Reflections W-2 part 3 of 3

Dismounting got the boy babbling.

“B-but, you were, you were….”

“One of the gods. Yes.” Wlvn dragged Gndr to old man Wlkn’s house where Strn and Brmr were already piling out of the doorway.

“N-no, you were….”

“Dressed for war and with weapons, yes I know.” Wlvn picked up Brmr for a hug while he looked at Strn. “Get your things, all of them,” he said.

Gndr tugged on his sleeve. “N-n-no! You were a girl.” Gndr, at fifteen, noticed.

“Oh. I suppose I was,” Wlvn said. He had not really thought about it that way until Gndr mentioned it.

“You’re not a girl,” Brmr assured him and Wlvn took a second to smile for her, but that was all the time he had. The mothers, children, and few old men and women left in the village were beginning to gather and ask questions. Wlkn asked as well. Wlvn whistled for all of his horses before he turned to the gathering crowd.

“Go,” he said. “Flee. Go visit your parents or relatives in the other villages. Go visit a friend. Move in.”

“What? Why?” People asked.

“The helpers will be here soon with their flying wagon, and I don’t expect there will be any village left after they are done.” The people looked horrified, but they did not move until Wlvn yelled. “Go! Now!” A few screamed and everyone shouted as they rushed off to gather whatever few possessions they might have.

“Wlvn?” Old man Wlkn did not ask an actual question.

“You need to come with us,” Wlvn said, and he turned to his siblings. “Gndr and Strn, mount your horses. We have to ride hard and fast.”

“Not again,” Gndr complained, but he did as he was told.

“But it will be dark soon,” Strn protested.

“I don’t know if I can,” Wlkn said, honestly enough, while Wlvn gathered the reigns of the gentle mare that Brmr started learning to sit upon.

“You must do your best,” Wlvn told Wlkn, even as he looked at Strn.

“But that’s my horse,” Brmr complained.

“You are riding with me,” Wlvn assured her, and he lifted her to the back of his second-best horse, and after realizing that he had nothing worth taking, he jumped up behind her and grabbed the reigns.

“But wait.” Old man Wlkn, who had gotten up very carefully on to the back of Brmr’s horse, looked like he wanted to dismount again, like he forgot something, but Wlvn interrupted the old man’s worried mumbling.

“Too late. Ride.” He took off. Gndr and Strn followed, after a moment, and Wlkn tried to catch up the whole way. Fortunately, with the coming darkness, Wlvn knew he would have to slow their pace, considerably. He only hoped that they could gain an insurmountable lead, first. He knew the shuttle might find them through the trees; but then it might not have scanners sophisticated enough for that. To be honest, the thing that scared him most was the idea that they were being followed by a bunch of dead men on horseback.

Wlvn never looked back, he didn’t dare, but he kept his ears open. He expected to hear the faint whine of the helpers’ shuttle at any moment. Helpers! Wlvn gagged a little on the name. He remembered who they were, one of the elder races of humanoids that had once shared the earth, but who had been taken off world in the time of a world-wide catastrophe. The Storyteller called them Neanderthal, but they called themselves Gott-Druk; and then he remembered something else. The Gott-Druk were not supposed to come back to the earth. Neither they nor any of the other elder races were supposed to return. Nor were they welcome. Yet here they were, helping Loki and a Titan enslave the one remaining earth-bound race, the human race. Fortunately, Wlvn remembered yet one more thing. One elder race, the one called the Elenar had issues with the Gott-Druk. Wlvn did not know where the message came from, whether it came to him from somewhere in time, or from somewhere closer to home, he heard the message loud and clear that the Elenar were on the way.

“Great!” He mumbled. All he needed was two ancient, space-faring races battling it out right over his head.

“It is great!” Brmr shouted, her face in the wind and her hair blowing for all it was worth. “It is great.” She said it again and turned her head to smile up at her brother with a smile so full and sure, Wlvn could practically count her teeth.

 Wlvn prayed mightily, but he did not stop when he saw the line in the ground up ahead, now in the dim light of the moon rise.  He felt the sting as soon as they touched the barrier, but he had every hope that the horses would carry them across to safety, and they did, though it was not far before they slowed and eventually stopped. Both Strn and Gndr had slipped off to lie unconscious on the ground. Old man Wlkn stayed up on horseback, but he sagged and looked ready to slip off his mount at any moment. Brmr still breathed, thank God. Wlvn felt terribly dizzy, but he alone stayed conscious, not because of any virtue on his part, but because he was more or less fully grown, going on nineteen years, and yet still young enough to withstand the electrical shock. Sadly, there would be nothing he could do for the others for some time. Good thing he did not have to.

Mother Vrya arrived. She helped the boys recover quickly and made a cushion for Wlkn to fall on. Wlvn got down, Brmr in his arms, but he quickly fell to his knees and felt in danger of passing out. “Mother.” He managed the word before he slumped forward. He felt grateful for her attention, and he imagined she would speak soothing words. He did not expect the scolding.

“Quit being so dramatic. You survived the electric fence; now change to my son for a minute.”

“Oh.” Wlvn spoke with his face in the dirt and once again, he vanished from that time and the Nameless god came to take his place. “Mother!” Nameless almost scolded her right back as he sat up and spit the dirt from his mouth that Wlvn should have tasted: but the word of near scolding came also full of love. Vrya, after all, was the goddess of love.

Vrya stood over Brmr, the little one, but she paused as Nameless stood. She walked up to him with a very strange look on her face. “How long before you will be my little one?” She asked and placed her gentle hand on his cheek to caress his face.

“You know I cannot tell you that,” Nameless responded, but he had to smile when he said it.

“You know I cannot help asking,” Mother Vrya said, and she returned to her task. She picked up Brmr in her loving arms. Gndr and Strn shuffled up to stand beside her as she glanced at Wlkn who lay still, unconscious on his cushion. “Now that you are free of the land of the abomination, I can take these children to a safe place. I am sure you already have something in mind to do. I suspect that it will not be an easy journey, especially if you run into too much interference, only remember, I will be there when you need me, my son.” And she vanished. They were all gone, disappeared into thin air so only Nameless, old man Wlkn and the horses were there, including Thred, who had followed them all of the way from Wlvn’s village.

Nameless got to his knees as a precaution before he went away and Wlvn came back, also on his knees, of course. Wlvn thanked Nameless for being thoughtful because he decided that he might pass out for a while after all.

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MONDAY Chapter 3

Wlvn and old man Wlkn begin their quest but are immediately interrupted by Odin and by a high radiation energy blast which is luckily not well aimed.  Until then, Happy Reading

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Reflections W-2 part 2 of 3

Wlvn had a week to prepare for his journey to the center of the universe. He left the actual preparation of the grain and the wagon in Gndr’s hands since Gndr came of age and could not avoid going. Strn, not old enough, had to stay home and take care of Brmr, though Wlvn expected old man Wlkn to do most of the watching since he finally reached the age considered too old to make the trip.

“It will probably snow,” Wlkn said, while his eyes examined the sky. “And the villagers from Mskvt will fail to show up with the grain, and with the snow, we probably won’t be able to hunt or gather much.” Wlvn ignored the man and walked away before Wlkn started in on starving to death and whatever other worries might be on his mind.

While Gndr got the grain ready, Wlvn carved a new kind of harness, one where the horse could pull with his shoulders, not cut against his neck. He knew he tempted some time displacement in doing that, but he would not put Thred in any other kind of harness, and he would not take any other horse. Thred did not like being made to pull a wagon at all, but he was willing to lower himself for Wlvn’s sake who believed, without any evidence, that it was imperative he have the quick means for a getaway.

“All right, Thred. It won’t be for long.” Wlvn assured the horse and the horse puffed in response, but settled into a nice, easy pace. When they got to the line, Gndr seemed amazed. He never saw so many people in his life and he did not know that many existed. Wlvn hushed him and told him to keep his head lowered and do as he was told, just as he had been instructed by their father. “Don’t draw attention to yourself.” Wlvn talked to both Gndr and Thred, and then he looked around for his mysterious cloak, but he did not see Mother Vrya anywhere.

When they came to the top of the rise, Gndr let out the expected gasp, and Wlvn hushed him as he had been hushed. As they came near enough to be within range of hearing, Gndr, Wlvn, and every man and woman in the train had a terrible start. Wlvn had to cover Gndr’s mouth to keep him from screaming, and he had to look away to keep his own scream at bay. The Titan came out of the dome. He eyed the horses in the line and drooled like he could eat several, raw, and no doubt he would have if the immortal had not stepped between them.

“My Lord!” Loki shouted up and did something in the exercise of his godly power to be sure he was heard. Wlvn and everyone else found their eyes drawn up to the Titan, but in his fear, Wlvn quickly pulled his gaze away and turned it toward a party of mounted men that were half-hidden by one of the long houses. Wlvn recognized several men from the villages who looked to be riding in good order, and some helpers were with them, though they did not look at all comfortable on horseback. “My Lord!” Loki regained Wlvn’s attention. “Consider this new development before you act in haste. Think how these riders can extend your territory and bring ever more to the truth.”

The Lord of All did consider, and he looked out over the line of humanity which already served him, utterly. When he spoke, it was in a voice like thunder.

“Very well.” The Titan’s face seemed easy to read. He looked reluctant to give up his lunch. “For it has been said: cursed is the ground because of men. Through wretchedness they shall eat of it all their days. By the sweat of the ground, they shall eat until they return to the ground from whence they came, for they are dust and to the dust they shall return. All men must know this. We will extend our reach until all men can be made to understand.” With that, the Titan reached out and grabbed a man, snatched him right up off the ground. The man screamed. Many people screamed and looked away. The man stopped screaming when the Titan bit the man’s head off and went back into his dome because clearly the smell of horseflesh was driving him crazy.

Wlvn focused his eyes for a minute on Loki and noted how easily he swayed the Titan, even when the Titan wanted something. Wlvn wondered who was in charge here, and the worst of it, Loki would probably get away with it by blaming it all on the Titan. Wlvn felt like letting out a little Flern-type “Grrr,” but he got interrupted by a woman’s voice.

“No, no, my son.” He felt the tap on his forehead. Of course, by the time Wlvn looked around, the cloak went half-way down the line. He watched it disappear over the little rise, and then he heeded Mother Vrya’s advice, turned his eyes from Loki and concentrated on the task at hand. He reached down and scooped up a big handful of mud left from the recent fall rains. He splattered it directly in Gndr’s face which made Gndr open his eyes, wide. The mud went back and forth for a little, but then Wlvn ended it when he spoke.

“That is about as unappetizing as I can make us, now drag your feet and look down. Don’t do anything except what you are told.”

Gndr looked like he finally understood on the third telling. He tried to look stupid which Wlvn thought was a very simple thing for his brother to do.

When Wlvn and Gndr were third from the front, the movement of the horsemen caught Wlvn’s attention. He looked up, but his first sight was the face of Eir, peering out from the little window in her cage. He felt like she called him and spoke to him, though she could not have been speaking, exactly, from that distance. “It is a trap.” Wlvn hardly had time to respond when the horsemen pulled up for a closer look.

Wlvn looked down, emptied his mind and did everything he could think of to hide, hoping they would pass him by, but they stopped alongside the wagon all the same. Wlvn looked up at the riders in a last, mad hope that they might not give him away, but what he saw disturbed him beyond anything he had yet seen. The humans looked like empty shells. This appeared far worse than mere mind control or brainwashing. These men were the living dead, soulless zombies, animated flesh or flesh reanimated by the souls of the men after death, and it seemed a wonder the horses would even let them ride. Again, Wlvn suspected Loki. Wlvn knew that none of those living-dead options would be beyond the reach of the gods, but he also knew that the flesh was probably no longer under human control. No doubt, the flesh had become demon infested. They certainly pointed out Wlvn without hesitation, and one of the decaying corpses even made a sound probably meant to be, “He is the one,” but it came out, “Eeeaawonn”

Gndr screamed at the sight of the flesh falling off that finger, but Wlvn did not have the luxury to scream. One second, he reached for his knife and the next second he no longer stood there. Diogenes came all the way back in time from the court of Alexander the Great to stand in Wlvn’s place. What is more, he came clothed in the armor of the Kairos, god-forged chain mail over leather, and he had a sword at his back and a long knife across the small of his back also forged of that wonderful new material the dark elves had discovered, Flern’s dream metal, bronze.

“G-gods of Olympus!” Diogenes’ sword jumped into his hand, and he cut down the nearest helper where the helper had a hard time keeping his seat. He cut the restraining harness on Thred’s back with the same stroke. Thred responded by rearing up and making a great noise in the face of the zombies. Terrified by the smell of death, he could hardly contain himself. Gndr barely got out of the way, and at the same time, Diogenes sheathed his sword, well-practiced soldier he was, leapt up on Thred’s back and grabbed Gndr with his hand to drag the fifteen-year-old up behind him in one motion.

The zombies started to push their horses in to cut off his escape route, but Diogenes grabbed Gndr’s hands around his waist and brought Thred up again. Thred responded with a great noise and motion that made the other horses hesitate, and Diogenes seized the opportunity to race for freedom, brushing by the horse formerly occupied by one of the helpers, where the horse desperately tried to back away. Diogenes considered and went away from that place to let the Princess come and sit with Gndr, lightening the load on Thred’s back.

The sudden appearance of the woman in the man’s place disturbed and confused the zombies and dumbfounded the helpers so none of them went rushing after her. That allowed the Princess to take off back up the road at great speed, and she wasted none of the opportunity. Thred seemed more than happy to get out of there; but then, Loki, a master of false appearances, had not been fooled in the least; yet even he shouted, “Get him! Stop him! Kill him!” That did not help the zombies or the helpers since the boy, Gndr, was the only him present at the moment. The Princess wondered why Loki did not simply trap her with a small exercise of his godly power, but then, she did not waste too much energy wondering.

As soon as they were over the rise and out of sight, the Princess considered trading places once again through time even as she caught sight of the robe out of the corner of her eye. She thought Mother Vrya smiled. Of course! She traded places with Vrya’s son-to-be, the Nameless god, and that proved a good thing, because Gndr could not hold on much longer. Nameless glued the boy to his seat, but then he found he could do little more. No way they were going to disappear and reappear in Wlvn’s village. “Eir.” He said her name out loud. She was the one, blocking Loki’s efforts, canceling out any exercise of Loki’s godly power. That eased the Princess’ getaway. Unfortunately, Eir blocked Nameless as well. Nameless knew it was only because she was so young and did not exactly know what she was doing. Nameless smiled and loved the girl as he always would, and he at least tried to send a message. “Thanks. I’ll be back for you.” He felt her heart beat a little faster.

Thred let out great gasps of air by the time they got back to Wlvn’s village. The sun would soon be down, so he did not have much time to make his moves. Nameless unglued Gndr, who looked to be in absolute, uncomprehending shock, and then he let go of that place so Wlvn could return to his own life. Wlvn decided to keep the armor and weapons, however, and his armor dutifully adjusted itself to fit this new form

“Get down.” Wlvn had to tell his brother what to do and help him dismount.

Reflections W-1 part 3 of 3

Since Wlvn had turned old enough for the pilgrimage, he got to hunt that winter with the men. He did not have to hang around his mother’s skirts and dig through the snow to gather whatever he could or climb trees to steal nuts from the squirrels. All of that digging and climbing could be hard work, especially when it turned ten or twenty below. Of course, hunting was not exactly easy, though as often as not, for the first couple of years Wlvn got to stay in the camp and keep the fire burning while the older men went out into the wilderness. In fact, he was busy doing that very thing one day when he had an unexpected visitor.

A mature man came to him, one certainly older than Wlvn, though it seemed hard for Wlvn to tell exactly how old the man was, like the man appeared very old and quite young at the same time. The man held in his hand a string of large, swift animals tied in a line. Wlvn had seen such animals before and ate one once when the men brought back one that they claimed had fallen into a ditch. He had never seen them before, though, with bits in their mouths and reigns and standing still in a line as if the man himself was the lead stallion.

“You are Wolven?” The man pronounced the name imperfectly. “I’m sorry. You must be. I can’t read your mind all that well.”

Wlvn felt that he knew this man even if he could not find a name. He decided to stand up as tall as he could to show that he was not afraid, though indeed, if he felt anything, it was a protective warmth that emanated from the man.

“I am Wlvn,” Wlvn said. “What brings you so far from home?” He asked that because he felt that surely this man had to be a long way from his normal haunts.

“I have Odin’s permission,” the man said, assuming that Wlvn knew who Odin was. “Nereus, the Sea Elder said that in all the world you would be the only one who would know what to do with these and make proper use of them.”

“Horses?” Wlvn said the word like a question even as his mind flooded with images from the future—images of riding horses, plowing in the fields, of chariots and carriages and millennia of cooperation. The dog might be man’s best friend, but the horse was always man’s best help. Wlvn had to sit down again to clear his head.

“Who are you, really?” The man asked as he tied the lead horse to a tree branch and stepped closer. Obviously, the man had some thoughts on the subject.

“Poseidon?” Wlvn named the man and the man stopped where he was. “But I don’t really know what to do with them. The idea of catching them and training them and caring for them is all too complicated right now for me to remember. I think I am still too young.” Wlvn looked up into the big man’s eyes, but the man smiled as if he had guessed correctly.

“No, but that is easy,” the man said, and before Wlvn could protest, the man took that last step forward and laid his big hands on Wlvn’s head. Then Wlvn knew. In that moment, he knew more about horses than anyone alive, perhaps ever. “And here.” The man took Wlvn’s hands to help him stand, and Wlvn felt a strong tingling in his hands as he stood. “Now you can give the basic knowledge to others. It is that simple.”

“But where did they come from?” Wlvn asked. He let go of the man’s hands to examine the lead horse. He felt a little uncomfortable and not sure he liked the way the man kept staring at him.

Poseidon tried to get serious as he shrugged. “Athena won.”

Wlvn put his hand to his head. It all felt like too much, too fast. He felt a little dizzy. “Athens.” He got that word out and it helped him say the rest. “The olive tree.” Poseidon nodded and smiled and Wlvn felt the strangest thing happen that he had yet imagined. A woman pushed up inside of him; or rather, not inside, but from somewhere in time, one of those imaginary lives he would one day live. She pressed really close to his consciousness. It almost sounded like she might be speaking to him, like she stood right beside him, or inside him as he thought at first. She appeared to be asking if she could visit with her husband for a minute.

No. Wlvn thought, absolutely not. But the woman pleaded so sweetly, and Wlvn felt so confused at the moment, he finally said yes, but make it quick. Then Wlvn no longer stood in his own shoes. A woman stood in his place and Poseidon spoke her name.

“Amphitrite.”

She stepped up into his arms and they kissed, passionately, before she asked how the children were.

“How like a woman,” Poseidon responded. “Our son is just fine.” Then he got a very curious expression. “Children?”

Amphitrite nodded but said no more. She had obviously appeared very deep in the past, and they only had one son, Triton, so far. She knew she was not supposed to tell him about the future, so instead she reached up again and let him kiss her again and again. Finally, they heard a “Cooo! Cooo!” in the distance and Amphitrite stepped back.

“I will do my best with your gift.” Amphitrite spoke for Wlvn.

“You always do.” Poseidon grinned, knowing it was time to leave. “Children.” He let that word float on the air as he vanished.

“Thank you Wlvn,” Amphitrite said, not hiding the grin on her own face. She said the words out loud, though she knew Wlvn would have heard her merest thought. She told the horses to be good and mind the boy, and then she let out a “Cooo!” in Wlvn’s voice before she vanished and let Wlvn come home.

The first thing Wlvn did was wipe his lips clean, though it had not been his actual lips that did the kissing. Then he sat down because that had been the strangest experience in his life. He wondered briefly if he could do that again, and he thought of Flern; but no, he did not want to be another stupid girl. He got a shock when he actually heard a response.

“And I don’t want to be a stupid boy, either.” Flern spoke clearly into Wlvn’s mind, and he even heard the raspberries. Fortunately, the lead horse had just nudged him and let out a puff of cold air. Wlvn had to look at the horse. The men were coming back, and he realized that he had to act fast. Even so, it was nearly impossible to keep Ktrn from immediately killing one of the beasts.

After Wlvn explained things as well as he could, leaving out the part about Amphitrite, of course, he laid hands on the men so the horses would not appear to be simply lunch. They returned to the village without much meat, but with the most sensational find any village ever knew. They rode home, and Wlvn felt two things he never felt before. First, he felt proud, and second, he felt happy. Until that moment, Wlvn could honestly say he did not really know what happiness was, and given the hardship of his life, that was no wonder. Now, with the horses, that life might be immeasurably improved. Sadly, that elated feeling lasted a very short time. Mother had been taken by the selection.

A great deal of yelling happened at first. Brmr and the boys fell to tears. They could not frame clear sentences, but Wlvn could hardly blame them. Finally, Father and the other hunters got old man Wlkn to explain.

“They came on the ground and with one of their air wagons, though I cannot imagine how it stays up in the air. Anyway, they had some selections on the ground, and they looked like a despairing lot, though I did not see anyone from the other villages that we know.”

“They come around for selections every few years.” Father interrupted. “They want to make sure we are not hiding any grain in the years of calling. We know this.”

“They searched everywhere,” Wlkn said, and his eyes got big and filled with fear at the memory. “They were very thorough, and I felt sure that this time I would be selected, but when they finished searching my house, your wife asked me to keep the children while they searched your house. Then they asked about everyone and made sure we were all accounted for. They wanted families and ages and all. Your wife was very honest. She said she had three sons and a daughter that was six. That seemed to satisfy them, and I thought they would leave, but they said something about her replacing herself and she got added to the selections. It was just like that.” Wlkn snapped his wretched old fingers. “They tied her to the end of the line, and they were gone.”

“Where did they go?” Wlvn spat and growled. The red rose to his face and made him look and feel like he had a fever.

Wlkn raised his brows, surprised by the fury of the boy. “To the next village, I suppose.”

“Father.” Wlvn turned to his father, but the man stood still like a statue. “Father, we have to go after them and get her back.”

“Oh, that would be very dangerous.” Wlkn verbalized his fears. “They have an air wagon that can rain fire from the sky, and the immortal came with them.”

“What?” That got Wlvn’s attention. “What immortal?”

“The tall, boney one with the crooked eyes.” Wlkn blinked. “They said he was looking for a particular person. I am only glad he did not find that person here. I hate to think what might have become of us.” Wlkn looked away and started to shake his head.

“Loki!” Wlvn spat again as he turned to his father, but the man kept shaking his head as well. “But we have the horses now. We can catch them by surprise.”

Father looked up at that, but his head still shook. “No, son. There is nothing we can do.” He grabbed Wlvn by the shirt and spoke sternly into his son’s face. “And I forbid you to go after them.” He shook his son hard before he let go.

Wlvn’s face turned red with both anger and tears. He stomped off and for the first time in his life he seriously considered being disobedient. Someday, someone had to do something. He knew the Princess could track them easily in the snow. She had been gifted by the goddess Artemis herself and knew all of the ways of the hunt. And Diogenes could beat them up. Wlvn believed that Alexander the Great’s first cousin was the greatest warrior of all time. It was hard to think of Diogenes as simply himself in another lifetime. And if Mother is hurt, Doctor Mishka can heal her.

“And accomplish what?” Wlvn heard the words clearly in his head. It was like when Flern talked to him, except this sounded like a man’s voice—like the Storyteller. “All you will do is make them mad enough to kill everyone.” There. He said it.

“I’m sorry, Wlvn.” Flern added her words, but by then, Wlvn sat down to cry, bitterly. There was nothing he could do.

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MONDAY Chapter 2

It does not take long to get horses into the hands of the people, but it puts a strain on Wlvn.  He takes a break before his village is called to the center of the universe where Loki and the Neanderthals are looking for him.

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Reflections W-1 part 2 of 3

Wlvn never said anything, but he had imagined for some time that he had lived other lives in the past and many more in the future. He supposed it was his way of escaping the hardship and hopelessness of his daily life—to pretend to be someone else in some other land and some other time. He also thought at times that it was not exactly a sign of mental health, but then, he had little else to live for. Sadly, most of what he supposedly remembered about those lives seemed a plague of useless information, given his present life and circumstances. He could not remember anything about working in metals or even how to build a plow better than the stone and bone contraption they used. Sometimes he imagined that certain information was being kept from him, deliberately, for some reason. Only now, Wlvn felt certain that, given the opportunity, he could fly the craft he identified as a shuttle. This information did not come to him from the Storyteller, the Princess, Diogenes, or Doctor Mishka for that matter; the four people he imagined as lifetimes he would live one day, far in the future. They were lives with which he was slowly becoming familiar, yet as impossibly far in the future as those lifetimes felt, he knew they were not far enough. The knowledge of the shuttle had to be coming to him from even further in the future, from a lifetime of which he was not even aware. “Unless, of course, this is not the first life where I have encountered whoever these helpers are,” he mumbled out loud.

“Son?” Father looked up.

“Nothing.” Wlvn shook his head. He looked at his feet. He had a great deal to think about as they inched forward, one wagon space at a time. Naturally, the first thing he thought of was more of the useless stuff. He guessed that this line of wagons might be the first traffic jam in human history.

Wlvn took a step and someone touched him square on the forehead and whispered, “My son, even when you are not my son.” The words were spoken with the kind of true whisper where he could not tell if it was a man or woman speaking. He looked up and saw the back of a full-length cloak and hood, which told him nothing. This cloak walked, unnoticed, against the train of wagons. It walked slowly and deliberately away from the center of the universe. Wlvn touched his forehead, but nothing had been put there. When he looked again, the cloak was gone. He stood on his toes and tried to look over and around all of the wagons behind, but the cloak was not there. Whoever it was, had vanished into thin air.

“Son.” Father’s word sounded a bit more urgent.

“Sorry father.” Wlvn tried to assume the right position and attitude. He mirrored his father as well as he could.

They did stop when it got dark, but Father proved right; little sleep came Wlvn’s way. With the first light of dawn, they started again, and Wlvn got his first real look at the helpers. Some walked up the line to be sure everyone got up and started moving. They had whips.

The helpers hardly looked human, being squat, very muscular, with great brow ridges and sloping foreheads. But they had to be human, didn’t they? Wlvn pondered all of this and searched his memory. He searched through time to those few lifetimes he could remember, but neither the Princess, the Storyteller, Diogenes, nor Mishka told him anything. He knew it was pointless to ask Flern, a fifth lifetime he often remembered in detail, and one that made him uncomfortable. Flern was a girl. Wlvn could not imagine living life as a girl. True, the Princess and Doctor Mishka were girls, but they were far enough away in the future, and generally older, so he could overlook that reality. Flern lived too near him in time and shared a similar culture, living almost as Neolithic a life as his own. He could not imagine being a she. He decided not to think about it at all.

By the time their turn came, Wlvn started thinking of his mother, Gndr, Strn, and little Brmr. He managed to get himself into the right position and the right attitude, as his father told him, so he felt a little surprised when one of the helpers came up to him, grinning, holding tight to something in his fat fist.

“How old is this one?” The ugly brute looked hopefully at the one who examined the grain offering. Father had just finished explaining about Mother being home with the baby and the two younger children. Father hid nothing, he did not dare, but when asked the question, he had to blink. An expression crossed his face that looked briefly like fear for his son.

“Fifteen.” Father spoke honestly enough. Wlvn wanted to say nearly sixteen, but something held his tongue.

The one beside the grain shook his head to the disappointment of the other, and then he spoke in words that no one among Wlvn’s people should have been able to understand. Wlvn’s surprise turned to shock. He understood the words, perfectly.

“We don’t take them that young, however tempting, lest they cease producing and we run out of selections altogether,” the chief helper said. “And we don’t take the fathers until the sons are old enough to take over.” With that, the chief helper put a mark on the back of their hands and told them exactly where to put their grain. Father moved them on.

“Quickly,” he said; but Wlvn moved slowly, still in a bit of shock. He could not keep his eyes from staring back, in part for understanding what they said, but in large part for realizing that the bone the grinning one nibbled on was not an animal bone, but the end of a human leg. Wlvn looked away before his empty belly emptied itself further.

“Come on, son.” Father risked speaking again. “Quickly now.” They were the last ones to fill that bin, after which the wagons would be sent over to the other side, and Wlvn tried to concentrate, but again he got distracted. A man that was clearly a man, not one of the ugly brutes, kept staring at them. He seemed to point at them with a boney hand, a hook nose, and a pointed chin, all pointing together. Wlvn thought the man looked crooked in some strange way, yet he was about to smile a friendly smile when the man floated up into the air. It seemed the man was looking for something and thought perhaps a little height might help it come into focus. Wlvn looked away, thinking, this is one of the gods! The man came back down to his feet, walked off to the other side, and Wlvn breathed. Then he remembered the man’s name when a memory came to him from somewhere in time. Loki! Wlvn also remembered his feelings were not kind toward that particular god.

“Son.” Father tried again, and Wlvn began to empty the grain from the cart into the bin, but for a third time he became distracted. This time, it was a face, a girl’s face. The girl appeared to be a prisoner in a cage, a small cage, like one a lion or tiger might occupy in an old city zoo or on a circus train. Wlvn felt his jaw drop because the girl looked absolutely stunning, though she could not have been older than thirteen. Wlvn paused, in part because he was not sure if the girl called to him. Perhaps the call came only in his mind, but it came with enough pull to garner his attention.

“Son.” Once again, father’s voice required his attention. Wlvn hurried to finish unloading, at which point Father was for getting out of there as quickly as possible. Wlvn spoke before they could turn from the bin.

“Turn this way, Father, please. I am asking you to trust me, and I can’t explain just now, but please.” He asked his father to turn the cart around by heading deeper into the camp rather than away from the center of the universe. Father looked at him, dumbly, but there must have been real urgency in his plea because his father complied. Then came the hard part.

“Stop here,” Wlvn said, and he pulled hard on the oxen collar to stop the beast from turning further. “Pretend you are having trouble with the harness, fix the wagon, anything, only stay here for a minute.” Again, Wlvn’s father raised an eyebrow, but he noticed that all eyes were turned in the other direction where they were presently sending the wagons, so he said nothing, and he began to fiddle with the rigging. He watched his son melt away behind the nearest small building.

Wlvn found the back of that building to be a genuine cage with metal bars and everything. The girl stood right there, so close, in fact, she was able to reach her skinny arm through the bars and touch Wlvn’s cheek almost as quickly as he saw her.

“Wlvn.” He whispered his name.

“Eir.” She gave hers as she studied his face. “You are not the one,” she said at last and collapsed. “I saw your hair, it is like his, the color of the sunset, but your eyes are not his. Your eyes are brown, like the mud. His eyes are as dark as the night, though sparkling as if full of stars. And yet…” She sat up a little straighter. “I sense that you and he are very close, that somehow, he must come and stand in your place.” Eir withdrew her hand and withdrew herself into her captivity.

Wlvn was not sure what he felt, but a storm brewed somewhere in time, and it was such a storm, Wlvn dreaded to think what might happen if that storm ever got loose. “You are a prisoner.” He made it a statement.

“Since I was a baby,” Eir answered softly. “I am a hostage. I barely remember my mother and father, but one day my Nameless, red-haired, black-eyed warrior will come and save me. I have seen it in the setting sun. I have felt it in the earth and heard it whispered in the wind.” She fell silent.

“It will be me.” Wlvn spoke without hesitation in his voice, like he was speaking undeniable truth. “Though perhaps not in this lifetime,” he concluded, strangely. Eir frowned, but only for a moment before her expression changed because of some understanding that Wlvn could not yet grasp. His own thoughts got interrupted by his father.

“Son. They have noticed,” Father said, and Wlvn felt obliged to return to the cart even as Father spoke more loudly. He nudged the ox and they turned toward the road for home.

Wlvn spoke of his encounter several times on the way home, but Father always had the same basic answer. “It is not our concern. There is nothing we can do for her.”

Wlvn finally let out his deepest feelings about the issue. “But I believe she is being held as a hostage against the gods. I think that she, herself, may be a goddess.”

Father looked horrified at that thought, but still he said, “There is nothing we can do.”

Wlvn and his family made it through the worst of the winter, though not everyone in the village survived. Three elderly people and two children died of the winter plague. Wlvn knew it was likely some strain of pneumonia, a disease against which he felt powerless. Despite having access to his future life as Doctor Mishka, the only thing she suggested was near starvation and malnutrition contributed mightily. Wlvn got angry and cried. He imagined his future lives were as bad as everyone around him. There is nothing we can do, he thought.

Avalon 2.9 Morning Surprise

            It seems the imps and elves, goblins and dwarfs are all on the march to rescue Flern and her company.  That doesn’t get rid of a hundred Jaccar warriors, but it does make a big difference on which side has the advantage.   

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            Katie and Lockhart sat quietly side by side and looked out over the grass as the sun rose behind them and a bit off to their right hand.  “Late fall.”  She took a big whiff of air and Lockhart nodded.

            Goldenwing was asleep, up in his tree branch.  Riah was also asleep beside her lady.  Roland slept at last when it was clear Boston was going to make a full recovery.  Decker slept fitfully, as did Lincoln.  Lincoln was probably dreaming about his missing wife, Alexis.  They could not imagine what Decker was dreaming about after five hundred years in stasis.  Elder Stow appeared asleep, but it was sometimes hard for the humans to honestly judge the Gott-Druk.  The gnomes, all on the far side of the horses, snored, and some loudly.  They might be good help with the horses, but not worth much on guard duty.

            It was up to Lockhart and Katie in the early morning, but all that changed in a second when they heard a sound with which they were all too familiar.

            “Bokarus.”  Lockhart mouthed the word even as people jumped to their feet.

            The Bokarus came screaming toward them, flying in his horrendous, ghostly form.  Vinnu screamed and this time Gunder appeared to want to join her.  But the Bokarus merely buzzed them and continued out over the river.

            “To the high ground!”  Roland shouted and others echoed the words.  Roland carried Boston to the top of the riverbank and then returned to help Flern and Riah carry Kined.  The rest were on their own.

            “Get up,” Lockhart yelled as he grabed Vilder’s hand, pulled and reached again for Pinn.  Everyone scrambled when the bokarus came again and brought a great wave of the river with him.  He shot out over the grassy field and began to circle around the field, faster and faster.

            Thrud, who was a bit slow in the morning was soaked, but at least no one was damaged by the water, or dragged under.  Katie, Riah and Flern stood side by side and wondered what the bokarus was doing. 

            “The wind created by that flying pest is almost a tornado,” Captain Decker said as he checked his rifle just in case the bokarus should solidify for a moment.  Lincoln could only nod, and he actually wished his father-in-law was there to strike the creature with a fireball.

            The grass beneath the bokarus bent and broke, and some of it began to rise up in sheets.  It took a second to realize why the sheets. 

            “Jaccar!”  Lockhart shouted.  The bokarus had removed their camouflage and likely undid an entire night of inching closer and closer.  The ones exposed that were still across the way turned and ran back to the rise and the Jaccar camp.  But the ones near imagined no alternative but to pull their knives and attack.  Guns went off.  The Jaccar fell.  The last one was hit with an arrow from Riah even as Lockhart pulled the trigger on his shotgun.  Then it was over and the bokarus was nowhere to be seen.

            “It did us a favor?”  Katie asked, confusion in her eyes.

            “No,” Lockhart shook his head.  “It just did not want to Jaccar to get its prey.”

            Katie looked at Riah and then Roland, and Roland responded and pointed at Lockhart, “What he said.”

            “Lockhart.  I promise I will do something about that bokarus just as soon as I can,” Flern said, and  Riah, Goldenwing and Pigot, who had just come tumbling up, all gasped.  The gods never made promises.  Roland just nodded and smiled.  This Kairos was fully human and as unpredictable as ever.

            “Lockhart.  How are we going to get out of this?” Lincoln asked with some exasperation in his voice.  “There are still eighty or more over there.  Eventually they will figure some way to get at us.”

            “Yes,” Elder Stow said, but he sounded a bit put off.  “How are we going to get out of this?”

            Lockhart had no ready answer, but that was fine because he disappeared from that spot and immediately reappeared on the rise overlooking the Jaccar camp.  There was a man there, crooked to look at, and he did not appear to be happy.  Lockhart had learned from past experience about unhappy gods.  He thought it best to hold his tongue.

            “You cheat.”  The god spit at him with his words.  “You killed twenty and none has gotten close enough to touch you but for that red headed witch.  And you healed her with more witchery.  You cheat.”

            Lockhart said nothing.

            “Too bad I can’t deal with you like I want.  The others have set a hedge around you and your group, even the elder among you.  And I can’t touch the Kai-gross either, nor any of hers.  It isn’t fair.”

            Lockhart looked down on the Jaccar camp.  The Jaccar did not seem to be aware that anyone was on the hill.  The god followed Lockhart’s eyes down the hill and frowned before he waved his hand and all the Jaccar and their horses disappeared.  “She will get her whole army killed before the battle even starts if I let her.  The Traveler may be her undoing and I will not be able to help her out.”  The crooked god ground his teeth.  “I suggest you leave before I think of a way to ruin your life.”  And he vanished while Lockhart turned and made the slow walk back to the others on the beach.

            They stayed one more day with Flern, to see Kined and Boston fully recovered.  “No Boston,” Flern said.  “Those healing chits were not designed for your specific genetic signature.  They will die out soon enough and you haven’t the means to grow more.  Besides, they were specifically programmed so they might not do you any good except against maybe another poison arrow in the next few days.”

            “Darn.”

            “Let us hope we won’t have to test it,” Roland added.

            “And you won’t tell me?”  Katie looked at Lockhart, but he shook his head.

            “Just one of the gods.”  That was all he ever said.  “It is hard to know sometimes.  I can see that now.  Some things the Kairos just has to find out for himself.”

            “Herself.”

            “That too.” 

            It was not until they were a half-day away, headed toward the next time gate that Lockhart finally relented.”

            “Let’s just say he is a god and he has an army.”

            Katie had to think before her eyes lit up.  “Ah!  Too bad we don’t have a Hulk.”

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            The next time zone finds poison everywhere – the kind that causes temporary insanity, and it is in the water.  The days are hot and sweaty, and the travelers don’t have much clean water, but somehow they have to find the Kairos and hope she isn’t under the influence, and if she is, they have to hope there isn’t the usual crisis looming.

Avalon 2.10:  Born To Be Wild … Next Time

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