Greta wore her red cloak to the battlements and pulled it tight against the cold. The moon had set and the stars were hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. Greta expected another cold rain, and maybe some thunder and lightning to go with it. She knew she had eight weeks left before the baby, but she felt plenty big already and her ankles started swelling again in the cold weather.
“I can’t see a thing,” Greta confessed. Fortunately, Ulladon stood there to do the seeing. Mavis came with the extra blankets, and Briana stood there as well, she said, to be Greta’s bodyguard against so many strange men.
“The enemy camps are stirring,” Ulladon announced. “But after not sleeping much for a second night, I imagine they were stirring all night.”
“You can see that?” Briana squinted into the dark.
“Too far.” Ulladon shook her head. “Even if my eyes pierce the darkness as they do, I don’t have fairy eyes. That is too far to see details. My husband Crag, Rotwood and others are sending me information and pictures. I can even smell the bacon cooking, which is making me hungry. Time for my supper.”
“That may be our bacon,” Alesander interrupted as he came out of the bunker. Soldiers brought a dozen chairs, now being used to the women and their needs. Alesander stayed to hug Briana and took the seat beside her. They stared off into the dark, but only for a moment before they reached for each other’s hand.
“My bacon,” Pincushion said, as Rhiannon, Pincushion and a big fire appeared on the top of that man-made ridge. Pincushion had an oversized pan of eggs scrambling on one side of the fire, a whole side of bacon frying on the other side, and in the middle of the fire, she had a cauldron full of oatmeal that she called mush. Rhiannon squeezed into a seat between Greta and Ulladon and announced that she liked bacon.
“You missed lunch yesterday,” Pincushion scolded. “I felt it my duty to see you got a good breakfast.”
“Hush,” Greta said. A mist rose up from the ground to meet the cloud covered sky. It looked like the last gasp of the few piles of snow that held on here and there around the town. Greta heard whispers at first, but they became clear when two small clouds drifted close and spoke.
“Lady, we are here.”
“Here we are, Lady.”
“Fluffer and Sprinkles,” Greta identified them. “Is Bubbles with you?”
“He is high up above.”
“He is not down below.”
“Good.” Greta said, and considered her options before she spoke. “I would appreciate it if you kept the sky covered and the sun hidden today. I fear after yesterday’s disasters, the Heliodrom will show himself, and I want the source of his strength hidden as far as possible. Keep Bubbles and his people with you if you can. I will let you know when to let him fall and drive into the face of the enemy.”
“That will be hard to do, do you think Sprinkles?”
“Yes Fluffer, hard for us. The heavier we get, the more we leak.”
“Some will leak when we get heavy, but we will try.”
“We will try our best.”
“That is all I can ask,” Greta said. “Now fly into your sky and give my greetings to the Lord of the Rainclouds and Lord Zephyrus of the winds.”
“We most certainly will.”
Fluffer and Sprinkles floated up and disappeared rapidly in the dark, while Darius, Bogus, Hermes and Vedix came down the ridge, followed by Stinky the mule. “Was that our sky friends?” Hermes asked, and Greta answered affirmative while Mavis got up to fetch him and sit him beside herself.
Vedix leaned over to speak to Briana. “I left Nudd with his brothers. They are all jealous that he is married to Heidi, a sweet girl, and they are still just engaged.”
“Pincushion,” Bogus interrupted. “You hover over that cauldron and the fire in the night like the veritable Witch of Endor, or maybe Madea herself.”
“Please, no,” Greta said with a roll of her eyes. “But maybe the Witch of Balmoor.”
“Who was that?” Rhiannon started to ask before she shook her head and answered her own question. “Someone not born yet.”
Pincushion started to serve up, and as usual, she cooked more than anyone could possibly eat, even after Father came with Cecil, Olaf, Venislav and Tribune Hadrianus; and Olaf and Venislav both did their best, like they were in an eating contest. The men went off to their own meeting place when the Lords Treeborn, Horns, Crag and General Redbeard arrived. The Ladies Oreona and Goldenrod took their seats, and Karina came without the children because she said at least one utterly, ordinary human being ought to be there.
A couple of women got up and hugged her, as did Pincushion when she brought her some eggs. The rest encouraged her, verbally, and told her what good children she had. They were presently with Liselle, Drakka’s wife, “And she laughs when Padme and I talk about all of you.”
“Oh,” Mavis spoke with a glance at Greta. “We are not exactly a secret, but in general, the less humans that know about us, the better.”
“Those of us who went with Greta to the Land of the Lost know,” Briana explained. “And I understand my father of the Eagle Clan, Olaf the Goth, Venislav of Moldav and Tribune Hadrianus know because they have to.”
“Olaf and Venislav met us in the Venedi town.” Greta reminded her about Bonebreaker being there.
“Oh yes, and Darius and your father know, but I understand your father just learned about it since being here.”
Greta nodded. “I kept it from him for years, and Mother still has no idea.”
“But why should you trust me?” Karina asked.
“You and Bragi and your children are family, with Hans and Berry and whatever children they have. My sprites can’t help caring about all of you. It comes as natural as a bird on the wing or a flower in bloom. For the sprites, it is what the storyteller calls a no-brainer.”
“Snowflake would not go to Liselle’s except in her big size,” Karina said, like now it made sense.
“Being big for a long time is hard for a fairy,” Goldenrod explained. “But I am sure she will hide to take a break and won’t let Liselle see her in her natural small fairy form, I hope.” She turned to Greta. “She is quite young.”
“I wouldn’t mind if Liselle saw,” Karina interjected. “She might not laugh so hard next time,”
“I don’t mind if Liselle knows, or Drakka for that matter, him being Bragi’s best friend,” Greta said. “You know, I had a crush on Drakka when I was young. It shows you how stupid I can be.”
Karina turned away to hide her laugh. The others protested, but softly, and mostly they looked over at the men who appeared to be pacing, impatient, and morose, thinking about the coming day. The women laughed and talked, and tried not to tell too many jokes about the men, and generally had a good time, while they waited for something to happen.
Mavis and Oreona heard it first with their good elf ears. The sun was due to rise but Ulladon did not worry as long as the clouds were thick. She described the object making the sound as a box floating in the air, and Greta jumped even before she heard it. “Lord Needle and your smidgen troop,” she commanded, and when she heard the floating box herself, she knew it was the Wolv shuttle, and it was landing,
“Fudge,” Briana said it this time when she recognized the sound. She looked at Greta as a hundred little lights appeared to flutter and zip around Greta’s hand. They were pin lights, and Briana asked what they were.
“These are nano-bites or nano-chits, the spiritual version. They are smidgens, but some have called them gremlins for the way they love to gum up sophisticated machines.”
“Now, Lady,” a man said, as one pin light separated and turned into a five-inch fairy looking fellow, though even in his big size, he became not quite as big as a fairy. “That is hardly fair since the only machines we have gummed up, as you say, are alien contraptions and thingy-ma-bobs that you told us about.”
“Right, and I have another one,” Greta said. ‘You will find it across the field, just landed. I’ll get you through the screens and send you a picture of what to fry.”
“Lady,” Lord Needle bowed and returned to being a pinprick of light, and all of the lights followed him into the sky which by then had the faintest glimpse of light on the horizon.
Greta stood, and Amun Junior came to take her place. “Sorry, Ladies,” he said. “But it is my turn.” Of course, Junior could see the shuttle and the field perfectly, and he said as much. “Fudge. I believe that is the current word. The shuttle let off six Wolv who are right now sneaking up to our lines. Treeborn. Horns.” The fairy and elf came right away, and Junior told them what they were facing. Alesander, Hermes and Vedix followed, since conveniently, or by godly design, they were not really part of the command group. Briana stood, and together they wondered if they might help.
“We still have the weapons and wristbands of the Wolv,” Alesander pointed out.
Junior shook his head, and then changed his mind. “If Rhiannon will hold up an energy screen against return fire, you might be able to draw the Wolv fire. Maybe my elves and fairies can get close enough without being fried in the attempt.”
The humans were willing to draw the enemy fire, even if Rhiannon got stubborn, but Rhiannon was willing and only said one thing. “You do everything the hard way and make people work for their bread and butter.”
“I do,” Junior said. “We do this by the book.”