R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 2 of 3

“You must be Bogus,” Greta said, while a quick image flashed through her mind. Basically, she thought if he took her home to where there were six others that looked just like him, she would hit him.

“And just who are you?”  Bogus asked. Danna had hidden the truth from him so he honestly did not know.

“Greta,” she said. “Plain old Greta.”  And she thought real hard at Berry to keep her big little mouth shut.

“Oh, no,” Berry said.  “I’m no tale teller.  No I’m not.”

“So, what exactly do you want?”  Bogus asked.

“I want you to take me to my brother, Hans.  I appreciate you looking after him, but it is time that he and I finish our journey.”

“I don’t know any Hans.”  Bogus sounded very sincere.

“Just take me to him,” Greta insisted before Fae could say a thing.

“All right,” Bogus said, as if he suddenly changed his mind.  He turned, but stopped in mid-step.  “Why am I doing this?”

“Just…” Greta started.

“Oh, I’ll do it,” Bogus said, and started to walk again.  “I just don’t know why, that’s all.”

They walked slowly because Fae could not walk very fast, and all the while, Bogus mumbled. “I protect my people.  I work out a fair deal, a fair deal, mind you.  And we take the wyvern, the bogie and all of the other not so nice on our side.  And then all we get is squeezed between the river and the road, but that’s all right because at least there is a little room for us to be free, and what happens?  A mere seventy years later, a measly seventy years, mind you, and the goddess shows up out of nowhere and Poof!  It’s all gone.  Then she says I gotta give this dumb girl her dumb brother back besides.  I tell you, what is the world coming to?”

Greta looked around briefly to see how Fae and Berry were getting along, but when she looked back, Bogus had gone.  Instead, there came a tremendous roar and a vision of horrible ugliness that towered before them.  It stood right in the path, and all three women screamed, and Fae at least feared that Bogus might have been eaten.  Greta jumped forward without thinking to get between Fae and the beast.  She was not sure how Fae’s old heart could stand it.

“Stop that!” She yelled at the beast without really thinking about what she did.  She just reacted.  “Bad, bad ogre!”  She yelled, and then she slapped the ogre in his outstretched arm, truly without thinking. Curiously, the ogre wilted under her scolding and, though he would not have felt a human slap, he howled in pain at Greta’s touch.  Then Greta remembered that ogres were included among her little ones, though they could hardly be called little.  “Bad, bad.” She said again, and the ogre winced as if under hammer blows.  Then Greta felt sorry for the beast.  Berry was hide-ed in Fae’s hair, and Fae, while clearly repulsed, at the same time, she seemed fascinated with the sight.

“You scared us badly,” Greta said, a bit more softly.  “You really are an ugly, scary ogre.  I bet if you saw your own reflection you would even scare yourself.”

“I did once,” the ogre proudly admitted, and he turned a little red from embarrassment.

Fae drew her breath in sharply as Greta stepped up and put her hand right up to the ogre’s mouth; but Greta had no fear.  “Oh, I knew it.”  Greta praised the creature and he turned ever redder as she began to scratch beneath the fold of his chin where his own hammy hands could not scratch.  Ogres develop a kind of moldy fungus there which otherwise only grows on rocks.  It is not painful, but it itches terribly and Greta imagined that might be why ogres were sometimes so mean.

“Have you always been this scary, or did you grow scary when you got older?”  She made polite conversation.  At the moment, he was thumping his leg against the ground like a puppy dog.  The ground shook a little and Greta felt obliged to stop scratching to let him answer.

“Always,” he said and stuck his chin out for more.

“What’s your name?” Greta asked, not offering any more scratches.


“Well, Thunderhead, you know you are not allowed to scare humans.”  She almost scolded again and that took his attention from his chin.

“Bogus said it was only fairies.  He said it was a prank.”  Thunderhead defended himself in the classic way.  He blamed someone else.

“No, Dunderhead.” Berry jumped out and began to scold him herself.  Evidently, she knew him.  “No hurting the humans.  It is not permitted.”  He listened, but at the same time he made a couple of slow attempts to grab the sprite darting in front of him.  It looked a bit like trying to swat a fly with a wrought iron lamppost.  Greta backed up a little to avoid the flailing arms. “Don’t make our goddess mad at you,” Berry said.  “You have had enough scratchies.”

“No telling,” Greta insisted.

“I’m no tale teller.”  Berry said, and she fluttered back to hover between Fae and Greta.

“What do you do, Thunderhead?”  Fae asked out of curiosity.

“I make sand,” the ogre said, frankly.  “I crush the rocks to make the soil good.”  He made a fist, like he was showing her how it was done.  “But sometimes my hands get tired so I crush them with my head.  But right now, I got terrible itches.  Maybe you scratch or I eat you, rule or no rule.”

Greta’s jaw dropped.  “Of all the nerve!”  She got a little angry, and the ogre wilted again under her lashing.  “You frighten my friends, but I make nice.  I compliment you and scratch under your chin, and what do I get?  You threaten to eat us anyway!  Serves me right for being nice to an ogre!  Now move, you big, ugly oaf!”  The ogre raised his arms as if to ward off her tongue, but she slapped his arm again, and this time he felt something electric in her touch.  Thunderhead howled and jumped back about eight feet.

“You sound like Bogus,” he confessed, while he sucked on his arm and eyed Greta with awe.

“Yes.” Greta started building up a good head of steam.  “Bogus! Bogus the Skin!”

“What? Who?”  He appeared right in front of her.  “What am I doing back here?”  He got confused, at first.

“The goddess said take me to my brother and she meant safely.  She did not say I should be threatened by an ogre!”

Bogus deflected her anger by turning on Thunderhead.  “Thunderhead.  What have you been doing?”  He began a scolding of his own, but Greta interrupted before the ogre could speak.

“He only did what you told him to do,” she said.  “Yes, I know the truth.”  She added before Bogus could lie about his innocence.  “Now get moving.  I want my Hans back, and Thunderhead.”

“Me?” Thunderhead paused in his sucking. He looked visibly shaken.

“Go make some sand, and maybe, if you are real good, just maybe your itchies will go away for a while.”

“Yes,” Thunderhead said.  “I will. I will.”  He did not know what to make of her, but he felt sure that she was one he ought to listen to.

“Move,” Greta said a bit more softly as the steam began to run its’ course.

“I’m moving,” Bogus said.  “What is the world coming to?  And who are you, anyway?”

R5 Greta: Nowhere to Run, part 3 of 3

The armor adjusted automatically to Greta’s shape and size, and as she thought on it, it felt very comfortable, and not at all too heavy.  The cloak of Athena also felt much warmer than her poor red cloak, and she could make it longer with a thought, so it got long enough to act as a blanket.  She lay down on the heather and added her own “Thank you” to the moon, her Artemis moon. She slept, and this time, she slept peacefully, and without dreams.

Greta woke in the morning feeling much better in her mind and heart.  She had faith that somehow that morning everything would work out. She had hope, even if she felt terribly thirsty.  A bit of breakfast would have been nice as well.

She smelled the air.  It smelled fresh and clean.  She looked all around and felt that the Sylvan River had to be fairly close.  She started out in that direction and was not even aware that she wore her armor until she stopped to relieve herself. She decided to wear it for a while. It really felt that comfortable, and she did not mind the feeling of protection it gave her.  Besides, it became hers for her entire lifetime, and this was her lifetime and she would live it for all it was worth for as long as she could.

Greta came to a spring fed stream and had a long, cold drink.  Why did she head toward the river?  She could not imagine the reason, but there had to be one.  If nothing else, she decided to see where the path let out.  It did not take long, though, before she started to get bogged down in a swampy area. The fact that she wore water-proof knee boots rather than sandals helped a lot, but after a while it still became rough going.  She kept thinking any moment she would break out on to the riverbank, but the bog continued, and she could see no end.

Something caught the corner of her eye and the hair came up on the back of her neck.  It wasn’t Berry.  She considered pulling Salvation, the sword Nameless had graciously left her.  She might have brandied it as a warning, but she could not be sure if her arms were strong enough, even for this sword made for a woman.

She stepped around a tree and a man blocked her way.  He shimmered in the dim sunlight and looked beautiful to behold.  Greta felt an instant attraction to the man which felt so strong, she almost rushed to his feet.  She had to struggle to check herself.

“What do you want?” she asked.  The man said nothing while a second man stepped out from the shadows.  He looked very different, but in his own way, he appeared as attractive as the first.  Greta felt herself flush with desire and excitement.

“What do you want?” she asked more sternly.

A woman stepped forward.  Hers seemed an unearthly beauty beyond anything Greta ever imagined.  Greta felt the urge to fall into the woman’s arms and kiss her passionately.  That felt wrong.  She was one who never had any inkling in that direction, and the thought repulsed her a little and returned her to her senses.

“No,” she said.

“Come to me,” a third man spoke.

“Come share my love.”  A second woman came into the light.

They are not real people, Greta said to herself, and she started to back away until she realized a fourth man and two more women stood behind her.  She got surrounded.  The ones behind her, however, had the morning light behind them, and she could see through them in a distorted sort of way.  They looked translucent, and whatever else they might be, they were certainly not people.

Greta closed her eyes for a brief moment and cleared her mind and heart as well as she could.  The first rule of magic was to let be what must be.  When she looked again, she saw demon faces where she had seen beauty, and ghostly, floating figures where their bodies had been.  They still called to her, but she could no longer hear them. Instead, she found Salvation securely held in both of her hands.  She decided the adrenaline helped, but the sword proved not nearly as heavy as she had imagined.  Several of the demon faces appeared to laugh.  They had faced swords before and such weapons were ineffective against them. Greta swung clumsily at the one nearest to her.  It neither moved nor ducked, apparently expecting the sword to simply pass through. Instead, as she cut the creature, it bubbled and fizzed for a moment like carbonation in a glass of ginger ale, and then popped and vanished altogether from the world.  The others backed up significantly, and the smug looks on their faces changed to sheer cruelty.

“Help!” Greta screamed on the inside, but no one answered.  She did hear the word, “Wyvern” followed by “Succubus.”  So she knew what she faced.  “Thanks a lot,” she said out loud.  She tried to back up and swung her sword as much as she could, but these creatures were no fools.  They had let her come way into the swampland before they approached her.  Her arms would tire long before she got out of their territory, and even as they did tire, the Succubus began to close in. She caught no more of them with her wild swings.

Suddenly, a beautiful young girl of about twelve years of age stepped out from behind a tree. “Wyvern,” she called.

“Berry, no!” Greta shouted.  She knew who it was, even though she had never seen Berry before in her big form.

“Lifegiver.” The Wyvern called out, and they all turned instantly from Greta to attack the little spirit of life.

“No!”  Greta screamed as did Berry, but just as they came at her, something like fire poured from Greta’s hands and eyes.  The Wyvern were instantly on fire, and they began to fizz and pop all over the place.  Berry stayed untouched.  Then Greta had to jump and cut one with Salvation, because while she got distracted by her concern for Berry, one came right up to her face.

She still faced three of them that the flames missed.  One floated in front of Greta, one to her right, and one behind her.  Berry, her small fairy self again, went up the tree to her left and Greta knew the little one would be safe for the moment.  Greta doubted she could deal with these last three. They seemed to know that as long as they did not threaten Berry, they were safe, and it would not be too much longer before Greta would be unable to keep her sword up, much less resist them.

“All right.” Greta heard a voice as clear as day in her head.  It could not have been someone outside talking to her because it sounded unquestionably like her own voice.  At the same time, though, it sounded like a male voice and that confused her for a moment. “I’ll take it from here.”  Greta gladly and gratefully let go, vanished, and let him come down through time to stand in her place.  Gerraint, son of Erbin appeared, but older than she remembered. This Gerraint was already a Knight of Arthur’s Round Table.  “Always willing to help a lady in distress,” he said with a grin.

The Wyvern recognized the change and began to flee, but already too late for them.  Two popped on the tip of Salvation’s point. Then Defender got whipped from its’ sheath.  It flew faster than sight and pinned the last Succubus against a tree, catching it square in the center.  The Wyvern bubbled, fizzed, popped and became no more, and Gerraint patted himself on the back because it appeared a near perfect throw.  “Practice.”  He told Greta, as he left and she returned in his place.

Greta had no time to respond as Berry attacked her from the tree, flung her little arms around her neck for a big hug and cried and then laughed because her little self could not reasonably do more than one at a time.

“I knew it. I knew it.”  Berry got excited.

“Knew what?” Greta asked.

“I knew you were my Great Lady,” she said.  “The stories all said the fee were sometimes permitted to ride on the shoulder of their goddess, and you let me ride on your shoulder, and you could still see me even when you were not in the circle, and one of the gods came to fight for you, even though I missed you when you went away.”

“Hold on,” Greta interrupted.  “I’m no goddess.”  And she did not want to be one.  Nameless always came courteously restrained, but she had been Salacia in a moment of havoc. That seemed a power beyond anything Greta could handle, and a responsibility she would never want.

“But you are,” Berry insisted.  “Even when you are completely mortal and human, you are the goddess for all of the little spirits of the world.  And you will be our goddess in your next life, too, and the one after that, unless you are our god.”  Berry had to pause to puzzle her way through that thought.

“But you took an awful chance exposing yourself like that,” Greta said.

“No-oh.” Berry insisted again.  “Even when you are mortal, human, you have everything you need to protect and defend us.”  She became serious for a moment.  “And you make the rules and teach us and keep us on the path of righteousness.”  She paused again to swallow and her little eyes became big.  “And sometimes you punish us when we are bad, and they say your wrath is a terrible thing to behold, and I have to go now.”  Greta blinked and Berry no longer fluttered there.

Greta shrugged. Faster than a speeding bullet, she thought.

She considered Defender, stuck ten feet up the tree.  She supposed she could call to it and it would jump to her hand, but instead, she sent her armor and weapons home, wherever that might be, and became clothed again in her dress and red cape.  She found her dress cleaned and pressed, and sewn where the little tear had been.  She wondered if her little ones did that.  She supposed they did, and she felt grateful, though calling them her little ones would take some getting used to.  She wondered what on Earth she could do that would be even half as nice for them. She felt very warm and loved at that moment.  Then she saw him.

She gagged.  Sanger sat with his back to a tree.  She felt sure it was him, but he looked like a raisin or dried prune.  His eyes were rolled up in his head and his mouth hung open in a scream.  It looked like every ounce of life had been sucked out of him.  She turned away, but saw the bones of others.  Some looked like they had been tied or chained. Sacrifices, she thought.  There were some rusty old Roman weapons, too, and she knew why that Century of Romans never made it to the other side of the forest. She could not stay there.  She had to get out of that death swamp; that succubus graveyard.  She fled and felt terribly sick to her stomach.  She ran until she found herself scooped up by the arms of the gruff old man of the Bear Clan.

“There, there,” he said.  It seemed as if he knew she had been scared by something and he came there to protect her. In the next moment, she felt a rope slipped around her neck and the young man started to bind her wrists.



Greta is taken captive by the old ones, and they almost make her prefer being with the monsters.

Until then, happy reading.


R5 Greta: Nowhere to Run, part 2 of 3

Greta knocked, but since she got no answer, she poked her head inside.  “Hello?”  There did not seem to be anyone home.  The table nearby, however, had been set with roast goose, boiled potatoes and three big jugs of beer.  She did not feel particular at that moment about what might be too hot or too cold. She just helped herself until she became stuffed.  She had been starving, and now she let out a little burp.

She felt guilty afterwards.  This would not make a good first impression.  She decided she had better wait for her hosts to return and apologize for helping herself.  She found three chairs in front of the fireplace, and she fought the urge for the longest time.  She really did.  But at last she surrendered and stood up on the little chair until it broke, just as it should, and she knew she would be in big trouble.

Greta stood there for what seemed like the longest time.  Then she knew the story, and chided herself for wasting time.  Her rough sleep under the oak and all of her upset at losing Hans now combined with a warm home and a full stomach.  She really had no choice.  She climbed up to the loft, found the right bed, but opened the window just to be ready, before she fell asleep.

Greta saw the romans in her sleep.  The roman governor in Ravenshold looked besieged in the tower.  The fort had already fallen, and Kunther had placed men with rifles on the walls, facing the tower.  Lady Brunhild stood there, and that seemed what she saw.

“Mother. Too much of the powder has degraded, and too many of the weapons are rusted and useless.”  That had to be Kunther.

“All the same.” Lady Brunhild spoke with authority. “You must take some of the good powder and force an opening in the tower.  The romans and their traitorous allies cannot be more than two days behind. We must have the romans cleaned out of Ravenshold and the governor in hand by the time they arrive.”

“It would not be good to have an enemy at our backs.”  It looked like Bragi who spoke!  Her own brother Bragi, betraying papa!

“Listen to Vobalus’ good son,” lady Brunhild said.

Kunther banged his fist on the table.  “but we must save as much of the powder and weapons for when the full legion arrives. We must be able to destroy their legion. Without their army, we will be able to sweep the romans out of Dacia and beyond the old river.

“Time for that, later.”  Lady Brunhild insisted.  “We must secure Ravenshold and deal with the roman cavalry and the traitors.”  That appeared to be how they were portraying the people riding with the romans, as traitors.  It made Greta’s heart sick to think of it.  The people were divided and fighting each other, just as papa had predicted.

“You take care of the tower and take the governor alive.  Thuldores has set the defense of the road against the cavalry, yes?”

Bragi nodded, but another man verbalized.  “Yes.”

“Good, then Gareth.”  That was the other man.  “Take the message to Eldegard.”  Forget Kunther, Greta thought.  Lady Brunhild gave the orders.  “You will have to hide and wait until they pass to make it appear as if you are chasing them from behind, from Boarshag.”

“What’s in the message?”  Kunther wanted to know.

Lady Brunhild merely smiled, wickedly.  “The traitors, many of them, may yet be turned.  We may not have to waste any of your precious powder or bullets on the roman cavalry.”

“Ugh.” Greta said in disgust and turned away. She did not want to see any more, even in her sleep.  She saw Hans. He appeared to be dancing and having a lovely time.  She turned again, believing that for the moment he was in no immediate danger. The stars came out and the moon came up full.  It was her Artemis moon.

Greta found herself standing at the bottom of a path which looked cleared of trees.  It ran a hundred yards straight up a little rise to where the moon rested low on the horizon.  She got ready to walk to the moon when a man appeared at the top of the rise.  He stood between her and the light so she could not see his face.  All she could see was the shimmering outline of his figure. He howled.  It was not a man.  It was the wolf.  He got down on all fours and charged.  Greta heard berry scream.  Greta wanted to run, but her legs felt like lead, so she screamed, too.

Greta sat up in bed and all was quiet.  Then she heard a voice downstairs.  Someone started coming in the door.

“They have taken three for the sacrifice, but the other one escaped.  They will catch him, though, or the wyvern will have him. They have taken the dogs out.”  It sounded like a very gruff voice.

“Father, can’t we go search, too?”  A younger man spoke.

“Son, you know it is not safe at dark with the wolf about.  The men with the torches and dogs should be safe enough, but we are too few here.  The wolf would have you for supper.”

“I wish you would not talk about my brother that way.”  A woman’s voice spoke.  “Even if it is true.”

The door closed. “Someone has been here,” the woman said. “Liam?”

“Not your brother,” the gruff voice responded.  “He even used a cloth to wipe his mouth, and the house is still in one piece.”

“My chair is broken,” the young man said.

There came a moment of silence and Greta felt afraid to move for fear of making a sound. “In the loft!” the gruff man shouted. She heard a scramble for the stairs and Greta had to move.

“Yellow hair,” the young man yelled, but Greta popped out the window and slid down the barn roof in the dark.  “It’s a girl.”  She heard the young man say, as she ran into the woods.  She would not be another one for the sacrifice, she told herself.  And when she had run as far as she could, and had to stop to catch her breath, she thought, bear clan, indeed.  They came dressed in fur against the cool of the night, and with their dark and wild looking hair, they looked very much like actual bears.

Greta got lost again in the dark, and very afraid.  Even the trees around her felt hostile, no doubt due to the cutting, and they were not at all kindly disposed toward her like her great, old oak.  She became teary-eyed, but she refused to start crying again.  She began to walk.  She had no idea where she headed, but she went away from the cabin and that felt like all she could do.

After a while, she heard a voice in the back of her mind.  It was not her, or any other lifetime as far as she could tell, and so she decided it was really not there at all, except in her imagination.

“The boy is lost, the maid will weep, but fairy dust will make her sleep,” the voice said.

Greta sneezed and kept walking.  She felt miserable, and wondered if she might be coming down with a cold.

“The sun has gone into the ground and will continue round and round.  A hundred times its’ days to keep, and still the maiden lays asleep.”

Greta sneezed again, twice.  She brushed away what felt like gnats in her face.  The voice became stern and determined.

“The boy is lost, the maid does weep, ‘till fairy dust makes her to sleep!”  Greta held her breath and brushed the dust away.

“I heard you the first time,” she said out loud, without really thinking of anything but her misery.

“Run!”  She heard, and then it struck her that this was not just her imagination.

“Hey!” she shouted.  “Wait a minute.  Don’t leave me!”  But it was too late.  The spirit or imp or elf had gone and she got left alone.  Then Greta began to cry for her ignorance and foolishness.  She had been so preoccupied with her own troubles she missed a great opportunity.  She felt the earth should swallow her up for her stupidity.  Then she stepped out of the trees and came to a green path which might have been an old road of some kind.  It rose gently for a few hundred yards and over the top of the rise she saw the moon.  It looked full enough.  She paused and remembered her dream even as the man stepped to the top of the rise. For a moment, she thought it might be one of the bear clan in his fur out chasing the fourth sacrifice, but then the man howled and she knew.

“Nameless, you promised,” she screamed.

That was not strictly true, but nameless took her place all the same.  “So I did,” he said.  He came dressed in his armor and he already had his bow strung and in his hands with an arrow on the string.  The first shot caught the beast in the shoulder and the wolf reared up. With superhuman speed, nameless grabbed a silver tipped arrow, a gift from Artemis herself in ages past, and fired. The arrow clipped the beast’s heart. The beast fell to the ground, writhing in agony.  It screamed and howled, and finally fell silent.

Nameless called the silver tipped arrow back to his hand, and blood began to squirt from the wound.  Even then, Nameless felt that he could heal the man, take away the terrible curse, and return him to his sister, but the half-man, half-beast looked up and spoke one last lucid thought.

“Kill me,” he said.  “I don’t want to remember.  Please kill me.”

Nameless saw the wound around the heart already healing over.  He strung the silver arrow and shot more accurately.  The heart of the beast exploded, and he died.  It happened quickly, but made a bloody mess.

With a wave of his hand, the nameless god opened a pit twenty feet deep.  The beast, and all of his blood floated down into the hole. Then he laid a boulder on top before piling on the dirt.  He did not want anyone digging the man up and becoming infected with the micro-virus. He imagined the man’s sister carried the gene and also her son.  They might already be infected, but not active.  Surely one touch of this one’s blood would trigger their condition to active status.  That did not need to happen.

Nameless took two pieces of lumber, cleaned and treated the wood with a thought and used stone to nail the pieces together in the form of a cross.  He burned the name “Liam” on the cross piece and set it up to mark the grave.  Then he paused to consider.  He knew it would not be long before men came up from the south in evangelistic zeal for the one raised on the third day.

Nameless floated to the top of the rise and looked up at his Artemis moon.  He saluted, “Thank you for the gift of the silver arrows.” For a moment, he almost heard a response from the other side.  “I am sorry I am not there to give you more.”  Nameless knew his day, and the day of the gods was over.  They were all gone, now, mostly.  A few pretenders hung around, like this Abraxas fellow, whoever he was.  He knew what Greta had not realized.  The hurricane of Salacia put Abraxas, and perhaps others on notice.  They would not bother or interfere with Greta and her mission again.

“Meanwhile.” Nameless spoke out loud.  “That will not prevent flesh and blood interference.” He made a hedge around the spot so at least Greta would not be disturbed in the night, and he caused soft heather to grow up for a bed.  When all was ready, he traded places with Greta, but left the armor with her.

R5 Greta: Nowhere to Run, part 1 of 3

When Greta sat up, the sun already poked above the horizon.  She got angry with herself for sleeping when Hans needed her, and yet she felt calm, now, after some rest, and she could think clearly.  In the light, she might stand a reasonable chance of finding Hans.  In the dark night, and in her panic, she recognized she had no chance of finding him. She had behaved foolishly in the night, leaving the camp, screaming until she became hoarse, getting herself lost in the process.  She chided herself.  She really needed to learn to respond better in panic situations.

The first thing she did, after shaking out the stiffness, was climb the old oak.  The hill proved to be not very far away, and with careful inspection, she felt fairly sure she knew where the stream came cascading down the hillside.  It appeared so close, in fact, she realized that she must have been going in circles all night.  When she thought about it, she actually felt glad she had not gone too far from the camp.

It took nearly an hour to find her way there.  It looked like someone or something had kicked the fire into the stream.  While she refreshed herself with a drink from that clean, cold water, the image of Smokey the Bear floated up in her mind. She knew, then, that the lives she had lived in the past and the future had not abandoned her as she supposed. Indeed, they only waited for her to decide what she would do.  What she still wanted was to snap her fingers and have Hans appear beside her, safe and sound, but she had no such power to do that.  So, she decided to find where he left the camp in the night, and follow his trail until she found him, and pray that he might still be alive.

The wood that Salacia neatly stacked had been scattered here and there along with the stones that encircled the fire.  It looked like someone took great pains to make it seem as if no camp ever existed. Han’s backpack and blanket, and her basket were gone, of course.  There would be no breakfast, she told herself.  Still, at least she had her red cloak.  She had slept in it against the chill of the night, and now, on a cool spring morning, at least she would not freeze.

Greta began to search the perimeter of the camp for telltale signs of passage.  She found where she had run into the woods, and a moment later, she found where someone else had crashed through the bushes.  The Princess, gifted by Artemis herself, looking right there in her eyes, pointed things out.  The Princess, and Diogenes, who once got called Alexander’s eyes as his chief of spies, and who Greta imagined knew everything there was to know about tracking men in the wilderness, seemed to be right there with her all the time. Neither one traded places with Greta through time, though they could have, but they helped her see what she, on her own, would never see, and she felt grateful.

She followed Han’s path for a good distance.  He had not been very careful about where he tromped.  He tore up branches and bushes in the dark as if running.  Was he being chased or was he chasing something?  She did not know.  Neither the Princess nor Diogenes saw any signs of what it might have been.

At last the trail led her to a small meadow atop a very small rise.  She could follow his steps no further.  “Hans, Hans.”  She called out in a reasonable voice, because her throat still felt sore from the night before.  She walked toward the center of the meadow.  “Hans.”  She called once more, before she gave up calling.

Greta found a circle of polished and rounded stones very near the center of the meadow. A fairy circle.  She knew just what it was, and with that realization, she had a terrible notion of what might have happened to Hans.  She took a deep breath and stepped into the circle.

At once, all of the world around her became more vivid.  The colors became more solid and real, the greens being greener, and the blue morning sky much bluer.  Something caught the corner of her eye, and she turned, but it turned, too, so as not to be seen.

“Come out,” Greta said.  “Let me see you.  I won’t hurt you.”  She stood still and waited for a very long time.

Greta saw the little girl’s face peek several times before the fairy finally fluttered all the way into view.  She appeared a little thing, small enough to sit comfortably on Greta’s shoulder, and Greta imagined she was the most precious thing she had ever seen.  Greta loved her, instantly, but oddly, she felt sad for her at the same time.

“I’m Greta,” she said, softly.

“I’m Berry.” The fairy responded in a rather young voice.

“I am pleased to meet you, Miss Berry.”  Greta smiled.

“Oh, no, just Berry,” Berry said in a serious voice, as she hovered a few feet away. “I’m not nearly old enough yet to be Miss Berry.  Why, I’m not even, just barely seventy years old.”

Just a teenager, Greta said to herself, translating fairy longevity into human terms. “Still, it is very nice to meet you. Will you be my friend?” she asked.

“Very nice to meet you,” Berry said.  “And yes, I will.  Good-bye.” Berry started to fly off.

“Wait,” Greta said, and Berry stopped as if she ran into an invisible wall.  “Have you seen my brother, Hans?” she asked quickly, and Berry came back.

“Was he as big as you?” the fairy asked.

“Almost,” Greta answered.

“Did he have the same yellow hair and soft brown eyes as you?”


“And was his complexion ruddier than your milky white skin and without your freckles?”

“Exactly.” Greta knew that Berry had to have seen him.

“And did he walk tromp, tromp through the forest so as to hear him from miles away?” Berry went on.

“I suppose.” Greta had to cut this short. “Have you seen him?”

“No,” Berry lied, and Greta knew it, but Berry quickly covered herself with a suggestion. “But maybe the old killers of the Bear Clan can help you find him.  I will take you to them.  Come. Step out of the circle and come this way.”

“Killers?” Greta had to ask first.

“They kill the trees that Bogus the Skin marks for them.  They show no mercy.  It is chop, chop, chop.  And they drag the poor trees through the bushes, crushing all of the life and my poor flowers.”

Greta could tell that Berry got upset at the thought, but Greta had another question. “The Bear Clan?”

“That is what they say,” Berry said.  “But come on.”

Greta knew she would get no better answer, so she stepped from the circle, but kept a wary eye on Berry the whole time.  Sure enough, the instant she got out of the circle, Berry started to fly off at great speed.  “Wait.” The wall went up and Berry stopped, cold.  “Come back here,” Greta insisted, and Berry came back.  Greta could read fear on Berry’s little face.  It would have upset Greta to think that she, of all people, would cause this little one to be afraid, but Greta knew that in a moment, the fairy would flit to a completely different emotion.  Those little spirits could barely hold one real emotion at a time.

“You can see me,” Berry said, and sure enough she became very curious.  “You are not in the circle, but you can still see me.”

“Yes I can,” Greta said, without thinking much about it.  “But it is no good flying off like that.  I will never keep up.”  Greta sighed. “There is nothing else to do.  You will just have to sit on my shoulder and hold on to my hair.  Just don’t pull my hair, Okay?”

Berry gasped and made a lovely little shrieking sound.  “That’s just like the stories,” she said, and she quickly settled down, took hold of Greta’s hair and whispered in her ear.  “Thank you.”

“Which way?” Greta asked.

Berry pointed, but then realized Greta would not be able to see from the side of her head, so she spoke.  “Straight for a while.”

Greta started walking as carefully as she could, and she asked, “What stories?”

“Thumpy, thumpy, thump.”  Berry giggled in her ear.  “The stories never said it was such a bumpy ride.”

“What stories?” Greta tried again, and she could almost hear Berry’s little mind working.

“No, no,” Berry said.  “I’m not telling.  I’m no tale teller, that’s for sure.”

“Are we going in the right direction?”  Greta tried a different question.

“No, it is back over that way.”  Berry said, and when Greta figured out what Berry meant, they started walking again.

They walked quietly after that for some time while one thought kept running through Greta’s mind. Finally, she asked.  “You’re not a full blood flyer, are you?”

“No.”  Berry instantly lamented.  “My mother was human.  Father named me Berry because he had hopes for me, but I can’t make things grow or ripen at all.”  She had to stop and sniff her little tears.  “I’m just good for nothing.”  She blew her nose in Greta’s hair, but since it was such a little nose, Greta did not mind. “Father left when I was just a baby. His people went off to some new ground. He said I had to stay with Mother, but then Mother got caught by the Wyvern in the swampland and I have been alone ever since.”  Berry began to cry like a baby, and Greta never felt the need so strong in her life to mother a child.

“There, there,” Greta said as the magic in the fairy emotion made her cry a little with Berry. “Is there no one to take care of you?”

“There is Bogus the Skin,” Berry said and brightened a little.  “He is my Uncle, and I always do what he says, no matter what. Oh, we’re here.”  Berry jumped from Greta’s shoulder and flew off, quickly to disappear among the trees and into the late afternoon sun.

Greta’s stomach growled as she realized how late it was.  It must have been noon by the time she found the fairy circle, and well after one by the time she made her bargain with Berry.  Now, it was probably four-thirty, nearly five.  Greta decided she had no choice but to go and ask for food and shelter from the Bear Clan, whoever they might be.

Greta found what looked to her like a genuine log cabin in the clearing.  There were two oxen in a corral in front of the barn which sat beside, but attached to the house.  Otherwise, there did not seem to be any life about the place.  She sniffed.  She felt no magic in evidence.  Anyway, she told herself, it seemed too late to do anything about that now, and she felt too hungry to go on without a bite of something.  Daniel Boone, here I come, she said to herself, as she marched up to the door.

R5 Greta: The Fire and the Dark, part 3 of 3

Greta woke around midnight.  The fire had burned down and Hans was not there.  At first, she thought he must have stepped off to relieve himself.  She put two good sized logs on the fire and stirred the ashes to life.  Those logs ought to see them through the night.  She did not like the forest at night.  It got too dark, with the moon and stars hidden by the branches.

“Hans?” Greta called after a while.  Hans did not return, and she started to get worried. “Hans?”  She called again a little louder.  At last she got up and walked all around the camp, peered into the gloom as far as she could and looked for any sign of her brother.  “Hans?”  She called. “Hans!”  She began to call in earnest, but still no one answered and she began to be afraid.  What if he wandered off and got lost in the dark?  What if he tripped in the dark and hurt or cut himself, and became unconscious? “Hans!  Hans!”  She called loudly when she decided she needed some distance from the fire to give her night vision a chance to search nearby.  She walked into the trees until she got beyond the sound of the stream, but she felt as long as she could still see the distant firelight, she would be all right.  “Hans! Answer me.  You are worrying me.  Hans!”  She called and looked and started in a wide semi-circle around the camp.  “Hans!  You’re not funny.  Answer me. Hans!”  Only the spark and crackle of the fire responded, and the sound of the cascading water when she got near enough again.  “Hans!  Hans!” She really yelled, now, and begged to hear him in return.

All at once, the fire went out.  The light simply vanished, and the sound of the waterfall vanished as well, as if someone turned off the faucet.  She felt something behind her and she spun around several times screaming, “Hans!  Hans!” Until her direction became utterly confused.  She stopped calling for a minute.  She stilled her heart and breathing.  She listened to the dark.

Somewhere in the distance, a wolf howled.  Greta cringed.  If Hans was in trouble, he needed her.  But if she headed toward the wolf and Hans was not there, would she simply be walking herself into those jaws?  She waited, and another wolf responded to the first, only this one sounded out behind her. Now she felt completely confused. “Hans!”  She screamed as loud as she could.

She started to walk in the direction where she thought the camp might be and hoped by some stroke of divine providence, she might stumble upon it, or at least come across the stream.  It did not take long, though, before she realized that was not going to happen. She screamed, “Hans!”  And now she added tears to the mix, and they were bitter tears, for Hans and for herself.  “Hans!”

She tried to seek help through time, but time seemed as silent as the forest in the night. The message that came through was there was nothing anyone could do for her that she could not do for herself. That felt like a lie, she told herself, as she continued to cry out and weep until her throat hurt and her voice became hoarse.

“What can I do?” Greta wondered, and she felt herself corrected.  The question became, “What will you do?”  She didn’t know.  Any one of the gods in time, Nameless, Salacia or Danna she imagined, could snap their fingers and Hans could appear, safe and sound beside her.  But that would not happen.  “What will you do?”  She didn’t know what to do.

She continued to weep and cry out until her voice became no more than a whisper.  It felt like forever, but it did not take long after that when she stubbed her toe on a rock, tripped over a root, and fell face down in the dirt at the foot of a very large and very old oak tree.  She just stayed there and cried until she could not cry any longer.  Then she scooted up and put her back to the tree and whispered because it was all the voice she had left.


“Old tree,” she said.  “How I wish it was like the old days before the gods and greater spirits went over to the other side.  If only you were here now to come out of your shell, to walk and talk with me.  I would know, then, that everything would be all right. I remember the great dance of the trees in the days of Heracles.  We danced for a day and a night until all of the dead land in that place came alive again and covered with green.  I remember what comfort you once gave me in my hour of need, touching my tongue with your life-giving sap, salving my wounds, covering me to hide me in your protective bark.  How dear you were and how deeply I came to adore you.  I remember I stayed with you all the rest of those days.  I remember the door you made for my Nameless self, when he was, when I was young and uncertain.  You let my little ones go and warn the gods of the rebellion of the Titans in the east.  Old Oak, how good and kind and gentle you always were.  It is no wonder you were loved by both Zeus and Odin.  And even with the mistletoe you sometimes carry, how my children, my Danna’s children, honored you above all.

Greta’s eyes closed.  “I suppose they are my little ones now.”  She thought, but she did not think of home.  She felt too exhausted.  Then, for a brief moment before sleep, or just after in a dream, she thought she saw the shimmer of a kindly old face in the tree, and the branches circling gently around her in a most loving and protective way.  She knew the wolf would not get at her on that night, and she slept.



R5 Greta: Greta’s brother is lost and Greta hardly knows where to turn.  She knows the terrors of the woods, or at least the stories.  Now, everywhere she turns, she finds herself pulled deeper into those terrors… Happy Reading


R5 Greta: The Fire and the Dark, part 2 of 3

Greta turned last of all to face Hans.  “You broke your word,” she said, through clenched teeth.

“I couldn’t help it.”  Hans let out his well-rehearsed protest.  “It was the smell of those sweets.  It was overpowering.  I was enchanted before I tasted the first one.  I couldn’t help it.”

“Stop it Hans,” Greta said.  “Hansel.” She rubbed it in.  “You had your mind made up before we ever got to the cabin. You lied to me and broke your word. How can I trust you?”

“Really.” Hans still defended himself.  “I saw the smoke and I knew that was where I had to be.  I couldn’t help it.”

Greta nearly let out all her anger, fear, and upset in that one moment, but that would not have been fair.  She heard some truth in what Hans said, so she sniffed and held it all back.  “You could have resisted,” she said, in a hard, small voice, which suggested much more behind her words.  Hans did not argue.  He simply looked at the ground and got quiet.  “This is a dangerous place,” Greta went on.  “You must do what I tell you or you will get us both killed.”

“I promise,” Hans said, much too loudly and much too quickly.  Greta stared at him, and he saw the anger and disappointment in her eyes. He lowered his voice and spoke more carefully.  “I’m sorry. I really do promise this time.”

Greta said no more about it, and they started down the east side of the hill and back into the heart of the forest.

The forest changed on the east side to more fir and pine, characteristic of the land around Ravenshold.  More underbrush grew beneath the trees, particularly thorns, briars and nettles that caught the clothing unless they were careful.  Hans caught his backpack twice, once rather badly, which put a tear in the blanket.  Greta put a small hole in her dress, but it hardly looked noticeable.

About half way down the hill, they came across a stream.  At first, they thought it would ease their descent, but the spring water proved too cold for their sandaled feet.  What is more, the rocks in that stream were all green and moss covered, making them very slippery and unsafe.  They followed the stream as well as they could, Greta grateful for the fresh water.  Toward the bottom of the hill, the stream cascaded off a twenty-foot outcropping in a little waterfall before it made a dramatic turn toward the river.  It took some going out of their way to find a place where they could climb down safely.

When they returned to the bottom of the waterfall, Greta found that the rock curved inward at a nice angle to make a natural shelter.  She checked the sun as well as she could and decided this would be as good a place as any to stop for the day.  Hans looked tired, and honestly, so was she.  While Hans went in search of firewood, Greta did her best to gather kindling and get things ready.  She dug down to the dirt and just started to set stones around it in a circle when Hans came back with his eyes big and his behavior strange.

“What is it?” Greta asked.  “A bear?”

“No, something spooky,” Hans insisted.  “There are sounds and lights and noises behind me, but when I turn around it is still behind me, like breathing on my neck and about to grab me from behind.  I kept turning, but it stayed always behind me.”

“Well,” Greta said, still struggling with her hurt and disappointment with Hans.  “There’s nothing there now.”  All the same, Hans craned his neck as far back as he could, he did a little dance like someone covered in cobwebs, and then he breathed.

“Start the fire,” Greta said and tossed him the tinder box.  “I’ll get the wood.”  And she smirked a little, though she did not mean to.

“It’s not funny,” Hans reacted.  “I’m not kidding.  There’s something out there.”  Greta just turned and went thinking two things at once; that in this place she ought to take Hans more seriously, yet after the morning performance, how could she believe him?

Just inside the tree line, some twenty paces out, she found a recently fallen tree.  The tree looked dead and dry, but not there long enough to be filled with worms, maggots, and dry rot.  She started to gather up the branches when she felt it. It felt like fingers or a hairy legged spider crawling up her back.  She spun around and put her back to the tree.

“Who is out there?”  she asked in a loud whisper.  “I don’t appreciate the spooky stuff.  I have already been upset once today, now please don’t make me angry.”  This, whatever it might be, was going to get the full force of her vented anger if it didn’t cut it out.

She turned to pick up her wood and felt the creepies on her leg.  “That’s it!”  She screamed, and Greta no longer stood there.  Amphitrite, Salacia to the Latins, queen of the sea stood there instead and she felt everything Greta felt.  She had pushed her way to the front because she knew how to vent better than most. She floated up about six feet. Her anger became hurricane in proportion, and she blew for a good five minutes.  More trees got killed by lightening or blown down by the wind in those minutes than had been damaged in the last hundred years.  Several miles away, the little Sylvan river boiled over its’ banks and became a temporary swamp, flooding everything for miles. Even the cascading stream became a torrential waterfall, which swept away Greta’s pile of sticks and frightened Hans half to death.  And it rained so hard at that time, Hans had to duck under the rock outcropping just to breathe.

Then, as always happens with a storm at sea, after that time, Salacia felt warm and tranquil. Hans got forgiven.  She even let up a small prayer for the hag because she knew the hag had once been human.  She brushed the clouds away, left only enough in the western sky to catch the sun’s red, crimson and purple.

Salacia called to the wood, and it dutifully split itself and followed her back to camp.  It piled itself neatly, and a few pieces set themselves in the center of Greta’s fire ring, now perfectly encircled with stones. They came immediately to life, not damp at all, and the flame burned brightly as Salacia floated back to the ground with a sigh.  “I don’t think we will be bothered again,” she said, and went back to her own time, while Greta came back into her place, feeling all of the tranquility that Salacia had felt.

Greta sat down by the fire without a word.

Hans closed his mouth and spoke for her.  “You were absolutely beautiful,” he said.

“I know,” Greta answered softly.  “Inhumanly so.  But weren’t you scared?”

“I’ll say,” Hans nodded.  “I think I wet myself.”

Greta thought for a minute and nodded.  “I was scared, too,” she said.  And it felt true.  She scared herself.  Such power she never imagined!

“Who was that?” Hans asked, handing his sister a tear of bread.

“Salacia.” Greta said.  “The Roman goddess.”  Greta chewed on her meal and went immediately after to lie down.  She pulled up the blanket and then raised a corner and looked at her brother.  It could still get cold at night.  “Well?” she asked.

“Is it safe?” He returned her question.

“For you, yes,” Greta said.  She was not sure about herself.  Authority be hanged.  Greta never imagined, and still could hardly imagine that much power in one person. It felt limitless.  Nameless always dampened and disguised his true nature, and Danna did the same.  She had not realized.  It was true; there was almost nothing a god could not do.  She could have flattened the entire forest with a mere thought. It staggered and frightened Greta to think of it, but at the same time, it brought some understanding.  She felt sorry for the ancient gods.  That felt like more responsibility than anyone should have to bear.

R5 Greta: The Fire and the Dark, part 1 of 3

“All right,” Aruna said, as Hans yawned.  “Now you must be very tired.  It is late and time for growing children to be in bed.  We can sort everything out in the morning.

Greta felt agreeable, but she had one last thought.  Perhaps it was Aruna’s age that brought it to mind.  “Mother Hulda,” she said.

“Oh?”  Aruna raised her eyebrows and eyed Greta suspiciously.  “Do you know the good Mother?  She visits for tea quite regularly.”

“I know her a little,” Greta hedged her thoughts, though she was not sure why.  “Has she been by recently?”  Greta asked.

“Why, just two or three days ago she was here and we had a grand time,” Aruna said.

That lie helped bring Greta back to reality enough to know she needed help.  “Agreed.”  She heard the word clearly in her head, and then Greta vanished from that time and place and Danna, the mother of all the Celtic gods, sat in her place, and left up a perfect glamour of Greta so the hag, Aruna, would be no wiser.  Danna saw the hovel for exactly what it was, and in fact had to lower herself a bit to see where their beds were supposed to be. They were in the oven, of course.

“Hans.” Danna, looked and sounded exactly like Greta and stopped her brother from going straight to bed.  “Girls first,” she said aloud and made sure he had to obey.  She walked to the oven and started to climb in but quickly climbed right out again.  “The fire went out,” she said.  “It’s too cold in there.  I can’t sleep.”

“What?” Aruna looked dumbfounded and she had to see for herself.  Danna grabbed Han’s hand and suddenly he saw what she saw.  As the hag poked her head into the fire box, Danna traded places in time with Bodanagus of the Nervii.  He came dressed in the armor of the Nameless One, the armor which had once been his, and he did not pause before he spoke.

“Push,” he told Hans, and though Hans came up with his hands ready to push, essentially Bodanagus, in a moment of near Herculean strength, bent down beneath the hag’s butt and flipped the old woman into the oven.  He slammed the door.

“Why did we just push Grandma into the oven?” Hans asked, still very confused.

“Not grandma,” Bodanagus explained.  “A hag, a grendal.  Such creatures have many names.  Something pounded on the iron door of the oven, and it came with enough force to make dents in the door.  Bodanagus picked up a log and opened the firebox.  As he did, a hand sprang out of the box and tried to grab him.  Wyrd flew out of its’ sheath in a flash and Bodanagus cut the hand off, cleanly.  Even severed from the body, it still clutched at them.  Bodanagus used the tip of the sword to fling the hand back into the fire while Hans quickly opened and closed the fire door.  The creature shortly stopped pounding and began to scream. That was his cue.

Bodanagus grabbed the bucket of water from which the hag had drawn their tea.  It still sat mostly full.  He knew this had to be quick.  He got Hans to open the oven door as he threw the water in.  Then they closed the door again, though they almost did not get it closed in time.  The scream of the hag became an unearthly sound.  Bodanagus did his best to cover Han’s ears, but the screaming went on for a while.  Hans buried his face in the armor.  He recognized the armor and the sword, even if he did not exactly recognize Bodanagus. When it was over, Bodanagus trade places again with Danna.  She had the power to remove the spell from Hans completely.  She also removed the standing glamour from the place, which otherwise might have continued for decades.

“Wow,” Hans said. The real hovel had no roof.  Only two walls stood, and the oven, of course, with its high chimney.  The field of grain no longer grew there.  In fact, they hardly saw a meadow.  Only the encroaching forest grew.  The food also had all gone, except for Hans who proceeded to vomit out whatever he ate. Danna made double sure that the beast died, and then threw some magic into the air, not unlike fairy dust, and traded places with Greta so the magic could fall on her.  Thus, she set herself completely free of the same enchantment, and then Greta vomited a little, but not nearly like Hans.

Greta checked the sky.  It proved shortly after noon.  They had to move on.  She had forgotten about the wolf and wished the hag had not brought it up.  Greta collected their things, which still sat on the forest floor where they left them.  She looked again.  Perhaps it turned one o’clock.  She had to get Hans moving, even if it would be slow going as long as he felt sick. It became slow after that as well while they climbed the hill that Hans had seen from the treetop.  And all that while they moved in relative silence. Hans did not feel much like talking, and Greta felt angry enough to scream, and for several reasons.

She could not even speak to Hans.  If he wasn’t so sick, she could have killed him.  Just as well he did not feel like speaking.

At the same time, the question of Hans haunted her.  What good was having a god on your side if he wouldn’t do anything for you? The magic of the hag proved stronger than anything she had ever encountered, but she had the distinct feeling that if she had not caught the perfect grandmother in a lie, which in effect blunted the spell, all those other lifetimes she lived would have let her be lunch.  Even then, she did not feel sure anyone would have helped her if she did not ask.  What good was having a god on her side?

That was not the only thing that haunted her.  At times during their climb, her fears almost overwhelmed her anger.  Storytelling was one thing the Woman of the Ways did for the people.  She knew most of the stories of the haunted forest, only now they took on a reality she never expected, and some of the stories were very frightening, indeed.

In the end, she settled on being upset.  The churning in her stomach did not help.

From the hilltop, Greta could see well enough to get her bearings.  Ahead of them, smaller hills pushed into the gray, eastern horizon. To the south, the hills softened more, though it still looked like forest for as far as she could see.  She knew the road lay way beyond her sight. West, behind her, she saw more trees. They had moved far enough into the woods by then so she could see nothing of Boarshag.  All she could see was trees and more trees.  Even the ruins where the hag lived blended into the forest and vanished from sight.  She supposed if she really tried, she could have found the now smokeless chimney sticking up from between the trees, but she chose not to try and turned to look north. She felt fairly certain she could make out the Sylvan River.  It appeared to be running due west.  Somewhere much further east it had to turn in a great arc to end up twenty miles north of Ravenshold, but for the time being, she knew that as long as they kept the river to their left hand they would do well.

R5 Greta: Into the Woods, part 3 of 3

Hans stopped eating long enough to smile.  He had a red berry ring around his mouth which made him look like a toddler. Greta got so mad at him, she felt like wringing his neck, but she also managed a smile for the old woman.

“My name is Aruna,” the woman said, hesitantly.

“I’m Greta,” she said.  “And my pig’s name is Hansel.”  She turned to her brother.  “Stop, Hans. For Heimdahl’s sake, stop eating the poor woman’s food.”

“It’s quite all right,” Aruna said.  “The old ones won’t be coming today, alas.  All my baking was for nothing, unless you enjoy it.  I would much rather it be eaten than thrown out.”

“The old ones?” Greta asked.

“Yes, Gretal, child.  But come now, eat what you like.  I am especially proud of my tarts.  Come, come.”

Tarts were her favorite.  Greta had not noticed any until the woman mentioned them.  She picked one up, carefully.  It reeked of magic.  “Thank you,” Greta said.  “Tell me about the old ones.”  She pretended to eat and the pretense appeared good enough for the moment.

“The old ones. Now, that is a long story.”  Aruna smiled a toothy smile.  “Come, let us go inside and I will make some tea and tell you all about it.”

“How did you come to live alone in the forest like this?” Greta asked, stalling their progress.

“Now, that is another long story,” Aruna said.  “It would be much better told inside where the sun is not so bright and hot. I have worked hard this morning and I would love to rest my weary feet.”

“Yes, work,” Greta said, not giving up.  “How did you manage a field of ripe grain this early in the spring?”

Aruna handed her a sweet pie and indicated that she should help herself.  “A gift of the gods for this poor, old woman,” she said. “No matter how much I cut in a day, by the next morning the field is full and ripe again.”

Greta happened to know the ancient gods were no longer available to make such gifts, and they had not been around for nearly a hundred and fifty years.  “Which god should be so generous, if I may ask?” Greta tried to sound pleasant and conversational.  Aruna frowned.

“Abraxas,” she said, drawing the “s” out in a true serpent-like manner.  He was not one of the northern gods, nor any of the gods that Greta knew, and yet the name sounded vaguely familiar.  Had she come across the name in the writings in Mother Hulda’s barn?  While she puzzled, she took a bite of the sweet pie without thinking.

“Good,” Aruna said.  “Now poor Hansel is getting very thirsty.  Isn’t that so?”

“Yeah I am.” Hans spoke with his mouth full.

“Come in. It is still early spring and gets dark early.”  Aruna said, and Greta almost believed her.  “You don’t want to get caught out doors at night with the wolf prowling about.”

“Dear, no,” Greta said and put down her pie.  Aruna struck a chord there that Greta could not deny.

The minute Greta stepped inside, she knew what was wrong but she did not seem to have enough power to do anything about it.  In her mind’s eye, she saw a dirt floored hovel with stones and stumps for furniture, and no great artifacts of any kind apart from the tremendous oven; but then she saw a quaint, wood-floored home with a nice table and chairs, flowers in a vase, a neatly made bed in the corner, a fireplace in place of the firebox, and above it, where the oven had been, two small beds in a little loft, just right for her and Hansel.

“Old ones?” Greta thought if she talked it might help break the spell, but that became a mistake.

“Quite right,” Aruna said.  Her voice sounded so kind and enchanting, it drew them in more deeply.  “A little conversation helps grow the appetite.” She began to reach into all sorts of cupboards, cabinets and pantries and she pulled out roasts that were steaming hot, fresh baked bread, still warm, every kind of cheese Greta could imagine, greens and fresh fruit that paid no attention to the season, and of course, every kind of sweet that might appear on anyone’s menu.  “My,” she said.  “We have quite an appetite for children.”  But Greta felt the woman referred to their imagination, not their eating habits.  She suspected that she saw one thing, Hans saw something else, and only the woman saw what was real.

“Old ones,” Greta said.  She hung on to that thought, and she would not give it up, even when Aruna looked at her crossly.  Aruna smiled again and poured Greta some tea in a porcelain cup, though for a moment it looked like dirty water in a chipped crockery bowl.

“Drink up dear Gretal child,” she said.  “You will like this tea.  It is a special blend from my own garden.”  That did not inspire Greta to drink.  Greta still resisted, and Aruna knew it.  Greta looked up with some insistence in her eyes.

“All right, dearie,” Aruna said, and she started to talk to take Greta’s mind off fighting the spell.  “The old ones were the first people in the land.  They lived here long before the yellow hairs came.”  Greta understood there were people in the area going back to the stone age, but there were certainly people around before her own Dacians. In truth, her people took the land themselves barely two hundred years before Trajan brought up his army.  Maybe three hundred years, but it remained recent history, just a blink in time.  She believed, though, that the earlier inhabitants had long since been driven away or assimilated with her own people.  She could not imagine a whole enclave of them living apart for so many years.

Aruna stroked Greta’s long, light blond hair.  She would have stroked Greta’s cheek if Greta had not pulled back, sharply.  Aruna let her hand drop and went back to speaking. “They live in the forest, dear,” she said, as if reading Greta’s mind.  She wove a twisted tale.  “I am a widow of the rebellion.  I married on the very day hostilities broke out.  My dearest love was killed before we could even share our wedding bed.  I wanted to die, too, but I did not have the courage to take my own life.  Instead, I ran into the forest in such tears and grief I thought the agony would never go away.  But here, I thought, in this haunted land, some demon or beast would kill me quickly and my misery would be at an end.

“In this place, my great god Abraxas found me.  He began to heal me in ways I never imagined.  And then he brought the old ones to find me, and they fed me, but kept a close watch on me to be sure I came to no harm.  I prayed to Abraxas every day.  He is the great god who shines light in the darkness and shows the darkness hidden in the light, and I grew stronger every day, until at last, I could go about without fear.  I could not go home, because everyone I knew had died.  And yet, I did not belong in this place, either.  The old ones left me here, half-way between their world and the outside world, and I have lived here to this day.”

Greta sipped her tea and thought what a sad and tragic story.  Hans shed a few tears.  This poor old grandmother had lived such a hard life, it would only be right and fair to show her some kindness.



Don’t miss R5 Greta, the Fire and the Dark.  It may be time for the oven.

Happy Reading, while you can…


R5 Greta: Into the Woods, part 2 of 3

Greta stopped their progress around ten.  She needed to rest, eat, and try to get oriented.  “How come we’re not following the Sylvan River?” Hans asked.  “Everyone says, if anyone was foolish enough to go into the forest, that is the way they should go.  They say since the river enters the woods in the North and exits near Boarshag, that is as near as you are going to get to a road through the demon woods.”

“Think Hans,” Greta said.  “We are trying to get to Ravenshold in three days in order to arrive ahead of Darius, or at least to arrive about the same time.  Now, where does the river enter the woods?”

“East?” Hans shrugged, and Greta realized since he had never seen a map he had no real clue.

“It comes out of the northern hills and enters the forest twenty miles north of Ravenshold,” she said.  “Besides, we have no idea how many twists and turns the river might take within the woods. It bogs down in many places or it might run through a gorge that is impossible to climb and impossible to cross. Instead of a short cut, the river might take longer.  We don’t know.”

“Twenty miles?” Hans sought confirmation

“Yes.” Greta nodded.  “And no easy road to Ravenshold once we get out of the woods.”

Hans whistled.

“No, the only way to get there, and quickly, is to cut straight east through the trees.”

“I understand,” Hans agreed.

“Good,” Greta said.  “So, climb this tree.  Not too high, now.  A broken leg or even a sprained ankle would be the worst possible thing for us.  Just get high enough to check the sun’s position. If the sun is still in your eyes, your face will be looking east.  That is the way we want to go.

“Right.” Hans set down his bread and scooted up the tree like a monkey.  Despite her cries to be careful, he climbed right to the top and acted like a bit of a showoff, besides.

“Hey!”  He shouted down.  “It’s like a whole other world up here.”

“Oh, be careful,” she shouted up.

“Hey!  I see an open space, like a meadow.  We can get our direction from there.”

“Is it east?” Greta asked.

“Mostly,” he said, but she could tell he did not think about direction.  “I see a hill in the distance.  We are going to have to do some climbing, and, Hey!  I see smoke.”

“Fire?” That thought frightened Greta, terribly. Hans came down.

“No, like a house,” Hans said as he dropped the last few feet and Greta gasped lest he twist his ankle or something.  “Like chimney smoke and right beside it, it looked like a field of grain, ripe and ready to harvest.”

That did not sound right.  The winter harvest came long ago.  Any field should be turned and only the green shoots of spring should be sticking up.  “A house in the forest?”  The whole idea sounded unlikely.

“Come on, I’ll show you.”  Hans got ready to go.

“Here.”  She tossed him the last of the bread he had been gnawing, and he started right out, like he knew exactly where to go.  Greta felt obliged to follow him, though she did not like the idea at all.

In a short way, they came to the meadow and Greta confirmed they were headed in the right direction.  “Come on.” Hans urged her toward the house, or at least the chimney smoke, but Greta decided to dig in her heels.  She would not move until they made an agreement.

“It is on the way so we go by,” she said.  “But we don’t go in unless I say so.  And if there are people there, keep hidden and say nothing unless I say it is all right.”

“Come on,” Hans said.

“Agree,” Greta insisted.  “Or I will go way around it.”  She felt tempted to avoid the house, regardless.

“Okay, I agree,” Hans said.  “Now will you come on.  Maybe we can get lunch.”

“Grr.” Greta let out a little of her frustration, but followed, thinking that Hans was much too trusting a soul.

When they got to the edge of the clearing, Greta pulled Hans down behind a bush while she examined the house.  The poor house had only one room, she judged, with a small front deck, not unlike Mother Hulda’s front porch.  The chimney, by contrast, shot way up beyond the roof, high as the trees, and it bellowed black smoke as if the homeowner burned only moss and fir.  No wonder the smoke could be seen for miles, Greta pictured a moth being drawn to the flame.

Hans started to get up, but Greta pulled him back down and quieted him.

“But don’t you smell it?” Hans whispered.

“Yes,” Greta said, but presently, her eyes were fastened on the field of grain.  It looked ripe for harvest as Hans had reported, but that felt severely wrong.  Hans took advantage of her inattention.  He sprang up and ran for the house.  He picked up a honey cake cooling on the porch railing and popped it into his mouth.

“Hans!” Greta whispered as loud as she dared. She did not want to arouse anyone who might be inside.  The aroma of all the baked goods—berry pies, cakes, pastries and sweets—all cooling on the front porch smelled overwhelming, but it also smelled of enchantment. Greta had decided this was not the place to stop, but Hans merely smiled at her.  The stinker was not about to return from the porch, and he had no intention of keeping his promise.  He stuck his finger in a pie and licked it clean with great delight.  Greta would have to fetch him.

She got up slowly and looked both ways to be sure the coast was clear before she walked sternly toward Hans.  She had every intention of grabbing him by the ear and dragging him back to the woods should that prove necessary.  Unfortunately, at that very moment, an elderly woman stepped around the corner of the house and spied them both.  The woman’s eyes got big for a second in a very strange sort of way, but then she put her hand to her chest and spoke.

“Oh, my children. You startled me so.”

R5 Greta: Into the Woods, part 1 of 3

Greta got up before the sun, dressed as quietly as she could and put on her red cloak for the journey.  The days were getting warm, but the evenings and early mornings could still be chilly. She already had her new basket filled with enough food to sustain her for three days.  It felt minimal, but it would suffice.  She also had a flask of water.  She imagined she might find water along the way.  When she felt ready, she crawled out of the window to avoid the guards her father had posted by the front door.

Greta walked across country fields until she met the east road, far out of sight of her house. The grass made squishy sounds beneath her feet.  The road proved full of mud puddles.  The trees dripped and glistened in the first light.  It had rained well after midnight.  By the time she turned off to walk to Mother Hulda’s, where the road turned the other way, the sun broke out over the eastern hills.

Greta stopped in Mother Hulda’s barn long enough to nibble on a piece of bread.  She wanted to be sure she was not being followed. As she ate, her mind wandered to the task ahead.  She began to think of the haunted woods and the many stories that told about people who wandered in and were never heard from again.  She looked at the little Sylvan River in the distance.  It came out of the woods, narrow and clean water, and flowed to join the Tibiscus River north of Boarshag.  They said the Sylvan bogged down in the forest and formed into great swamps, home for all the unspeakable things.  She considered the god Sylvanus and the haunting power of the trees.  She remembered the Roman Century from the days of the last rebellion, said to be wandering still, looking for a way out.  She thought of the stories about demons and strange creatures, and suddenly she had to go before she lost her nerve.  She was not as immune to the children’s stories as she had supposed, and she decided Festuscato and Gerraint were fools to want a haunted forest of their own.The first thing Greta noticed was the forest floor seemed much dryer than the fields.  The twigs and leaves crunched beneath her feet and the sound echoed among the trees.  The forest also seemed much quieter than the meadows.  Greta got startled by the sound of a bird that broke out in morning song.  She got spooked by the rustle of leaves nearby and almost ran.  She decided to investigate under the false assumption that it could not be anything evil in the morning light.  She thought that proving to herself that it was nothing would help.  She paused when she saw the leaves move.  She held her breath.  The leaves appeared to be moving but nothing moved them and she felt no breeze.  A squirrel head popped up from beneath the leaf bed.  Greta breathed, and laughed, nervously.  It did not surprise her that the stories of ghosts and demon spirits were rampant among the people.

Greta moved on. Again, she heard the rustle of leaves and twigs behind her, but this time she ignored it.  Even after she had put some distance between herself and the squirrel, she still thought nothing of it.  It is just mice or birds, she told herself, or perhaps a deer with a spring born faun.  Yet she found herself listening more closely, because it did sound a bit like the regular stomping of feet.  She stopped to be sure.  The sound stopped.  She started, and the sound started again.  She decided this time she did not want to look, so she ran, and the sound ran after her.

Greta began to weave in and out of the trees, hoping her pursuer would lose sight of her long enough for her to duck behind some cover.  She found a boulder and hit the dirt.  Only the sound of her hard breathing could not be stopped.

“Greta.” She heard her name.  “Greta.”  Hans! She got up and looked to be sure. He stood ten paces away.  Greta smiled and walked up to him.  He smiled sheepishly in return.  She yelled and hit him several times, waking whatever might still be asleep in the forest.

“You creep! How dare you follow me like that and scare me half to death.”  Like a good brother, he took his pounding gracefully.

“I didn’t think you would let me come,” he said.  “I heard what you told Papa about going through the forest and I thought you might need my help.”  He pointed to his makeshift backpack.  “Look. I have a blanket and food, and I brought the knife that Darius gave me.”

“But it is dangerous here.  Nobody goes into the forest for good reason.  It is dangerous,” Greta insisted.

“Greta.” Hans lowered his voice to a whisper. “If it gets that bad, won’t the Nameless help us out?”

“I doubt it,” Greta said at full volume.  “He says what they all say.  This is my life, my turn.  I have to live or die on my own and no one can interfere with that.”

“But I thought.” Hans paused to think.  “Uh!”  He wanted to protest, but Greta started to walk and he had to follow.  Finally, Hans framed his thought.  “What good is it having a god on your side if he won’t do anything to help you?”

“He is not a genie in a bottle granting wishes,” she responded, and since Hans had no idea what a genie was, he just fell silent.

The forest turned out to not be as flat and even as Greta supposed.  They went down into gullies, climbed ridges, clambered over and around boulders, skirted briar patches and avoided the marshy, fern strewn places altogether.  With all that, it did not take long before Greta became convinced that she had lost the proper direction.  Normal direction was an easy matter since the sun rose in the east and set in the west. But among the trees, she could not really see the sun or tell which way it headed much after nine o’clock.  Now she understood the stories of people lost and wandering forever, searching for a way out.