R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 2 of 3

As the light grew in the valley, the slow, sneaky movement of the Wolv became evident.  Alesander pointed out the closest four out of six, and when they were ready, he said, “Fire.”  The Wolv were caught unprepared, and it took a moment before they crouched down and returned fire.  The return fire did not get through the screen of the goddess, though there were some good shots.  Sadly, the fire from the people had little impact on the shielded Wolv, except as a distraction.

The elves and fee were able to get close, and when the shuttle had a small explosion and began to smoke and send sparks on to the field, every Wolv eye turned to see.  The elves struck with five or six spears on each Wolv.  The wooden spear handles did not conduct the electricity of the shield, but the metal spear points strained the shield generator until it burned out.  The unprotected Wolv then died from multiple wounds.

When the two Wolv abandoned the shuttle, being without wrist shields, they got easily cut down by the fairies.  Two fairies, being the size of men in order to draw their blades, were sliced by Wolv claws in the exchange, one in the arm, and one right through his chest protector; but the wounds were not deep.  Eight elves were shot in the attack on the six Wolv in the field, three fatally, and the other five seriously, but the five would heal in the next hundred years.

The smidgens, elves and fairies pulled back right away once the work was done, and good thing because the moment the sun broke the horizon, people had to shield their eyes.  A magnificent, dazzling white horse came racing over the far ridge. It glowed with a light as bright as the sun, and Junior had to look to make sure Ulladon did not turn to stone.

“They are all fine,” Rhiannon assured him as Junior turned his eyes again toward the horse.  It left the ground and flew, which reminded him of the twin horses of Apollo that drew the chariot of the sun.  It landed at a spot beside the Wolv shuttle, and stomped the ground several times before it opened its mouth and began to roar.  As it roared, it changed shape.  The horse stood on its hind legs, which thickened to ogre-like legs, and its front legs became arms.  Its body grew to a titanic size as the light it gave out faded and blended into the appearance of the body being on fire, especially in the eyes.  The horse nose diminished as the head ballooned.  The pointed ears remained, but softened, as the eyes moved to the front and the teeth became long and sharp.  What had been the horse became the titan from the cave, and it quickly grabbed the whip it carried on its belt.

The whip cracked three times, and the ground spit fire. Ten thousand Sarmatians in their armor, on their armored horses, carrying their deadly lances lined up far behind the titan, ready to charge.  Five thousand Scythians prepared to back them up.  The other combined tribes on the left and the right prepared seven thousand men each to attack the flanks.  It was close to double the number of defenders, and the enemy still had men in reserve.

The Sun-runner, Heliodrom, the titan stepped a few steps forward and cracked the whip, which somehow reached all the way to the line of defenders.  One Roman burned to a crisp.  One Celt burned next.  The third crack turned a Goth to ash, to blow away on the wind.  The fourth crack killed a Slav.  The fifth crack had been meant for Junior.  Junior saw it in the titan’s eyes, but a man in a long cloak with his hood up and a staff in his hand stepped up and raised his arm.  The whip curled around the arm and the man yanked the whip free of the titan’s grasp.  The titan roared, and the Sarmatians began to move forward at a slow walk.

A second man showed up on the other side of Junior before Junior could say anything to the man in the hood.  This second man looked tall and lean, a swimmer’s build. His skin appeared gray-green and moist, covered only in seaweed.  He held something in his hand and held it out to Junior as he spoke from behind steel-gray eyes filled with death for Junior’s enemies.

“The Lance of Lugh,” the man said.  “And the apples taken by Apollo have been found and returned to the island of Avalon of the Apples where they can be guarded against misuse.”

Junior took the lance, said thank you to Manannan, Celtic god of the sea, and turned to the man in the cloak.  “You thought to make ambrosia with the apples of youth and healing.  You thought to make new gods for yourself.  Now, that will be impossible.”

“So I gather,” the cloaked man said in a familiar voice, because of course it was the Pater, Mithras himself.

Junior called for his own shield to go with the lance, and he caused the likeness of a dragon to appear on the shield.  Then he called for a plain white fairy weave tunic to wear over his armor, and he caused a dragon emblem to appear on the tunic as well.  “In honor of Fae and Berry’s father who sacrificed himself to bring down the Raven of Mithras.  All of the elves, dark and light, the dwarfs and the fee should have dragon tunics. It will help the Goths, Slavs, Romans and Celts remember who is on their side.”  Junior smiled toward the ladies before he turned to the task.

“Stinky.”  Junior called and whistled, and the mule trotted up, a true saddle with stirrups on its back over a blanket of white with red crosses on it, much like the knights of the lance. That was the thought that ran through Junior’s mind, though he honesty imagined more of a warhorse.  Stinky ignored the gods that stood to Junior’s left and right.  It butted right up to Junior, and Junior stroked the mule’s nose and instructed it before he traded paces with Gerraint. Gerraint mounted.  Junior had called to his armor to replace Greta’s dress when he first came, so all Gerraint had to fetch was his helmet.  He got ready, but he thought to add one thing out loud to whomever might be listening.  “Go for the face and eyes.  Maybe you can distract the titan this time so I can get close enough.”

Gerraint and the mule walked down the front of the man-made ridge and carefully went out beyond the trenches and spikes.  He paused there and saw the Sarmatians were still a long way off, coming from the hill on the other side of the valley. The horses still walked, though the line already looked a bit ragged.  It would be a couple more minutes before they started to trot, and they would trot for a little way before they galloped and charged.  The ragged line reminded Gerraint that these were semi-nomadic men, and mostly farmers.  Arthur’s men were also mostly farmers, but these men and their horses did not have the rigorous training of the RDF.  All the same, they were formidable warriors when they went into battle. The Sarmatians invented heavy cavalry several centuries before the Middle Ages.

Gerraint paused long enough to be distracted.  He saw the look on the titan’s face, when the laughter stopped and got replaced with surprise.  Stretching out to Gerraint’s left and right, only a Titan size away, were what looked like thousands of knights of the lance. Stinky started to walk as Gerraint yelled in his mind.  “Yin Mo!” Then he saw something, or several somethings appear around the titan’s head.  They were giant images of the faces of all the ancient sun gods, and they swirled slowly around the titan’s head and looked down on the Helios with disapproval.  Gerraint made out the faces of Apollo from Olympus, Utu from Samaria, Ameratsu from far away Nippon, and Lugh as well, and he saw the titan raise his hands against the accusing faces.  Stinky started to trot when the knights trotted, and Gerraint thought real loud “Sunstone!”  He imagined having words with the elf wizard, but then he had to focus on what he was doing.

Gerraint told the lance to slay the titan, and no one else.  The lance had the reputation of an older dragon, slow to obey once it started to feed. He tucked the lance up under his arm. He knew the work well.  He also knew Stinky would never reach a thundering gallop, like a real war horse, but the mule’s size, weight and strength would make up for much of that when they rammed the lance home.

Grassly and his gnomes were out in force, all but invisible in the winter grass under the cloud filed sky.  The knights of the lance were spaced around Gerraint to give the titan a wide berth, but at the last second, the titan noticed one of the oncoming knights headed right at him.  He reacted too late, got one of Grassly’s arrows in his left eye and got the Lance of Lugh shoved up under his ribs.

The lance was hungry after being on the wall for centuries.  Gerraint tried to hold on, but the lance twisted in his hands.  It felt like a ravenous beast let loose to devour the very fires of the sun.  It drank the titan’s blood of fire and far from being burned by the sun, it remembered when the fire of the sun carried it to victory after victory.

Despite the special saddle, stirrups and all, Gerraint got knocked completely off Stinky’s back.  He landed hard on the field.  He got shaken, but not hurt, and he rose quickly and pulled his sword, Wyrd, in case he needed to finish the job.  He watched as the faces of the old gods faded from sight, and the arrows of Grassly’s gnomes, that had no affect or bounced off at first, were now turning the titan into a true pincushion.  Gerraint smiled at the name for one second before he looked for Stinky. The mule skirted the titan and galloped with the knights of the lance for several hundred yards without Gerraint, before it stopped and started trotting back.  Gerraint only then looked up at his opponent.

The titan had been completely blinded by then, but the eyes were glazed over, and Gerraint watched as the titan fell to his knees.  The Lance of Lugh pushed out the back as the spearhead pulled the butt of the lance all the way into the titan’s body.  When the lance head became exposed, he heard a great moaning sound that echoed across the fields.  It came either from the titan’s lips, though the lips did not move, or from the titan’s body, like the slow leak of air escaping, or it was the lance itself roaring.

R6 Festuscato: 4 Clugh, part 1 of 3

The sun came up over the sea to reveal a sail angling to cut them off.  Festuscato squinted, but Captain Breok recognized the ship right away.  “Our Pictish friends,” he said, and sighed, and set about getting the sail down and running his crew through their litany of please don’t kill me.

Patrick came up with a word.  “I noticed last time you asked Mousden for the small bag. I would guess Captain Keravear decided there must also be a big bag somewhere.”

“They were probably waiting just out from the docks at the Inver-dea.  Probably saw us pull into port and thought to try their luck on our way back out to sea,” Treeve suggested.

“But they had no way of knowing we would be on board again,” Gaius countered.

“True,” Treeve responded.  “But it was worth a shot, and if you were not on board, there would probably be a cargo worth something; and Captain Breok has his crew so well trained to cower and not resist.”

“They probably also decided that your water sprites did not really pose a danger,” Patrick added.  “I mean, what can a blob of water really do to hurt them?”

“Give them a bath, I bet,” Gaius said, as Bran and Dibs walked up.

“What’s the plan?” Dibs asked, not that he expected an answer.

“Doctor Who,” Festuscato said.  “I make it up as I go along.”

It took an hour for the Pictish ship to come along side and tie up.  It looked the same as last time, with Captain Breok and his crew in the bow showing the epitome of respect and abject cooperation, and Festuscato and his people in the stern, lined up like a group awaiting a family photo.

“We talked about it,” Captain Keravear started right in.  “Seeing all those water waves up on the deck was a bit of a shock, I admit, like seeing your pointy-eared woman and that demon, but then we talked about it. Maybe you are the Dragon and maybe you are not, but we figure there are only three of you and lots more of us. So the way we figured it, you should give us the rest of whatever gold and coins you have and we will be on our way.”

“Captain,” Festuscato’s words were sharp.  “You have already been paid for your trouble and I am not in the habit of paying for the same service twice.  There may only be three of us that you can see.  I won’t say how many more may be waiting in the cabins and below deck.  You know I have at least one elf who is quite capable of going unseen among humans. You also know the elf answers to me. Do you really want to know how many more may be on board?”

The Captain paused.  Apparently, these were things he had not considered.  There could easily be others in the cabins and below deck hidden and waiting to come when called.  At least one of the Picts took the thought of invisible elves seriously. He jumped when the wind picked up and shifted his hair around.

Then the wave came, and like the last time, everyone had to splay their hands and feet to keep from falling down.  This time, the deck not only got covered with water sprites, but they came with a person.  He looked tall, lean, and naked but for the seaweed that clung to him. His gray skin appeared the color of cold steel, and his eyes glowed like the furnace.  Pict and Cornish sailors alike shrieked and turned away.  Some fell to their knees, covered their eyes and trembled.  The Pictish Captain dropped his jaw and bugged out his eyes but otherwise appeared frozen in place.

Festuscato’s crew remained more composed, though Mirowen and Mousden dropped their eyes as a sign of respect.  Patrick showed no surprise when this sea-monster of a man came right up to Festuscato and dropped to one knee.  He was slightly surprised by the one word the monster said.

“Mother.”

“How did you figure it out?” Festuscato asked.

“Really?” the man-monster responded.  “You have been broadcasting who you are from Rome to Britannia, and really since you took a governess.”

“Mannanon,” Captain Keravear exhaled the name of his supposed protector while Festuscato tapped his foot.  With a glance at Patrick, Festuscato went away and let Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts come and stand in his place.  She stepped up and bent down to kiss the man-monster on the head while she spoke and helped him to his feet.

“You bad boy.  When are you going over to the other side?  You are late, you know.”

“Soon,” Mannanon said with a grin, and an appearance that suddenly did not look so monster-like.

“Well, this is your lucky day.  This is Captain Keravear.  I believe you have met, and I have already paid him for his trouble and I will not be paying him twice.  Will you please take him and his crew and their ship back to the Caledonian shores where they will be too far away to cause us any more trouble.  I have these holy men to deliver to the Irish.”

“Yes,” Mannanon said, with a glance at the Priests. “The new way.”

“And it is a good way, and why you should not be here,” Danna insisted, as she turned Mannanon away from the clerics and toward the Picts.  “Now, please take out the garbage, only don’t hurt them.”

Danna appeared very tall for a woman, but Mannanon stood a good bit taller, like a basketball player, but with the slim build of an Olympic swimmer.  He leaned over and kissed Danna on the cheek.  “Kind heart,” he said, and smiled a sort of Bran smile, and vanished along with Captain Keravear and his whole crew and ship.  Danna traded places with Festuscato right away so he could deal with the questions.

Captain Breok wasted no time.  “Get the sail back up.  Colan, get aloft to see if there are any more sails on the horizon.  Treeve, go get Gerens out of the hold.  Tell him it is all over so it is safe to come back out.”

Festuscato stepped up to his spot on the railing where he could keep out of the way.  Mirowen took Mousden to the cabin.  Bran and Dibs helped lower the rudder.  Only Patrick and Gaius came up with a question or two.

“Who was that?” Gaius asked.

“An old Celtic sea god, and a bad boy who does not belong here,” Festuscato answered.

“The new way has come,” Patrick understood.

“And the old way needs to be gone,” Festuscato agreed.

“And the other side?” Patrick asked.

“Death,” Festuscato answered.  “As near to death as a god can get.  He needs to give up his flesh and blood and become the pure spirit he is, the true force of nature he is without eyes and ears or any senses in this world.”

“And who was that woman?” Gaius asked.

“The mother goddess of all the Celts, and another one who does not belong here,” Festuscato said and sighed.  “I lived her life eons ago.  Before Christ, nature bore witness to the truth, but now the old ways need to be gone.”

They stood in silence for a time before Patrick asked one more question.  “Were you there?”

Festuscato nodded as if he anticipated the question. “When he was born and when he was crucified, but those stories have not been told.  Someday.”  Festuscato quieted, and Patrick looked again at the sea.

“I will pray for you,” Patrick said.

“Good,” Festuscato responded.  “I need all the prayer I can get.”

###

Captain Breok took them to a port that straddled the land between Leinster and Ulster.  The Lord there, a man named MacNeill, had no love for the King of Leinster, and at the same time, he had not been in a place to be pestered by Palladius so the gospel might receive a fresh start.  Patrick got excited and said surely this is the place, but when they docked, they found a reception committee.  MacNeill had his two roughs with him, Murtagh and Cormac, and behind him were three clerics, the survivors of the work of Palladius, Teigh, Aon, and Seamus.

“Come,” MacNeill said with a big grin.  “I have set the barn for you to hold services after your fashion.  Fathers Teigh and Aon and their wives have made the bread and gathered the wine and the women and children are gathering there.”

Patrick did not know what to say.  He hardly knew where to begin with married priests and church in a stable.  Mirowen nudged him.  “I asked my Uncle Macreedy to let them know we were coming,” she said.

“Is everyone in your family named Macreedy?” Festuscato pulled Mirowen aside and asked, though he would know the answer if he thought about it.

“The males, mostly,” she responded quietly, as Patrick finally spoke.

“Thank you.”

Gaius turned to Festuscato.  “The Bishop will take it from here,” he said to suggest Festuscato back up.

“It is all yours.”  Festuscato smiled, hoped things would work out this time, and he took Dibs and Bran to speak a moment to Captain Breok.  Eventually, they would need passage back to Britannia, but for now they headed to the nearest tavern, and Treeve and Colan followed.  MacNeill and his roughs also followed them, but from a distance, so Festuscato thought to stop and let them catch up.