M3 Gerraint: Winter Games, part 1 of 3

Once up, he almost slipped right down a side of the roof, but caught himself in time, and then drew Gerraint’s long knife.

“Please don’t go home until I am done,” Trevor begged the knife in his hand, and he fell on the lone guard outside the door.  It was over in a second, and the door unlocked.  Gerraint and the others were right there, waiting.  Gwillim stripped the guard of his cloak and sword while Gerraint gave his long knife to Uwaine.  Trevor had to content himself with the guard’s cutting knife, but then he was a cook, not a soldier.

“Which way?”  Uwaine asked.  Gerraint pointed and started out.  The others followed as quietly as they could.  The village seemed all put up for the night.  No telling how late it was, until they reached the edge of the village and Trevor judged the night sky and the rise of the moon to suggest it might be about one in the morning.

“Late as that?”  Gwillim sounded surprised.

“Pray the moon stays with us until morning,” Gerraint said, and they started down a well-worn path in the snow, not knowing exactly where it would take them.

After two hours, when they still heard no sounds of pursuit, they found a hollow where they had protection from the wind and a touch of warmth.  They rested there and took turns on watch.  Exhaustion, which had caught up with them, became their worst enemy at that point.  A couple of hours of rest, if not sleep, would be needed the next day when the pursuit started in earnest.  The clouds came up, but the moon still shone through, giving them enough light to see, though it was their ears they depended on.

Near sunrise, they set out again and this time turned off the path and moved in a more certain southerly direction.  “But how did you know which way to go in the dark?”  Trevor asked.  Gerraint did not answer as Gwillim spoke in his place.

“The North Star,” he said.  “You know it isn’t just for sailors at sea.”

“Duh!”  Trevor slapped his own forehead.

By sunrise, the clouds had come fully into the sky and it started to snow.  When it began to snow with some strength, Gerraint took them deliberately through some rough, overgrown patches, and finally up a stream where they had to balance carefully on the rocks to keep from soaking their boots.  Then he turned their direction from south to southwest, hoping to confuse anyone trying to catch them.

About then, they heard a sound they had hoped to never hear.  The Scots were on their trail, well enough, and they had dogs, likely bloodhounds, with which to track them.

“Damn!”  Gwillim swore.  All the turning of direction, pushing through inhospitable bushes and tracking through the stream would likely do them no good at all.  They pushed on, as fast as they could, but they were very tired and hungry, and the wind picked up, blew the snow in their faces, and threatened them all with frostbite.

At the bottom of the next hill, Gerraint made them pause where the hill ahead and the bushes and trees behind gave them a touch of shelter from the wind.  Gerraint surveyed the spot.  They essentially had one way up the hillside, a deer path, and the rest of the hill looked covered in impassible brambles and briars.  They had good cover for one dressed in the white cloak of Athena, and there were several trees nearby that could be scrambled up in a pinch.

“You three go on.”  Gerraint had to raise his voice a bit in the wind.  They were all stomping and blowing hard on their hands to keep their toes and fingers working.  “I’ll lay in a little surprise for our pursuers and maybe slow them down a bit.”

“My Lord!”  Gwillim started to protest, but Uwaine grabbed him by the arm and pointed him toward the path.  Uwaine nodded.  He knew better.  He pushed the still plump captain up the path while poor, half-frozen, skinny, blue faced Trevor followed.  Gerraint watched for a minute until they disappeared in the falling snow.  He listened.  The dogs started closing in.  He guessed there might be three of them.

Diogenes, the Macedonian came to mind, but he opted for the Greek Princess from about two hundred BC.  She had been endowed with the spirit of Artemis, and as such, was about as good as an archer could get.  The Princess only hesitated because of the cold, but she knew Gerraint was freezing and in need, and that became enough to move her hand.  Gerraint went into the time stream, and the Princess stood in his place.  His armor, boots and all adjusted automatically from his shape and size to hers.  She wore the same chain armor, of course, in her day, and for much of her life, so she was quite used to the way it felt and moved.

The first thing she did was stretch Athena’s cape nearly to the ground to maximize her warmth.  The cape of Athena and the Armor of Hephaestos were proof against almost everything, including the cold.  She looked briefly up the hill and worried that her friends had no such help.  She felt when she caught up with them, she would lend the cloak to Trevor.  He did not look good.

The baying of the hounds brought her attention back to task.  Beyond the bushes stood a little clearing which the dogs, if right on their trail, would have to cross.  She reached into the inner pocket hidden in her cloak, and like Mary Poppins pulling a full length lamp out of an empty carpet bag, she pulled out her bow and a full quiver of arrows.  The arrows were elf made, of course, except for the few silver tipped arrows which Artemis herself had given her long ago.  She paused to remember her very best friend in the whole world, and then pulled three finely made steel pointed hunting arrows. She fitted the first loosely to the string, and waited.

The Princess did not have to wait long.  She heard the howl and saw two dogs as they bounded straight toward her in great leaps across the snow.  They were close, and they knew it.  The Princess took aim.  There was a hard wind and the snow itself to compensate for, but she did so almost automatically.  Two arrows took down two dogs.  But where was the third?

At once, the third dog, which had circled around, came rushing up beside her.  She had no time for the bow.  She reached for her Long Knife, but remembered that Uwaine had it.  “Stop,” she yelled.  “No.”

The dog stopped short.  The spirit of Artemis echoed strong in the Princess, and certainly hunting dogs were included in the mix, but this one had its’ lips drawn and kept growling, snarling, and drooling.

“Rabbit.”  The Princess said as she reached slowly for her sword.  “Go hunt a rabbit.”  The dog did not listen, being too filled with blood lust.  Her sword came out as the dog leapt and an arrow came from some quarter.  It struck the dog perfectly and dropped the beast just inches away.  The Princess whirled, but she saw no sign of an archer.  Then she whirled back as she heard shouts from across the clearing.  An arrow got loosed from that direction, but it fell woefully short, not even reaching the dogs, dead in the reddening snow.

“Go,” the Princess told herself, and she turned one final time and began to climb the hill.