Avalon 7.10 Guarding the Future, part 2 of 6

The travelers did not get very far in the morning.  It quickly became too hot to travel.  They sheltered the afternoon under a rock cliff that provided a little shade.  The horses did not mind the rough grasses, but the people had nothing to eat other than elf bread crackers.  Boston heated a cup of water in her hands in order to turn the crackers into bread.  Lockhart asked Elder Stow about his sonic device and maybe heating up one of the rocks so they could cook something, if they found anything to cook; but Elder Stow nixed that idea.

“It is all volcanic rock of some sort and gets hot enough in this climate.  The sonic device might heat them enough to make them pop or explode.  Not a good idea.”

“How goes the screen device?” Alexis asked, changing the subject.

Elder Stow shook his head.  “It is about ready for testing, but in this sandy environment, I have to be very careful.”

Mostly, people did not have much to say in the heat.  Decker, Tony, and Lincoln all took siestas.  The women passed some small talk and worried about the horses.  Sukki and Nanette gave Ghost the mule some extra attention.  The poor mule appeared to be suffering in the heat, though Katie suggested it was just a ploy to get attention.  Lockhart worried about getting everyone safely back to the future and wondered how much longer this trip was going to take.  Then the sun headed toward the horizon, and Lockhart got everyone up and moving.  They traveled into the night, but only managed about twenty miles on that day.

The following morning, Decker saw a group of mountain goats and shot one.  He feared he might have to climb the mountain to fetch it, but Elder Stow volunteered to fly up, and with an anti-gravity disc, he brought it down to be butchered.  Alexis complained about no greens, and this time, Nanette joined her, but the meat at least gave them something to supplement the bread crackers.  They could be sustained for a long time on just elf bread, but it did get boring.

After their long afternoon naps, Elder Stow used his scanning device to direct them to some surface water, which was a very small oasis not far off the caravan path they were following.  They camped for the night in that place, having only moved roughly another twenty miles, but they felt drained from traveling through such intense dry heat.  People were tempted to strip down to as little clothing as possible, but Alexis vetoed that idea.  She got out the sunscreen and made sure that everyone got covered.  Then she insisted on long pants and long sleeves, or something like long sleeve dresses with head coverings and face masks.

“You don’t see the Arabs riding around on their camels in short-shorts and tank tops,” she explained.  “Besides, you will do better if you wear something to absorb the sweat.  This is like being at sea and having the sun glare off the water, and the salt in the air drying you out.  True, the desert has no salt, but the sand glares just as bad as the water, and the sand and heat will dry you out just as much, so don’t dress stupid.”  That last, she told to Lincoln, but everyone got the message.

Several were surprised at how cold it got in the night.  They did not feel it as much that first night when they were still moving through most of it.  It did not get frost cold, but it got down close to it.  Lockhart insisted on the regular watch, and the watchers huddled for warmth.

They camped a little way back from the water, where the land flattened out, and it looked like where others had camped.  They found plenty of good grass there, being water fed.  It appeared a bit camel chewed but seemed like gold for the horses.  The travelers had a bit of the meat that had not yet turned in the heat, and mostly bread crackers.  Boring.  Then, in the night, the travelers got surprised by how many visitors came to the water.

They saw a couple of spotted animals, one of which was probably a leopard, but whatever they were, they kept their distance from the humans.  At least two herds of grazing animals came.  One looked like gazelles.  The other looked a bit like cows, but with very long, straight spikes for horns.  Lincoln was not awake at the time to identify them in the database.  They saw what looked like cats and dogs, though the dogs may have been small wolves.  Katie thought they were probably foxes.  They also saw a white tailed something that looked especially small.  They might have missed it, but it went for a swim.

The only trouble they faced, came when Decker and Elder Stow watched during the wee hours of the morning.  Nanette got up, thirsty.  They were all thirsty.  She walked down to the water and ran into a half-dozen hyenas.  The beasts were trying to sneak up on the horses.  Nanette screamed.  She tried to use her magic to make the hyenas back off, but nothing happened.  She screamed louder as the gang of Hyenas growled at her and appeared to change their mind about the horses.  This human seemed an easy meal.

Decker came running.  He wounded one beast in the dark and killed one.  Elder Stow turned on his light that could be seen for miles.  The hyenas ran, including the one that had a bullet in its side.  It ran dripping blood.  The dead one went nowhere.

Decker grabbed his rope and looped it several times around the dead animal.  He dragged it as far from the water and the camp as he could, guided by Elder Stow’s light, and then dropped it, retrieving his rope.  When he got back to the camp, pretty much everyone was up.  He had to pause, while Nanette threw herself into his arms and cried.  All Decker could do was look at Lockhart and Lincoln and say, “Shut up.”

Eventually, he got to ask why Nanette did not use her magic to keep the hyenas away or escape herself.

“I tried,” she said, and turned to Alexis.  “I honestly tried, but it is like I never had any magic—like it was all an illusion.”

Lincoln looked it up, since he would not be able to sleep any time soon.  “The other earth went out of phase in 375 AD.  That would have been when Bahati turned twenty.  The record says she came to Arabia in her late twenties, so the magic energy, or I should call it, the creative and variable energy that leaks into this world from the other earth is currently diminished below the useable point for most people.  You probably won’t get your magic back for another three hundred years.”

“What am I going to do?” Nanette fretted.

“Be our sister,” Boston said, and nudged Sukki, who nodded.

“Just be yourself,” Alexis said, and smiled.

“Be happy.  You are safe among friends,” Tony said.

“Family,” Elder Stow corrected the word friends.

“Stick with Decker,” Lockhart said, and tried not to grin.  “He will take care of you.”  He had to turn and walk to his tent so Decker could only see his back.  Katie took his arm to go with him, but she slapped that arm softly on the way.

Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs, part 5 of 6

The travelers arrived in the bay after dark.  The tide had already gone out, so they had to wait until the early morning hours to dock and unload the horses.  Lockhart set Pinto’s hands free, thinking the man could not do anything, and he needed to be able to feed himself.  Besides, he wanted his handcuffs back.  All the same, people slept on the deck with their weapons handy.  Boston slept with one ear on the horses below, and Lincoln slept with their money bag nestled securely between himself and Alexis.  Alexis complained, but she felt tired enough to sleep no matter what.

Sure enough, in the early hours, a couple of crew members joined Pinto in stealing the long boat.  They rowed to shore where they could get lost in the crowd and not have to answer any questions the harbor master and his legionnaires might ask.  Captain Ardacles said good riddance, and a mate is no good if you can’t trust him.  The travelers did not believe him.  Several suspected that after they got unloaded, Pinto and his friends would be back on board to continue their thieving ways.

Once free of the dock, all the papers signed in duplicate, they found the dozen monks of Barke, waiting patiently for them.  Deacon Galarius introduced them all, but only Alexis, and maybe Nanette and Katie would remember all those names.  Lincoln was quick to thank them for helping the ship get safely through the storm.  They nodded, smiled, and said don’t mention it.

“We will walk with you on the road to Nicaea,” Deacon Galarius said, and several monks nodded.  “That way, we can keep the wraith away, not to mention the thieves.  The road is full of thieves looking for an isolated priest or bishop with a bag of gold.”

Lockhart looked around at the group and did not argue, even if it meant walking the whole way.  They all began to walk, together, and brought the wagon along, slowly.

“What has that creature got against you folks, anyway?” Father Flavius opened the conversation.

“Not sure,” Lockhart answered.

“If it is the same one,” Lincoln said.  “And not everyone agrees that it is.”  He paused to start again.  “If it is the same one, it followed us through a time gate about three thousand years ago and stayed mostly hidden until after the time of dissolution.”

“What is that?” Deacon Galarius asked.  “The time of dissolution?”

“It is when the old gods gave up their flesh and blood and went back to being forces of nature.”  Lockhart offered what he understood.

“It is when the holding places for the spirits of the dead, like Hades, gave up their dead,” Katie added.

“The advent of our Lord,” Father Flavius suggested with a nod.

“Basically,” Alexis agreed.

“Anyway,” Lincoln continued.  “This wraith somehow got the idea that she is supposed to have our souls, and so far, we have not been able to stop her or talk her out of that idea.”

“I see,” Father Flavius said, though he did not explain exactly what he saw.

In the afternoon, they began the slow climb into the hills and Deacon Galarius came up front to warn the travelers.  “The thieves are mostly here in the high country.  The legion patrols the valleys, but apparently, they don’t get paid enough to climb into the hills.  Besides, the hills are filled with off-road trails where a few men can scurry away to hide among the trees and rocks.”

“Welcome to Sherwood,” Lockhart said.

After a moment, Katie guessed, “Robin Hood?”

The group camped in a field where they had a fair view all around.  They did not find much game, but the monks brought food stuffs for the journey.  It included plenty of vegetables so Alexis, Boston, Sukki, and Elder Stow were happy.  They also brought some beer, which helped everyone relax as they settled in for a night of careful watch.  The thieves stayed away, but one visitor did show up in the early hours when Boston and Sukki awaited the sunrise.

“What?” Boston said, much too loud.  “What do you want?”

The wraith hovered over the grass, just outside Elder Stow’s screen.  The slight breeze that blew her ragged dress around, showed no feet to stand on beneath the dress.  She looked old, a bit like a wrinkled and rotten fruit, but her many teeth looked clean and plenty sharp.  Her voice sounded like the creak in the shutters of an old barn.

“I don’t want you, little spirit.  You are no longer of any consequence,” she said, with a grin that showed all those teeth, but suggested she might change her mind.  “And I have no interest in the elder ones, either the girl beside you that used to be an elder, nor the elder man that continues to travel with you.  Nor do I have a claim on the new ones, neither the man, nor Nanette, who has proved a great disappointment.  But the other five…”  The wraith held up her hand.  The fingers appeared wispy and seemed to have a hard time solidifying and coming into focus, but it was enough to count.  “Yes, five.  You must give them to me.  I am charged by Domnu herself to feast upon their fear and drag their souls to the land of the dead where they will live in eternal torment.”

“The land of the dead has been emptied,” Deacon Galarius said as he stepped up behind Boston and Sukki.

“Yeah,” Boston spouted.  “When was the last time you went there and checked?”

The wraith grew suddenly angry.  The people took one step back in the face of that fury, but all the wraith could do was pound on Elder Stow’s screen and yell, “You lie.  Give me the mortals.  Give them to me.”

By then, the two monks on the watch stepped forward, and with Deacon Galarius, they appeared to pray.  A mist, barely discernable, came from the monks and slipped right through the screens.  It caught the wraith in mid-curse and pushed her further and further from the camp, until she disappeared behind a far hill.  The yelling and cursing could be heard until the end.

Decker came running up, rifle in his hand.  Nanette followed him, only a couple of paces behind.  “Damn,” Decker said.  He fired once in the general direction before Nanette caught him and took his arm.

“Next time,” Nanette said.  Decker did not answer.

As the travelers and their escort followed the river down into the valley, toward the lake and the city of Nicaea, Alexis asked a serious question.  “I thought the church frowned on sorcery.”

Father Flavius nodded as Deacon Galarius explained.  “The church frowns on the misuse of power and the ungodly misuse of whatever talents or position the Lord gives.  To violate a person’s conscience is the temptation—because with every gift there is temptation.”

“The Lords and rulers in this age, instead of leading and guiding people, they have most often sought to control people,” Father Flavius said.  “They tried to make people think, act, and talk a certain way, and for years, threatened torture and death if, for example, the people were unwilling to sacrifice to the emperor.  The government is not to be worshiped.”

“People need to make their own decision how they will act, think, and talk.  People must come to Christ in their own heart, and neither threats nor magical trickery will do,” Deacon Galarius said.  “The monks of Barke understand this and do everything that they do with prayer and supplication, being most careful not to violate others in their work.”

“It is for salvations sake,” Father Flavius agreed.  “All gifts and talents are given for the building up of the body of Christ.  Magic is a most rare, and honestly, most dangerous gift to be treated with the utmost care and oversight.  But when it is misused in order to force or control others, or make things come out the way the magic user wishes, then it is sorcery, and the church does frown on that.”

“So, what you are saying.” Lincoln wanted to get it straight.  “Nothing is evil of itself.  It all depends on what people do with what they have been given.”

“God created all things and called them good,” Father Flavius said.  “Without Christ, nothing was made that was made.  Magic was made.”

“The rich man and the poor man lived side by side, and when they died, the rich man went to torment and the poor man went to paradise.”  Deacon Galarius tried to explain.  “When the rich man complained, he was told he had every good thing in life, and he did nothing to relieve the suffering of the poor man.  Now, in death, the poor man has every good thing, and the rich man gets to suffer.”

“That is not exactly the story,” Father Flavius said.  “But the rich young ruler was told to sell all that he had and give to the poor and come and follow Jesus.  The rich man went away sad, because he had many things.”

Alexis offered her thought.  “Back home, some think the rich should be forced to give up their money so it can be given to the poor.”

“No, no,” Father Flavius said.  “Conscience, remember?  The rich have been given a great gift, but they must find it in their hearts to give and help those in need.  That is when it means something, has value, and God will bless.  To take, by which I assume you mean steal, will accomplish only evil.”

“There are many talents and gifts with which the Lord gifts his people,” Deacon Galarius said.  “Don’t make the gift of magic more than it is.  Personally, I believe the most gifted person in the monastery of Barke is the cook.  Without any magic whatsoever, he can take the most meagre rations and produce a feast worthy of the name.”

“Now, I’m hungry,” Father Flavius said.

Lockhart overheard and called, “Lunch.”

They stopped on the last small rise before the lake and the city, both of which they could see perfectly well down the hill.  Elder Stow did not need his scanner.  Decker did not need to meditate and let his eagle totem show him the countryside.  Decker did, however, get out his binoculars.  He sensed something wrong.  All of the monks and the travelers that were sensitive to such things felt the same.

“Fire in the city,” Decker said, and handed his binoculars to Lincoln so he could have a look.  Katie got out the scope for her rifle while Lockhart got her binoculars, which he handed around so some of the others could take a look.

M3 Festuscato: The Jutes, part 2 of 3

Mirowen went on to whisper the king’s response.

“He is thanking the fine ship builder for his thoughtfulness and is offering him a ring of gold for his trouble.”  The king stood and gave the gift.  “He is telling Ingut to stay and be refreshed.  He will get the finest rooms to spend the evening and can make a fresh start home in the morning.

“Ingut says his poor dear daughter will miss him in the night, and how he hates to be away from his only living kin.”

“The king says, here.  This inlaid necklace should soothe her fears.  Now please be seated and say no more about it.”  The king sat back down while men at the table to the king’s left moved down to make room for the shipwright.  Festuscato took Mirowen by the wrist and stepped forward.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Senator of Imperial Rome and Ambassador of his most August Emperor, Valentinian III, the Divine Caesar, ruler of the Western World, it is an honor to be at your table,” he said, Mirowen translating.  The king slowly grinned.

“Ruler of the Western World?” he questioned.  There were a couple of muffled laughs at that.

“The civilized world,” Festuscato said, eliciting a very loud burp from a man at the back. “And many a man has underestimated the power and reach of Rome.”  He spoke plainly, not threatening.

“We have no quarrel, Roman,” the king said.  He made no other comment and looked over the crew, instead.

“Lady Mirowen.” Festuscato began the introductions with her.  “The big Britain is Bran the Sword, and these other good men are Gregor One Eye, the Saxon, Seamus the cleric, is Irish, Luckless from the mines of Wales, Mousden, the Pixie from Cornwall, and of course you know Vingevourt, king of the sprites of the Baltic.”  Festuscato began to look around.

“I was not aware they had names,” King Hroden said.

“And ah, there he is.”  Festuscato pointed.  “And Hrugen the Sailor.”  He knew better than to name the Dane, as a Dane, but then Hrugen surprised them by stepping forward.

“I am Hrugen son of Unferth, grandson of Edglaf of the Danes,” he said, proudly.  Several benches got shoved back and several men reached for their weapons, but the king stopped them with his hand.

“I have heard of your father,” Hroden said.

“I fled my home twelve years ago when my father killed his two brothers,” Hrugen said. “I feared for my life, but I have conquered that fear and I am returning home to confront my sire, once and for all.” He sounded far braver and more confident in that assembly than he really was.

“He is a stinking drunk,” Hroden said.  “He sits at Hrothgar’s feet in Heorot and fears the monster that assails them.  He is a drunk and a coward.”  The king baited Hrugen, but Hrugen did not bite.

“What you say may be true,” Hrugen said.  “I have not been home in all these years.”

The king frowned at his lack of success, so he broadened his jibes.  “Still, I suppose we can encourage enmity between Danes. You may stay.  As for the rest of your crew, however, they seem no threat. Even the big one looks docile enough. Stay and eat.”

“I thank the king for his generosity,” Festuscato said.  “But before you underestimate Rome, may I suggest a friendly contest or two?”

“Eh?”  The shrewdness returned to the king’s eyes.

“Something to entertain and pass the time,” Festuscato shrugged.  “Perhaps archery to start, if you have a target.”

The king nodded. He indicated to a man who called for the target.  “But what if you lose?” the king asked.

“Mousden.” Festuscato called.  The Pixie came forward and produced a small leather purse out of nowhere.  He handed it to Festuscato and flew back to the others.  Festuscato took out a couple of pieces of gold as if judging how much to bet.  He looked around, and then smiled, dumped half the bag of nuggets on the table before the king and set the rest of the bag beside it.  “But what if we win?”  Festuscato countered.  The king’s wide eyes looked up at the Roman.  “Rome is a fat cow,” he reminded the king.

“Enough,” the king promised.  “I will give enough.”  He stood. “But my men will not lose.”  He roared to be sure everyone got the message.  A table, one back from the front, was cleared for the strangers, but the king stopped Festuscato.  “You sit with me,” he said.  “And the Lady of Light.”  He literally threw a man out of his seat to make room at his own table.  When he sat back down, the man beside him whispered in his ear.  He laughed. “Olaf the Swede has bet on you and your crew.”  He laughed again.  “Yonstrom!” He called out.  The king’s hunter stepped forward, arrow already on the string. A line got drawn on the floor and the target set across the room far enough away to not make it too easy. Yonstrom shot, and it appeared a good shot.  It was not centered, but close enough to take down a stag.  The king smiled and looked at Festuscato.

“Mirowen.” That was all he said, without looking. She jumped on the table itself, adding another twelve yards distance to the target, produced a bow seemingly out of thin air and shot, not once, but two arrows so close together the second was away before the first one hit the target.  The first hit dead center and the second one hit so perfectly on the end it drove the first nearly all the way through the hardwood, but without splitting the first shaft.

Mirowen got back in her seat, the bow gone, and she looked demure and sweet before the men could hardly react.  Then they broke out.  Some hooted. Some hollered.  All praised her, in amazement, and only Festuscato noticed that she turned a little red.  When the king bent over to say something, she spoke first to cut him off.

“My Lord Agitus is far better than I am,” she said.  Festuscato shook his head.  He knew his reflection in the past, Diana, his genetic twin, had been graced by both the goddess Justitia and the goddess Diana, her namesake.  He reflected her sense of justice and power of negotiation as well as her ability to hunt and use the bow, to fire the arrow of justice as he called it, but Mirowen remained the best he had ever seen.

“Perhaps,” the king said.  “But he did not shoot.  Magic does not count.  I will have the target examined in the morning to see if the arrows are still there or if it was all just illusion.”  He looked at Festuscato and considered whether or not he might be better than the elf.  “We will call it a draw,” the king concluded.  “Swords.”  He announced.

Mirowen wanted to protest, but Festuscato held her hand down.  He looked.  Bran did not have to be called.  His opponent was a big Jute, though not quite Bran’s size.  Neither was the Jute’s sword as big as Bran’s early broadsword. They did not wait for the word, but went at it evenly at first.  When Bran looked to be gaining the advantage, and the Jute appeared to be tiring, a man at the table stuck out his own weapon, and Bran lost his grip.  The broadsword clattered across the floor and king Hroden looked pleased.

Festuscato showed no emotion as the big Jute moved in for what he believed would be the deciding blow, but as he moved in close to strike, Bran did the opposite of what was expected.  Instead of backing away, Bran stepped in even closer and hit the Jute with a wicked uppercut followed by two jabs and a right hook that slammed the Jute against the wall, unconscious.  Bran rubbed his knuckles a bit before he retrieved his broadsword and laid it at the Jute’s throat.

“One for me.” Festuscato said to the king’s great displeasure.  He called for food and thought quietly while everyone ate and drank.  He called a man close and whispered to him.

Avalon 6.4 Stories, part 3 of 4

“Millie agreed to go with me into the past, to see if we could piece together how the Republic got started.  Wallace insisted on coming with us when Nanette showed up at the time gate.  Wallace wanted to stay with Nanette.  Tony talked about heading into the future, but he said he could not leave the professor to fend for himself.  Of course, I don’t believe the Nanette who went with us was actually Nanette.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, all went well enough until we arrived in Sicily.  But Nanette seemed changed from the start.  She did not talk to us.  Her warm and friendly personality changed into a sour personality.  She got plain rude, and mean to Millie.  But when we got to Sicily, she began to be able to do things—impossible things.  I don’t know. Like magic or something.  Like she had powers all of a sudden.  It was just little things at first, but her personality got worse with everything she learned she could do.  It was like the magic made her turn evil.  Millie said she noticed some things earlier, when we were traveling through China, somewhere in there.”

“Sicily?” Katie interrupted.

“That was the time when Pyrrhus of Epirus got invited to drive the Carthaginians off the island.  I guessed the year at 279 or so.  Millie and I discussed making the long trek to Rome. This would be on the eve of the Punic wars.  But Nanette forced us through the next time gate, and after a while, she followed us, or so it seems.”

“But why do you say it was not Nanette?” Lincoln asked.

“Because of the way she acted, and many things she said.  She talked about still being there with Professor Fleming, and how she would never leave him.  But there she was with us.  She talked about being in two places at once, and how hard that was.  And she talked about Janus, the two-faced god of the Romans, you know, one face comedy and one face tragedy.”

“One face good and one face evil,” Katie said.

“We met him, once, in the Alps,” Lockhart remembered

“So, maybe Janus split her into two Nanettes,” Boston blurted out.

“You mean, the god?” Evan had to ask.

“Don’t underestimate what the gods can do,” Lockhart said.

“We met the wicked witch, briefly,” Alexis said.

“Nanette?”

“Yeah,” Lincoln said.  “She’s taken up with some cowboys.  1870s?”  He looked at Boston.

“!870s,” Boston nodded. “I got shot.”

“Same age our horses came from,” Katie added.  The others had not realized that.

“Benjamin,” Alexis did not spell it out.

“Just coming to it,” Lincoln said, and after a minute he reported from the database.  “The Other Earth reaches half full in 525 BC, and is good until 225 BC.  Then we go into dark moon until 75 AD.  We are in a dark period right now, since 825 BC.  Now let’s see…”  Lincoln fell silent for a minute.  “Interesting…”  more silence. “I put in Sicily.  Umma from Carthage.  323-267 BC.  After her, Meng Shi in China.  267-228 BC. They both live in days when magic is possible.”  They had to explain for Evan, and Sukki, since it had not come up before.  Once again, they all looked to Lockhart to explain.

“The Other Earth fills the same relative space as our own earth, but in another dimension.  As it has been explained to me, it is what they call a physics universe, not a parallel earth.  As I understand it, the further you travel across the physical dimensions, the more the laws of physics that we know break down or cease altogether.  You don’t have to go far before life itself becomes impossible.  In the case of the Other Earth, it may be closer to the core than our own universe, because all of the laws of physics we understand function there too, but it has an additional force or energy like gravity or magnetism that we don’t have.”

“It is called creative and variable energy,” Alexis interrupted.

Lockhart nodded.  “We common folks call it magic.  Magic energy.  And some people, not many, can somehow tap into it and do miraculous things.”

Alexis spoke up again.  “Even in our day, we have not determined the genetic component, but it does tend to follow bloodlines.  It sometimes skips a generation, like grandmother and granddaughter, but not the mother.  It shows up about two-thirds in women and one-third in men.  No one knows why.”

“So, Nanette is a witch.  She can tap into this magic power…”

“…Creative and variable energy,” Alexis corrected.

“But what does this Other Earth have to do with her?” Evan wondered.

“Camp first,” Lockhart said, and pointed to the next group of trees, which looked like the edge of a forest. “I know it is early, but there are too many eyes in the sky.”  He pointed back; the way he had to look to be able to explain things to the others.  People looked.  A larger ship moved slowly across the sky, and Lockhart finished his thought.  “They are either surveying the area or looking for something.”

“Or someone,” Katie agreed, and she headed out to find an acceptable, defensible campsite.

Once the camp got set up, and the horses got their fair share of time, the people settled in around the fire, hoping the deer Katie bagged would be more edible than the goat Decker provided for lunch.

“Okay,” Lockhart began.  “The Other Earth has two differences to our earth, besides the magic energy we told you about.  One is, the Kairos never got born on the Other Earth.  At some point, the gods went to war with one another.  The landscape got shoved around pretty good and most of life got wiped out.  As for the humans, there were no survivors.  One of the gods who survived over there was Poseidon.  Somehow, he got the other surviving gods on that earth to agree to try and merge the two earths.  It did not work, for several reasons, as the Kairos explained it to me.  For one, Poseidon and the gods in our earth were not keen on the idea of merging with another version of themselves from another universe.  Second, the Other Earth existed as a mirror image of our own, with Europe pointing east instead of west, and so on.  And third, as the two worlds came into what they called conjunction, all this magic energy began to leak into our universe and caused all sorts of problems.”

“You mean, the people in our world suddenly became witches and warlocks.”

“Wizards, not Warlocks,” Boston said, and turned up her nose.

“Not many.  Never many, but some,” Alexis said.

Lockhart coughed.  People quieted.  “When the worlds got close, the Kairos Amphitrite figured out how to make a hole between the worlds and travel from one to the other.  The gods on the Other Earth wanted people, and life restored there, so they could have someone to be gods over, I suppose.  Amphitrite made the agreement.  Plenty of ordinary people crossed over, but especially those who were gifted to use the magic energy that world offered.  The gods of that earth set it in motion, relative to ours. Every six-hundred years, the worlds come into conjunction, and some people cross over.

“Not many come into our world,” Alexis said.  “But some went there, especially in the ages when witches get burned at the stake.”

Lockhart continued.  “The best way I have been told to picture it is to look at the moon.  Between the half to half-moon, through the full moon, we get close enough to the other world, so like increased moonlight, we get magic energy leaking into our world. That is when travel becomes possible between worlds, though it takes considerable magic to do it.  From half to half through the dark of the moon, the leakage really is not enough to activate any magic potential.”

“Right now, we are in a dark time,” Lincoln said.  “We should go through the light time from 525 to 225 BC, which would make the full moon in 375.  You said Nanette began to show signs of magic after entering the Chinese time zone. That had to be after 228, up to 323 BC, so well within the light time.”

“I see,” Evan said, whether he saw exactly or not.

“It sounds like Nanette had the potential,” Alexis said.  “The world went light around 1875, but by 1905 she maybe did not have enough light to bring out her potential.  Going back in time to where the light started in 225, and you landed about 279or 280 in Sicily, that sounds like light enough to bring out her magic.”

“If you were traveling with evil Nanette,” Lincoln said.  “You are probably lucky to have escaped.”

“But that is not the only way magic can happen,” Alexis added, and waited for Evan to look at her before she explained. “Most of the spirits, such as greater, lesser, and even most of the little spirits have natural magic inside them. Also, half-breeds can do things, though lesser and lesser, even down to the seventh generation. The blood is not considered fully human again until the tenth generation, for example…”

Evan looked at Boston, the elf.

“Mine is mostly fire magic,” Boston said.

“I guessed from the red hair,” Evan smiled, then looked at Alexis again.  “Don’t tell me you are a witch.”

“Lincoln only calls me a witch on my bad days,” Alexis admitted. “Boston and I are not dependent on how close or far away the Other Earth might be.  My magic is in the wind, and healing magic.  I used to be an elf.  Boston used to be human.”

“From Massachusetts.  You know, Salem witches and all that.”

“But how can that be?  What do you mean you used to be an elf?”

“Boston became an elf to marry my brother, Roland,” Alexis admitted.  “I became human to marry Benjamin.”

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Evan said.

“It isn’t done, except in special cases.”

“The Kairos?” Evan asked.  Everyone nodded.  Then they quieted to give Evan some room to breathe.  It was a lot to take in.  They ate.  Finally, Alexis became concerned about the look on Evan’s face.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Wondering if Millie made it to safety,” he said.  “I pray for her every night.”

“I pray for Roland,” Boston said. “He disappeared.  We are believing he got a free ride back to the future. But there was a wolf.  Not a wolv, but a real werewolf, and he may have gotten torn up.  We don’t know.”

“Same,” Evan said.  “Except mine was a Wolv.”

“I can pray for Millie, too.”

“And Roland?”  Evan was not sure of the name, but Boston nodded.  After that, Evan seemed to relax around Boston, even if she was an elf.

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

Don’t miss tomorrows post for the end of the story.

*

R6 Greta: The Persian, part 1 of 3

The man’s cap looked like a wizard’s cone hat, but bent so it flopped over in the front.  It showed the image of a fingernail moon, while the man’s wizard cloak of the same color as the cap, a deep navy, almost black, looked studded with a thousand stars.  The man himself looked richly tanned and stared at her with dark eyes beneath full and black brows.

“Persian,” Greta called him, and Vedix came up to stand beside her.

“Kairos.”  The Persian returned a word to show that he certainly knew who she was.  Greta looked for Lucius and found him standing back, quietly watching.  Lucius had his sword put away and made no hostile move as the Persian talked and stepped toward the center of the room.  “That was a beautiful trick, sharing false information.  You have the Wolv all searching for you up river, but I saw through your clever ruse and now I stand between you and the Road of Dreams.”

Greta looked again at the Persian and understood what she had to do, dangerous as it might be.  “Jupiter is dead,” she said with a smile.  “He went over to the other side as all the gods should.  And your pretend Jupiter, the lion-headed freak is dead as well.”

The Persian paused, uncertain how to respond. Greta assumed from his perspective there was so much wrong with what she said, he choked on where to begin.  “He was not a pretend Jupiter,” the Persian spit out at last.  “He was the true god.”

“No,” Greta interrupted, with a kind and friendly shake of her head.  “If he was a true god he would have gone over to the other side some time ago with all the real gods.”

The Persian got flustered.  “He was a real god.”

Greta shook her head.  “Well, he was not exactly immortal.  Why, he was no more a god than you are.”  Greta forced a casual laugh.  “What are you, a third-rate magician?”

“I – I…”  The Persian stuttered before he threw his hands in her direction.  “This should have been done a long time ago.”

Greta felt herself turning into a donkey and quickly went away so Junior could stand in her place.  Junior was a true god of the Middle East as well as Egypt, and while he technically did not cover Persia, he had plenty of dealings there in ancient days and so imprinted his impression on the Persian people.  Junior shook his finger at the Persian, like the Persian was a naughty boy, and Junior smiled as the Persian’s eyes filled with a touch of fear and he took a step back.

“You picked up a matter transformer from the Wolv,” Junior said, like he was Greta speaking, which in a way, he was.  “Very impressive, but still just a trick.”  He tossed a bit of dirt in the air and Greta came back to have the dirt fall on her.  Immediately, the compulsion to become a jackass went away and she returned fully to her ordinary, human self.

“I have no matter trasfigurer, or whatever you said,” the Persian raised his voice.

“Sure,” Greta rolled her eyes.  “I forgot.  You are pretending to be a god.”

“But I am a god.”  Greta just stared at the man like the man had a few loose screws.  “But I am,” he repeated.

“I tell you what,” Greta said in a very casual voice. “I figure you have your tricks set up in this room so it would not be a good test.  Let’s go back out by the river, into the sunlight and see what you are made of.”  Greta grabbed Vedix’ hand and dragged him behind her.  She walked quickly, and the Persian followed, still mumbling.

“But I am a god.”

Outside, Greta waved to Alesander and Briana who stood, concerned, but then curious to see what she was up to.  When the Persian came into the light, and blinked at the sudden brightness, Briana drew her knife and growled like Vedix.  Greta thought it must be a Celtic thing.  She turned and faced the man only when she got near the docks.  The lion-headed one had been a god of the sky, the air and lightning.  The sun-runner, whichever that one was, appeared as a fire demon with a whip of fire.  Mithrasis, the Nymphus stood for Venus, the water one.  Greta wondered why women were always the water ones.  It hardly seemed fair.  But then the Roc flew over the beasts of the earth, quite literally from five thousand feet up, while the soldier stood over the human race, again of the earth, though it seemed like the Wolv were willing to play his game as well. That left the father figure, the Pater, but Greta figured he stayed above it all.  And the Persian, over the moon and the stars, had to be over the fifth element, ether.  That meant earth air water and fire were not his forte, so this might work.

“So, magician,” Greta turned and spoke up as soon as she reached the edge of the water by the ship and the dock.  “Lets see what you got out here in broad daylight. I’ll be watching to see if I can figure out the trick.”

“It is not tricks.”  The Persian turned from confusion and upset to anger.  This became the dangerous point and Greta had to be careful.  The Persian let his anger touch the sky and with a wave of his hand, dark, foreboding clouds moved in and lightning flashed between the clouds.  The thunder echoed through the village, and Alesander and Briana grabbed each other while Vedix jumped.  It began to rain, hard, but Greta laughed.

“That was very good.”  Greta knew a compliment would be needed to soothe the Persian’s anger. “I did not see how you did that, at all. Excellent.”  The Persian grinned.  “But really.”  Greta pointed to the sky.  “Five-year-old children on Katawba Three can change the weather with a push of a button. Weather control is old hat.”  The Persian looked deflated as Greta whistled for her air sprites and thought her instructions rather than speak out loud. The sprites began to push at the darkness and enlisted a couple of spirits of the winter winds to help.  The thunder stopped and the rain slowly slackened and stopped as the sun returned to the dock.

Greta felt glad of one thing, the one advantage she had in this game of wits.

“The Persian has no wits?” Festuscato asked in Greta’s mind.

“That’s wit with a “t”,” Gerraint said, and after a very brief pause, he said, “Twit.”

No, Greta thought to herself along with the words, “shut up.”  The Persian could not read her mind, thank God.  Given her knowledge of the actual future, sometimes called the most dangerous knowledge in the universe, even the gods were prevented from reading her mind, and that prohibition included the Persian.  He would have no way of knowing that matter transmutation was way beyond humanoid technology, so he could not have gotten a machine from the Wolv to do it. And it would be a thousand years in the future before the people on the planet of Katawba had the technical capacity to change the weather with the push of a button, but Greta was not going to be deterred by the details.  What the Persian did not know, she would not tell him.

“Hey!” Greta shouted as she leaned over and wrung her hair out on the dock.  “I may be willing to confess you are a real wizard and not just a magician with a bag of tricks. But if that is the case, where is your familiar?  I thought all witches and wizards had a familiar.”  Greta remembered there was something, like the lion-headed man had a serpent by his feet, but she could not exactly remember what the Persian had.

The Persian still looked angry as he watched his storm get pushed away, but soon enough, his expression turned to sly.  “Indeed,” he said, and he did not even protest that he was a god, not a wizard.  “You should meet my familiar.”

R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor, part 3 of 3

Patrick started down the rough path, which became a bit of a climb to reach the floor of the hollow.  Bran and Greta followed him, and Giolla came and pushed up to stay near the priest.  Lord Flahartagh followed reluctantly, and Fionn came last and looked like a man who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Come, come,” the old woman cackled.  “I have been expecting you, but tell me, druid, how did things turn?”

“You failed, old woman.  The priest lives, and I should take my money back.”

“Curious,” the old woman cackled.  “They were the most poisonous serpents in the world. But who can control serpents?”

“Patrick can,” Giolla shouted.  “He cast your serpents into the sea where they all drowned.”

“You paid her to attack the priest?”  Lord Flahartagh caught up with what was going on and he hit his druid and knocked him down.  “You know what happened last time,” he roared.

“What happened?” Greta asked.  She wanted the conversation to continue while she thought of what to do.  She felt sure any direct movement toward the hole in the world would be stopped by the witch.

Lord Flahartagh explained.  “My father’s grandfather got cheated by the MacNeills and the King of Leinster when the King ruled in favor of the MacNeills and they took possession of the whole of the fens.  He came to the witch and she called up the dragons who terrorized our lands as readily as they terrorized MacNeill and Leinster.”

“Who can control a dragon?” the witch asked in a gleeful voice.

“Festuscato can,” Bran said, and Greta looked up at the man.

“Hey, I healed the dragon.  Oh, okay.”  Greta threw up her hands and went away so Festuscato could fill his own boots.  The witch looked startled, and the Irish yelled again, though not as loud as the last time.  Festuscato returned in his white tunic with the dragon on the front, and sent the cloak of Athena away.  “Good to be back,” he said, and winked at Patrick, while he walked around as if seeing things for the first time, and in truth positioned himself to take a stab at the branches as soon as the opportunity arose.

“You are the dragon,” the witch said, and with the sound of respect in her voice.  “I have heard of you.”  Clearly, hearing and understanding what she heard were two different things.  No human witch, no matter how powerful, could probe the depths of the Kairos.

“So, what’s cooking?” Festuscato asked and leaned over as if to get a look.

“The soup of life in the cauldron of life.”

“That is never the cauldron of life,” Festuscato objected.  “Dagda’s Cauldron was big enough for a man to stand inside it.  Cauldron of life?”  Festuscato scoffed.

“Patrick’s words are the words of eternal life,” Giolla spoke up.

“Jesus is the giver of life,” Patrick said, and the witch screamed and covered her ears.  That told Festuscato that the witch was not just a sorceress, she was demon possessed, a complication, and no doubt the source of her knowledge.

“I control life here,” the witch insisted and she lifted her spoon to mumble incoherently and wave her hand above the bubbles.  Spiders began to crawl over the edge of the cauldron and several bats flew up into the sky, to dive bomb the people.

“Mousden!”  Festuscato called, and since Mirowen presently held the boy’s hand, she came with him.

Mousden took one look at the witch, reverted to his pixie form, screamed and raced to hide behind Patrick’s robes.

“Mousden, come here,” Mirowen scolded and Mousden looked up and took a breath long enough to mouth another word.

“Lunch.”  The bats flew for their lives.  The spiders were not so lucky.

By the time the witch closed her mouth at the unexpected turn of events, Festuscato had Wyrd out of his sheath.  One swipe of that sword, and the old branches got cut off. He punched the remains of the branches, hurt his hand, and the wood popped out the other side of the hole, somewhere on the other earth.  The hole itself snapped shut with an audible SNAP.

The witch screamed.  Mousden screamed again on principle.  Festuscato more accurately shouted his words.  “Get out of the hollow!”  He grabbed Patrick’s robe as Mirowen scooped up Mousden, and they began to climb.  Bran went right there with them, but the others were a bit behind.  When the witch collapsed, she began to decay rapidly. She had to be over ninety.  Maybe she was over a hundred-years-old.  Maybe she was already dead and just being propped up by the demons that inhabited her.  They would never know.  As they reached the ground level above, the walls all around the hollow gave way and the hollow filled rapidly with water.  They watched while in the end it became a pond in the wilderness, and when it overflowed in one spot, it became a little stream.

“There is some water worth avoiding,” Lord Flahartagh said.

“No,” Festuscato shook his head.  “What do you think, Springs?”

A little head popped up from the stream and spoke. Flahartagh got startled, but he did not yell this time.  “Lots of muck in the water from that blasted soup the witch was cooking.  Come back this time next year and we will get things nice and cleaned up for you.  That old witch kept us out for a long time, but I knew she could not keep us out forever.”

“Thank you, Springs,” Festuscato said.  “Good to see you.”

“My pleasure.”  Springs saluted, and broke apart into the water from whence he came.

“I see you have lots of friends,” Lord Flahartagh said, and Festuscato nodded.

“Like my housekeeper Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden.” Mousden went back to walking, looking again like a nine-year-old, and it would have been easy to forget his pixie appearance or blame it on the witch casting illusions, but Mousden chose that moment to let out a big belch, and Mirowen scolded him.  “He ate too much,” Festuscato suggested.  Lord Flahartagh’s eyes got big for a second before he began to laugh.

Patrick and Fionn the Druid kept up a lively debate all the way back to the road.  To be sure, Fionn did not want to crowd his lord and remind him he went to the witch in the first place.  No one really listened to the debate, unless Bran listened, but it did seem to the casual observers that Fionn kept losing.

By the time they reached the road, Fionn started reaching for arguments that were no more than thinly disguised insults, like a man who lost the debate, and knew it, but was damned if he would admit it. He started insulting Patrick when they reached the road and Patrick had enough.

“No one is forcing you to listen to the good news, but as young Giolla plainly told you, what I am bringing is the word of life.” Patrick slammed the butt of his shepherd’s crook on the ground for emphasis.  Unfortunately, the ground seemed extra soft on the side of the road and the staff sank into the muck.  A second later, Patrick had to let go as the staff got hot.  They all watched as the staff sprouted leaves, and they watched the roots grow.

“Dern,” Festuscato said.  “I liked that staff.”

Fionn got scared when they went to see the witch. He got frightened out of his mind when he saw the pixie, and then the water sprite, but he could pretend they did not exist.  This became too much.  The fear covered Fionn’s face and he yelled the last weapon in his arsenal.

“I will call upon the gods and tell them to strike you down.”

“I don’t think that will work,” Festuscato said. “The gods don’t appreciate being told what to do.”  He stepped aside and traded places through time with Danna.  She called sweetly, “Rhiannon.”

Rhiannon did not have to come, but she came because it is polite when Mother calls.  “What is it this time?”

“This druid wants you to strike down Patrick.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t.  He is such a nice man.”

“That’s what I thought.  I told him the gods did not like being told what to do.”

“Oh, don’t I know it.  Mannanon can be as stubborn as the sea.”

“He can’t help it.”

“Oh, I almost forgot.  Clugh ate a whole goat and slept for almost twenty-four hours.”

“He is growing up.  You did cook the goat.”

“Of course, He made the cutest little whine when I tried to give it to him raw, so I cooked it for him and he squealed.  He was so happy.”

“So, you’re not mad at me for giving you the dragon?”

“Oh, how could I ever be mad at you, Mother.” Rhiannon stepped up and kissed Danna on the cheek, waved to everyone and vanished.  Danna turned to the Druid who stared, mouth wide open.  She stuck her finger in his face.

“Listen to Patrick.  He is telling you the truth.  In the words of my good friend Yul Brenner, his god is God.  Now close your mouth, and if you are good, and I said if, mind you, you just might find something special in your stocking … no, wait … Frosty the Snowman.  Anyway.” Danna hugged Patrick, and then she gave him three pieces of gold and some advice.

“The women, especially rich women will give you gifts.  Remember in this culture, they will be insulted if you don’t accept them.  But on the other hand, men will accuse you of accepting gifts from women.  You will have to do your best to turn those gifts to the church to answer your critics, and otherwise, go with God.  Use the gold to buy a new shepherd’s crook.  It suits you.”  Danna stepped back.  “The old way has gone.”

“The new way has come,” Patrick said, and Danna vanished, and she took Bran, Mirowen and Mousden with her.

They appeared on the road just beyond MacNeill’s fort, and Danna changed back to Festuscato.  He let his armor and weapons go away in favor of his comfortable clothes, and he spoke.  “I believe I have tempted history here far enough.”

“So, explain how the shepherd’s crook sprouted and grew,” Bran wondered.

“Maybe if he had some natural magic in him,” Mirowen started, but Festuscato interrupted.

“Can’t be natural.  The source of the magic got cut off when the hole closed between this earth and the other earth.”

“But then, how?”  Now Mirowen was curious.

“Some mysteries are best left alone.  It is time that we go,” Festuscato said, but he paused when he saw a half-dozen wagons beside the fort where they blocked the view of the town and dock.  Festuscato made sure Mirowen had her glamour on and Mousden stayed in his big size. “I smell visitors, and something else.”

“Yourself,” Mirowen suggested.  “You need a bath.”

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 7 Travelers: The tinkers bring spooks with them.  Don’t miss it.

*

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 3 of 3

“You see, my lady.  I am the Nameless god.  That is why your Mithras does not dare to show up and help you now.  I would kick his butt.”  He thought to Thorn.  “Now.”  And he unlocked the door for them and caused the guards to come and see the jackass in the making so there would be no risk and no one standing in the way of the escape of the others.

Nameless laughed a hearty, healthy laugh such as Brunhild could never imitate, and then changed back to Greta just as Brunhild let out her first “Hee-Haw!”.  Greta thought the woman recognized her for one instance, but then the light of understanding seemed to die in Brunhild’s eyes.  “Bragi, hold the Lady,” Greta said.

“Sister.” Bragi, free of Brunhild’s spell, acknowledged his sister and took hold of the donkey’s neck.  “Mother Greta, I should say.”  He gently stroked the donkey’s nose and spoke soothing words to keep it from panic.  Greta grabbed Eldegard’s good hand and Vasen’s hand as well.

“The rest of you have about ten minutes to grab your friends and get down the Temple Mount before the Temple is blown sky high by the explosion.  I mean it.” No one moved.  “All right then, stay here and die.”  That got them.  They tripped over each other as they ran in mass and rushed out just after Gregor, Finbear and Thorn.

“What about us?” Bragi asked as he struggled a bit to keep his new pet under control.  Greta sighed.  She would not make Brunhild suffer the final indignity by making a bit for her mouth. Let her have Avalon.  The Isles beyond the seven were innumerable, after all. Surely one could be found where she could live out her days without struggle or fear.

“We go the easy way,” Greta said, and against the same wall where Brunhild called up the pictures of the preparation for battle, Greta called up the door to Usgard.  As soon as she opened it, the donkey leapt toward the grass which looked greener than any grass ought to be, and the aroma became too much for the beast. In Avalon, all looked more vivid and more real than anything on Earth.  Bragi, of course, followed after the donkey almost heedless of where he headed. Greta brought Vasen and Eldegard more slowly.  “Like Dorothy going from black and while to color,” she said,

“Are you all right?”  She generally asked the men, but Eldegard stared around and wandered off without answering, and Vasen wept, so she expected no answer there, either. The door closed behind them and vanished.

“Hey!”  Greta yelled, dropped her hands and stepped forward.  “That’s my brother, and that’s my donkey, too.”

Two gnome-like creatures were about to throw a net over the donkey who was contentedly grazing and utterly ignoring them. Bragi was on his back looking up with fright at the horrifically shaped black cloud that hovered over him.

“Stop it.”  She turned to yell at the fire sprite who stuck his head out of the lantern which hung from the tree and the water sprite, who just started to rise from the bubbling stream.  “You two strike at the same time and you will just put each other out.”

“Sorry, Lady.”  The fire sprite spoke up.  “Foam was just going to slip your feet out from beneath.”

“Yeah,” Foam said.  “And Flick was going to fall on you from above.”

“Yeah,” Flick said.

“Exactly the plan,” Foam said.

“Exactly right,” Flick said.

“Yeah,” Foam said.

“Enough.”  Greta did not have time for this.  She introduced her companions.  “This is Eldegard.  This is Vasen the Priest.  That one is my brother, Bragi, and the donkey is Lady Brunhild.”  The two gnomes tipped their hats to the donkey while the cloud over Bragi took on a friendlier appearance and offered his hand.

“Sir Bragi,” he said.  “An honor to meet you.”

“Yes.”  Bragi looked unsure, but he accepted the hand and the help back to his feet.

“My name is Cloudhook, and my little friends are Noblink and Mrs. Weebles.  Of course, Flick and Foam have already named themselves.”

“That’s right,” Foam said.  “I named Flick.”

“And I named Foam,” Flick said.

“You might say we named each other,” Foam added

“Or, we said each other’s names,” Flick amended

“Yeah,” Foam said.

“Ahem.”  Cloudhook interrupted the perpetual “Yeah” with a cough which sounded a bit like distant thunder.  “Our job is to guard the door and be wary of strangers.  No hard feelings, I hope, Sir Bragi.”

“No,” Bragi said, very graciously.  “I would say you do your jobs very well.”  Then he rushed to Greta’s side.  “What is happening with Thissle?  Is she all right?”

“Quiet,” Greta said, and even the brook stopped bubbling for a minute.  She closed her eyes and reached out.  It seemed an easy thing to do from Usgard where all ways lead to her little ones. “Thissle is just fine, and she found Thorn and they are dancing.”

“I’m glad,” Bragi said.  “Good for her.”  Then he got quiet because clearly Greta had not finished.

All right, Madwick.  Burns, Scorch, Miss Spark, be careful.

She saw the sprites leap out of their safe havens like blow torches and touch the nearest barrels.  Madwick and Burns were close enough not to even vacate their safe havens entirely.  Scorch made it back, but Spark had a way to go.  The explosion came as she grabbed on to the dolphin for dear life.  She just sucked herself inside as the statue clunked to the ground in front of them, a smoking hulk.  There were lights headed their way, as odd as that sounded on a bright, cloudless day.  Eldegard pointed them out.  Vasen looked, though he clearly looked like a man, raptured with more delight and joy than his old frame could handle.

“That would be Lady Thumbelin, the fairy queen and her court come to collect the statue.”  Cloudhook said.  “Probably make a big deal out of the job and Madwick and Burns will have swelled heads for a hundred years.”

“Too late.”  Noblink mumbled.  “Already swelled.”  Weeble stomped on his toe and curtsied for Greta.

Madwick and Burns pulled themselves from the wreckage at that moment and took on human form.  They looked dizzy and appeared as if they had been through a war.  Then Scorch and Spark appeared together, talking and holding hands.  Scorch had grabbed her at the last second and pulled her to safety.  Madwick got ready to say how hard that was, but he was glad to make the sacrifice, when Spark beat him to the punch.

“That was fun!”  She yelled and ran to Greta’s side.  “Can we do that again?”  She appeared a very pretty sprite, and Greta saw that Scorch thought so, too.

“Yeah,” Scorch said, sounding very much like Flick. “Can we do that again.”

“Please, no,” Greta said.  “I hope we never have to do that again.”

They looked sad for a minute, but then Spark looked up with hope.  “I volunteer if you ever want to blowed something up again, though.  You will remember.  You won’t forget me.”

Greta touched Spark’s hot cheek, gently.  “I won’t forget you, Spark,” she said, and Spark smiled, shyly.

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

MONDAY

Brunhild has made an ass of herself… but there remains a battle raging on the earth.  Greta’s work is not yet done.  Don’t miss it, Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 2 of 3

Greta opened her eyes and saw lady Brunhild’s hand stretched toward her like one warming themselves at a fire.

“There is more in you than appears, but I perceive you cannot sustain it.  I do not know what you were trying to do, but it will not help you.”  She dropped her hand and curiosity crossed her face.  It happens when you can’t read minds.  “One thing puzzles me,” she said.  “What did you hope to gain by coming here?”

“I plan to destroy the weapons of Trajan,” Greta said, seeing no reason to disguise her intention at that point.  “They don’t belong here.  They should not even be invented for another thousand years.

Lady Brunhild laughed again, and it was becoming annoying.  “But be my guest,” she said.  “They are old and broken and mostly useless.  They do not matter.  I know the formula for the powder and how to fabricate the weapons.  That is my confidence that I will rule the world.”

“So Trajan thought,” Greta said, urged by Ali. “Does the name “Masters” mean anything to you?”

“Why, no.  Lord Mithras, bless him, is my only master.  Why?”

“No reason,” Greta said, and small consolation, she thought.

They were interrupted then by men who came in from the front of the Temple.  One man walked slowly, helped by another man, and there were two more with them.

“Ah!”  Lady Brunhild perked right up.  “My Lord Eldegard.  How good of you to come for this elegant occasion.”

“Lady Brunhild,” Eldegard said with a sideways glance at Greta.  “Kunther has taken the men to attack the outpost as you commanded.  But now that the battle is about to begin I must see to the defense of the Temple.  Why have you demanded that I attend you at this time?”

Greta could see that Eldegard was not bewitched. Bewitched men generally did not fight well.  Even so, Greta thought Eldegard would be a man very hard to bewitch and it gave her hope that Marcus might be in his right mind as well.  At the same time, she saw that Eldegard walked in very bad shape. His left leg looked like it had cracked and after a week, it did not heal very well.  He limped, badly, and his left arm hung at his side.  He was also missing his right eye, and it seemed a wonder that the man was still alive.

“Because I know your heart, my dear Eldegard.  You are beginning to doubt and that troubles me.” She cozied up to Eldegard like a woman who cozies up to a man with whom she has been intimate.  Eldegard stayed reserved.  Whatever may have happened in the past, Brunhild was now a beautiful young woman, younger than his daughter, and Greta could see that Eldegard did not entirely feel comfortable with that.  She remembered that Papa had chosen Eldegard because the man straddled the fence.  Apparently, having fallen off one side, he now got back up on the fence again.

“You must see with your own eyes and be witness to the righteousness of our cause,” Lady Brunhild said.

“The way you talk, aren’t you afraid of angering the gods?”  Greta asked.

Lady Brunhild looked surprised.  “My dear Greta.  And from you?”  It came as a question.  “You know for certain that the gods have all gone away.  Only my dearest Lord Mithras has stayed to begin anew.  Don’t you see?  After I have brought the whole world under the divine god Mithras, and after I have given Marcus sons to rule after him, I shall become a goddess and bear the children of Mithras.  Do you not see?  I shall be the divine Mother of the new gods.”

“Now I know the gods are angry for your arrogance and presumption.”  Greta said, and she saw that Eldegard felt the same way.

Lady Brunhild shook her head.  “I told you.  The old gods have all gone away.” she said, and she made a show for Eldegard. “I invoke the mighty Zalmoxis.  Great Zeus, come and bring your wisdom to this council.  Do you see? The statue has not moved.  It is merely stone.”  She laughed and went on.  “I invoke mighty Dayus the horseman to bring judgment to this gathering.” She looked at Greta.  “I invoke your Nameless god.  Come now, O Light of Heroes, Lord of the Valkyra.  Strengthen our arms for battle in the name of Selvanus, Lord of the Forest, and strengthen our hearts in purity and nobility under the name Epona and Bendi the Huntress.  Come, Nameless one.  Even now, come.”  Lady Brunhild laughed aloud one last time, but Greta heard a word.

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Greta vanished from that place, but no one knew, because as Nameless came to take her place, he made a glamour far stronger than the one Thissle could make.  It showed an illusion of Greta that Brunhild could have no hope of penetrating.

“Stand there.”  Brunhild turned on what she thought was Greta and commanded her. “Stand there.  Don’t move.  Don’t speak.” Braggi and Vasen let go, and Nameless played the part well, but of course, he felt nothing.  It would have been easier if Brunhild had tried to tell the galaxy to stop spinning.

“You see.”  The Lady spoke to Eldegard again.  “No one has come.  The gods have all gone away.  That is why we must give our allegiance to the one living god, Mithras, bless his name, who died and was raised to rule the world.”

“How about Abraxas?”  Nameless said in Greta’s voice, and then he thought, “Oops!” as he remembered that he was not supposed to be able to speak.

“Silence!”  Lady Brunhild yelled, her face turned ugly and distorted.  “Even if he should turn half the world to hags, that pretender will not survive the onslaught of the one, true god,” she said, and let her steam dissipate, slowly.  “But now, I take too long.  Enough of this foolishness.”  Her voice sounded cruelly wicked.  All semblance of girlish playfulness had gone.  Indeed, she sounded very much like the Lady Brunhild that Greta first knew and despised.

“At first I thought you would make a good lap dog, only now I think a jackass would be more appropriate.  You can bear my burdens for the rest of your days, but do not fret, you will never know it.  You will never remember being human at all.  Your transformation will be thorough and complete.”  Brunhild waved her hand, but it all appeared to be in slow motion to the nameless god.  Nameless could actually see the magic form and leave Brunhild’s fingers like so many sparkles of light or specks of gold dust.  Of course, the magic would have had no effect on him, but all the same, he put up a magic mirror, which let Brunhild pass judgment on herself.  It was actually a very easy thing to do, even if he had not been a god.

“Let this woman who would lead the people in the wrong direction be shown for the jackass she really is.”  Brunhild spoke for Eldegard, but in fact, Brunhild pronounced her own fate.

“Now, Thissle, now,” Nameless thought with ease while Brunhild’s magic struck the mirror and bounced back into her own face.

“Yes, Lord.”  Thissle said, and took only a moment to curtsy out of respect for one of the true gods of the little ones.

“Good girl,” Nameless said.  “Stay invisible and be careful.”

Lady Brunhild’s own magic hit her squarely and immediately her ears began to grow and her hands began to turn into hooves. Poetic justice, Nameless thought, and he dropped the guise of Greta.

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 1 of 3

The morning came quicker than Greta imagined. When they opened the door, the sun looked ready to rise, and even though the light remained very dim, it took Greta a moment to adjust.

“Come out,” Lady Brunhild commanded, and Greta stumbled out to see a girl barely older than herself.  Instead of attacking her, though, the Lady surprised Greta by twirling around in her dress like an excited school girl, and asked, “How do I look?”

Greta frowned.  The young Brunhild looked very beautiful, and Greta, by contrast, felt rather ordinary and plain looking.  Then Thissle’s words came back about the need to outshine, and she could not help herself. “You have a zit.”  Greta said.  “On your nose there.”  Greta pointed.

“What?”  Brunhild went into an absolute panic.  “Bring me a mirror,” she demanded.  “Hurry!” Her finger went along her nose to try to feel it.  When the brass came, Greta started snickering.  Then the Lady surprised Greta again by genuinely laughing when she saw her clear skin.  It seemed a pleasant laugh, too, and she did not appear to be mad at Greta at all.

“Too bad,” she said.  “Under other circumstances, you with Darius and me with Marcus, I think we might have been friends.  I reminded myself last night that you are no fool, and I would dearly love a friend who has a semblance of a brain, not to mention someone who knows what I am talking about when I mention India or China.”

“Too bad?”  Greta asked, thinking she would no more be friends with this woman than she would with a succubus.

Brunhild nodded.  “Too bad I have to kill you,” she said, sweetly.

“So, what shall we do?”  Greta asked.  “Pistols at ten paces?”

Brunhild genuinely laughed again.  “A sense of humor, too,” she said.  “It really is too bad.”  She walked toward the back of the temple near the altar and statue of Odin, but where the wall looked clear and uncluttered.  Everyone else followed.  “First we see what is happening down below.”  She waved her hand against the wall.  A picture formed on the wall like a movie or a television picture, but it appeared like they looked from the Goodyear blimp.  They zoomed down to the road where they could hear the noises and see the fortifications.  Greta noted with glee that a morning attack would force the Quadi to ride near enough into the morning sun.

“Such a pitiful few horses the Romans have,” Brunhild said.

Greta did not think it looked that pitiful, but then she realized that Brunhild could not see the knights of the lance, though the way they gleamed at sunrise, they became almost all that Greta could see. And it looked like more than a hundred! Greta began to count, but before she could send a stern word to Sunstone, the scene shifted.

“But see?”  Brunhild said as they zoomed over to the Quadi line.  “Three thousand men in the first wave.  They are expendables, really, designed only to break your lines.” The picture zoomed further back behind the first wave.  “You see? Ten thousand warriors ready to ride in the second wave.”

“I see.”  Greta said, and she thought Yin-mo saw as well, though she could not be sure. Brunhild looked at Greta as if sensing the subliminal message, but before she could speak they got distracted by the sound of drums.  The Quadi also heard the drums, and their front line had a hard time holding their horses in check.

“What is this?”  Lady Brunhild looked genuinely surprised.  She zoomed over to the forest and tried to peer down between the trees. The drums, so many drums, sounded as if they were getting louder and louder.  “I see.”  The Lady said as she must have seen something.  “Very clever. Outflank the Quadi.  Who will win?  But then, who cares.  I will win.” She laughed, and this time Greta heard no pleasantry in her laughter.  “All the same, it is exciting, isn’t it?”  Brunhild touched Greta’s hand in girlish excitement, but Greta pulled her hand away, feeling that she might have to scrub her hand with a Brillo pad.

“It is not exciting,” Greta returned.  She knew war too well.  “What if Darius gets killed?” she asked.

“That should hardly matter to you at this point.” Brunhild shot at her, taking Greta’s snub, personally.  Then she appeared to soften, like a snake.  “But if it is any consolation, I will find someone nice for Darius’ bed.  He will not be unhappy.”

“Aren’t you afraid Marcus may be killed?”  Greta asked.

“Oh, no,” Brunhild said.  “Marcus will not be fighting.  I have seen him already, and he has promised to stay out of it.”

“No!”  Greta leapt forward to get her hands around the woman’s throat.  She wanted to break Brunhild’s neck before this went any further. Unfortunately, two men grabbed her and held her by the arms like the night before.  They could do this easily enough because they were going after Greta, not her armor.  Even so, Brunhild took no chances.  One who grabbed her was Vasen the Priest.  The other was Bragi, her brother.  Both were deeply enchanted and Greta almost wondered how they could even see out of eyes so glazed.

“Bragi.  What are you doing?”  Greta asked and put what little she had into the question.  Bragi did pause, but then answered firmly.

“I do what the Lady wants,” he said, and Lady Brunhild laughed again and made no effort to disguise the wickedness in her laughter.

Greta had to close her eyes for a minute.  She found Thissle safe but not sure what to do. The rocket was already sticking straight up at the ready, where Bragi had set it the night before.  Thissle, Greta thought.  You will have to light the fuse when I tell you.  Then run straight to Berry.  Stay away from the fighting and horses, and stay invisible.”

“Yes, Lady,” Thissle said, and Greta felt sure this time that the little one heard her.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 3 of 3

Immediately, the two men who held Greta’s arms jumped back. This proved good, because Greta needed to collapse to the floor and take a moment to herself, to recover from the brink of death, and fortunately, Lady Brunhild gave her that moment.  The woman stared at her and seemed to be recovering a bit of her own strength as well, but outwardly she appeared to be examining the armor as if deciding what to do.

“I must tell you.”  Greta breathed as she struggled to her feet.  She would have appreciated the opportunity to pass out, but she was not about to stay prostrate before the woman.  “The armor belongs to the Nameless god.”  She spoke of the one with whom Brunhild and the men with her were most familiar.  “Defender and the sword, Salvation, have a mind of their own.  I do not want you to be hurt.”

Even as Greta finally got to her feet, Lady Brunhild spit in her face.  “Strip her.” She ordered.  The two who had been holding her arms stepped up and touched her.  Greta cried out.  She felt the power surge through her.  It struck the two men like lightening and shot them twenty feet through the air where they crumpled, unconscious, if not dead.

Greta caught her breath again, but found it much easier this time, as if the armor protected her from more than just arrows. Lady Brunhild stared hard at her and began to pace, once again to decide what to do.

“Ruby slippers,” Greta said, and Brunhild squinted at her, not understanding.

“I saw these weapons and this armor in a dream.” Brunhild began to speak.  “It was before Boarshag and it may be why you startled me so at the time.  The great God, Mithras, bless his name, revealed to me that if I could take them from the one wearing them I would receive riches and power beyond counting.” She stopped in front of Greta’s face and Greta tried to smile for her, and it would have been a truly obnoxious smile if her cheeks were not hurting.  “Give it to me, now!”  The Lady said and threw her every ounce of compulsion behind the words.

This time, Greta hardly felt it, though she knew it had to be very draining for the Lady.  She knew Lady Brunhild would sleep well that night, but for Greta, she merely smiled more broadly.  The Lady, however, did not attack Greta.  Greta remained as vulnerable and human as ever.  But the Lady went after the armor of the Kairos, and as such she had zero chance of success.  Greta watched the Lady’s face flush and she could almost taste the anger that rose up in the woman’s veins.  By contrast, Greta stood very calm and resolute, and smiled as much as her cheeks allowed.  Finally, the Lady grabbed the hilt of Salvation which stuck up over Greta’s shoulder. This time, the charge appeared sufficient to glue the Lady’s hands to the sword.  The more the Lady tried to pull, the more she got drained, until a small surge kicked her free before she killed herself.

“I told you, you cannot have it,” Greta said, and something rose up in her from all the days in the ancient past.  “And your Mithras will not help you.  He has no given authority in this region, and he knows if he shows his face he will be killed for real, and this time I will not be there to bring him back.”  Nameless got tired of the game, and he was a master game player, arguably second only to Loki among the northern gods of old.  Indeed, some of the men thought they were hearing directly from the Nameless god, the reported owner of the armor, and they would not have been wrong in that assumption even though Greta remained where she stood.

Meanwhile, Lady Brunhild fainted in Kunther’s arms. “Watch her tonight,” she said and promptly passed out.  They took Greta away at sword point because no one would touch her.  To Greta’s disappointment, however, they did not return her to the room with the others.  Instead, she got driven into a real storage closet which did not even have a window.  When they shut the door, she sat in utter darkness.

The state of grace Greta had felt, left her with the light.  She tried to reach out to Yin-mo.  She tried to tell him it would be all right to plan for the morning attack, as he thought best, but please limit his and the knight’s contact with humans as much as possible.  She felt he acknowledged her, but she could not be sure.

She searched for Thorn in her mind’s eye, but he seemed to be asleep.  Thissle, on the other hand, seemed awake and curious.  She and Bragi were half-way down the Mount on night watch.  They had been busy.  Thissle left the glamour that Lady Brunhild found.  She left it to fool the guards when Bragi stole the real statue and took it to the diggings.  After hiding the statue beside the powder, they talked to any number of men. Thissle tired from all of that. More than once she had to step up and break the spell Lady Brunhild had set like a glaze over the men’s eyes. That seemed the only way they could be sure about the men, and then Bragi went on duty with a rocket-like flare which would be the signal for all of the men to vacate the Temple.

All at once, Greta seemed to be seeing out of Thissle’s eyes and hearing with her ears.  Thissle yawned and Greta yawned with her.

“But in reality,” Bragi said.  “I think Karina is so very beautiful, it has made her shy. She is shy around men and shy about outshining all of the women around her.”

“Silly boy.”  Thissle yawned again.  “Human women live to outshine each other.  Why, for some, if they can’t outshine their neighbors, life is hardly worth living.”

Greta jumped back into her own skin.  That felt like a strange experience, and now Greta had a monster headache on top of her hunger and all of her other pains.  She did not expect to sleep.

She tried to reach out to Berry, to see how she was.  She imagined her and Hans, Fae and Hobknot all sitting in Fae’s tent worrying about her. It seemed a sweet thought, but then, Greta felt sure it was only her imagination.  Greta smiled at the thought and got struck with a vision, like the opening of a curtain on a scene that looked all too real.

She saw a young woman, screaming and terrified. She looked about Greta’s age, perhaps seventeen, but absolutely beautiful.  Greta well understood her terror.  A worm, a dragon hovered over her, looking at her like a tasty morsel.

Bragi stood there, yelling at the monster. Greta could not hear the words. But no, it was not Bragi.  She heard the young woman.

“No, father.  Please!  Hans, help me!”

It was Hans, but Bragi’s age.

“Berry!”  Greta snapped out of it, shouted the word out loud.  But how did she age so much in her big form?  She should have still looked thirteen, even if Hans looked eighteen or nineteen.  It seemed a mystery.  She would have to puzzle it out somehow, but even as she began to think, she fell fast asleep.