this for me?”

            “Bokarus is spooky,” Picky spoke for the group.  “And what might we expect –“

            “This is not a bargain!  It is yes or no.”  Huyana shouted and squeezed Aster’s hand several more times while the dwarfs all said, “Yes, sure, of course.”  Huyana squeezed once more before she said, “Thank you.”  Then she let go of Aster’s hand.  Aster whipped the hand to her mouth to hold back the tears.  Her hand got a serious workout, squeezed again and again by her own goddess, but she would do it again.  She did not mind, really.

            Ogalalo came up to join them for breakfast and marveled at the bread they offered.  Then he saw them mount to ride out.

            “We may not make it in a day if we walk the horses the whole way,” Boston said mostly to herself.  Huyana heard.  She was ignoring Ogalalo.

            “The dwarfs will protect you in the night.  They will take you all the way to the time gate as promised.  Isn’t that right?”

            “Oh,yes.  Yes mam.  Absolutely.  Time gate it is.”  Gome was the one who asked.  “What’s a time gate?”

            Huyana sighed.  “You will know when you get there, only you are not permitted to go through the gate.”

            “Oh yes, absolutely.”

            “Just like a real goddess,” Dingle spoke up with pride in his voice.  “Cryptic as the best of them.  What’s a time gate?  You’ll know when you get there.  Yes, sir.  Just like a real goddess, she is.”

            “Ogalalo?”  Huyana could not ignore him any longer.

            “I wanted to warn your friends to beware the Onakatta if their way takes them into the next valley.  They are a treacherous and cruel people best avoided.”

            “Thank you for the warning,” Lockhart said as he started out.

            “And thank you for the feast,” Katie added. 

            Boston thought to say something else.  “Good-bye Huyana.  We love you.”  Huyana started to cry when she heard that and Aster and Ogalalo did their best to comfort her, but the dwarfs all began to argue about which one of them was really about to say that, except the dumb human beat them to it. 

###

            The tapestry of life is three dimensional.  It has layers, but life gets confusing when the layers begin to interweave and the colors bleed into one another, and when war is the reason, it also gets downright dangerous.

Avalon 2.6:  Multiple Worlds … Next Time

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