R6 Greta: Cleaning Up, part 3 of 3

Three days later, the Nameless god, last of the gods of Aesgard, stood beside Mavis and watched the Wolv transport rise in the atmosphere.  The ogres and trolls Danna brought to protect them for three days while Martok did the repair work were home and safe.  They only had to kill six Wolv that lost patience and tried to eat Mavis or Martok, or whoever worked on the ship at the moment.

The gray-backed Wolv kept most of the Wolv under control for those three days.  There were only forty survivors by then out of the original hundred on the transport, and most of them were women and children, but the gray-backed Wolv understood, even if the others did not, that Earth was one planet that would not be won, even if they mounted a full-scale invasion.  They tried that once already, and failed.  It was not because Earth was full of unbeatable monsters, though from the Wolv perspective it seemed to be, but because the human race had reached just the right sort of primitive development where it had disciplined armies and effective weapons.

“Will they survive?” Mavis asked as she shaded her eyes against the sun for a better look.  The four hundred-year-old transport smoked a little as it rose.

“They should make it out of the solar system. How far they will continue into deep space remains to be seen,” Nameless said.  Nameless felt something then he had not felt in a long time.  He put his arm out toward Mavis in case he needed to draw her under his protective wing.  An old man appeared, in his robe, holding his staff, and Nameless named the man. “Mithras.”

“You have always been a good one to clean up the messes made by the gods,” Mithras said, as he turned his eyes to the diminishing spot in the sky.

“As Lord of the sprites of the earth, air, fire and water, I kind of had to specialize in cleaning up messes.  Even if I don’t know what tomorrow may bring, history is already written and the future is already set.  Keeping that written word on track mostly involves cleaning up messes.”  Nameless blinked and brought the three of them to the place of the ancient dome.

Mithras appeared startled.  “I am not used to being carted around by another god.  That is not easy to do.”

“But it is,” Nameless said.  “This remains Aesgard land, my land, and you are an intruder who does not belong here.”  He turned to face the old man.  “Your place is Persia, and I will not begrudge you the Indus or the Tigris-Euphrates, but you are no longer welcome in the land of Aesgard.”  Nameless traded places with Danna.  “And you must stay out of the West and the old lands of Vanheim as well.”  She traded again with Junior.  “The Near East, Egypt and North Africa are off limits to you.  You have no place among the Jews and the Christians.”  He traded again, and Salacia filled his shoes.  “In fact, the whole Greco-Roman world including the Mediterranean and all the lands and islands around are now off limits to you. Stick to your own place, but not for too long.  You should be on the other side as you know perfectly well.”  Salacia went away so Nameless could come back again.  He whispered to Mavis, “Now I am dizzy.,” but they looked at Mithras and saw him begin to cry.

“I’m afraid,” he said.

“I am not the judge,” Nameless said.  “But I would say on the scale of things, you have not done badly.  You should not fear.  The new way has come and it is full of mercy and grace.”

“But am I subject to the new way, or am I stuck in the old ways?”

“We are all subject, even the gods.  Only you must decide which way you will go and which path you will follow.”  Nameless turned to face the last broken blocks of what was once a magnificent dome in the wilderness.  “Grandfather Odin wanted this to remain as a reminder that the gods should not make promises.  He is gone now.  The old ways are gone now, and this particular reminder of the ancient world should go with them.”  As a true god of the earth, Nameless reached far down below and drew up the great stones of the underworld.  The stone broke through the surface and Nameless shaped it into a bit of a line where it might one day serve to remind him of the past, a reminder no one else would understand.  Then he crumbed the great blocks of stone to dust with a thought and blended the stone dust into the stone from below until they were made one.  Then he stood back and spoke again.

“One day, men will come here.  They will build other domes and rule and worship in this place.”  He stepped back, and Mithras had a thought.

“I spent a hundred years trapped in this place. It would not be a bad place to die.” He looked at Nameless.  It took a moment for Nameless to figure it out, but when he did, he took a step back.

“No way.  Greta killed enough for a lifetime, and Lucius became a horror for her.  She will never get over that.”

“You killed Mithrasis.”

“I made my contribution, and Junior killed your Jupiter, and Gerraint killed the Sun-runner, and Salacia killed the Persian and far too many men with her fury, the fury prompted by Greta who had to kill Lucius.  No, I will do no more killing.”  Nameless stepped back and watched Mithras cry.  “And for the record, don’t even think about trying to manipulate me into doing the job.  I will not be manipulated again, and any innocents you kill will be a mark against you in the eternal ledger, and I don’t believe you can afford that.” Nameless paused to think before he added, “It will be five hundred years before a man convinces a whole nation that the Almighty will somehow reward people for killing the innocent.  That darkness will spread from that day far into the future, but that is not this day.”

Mithras paused in his cry.  “The Don?  She has not had a turn.”

“Danna has her own reluctant and disobedient children to worry about.  You just need to let go of your flesh and blood yourself, and be done with it.  It won’t be so bad, and I am sure your brother Varuna, who loves you, is waiting with arms open to welcome you to paradise.”

Mithras nodded and faded from sight.  Mavis finally opened her eyes and lifted her head to look at the most noble face of the god beside her, and he smiled for her and said, “Let’s go home,” and they returned to the grassy place beside Bragi’s house, this time when no one stood there to watch.  Greta returned with the smile still on her lips.  She took off her red cloak for Mavis to hold, since after all, it had become a warm early spring day.

“And in six to eight weeks,” she said to herself. “I will be welcoming a new life into the world.  Marcus.” She had to get used to the name. “Now Mavis,” she spoke up.  “Let’s go inside.  I feel like cleaning something.”

“As you say.”

END

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

MONDAY

We begin a Christmas story, in twenty-one posts, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week, for the next seven weeks. The final post will be on Christmas day.

A Holiday Journey

The London Symphony Orchestra

And I hope they don’t have lawyers (solicitors) who want to behave stupidly.  The website/blog is not amortized (there is no money).  The stories I post here are free reading, like a Christmas present all year long.  I am sure the CD Guys won’t mind because they will probably sell more CDs.  But unless someone buys one of my books, and there are presently only a few of the first Avalon stories up on the bookseller sites, there is otherwise no compensation for me.  That’s okay.  I hope you enjoy the stories.

Don’t worry, we will get back to the Middle Ages soon enough.  After A Holiday Journey, the plan is to post Avalon, Season Six over twenty-four weeks.  Then, about the beginning of next summer, we will return to Light in the Dark Ages.  Festuscato will meet Beowulf.  Gerraint will search for the Holy Graal.  And Margueritte… She will struggle with ogres and unicorns, fairies and knights, dragons and witches–just about everything a young medieval girl could hope for.

I hope you enjoy your holiday journey.  Merry Christmas in advance.  (Give someone a Christmas hug), and until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Cleaning Up, part 2 of 3

When Greta woke, she did not want to move. She rested in Darius’ arms, and she wanted to just stay that way forever.  Sadly, they were in Kurt’s small bed, so they had no room to move. One move of her arm, and Darius woke, and Mavis woke from her place on the floor.  Greta considered that at least her bed was bigger than Padme’s bed where Hans and Berry were sleeping.  Berry slept on top as Han’s blanket, which she would not be able to do much longer, when she began to show.  Kurt and Padme squeezed into bed with Bragi and Karina.  Father slept in the chair, which he did not mind since he often slept sitting up to reduce his snoring.

“My family,” Greta sighed softly, and got up. Darius wanted to hold her some more, and that made her smile and kiss him before she killed that thought.  “We both have work to do,” she said, and he reluctantly understood.

Pincushion, in the other room, had already started cooking things that smelled wonderful.  That was what woke her, and Greta knew the others would come stumbling out of the back room soon enough.

“I have work, I don’t know about you,” Darius said. “We will probably spend the next week burying the dead, and Hadrianus and the elders of Porolissum have plans to turn our temporary battements into a permanent city wall.  They want it big and made out of stone.  I have to write letters to Marcus and the emperor telling them everything that happened here and about our plans.  I am going to ask for a second legion in the province since we are sticking out the way we are into enemy territory and have the longest, most indefensible border in the whole empire.”

“I understand,” Greta said as she sat beside him and took and squeezed his hand.  “And the enemy?”

“We watched and got reports in the dark that they all moved off.  I suspect by this point there won’t be one in sight.  They had orders to wake me if that was not so.”

“Just as well,” Greta said, and pecked at his lips.

Greta paused while Darius seriously kissed her.

“I got that feeling that you were about to go somewhere,” he said.

Greta nodded, but Pincushion interrupted.  “Not before breakfast.”

Then Mavis interrupted. “Not without me.”  And Greta sat and waited as others came out to join them, and they all ate wonderfully well, and too much.

After breakfast, Greta took Darius out the front door, Mavis following, and Greta explained her intentions.  “I may be gone a few days.  I don’t know how badly the Wolv transport may be broken.”

“All right.  But come home as soon as you can.  I am going to need your wisdom to craft the letter concerning General Pontius and his followers.”

Greta shook her head.  “Mithras will probably keep the cult alive as long as he is alive, but it won’t be the same.  The rituals will become just that, rituals, and the compulsion to devotion will be gone. I hope he will find the courage and be willing to end his journey in the next hundred and fifty years or so.”

“You were shaking your head?”  Darius knew her.  She had something else in mind.

Greta smiled and tapped on his chest.  “You, Mister Governor who is not yet retired, need to work on turning the Goths and Slavs into serious friends and allies for the future.”

“Not the Celts?”

Greta shook her head again.  “I have a feeling the Lazyges may become ornery in the next twenty or thirty years and the Celts may try to blend in with the Latin population of Dacia, and maybe extend the western border a little to include them, for their own protection.”

“So they should be like citizens of the Province?”

“Ask Rhiannon if you can catch her, but I think so, more or less.”

Darius nodded and stepped back, ready to move out when they saw Alesander, Briana, Hermes, Vedix and Bogus coming down the road, a loaded down Stinky trailing along behind.

“No, no,” Greta said.  “Not this time,” and she went away so Danna could take her place, and Danna grabbed Mavis’ hand and they vanished from that place altogether.

###

Danna was able to make sure no one watched when she and Mavis appeared just outside the Great Hall of the Governor’s residence in Ravenshold. Danna traded back to being Greta before anyone noticed, and Mavis let go of Greta’s hand so she could carry Greta’s red cloak.

“Mother,” Greta called as she stepped into the hall, and for one moment it felt like she never left.  Mother was right there, feeding Marta, and Gaius sat on the floor with Selamine, playing with his wooden soldiers.  That moment ended with shouts and running

Greta had to kneel down to hug Gaius, who got there first.  She felt sure she could not lift the big five-year-old in her condition. Fortunately, Selamine scooped him up so Greta could stand and hug her mother who wept.  Then she picked up Marta with a word.

“Careful.  Ugh. You don’t want to hurt the baby.”

“Greta!”  Mother noticed.  “Boy or girl. Oh, but now you are home, and just in time I would say.”

“I hope it is a boy,” Gaius piped up.

“I hope it is a girl,” Marta said, just to be contrary.

“Sibling rivalry?  But they have gotten so big.  Mother, I have missed so much and I will never get it back.”

“Hush,” Mother took Greta’s hand and helped her to the table where she returned Marta to her chair and took one for herself. “You are home now.  That is all that matters.”

“But I am not home now,” Greta said.  “I am not really here.  There is still unfinished business, but I missed my children so much.” Gaius wriggled out of Selamine’s arms so he could come up and put his hands on his mother’s thigh and look up into her face.  She tussled his hair.  “He is starting to look like his father.”

“I look like you,” Marta said and reached her hands out for another hug.  She was dark haired like a Celt or Roman, not very light blond, and she had a skinny face instead of Greta’s round face, and she had clear skin without a freckle, so the truth was she did not look at all like Greta.  Greta imagined Marta would grow up to be a beauty, but Greta hugged her and she scooted Gaius up on to her lap and only moaned a little.

“What do you mean you are not really here?” Mother was thinking.

“I mean word has not reached here yet, but in a couple of days, riders will arrive from the north and say Porolissum is under attack. Well, it already happened and everyone is all right.  Hans and Berry are home safe, and Bragi, Karina and their children are all safe. The legion from Apulum with some help from our Celtic friends and others defeated the enemy and drove them off.”

“Your father?”

“Father is fine,” Greta smiled.  “And I hope we will all be home soon, safe and sound. and you know what?”

Gaius knew enough to say, “What?”

Greta talked to him. and poked his little nose. “Your aunt Berry is going to have a baby too.”

“What?”  Mother sounded surprised.  “But they are just children.”

“They are growing up, and so are my children. Gaius is getting to be a big boy.” Gaius squirmed for a more comfortable seat and Greta moaned and smiled at the same time.

“Now, that’s enough.  Selamine.”  Mother spoke and Selamine picked up Gaius again.

“Mother, I really have to go,” Greta said as she stood. She kissed Marta, her mother, and Gaius, though Gaius turned shyly from the kiss and buried his face in Selamine’s shoulder.  Greta started toward the door, Mavis on her heels, and she thought to distract her mother with a question.  “How is that new tutor, P. Cassius Andronicus working out?”

Mother had to stop walking to think a minute. “Not much for him to do, so far,” she said, but by then she came a dozen steps behind.  By the time she got out the door to the Great Hall, Greta had vanished with her handmaid and her red cloak.

R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 3 of 3

Gerraint put away his sword, and when the titan fell dead on his face, he leapt up on the titan’s back, grabbed the lance, and finished pulling it all the way through.  He thanked Hephaestus for the fingerless gloves that protected the palms of his hands, because the lance felt as hot as fire itself.  Grassly had a bucket of water, as Rhiannon instructed him, and Gerraint stuck the point in the water and watched it steam for a minute.

By the time Stinky arrived, Manannan also arrived, and he had a pouch in his hand.  “Poppy seeds,” Manannan said.  “To help it sleep.”  He tied the pouch around the lance point and held it until the lance stopped wiggling.

“Don’t go far away,” Gerraint commanded as was his nature as a king and a knight of the Round Table.

“Never far,” Manannan insisted, before he and the lance vanished.

“Lord,” Grassly shouted to him as Gerraint mounted the mule.  “The knights and the enemy are about to meet.”

Gerraint said nothing, but he did not want to look. He felt sorry for the Sarmatians being, by comparison, such amateurs.  Gerraint heard the titan deflate and saw it start to liquefy.  He saw the spark of life leave the titan body and shoot up to the man-made ridge where the Pater, Mithras undoubtedly still stood.  He thought about the thousands of men on each wing that were about to press the attack, but in the center of the field, with the gnomes all but invisible, it looked like only one man stood.  One woman, he thought, and traded back to Greta’s life.  He brought back her dress and red cloak, and she reached out to pet her mule.

“Walk gently, Stinky,” Greta said, though Stinky seemed inclined to do that very thing, and several of the gnomes accompanied her to help.

Greta almost got back to the Roman lines when she had company.  A man appeared out of thin air.  He rode on a plain horse and said nothing.  Greta knew who it was without having to look, and for all of her efforts, she still did not like the man.  It was a personality thing, she decided.

“I wonder if this was how Mary felt riding into Bethlehem,” Greta said.  She shifted to ride side-saddle, and that relieved a bit of the pressure.  Lucius made no response, but Greta knew Lucius had no doubt to whom she referred.

Greta had to dismount when she reached the ridge fortification.  No way she could force her mule to climb that.  The gnomes brought Stinky.  Greta held her belly as she climbed.  The man beside her dismounted when she did, and he saved the horse by letting it vanish and go back to where it came from.  He offered to help Greta up the hill, but she withdrew.  She did not want him to touch her.

Up top, Greta found the women standing to one side, Rhiannon out front.  The men all stood on the other side, with Darius, Manannan and Alesander keeping a wary eye on the man in their midst.  Mithras stood alone, in the same spot where he had been when he first arrived. The whip had gone, but his staff remained, and he leaned heavily on it.  He looked every bit like a very old man who suddenly felt his age.  Greta stopped, said nothing, and looked at the man as he spoke.

“Apollo prophesied that the seven pieces of Mithras would not be made as one until time herself lifted her hand against them. For a while, at first, I though the seven pieces meant I would have seven children.  Even when I became shattered and I guessed Apollo was talking about you, the Kairos time, that did not make sense.  You were a man, turning back an invasion of Wolv and fighting against Trajan and his weapons in Mesopotamia.  Early on, when Mithrasis and I trapped each other in the north, I managed to persuade a young man to come north in search of his grandmother. I thought, just in case you came this way, you might make the effort to free your half-spirit of the earth, and him being only a half spirit, I knew I could hang on to him and force you to come. But then Mithrasis brought down a Wolv transport and I became forced to turn that man into a dragon for my own protection.

Suddenly, you were born a woman in this place, and I started to put it together, but I was trapped in the ancient dome and it seemed impossible to reach you.  Then, entirely by chance or as you Christians would say, by providential grace, I discovered that my soldier-self, my Mars, felt ready to rebel.  He tried to hide among the Romans, but I got word to him.  He is the one who told Mithrasis about the leftover guns of Trajan that were hidden in the Temple Mount of Ravenshold. But when I saw how her plans failed so spectacularly, I truly began to despair.  Then my soldier-self told young Hans and Berry where Berry could find her father.  The rest you know, except let me say this, that I have never known such love or good company than I had these last two years with Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot. You, my dear, are a very lucky woman to have such a family to love.”  Mithras wiped one eye where a tear wanted to fall.

Greta said nothing as Lucius stepped forward to face the man, Mithras.  “It is time for us to go,” he said.  “As was made clear to me often enough on our journey north; the old way has gone.  The new way has come.  The time for the gods is over and we must go over to the other side.” Lucius said no more as he reached out and hugged the old man.

“No, no.”  Greta understood right away, and she felt awful about it and wanted to protest. She looked at her faithful Centurion, Alesander, but he could only look away.   Darius would have done it for her, but he could not.  Only she could do the deed.  Manannan and Rhiannon showed no expression.  Mavis cried.

With one hand on her belly and tears in her eyes, Greta called to her long knife, Defender.  It appeared in her hand, and she shoved it into Lucius’ back where his heart ought to be.  Neither Lucius nor Mithras made a sound.  Greta pulled Defender back out, and Lucius began to crumble.  They saw a flash of light, and Mithras stood alone on the ridge top.  Greta cried great big tears while Darius ran to her, to hold her and offer every ounce of comfort he had.

“I am whole again,” Mithras said quietly.  “I must think about the other side.”

“You can do it,” Greta interrupted her cry.  “You have the courage.  I have seen it.”

Mithras made no answer.  He simply faded until he vanished.  Curiously, Danna’s disobedient children who themselves had yet to let go of this life had also gone from sight.

Darius still cooed when Greta pushed back.  “Oh, but Darius,” she pointed.  The enemy on the wings were starting the attack, and though the Sarmatians withdrew completely from the battle, perhaps because they concluded the magic turned against them was too great for victory, there were some seven thousand Scythians determined to get some revenge for their beating the day before.  That still added up to some twenty-one thousand men attacking some sixteen thousand human defenders.  Greta knew, if it was not for the addition of her little ones, the defenders in their bunkers and behind their make-shift walls and ridge would be hard pressed to fight off such an attack.  Greta buried her face in Darius’ chest.  She did not want to watch.  She did not do well in panic situations.

The Goths on the left, with their Roman and Celtic allies fought like the berserkers Greta called them.  As they showed no quarter and drove back the Lazyges and Outsider Dacians with their fury, the Romans and Celts were impressed that these men were serious about war, and very good at it.

On the right, the Slavs, with their Celts and Romans had a bit more difficulty, in part because the Slavs kept attacking, like they were the aggressors, not the defenders.  Small pockets of Slavs kept getting surrounded by the enemy, and it took some serious work to rescue them.  When they did, they usually found a pocket of Slavs surrounded by dead bodies, and the Slavs laughing and ready to do it again.  Indeed, Venislav seemed to laugh the whole time, even when he hacked an enemy in two.  The Romans and Celts came away from there thinking that these Slavs were warriors and great fighters, but also insane.  Eventually the enemy figured this out as well, and when they withdrew, no doubt some felt they were lucky to get away from those mad men.

In the center, Drakka, Bragi and the men of Porolissum were backed up by the Romans and Celts.  Nudd and his brothers fought there, and Hans finally got to use that sword. Father was in charge, and when the Scythians dismounted outside the trenches and spikes, he charged, Slav style. The Scythians were not ready for that turning of the table, and they withdrew.  Father ran his people back to their wall and bunkers, before the arrows started to fly again.

Father pulled that off twice, but by the third time he figured he might be pushing his luck and kept his men back to await the attack. It proved wise, because the third attack came with less men on foot and more men still in the saddle firing arrows to keep the Roman and Celtic heads down.  Once the Scythians on foot got near enough to be in the way, the Scythians had to hold their arrows, and many of them dismounted and joined the attack. They got close, too close for many of the defenders, but this time, Father used his advantages.  He let loose the goblins, the trolls, ogres and dwarfs with their big axes and their most frightening aspect.  Most of the Scythians screamed, turned and ran to be picked off by elf and fairy archers, who rarely missed.  Those who did not run right away became meat for the grinder. By the time the Romans moved out in formation, backed up by the Celts and Bragi’s locals, they only had some cleaning up to do.

Greta yelled at her father the minute she heard. How dare he put her little ones in that kind of danger.  They were there, kind enough to back up the humans.  They were not there to take the lead.  Some of them got killed, and Greta did not talk to her father for a whole day. The only thing that made it palatable was the fact that the little ones all praised her father for what he did, and thought things like it was about time they got the chance to really fight, and said things about how they hated to always have to be in the background.

“You’re all crazy,” Greta shouted.

“So I keep saying,” Venislav agreed.  “Your sprites are hard to trust and all crazy in the head.”  Coming from Venislav, that did not help.

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

MONDAY

Greta is angry and upset, and the Scythians refuse to leave the battlefield, even though they know the tide has turned against them.  Greta dreads what she will have to do to clean up the mess.  Monday: Cleaning Up.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 3 of 3

The men in the field were given the option to be arrested as traitors and locked up to await trial, or to return to their duty to protect the gold and other mines and the people of Dacia.  The auxiliary units selected by General Pontius were given a similar option, to return to their places on the roads and their village forts and guard the roads and the people, or face execution.  Everyone chose to go back to work with the understanding that any action to support the Mithraic rebellion would mean instant crucifixion.

“We can’t keep this many men locked up in Porolissum,” Festuscato explained.  “These are mostly good men and good soldiers outside of their perverse worship.  Rome can’t afford to lose good men.  But here is the thing.  If the Scythians and whatever Mithrites they bring to the border can overcome us, Rome will be in far more trouble than whatever these few hundred men and half-dozen auxiliary units can do.  But if we beat back the Scythians, and I have every good hope that we will, then we will also have saved some good men for Rome.”

“Your confidence is contagious,” Alesander said.

“But what do we do about the general and his staff and officers?” Centurion Hadrianus, leader of the escort cavalry troop asked.

“Well,” Festuscato drew out his answer.  “If I was home, I would turn them over to Gildas. He has a favorite expression. “Kill the Bastards.”  Festuscato looked at Darius and smiled.  “But as a Senator of Rome, steeped in Roman tradition to the point where the pot has boiled over, and carrying a small reflection of a spark of Justitia as I do, I understand justice has to be considered. I recommend you hold them in irons and refuse to hear their case on the grounds that you might not be objective, and I would send them back to Rome at the first opportunity with a letter explaining their duplicity with the Scythian Mithrites.  Let Antonius Pius hear the case, and may he have mercy on them; but at least they will be out of Dacia.  Then I would write a letter to your friend Marcus Aurelius and suggest he send true Romans as replacements, and you would not even mind Christians if he wants to get the Christians out of Rome, but if he sends more Mithrites, you will just send them back.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Darius thought about it. Festuscato made a pucker face.

“So do you want to kiss me now or wait until we get back?” Darius jumped back.  Alesander laughed, and Centurion, soon to be Tribune Hadrianus raised both eyebrows.

###

Rhiannon walked up to Greta and Mavis who were seated in chairs that Greta had the morning guard bring out to the battements. “The enemy looks endless,” Greta sighed and began to plan for an orderly withdrawal and evacuation of the town, should that prove necessary.  Scythians were riding off the distant mountain in one long line, and they were settling on the hill across the valley.

“We will have to find the tail of that dragon and feed it to the mouth so it can consume itself.”  Rhiannon waved her hand and a third chair appeared.  She sat carefully in her armor.  It was well made chain and leather, not unlike the armor Greta wore when she wasn’t busy being pregnant, but it did not look worn very often so it appeared a little stiff.

“Gobinu’s work?” Greta asked, and Rhiannon nodded. “Thank you again for raising the Celts. Every bit helps.”

“Twenty-five hundred from the hills beyond the mountains isn’t very much, but they do need to start integrating.  I am glad I remembered the auxiliaries from Britannia, Gaul and Hispania scattered around the province.  I can weed out the ones like Chobar and his Dogs from my people. I’m sorry.  I can’t vouch for the Egyptians and Syrians and others.”

“Quite all right.  Four thousand total almost doubles our number.  With Bragi and Drakka raising a thousand local Dacians, that gives us ten to their ten.  The Scythians do have ten thousand, don’t they?”

Rhiannon nodded again, but she said nothing out loud.

“Ladies.”  Father stepped up and Rhiannon waved her hand to make a chair for him.  “Very considerate,” he said and sat with a great sigh.  “I’m disappointed with my own people.”  He stepped right into the conversation.  “But I understand their reluctance to fight for the Romans.”

“They think if they stay home they can defend their farms if the Scythians get that far,” Rhiannon suggested.

“Even the large number of Romans that have emigrated to the province are more interested in the price of grain than they are in the price of a good sword,” Greta added.

“Sergeant.”  A watchman interrupted their conversation.  “We got more coming from both the left and the right.  They must have come through the mountains in other places.” He pointed, the Sergeant swore, and called several men to send word to different outposts and to the command tent.

Greta shaded her eyes and took a look to the left and right.  “Mavis,” she said, and Mavis took a good look.

“I see sun symbols and lion-headed representations on the left.  I can’t tell on the right because the sun is glaring.”

“You can see that far?” Father squinted.

“Lazyges and outsider Dacians on the left,” Rhiannon said.  “About ten thousand.  And on the right, Costoboci, Capri and Roxolani.  Another ten thousand.  You’re welcome.”

“Not fair,” Greta complained.  “We paid the Roxolani to stay away.”

“My guess is they used the money to buy weapons,” Father said.

“Sergeant,” Greta called.  The Sergeant came over and listened carefully while she explained the new arrivals.  Rhiannon had gone and took her chair with her.  Father stood stiffly, and his chair disappeared.  Greta and Mavis stood and Greta watched as the messengers returned and went right back out again.  Greta waved to a soldier and thanked him for the chairs while Mavis took her arm and Father’s arm and walked them back to the house for lunch.  After lunch, Greta planned to take a nap.  Then she had to work on a serious plan of escape, should that become necessary.  Greta was not good at panic situations, and tomorrow was going to be a long day.

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

MONDAY

The Battle Lines are drawn and tested.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 2 of 3

“Scythians.  Thousands of them on the main road just over the mountains.  They will be here in three days, and it is just Chip if you don’t mind.”  Chip, older than Snowflake, appeared as a fifteen-year-old in his big form.  That made him a full-blown teenager, and Father had practice dealing with those.

“Mavis,” Greta nudged her handmaid who had hardly left her side since Greta arrived in Porolissum.  “Take Chip to find Darius.  Give Darius the message and then come back here.”

“What are you thinking?”  Greta’s father asked and waited for Greta to answer.

“General Pontius left the legion fort two days ago. He will be here right at the same time as the Scythians.  How did he know when to start for Porolissum?”

“He had to have got word from the Scythians to time things so well.” Father came to the obvious conclusion, and Greta confirmed as much.

“Darius, Alesander, Bragi and the others have been arguing about whether or not to trust General Pontius.”

“I have heard the arguments,” Father admitted.

“I would say this is circumstantial evidence, but it says don’t trust him.”  Greta moaned a little.

“The baby?” Father asked and held out his arm for her before he paused to rub his own leg.

“My ankles are swelling in this cold and rainy weather,” Greta answered.  “I calculated the middle of June, but I may have miscalculated.  I may be entering my eighth month now.  I may be due in the middle of May, about six, not ten weeks from now.”

“I could limp you home,” Father offered.  He did that, but as they got to the door, Greta had to ask.  “So, no questions about the fairy?”

“Only if you want to tell me,” he said.  “I decided a long time ago some questions were best not asked.  I decided that back when Mother Hulda died, and then that awful woman, Brunhild came to town, and then you disappeared into the haunted forest.”  Greta reached up and kissed her father on the cheek.  “Of course, if your mother was here, I would ask her.  But that is safe because she doesn’t know anything.”

“Papa!”  Greta protested and went inside only to find Snowflake in her natural fairy size, wings fluttering, riding a wooden toy horse across the kitchen floor while Padme followed with her doll and Karina stood at the wash basin on the kitchen counter where she was washing up the breakfast dishes.

“Careful, young woman.”  Karina spoke kindly to the fairy.  “You are supposed to be watching Padme, not encouraging a madhouse.”

“Icechip came by a few minutes ago,” Greta said as she found a chair to sit while Father went into the other room to rest by the fire.

“My Icechip?” Snowflake asked, excited, and Greta nodded.

“Another fairy?  How many fairies do you know?” Karina asked and dried her hands.

“A very big number,” Greta answered.

“All of us,” Snowflake said.  “And elves and dwarfs and spooky dark elves and everyone.”

“Lady,” Mavis came in, followed by a streak of light. Chip caught Snowflake and they circled and danced in mid-air while Karina scooped up Padme.  “Everyone is coming to discuss what to do,” Mavis finished her announcement.

“Father,” Greta called, and she heard the moan of an old man who would rather be taking a nap.  “Snowflake.  You need to sit on my shoulder and be quiet.”  Snowflake flew over, Chip beside her.

“Yes, Lady,” Snowflake made herself comfortable. Father did not have far to go to sit in the end seat.

“Chip.  You need to sit on my father’s shoulder, and please don’t say anything unless you are asked a question.”

“Yes Lady,” Chip said, and to Father he added, “It is an honor, sir.”  Father brushed off his shoulder with one hand and when Chip got seated, Father found he had a few questions after all.

As Darius, Bragi and the others came in for the meeting, Karina spoke just loud enough for Greta to hear.  “Padme and I will be in the back, sitting on the pot.   I am sure we will be more productive than one of your meetings.”

###

The troop rode through the night and arrived at the legion camp well before dawn.  Everyone had their assigned tasks, and they moved swiftly after swearing the guards and the night watch to silence.  The word they put out was the Scythians had been spotted and they were there to discuss the situation in Porolissum, just in case word went ahead of them.  There always seemed to be one suck-up who would go running to the General.  They claimed to be gathering the officers for a conference, but in truth they rounded up two tribunes, six centurions, a dozen top sergeants, a standard bearer, a trumpet master, three scouts and several other commanders, and they arrested them along with the General.

Mithraism remained a religion whose ceremonies and sacraments were closely guarded secrets of the initiates.  But Mithraism itself got on the list of officially approved religions of the empire because Mithrites could also claim to worship the traditional gods of Rome, and even sacrificed to Antonius Pius’ dead wife, the love of the divine emperor.  Because of this, many men were open about admitting they were Mithrites. Christianity, by contrast, did not get on the acceptable list, primarily because Christians only worshiped Christ. Christians refused to participate in the pagan worship and festivals around them and steadfastly refused to sacrifice to the emperor.  This regularly got painted as disloyalty to Rome, true or not, and at times Christians got killed as traitors no matter how much they protested.  Thus, Christians tended to keep to the shadows in most places, but in this case, Darius and Alesander sought them out.

One hundred confessing Christians brought down from Porolissum now formed the foundation for the guards who held eight hundred Mithrites in an open field.  General Pontius had been working on his legion over the years, but affecting the various transfers seemed a bureaucratic nightmare and a very slow process. The general’s staff all got arrested, but some of general’s officers and troop commanders appeared to be Mithras free.

“Of course, we will still have to watch them.” Alesander stated the obvious.

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 1 of 3

Briana seated next to Hobknot the hobgoblin might have made her supper a bit strange, but Hobknot wore the appearance of an elderly man, the same as he appeared whenever he and Fae came to visit Berry in Greta’s home in Ravenshold, so this was not entirely a new thing for him, and Greta assumed that Briana, having been exposed to dwarfs, elves, fairies and goblins, would be nonplused and pleasant with the grumpy old hobgoblin, but spend most of the night with her attention on Alesander in any case.

“It is the best I could do,” Greta told Mavis.

“And exactly why I want to eat on the floor with the children,” Mavis said.  “Your brother and sister-in-law deserve to hear all about your adventures, and the children make me happy, and you know I am good with children.”  It was true.  After their nanny, Selamine, Gaius and Marta loved Mavis best.”

“If they make you happy,” Greta said and Mavis sniffed, but nodded.

Tales were indeed told, and the dwarfs, elves, fairies and goblins all got a human scrubbing to make them palatable to human ears. When it came to the Wolv, however, no one held back.  And no one hesitated to talk about Mithrite fanaticism.  “They will not hesitate to give their lives to further their cause,” Alesander said, which Father and Darius listened to closely where they might have argued with one of the women.

“But what is their cause?” Father asked.

“To crush the Germans and overrun Rome.  To turn the Empire into the Empire of Mithras,” Alesander concluded, and he stated it like a fact.  He did not say I think or I believe or I feel.

Darius took a breath and looked at Greta. Father looked at Darius and spoke. “I think they will find that Rome is not so easily overcome.”

Greta responded to her husband’s look. “General Pontius is a confirmed Mithrite.  You say he has the legion on alert in Apulum and is waiting to see if the Scythians come and where they strike.  I tell you, when the Scythians strike, General Pontius may bring the legion to fight on the Scythians’ side.”

“Surely not,” Darius said, and Father opened his mouth but remained silent.

“Surely so,” Greta countered, and Briana added a thought.

“You already tasted rebellion in the Roman ranks. Why should your legion not suffer the same?”

Father got it and stood.  He almost knocked his chair back into the fireplace.  “By the gods, we will stop them here,” he shouted.

Greta had grabbed Darius’ hand to keep him seated. Hans got Father’s chair and helped him sit again.  Alesander added fuel to the fire.

“The gods are working on it, I think,” he said. “But they will not do it for us. It is up to us.”  he looked at Greta who nodded for him and for Darius.

“We must cross our own bridges when we come to them, and if we have to build the bridge first, so be it.”

“Grandfather,” Berry interrupted with a look at Bogus. “What are you mumbling about?”

“I was just thinking your great-aunt Pincushion could win them over with a few good meals.”

“Great-aunt?” Fae looked up.

“Yes,” Greta said, grateful for the change in the subject.  “Pincushion and Bogus are half-brother and sister.  Same father.”  Pincushion and Bogus both nodded.

Fae and Berry stared at Greta.  Berry asked, “How did you know?”

Vedix spoke.  “It is not our way to question how the druid knows what she knows.”

###

The town became heavily fortified by the end of March, and none too soon.  Darius had pulled his troops back from the frontier passes to shore up the border defenses in January on condition that Greta send her little ones to spy and give word of any enemy advancement.  For that, Greta turned to Willow and her winter fairies.  Most of the fairies volunteered for the mountains, like their home in the Urals, but some were willing to keep an eye on Apulum and the legion fort.

April first arrived; a day when the sun stayed behind the clouds, but no more snow fell.  It was a day when the wind whipped and turned the cheeks red before a person walked ten steps.  Greta walked with Karina and the children when a bright streak of light came up from the south and stopped in Greta’s face.  Karina stopped moving, but Padma reached out with both hands from her mother’s hip where she rode.

“Fairy,” Padma spoke first.

“Lady,” the fairy spoke in a young woman’s voice. “The whole legion is on the road. They will be here in five days.” The girl’s voice shrieked with happiness.  “I remembered the whole thing!”

“Snowflake, get big,” Greta commanded.

“Fairy,” Padma reached for her.

Snowflake got big and appeared as a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl.  The girl looked shy and began to blush until Mavis reached for the girl’s hand to steady her.

“Mavis, take Snowflake to find Darius and tell him the message.”

“Yes, Lady,” Mavis responded and she coaxed the fairy to move away, even as the fairy recognized the children and began to reach for them.  Kurt did not buy it, but Padma looked upset to see the fairy go.

“Berry.”  Karina had a sudden revelation.  “She was a fairy.”

“She was, but completely human now,” Greta said. “Poor Hans.  He never stood a chance.”

“He doesn’t seem to be hurting,” Karina said and thought while they walked back to the house where she verbalized one thing. “And you have other strange friends, I guess.”

“They are not so strange.  Mostly good people once you get to know them.”

“I’ll have to take your word for that,” Karina opened the door and Greta waddled inside to sit by the fire.  She seriously wanted some tea.

Two days later, when it started raining instead of snowing for the first time in months, the boy, Chip, came racing into town.  He zoomed up to Greta’s face right in front of her father, and hovered for a second to catch his breath.

“Look out,” Father yelled and swatted at what he imagined was the biggest fly in history.

“Father.  No,” Greta stopped his hand and turned on the boy.  “Icechip, get big.”  It was not a request.  Father’s eyes got big along with the fairy, but he said nothing.  “Speak,” Greta commanded.

R6 Greta: Home to Porolissum, part 3 of 3

“You have lovely children,” Rhiannon said, recognizing Karina’s continued distress.  Poor Karina seemed to be deciding if Rhiannon was not a goddess, she ought to be.  Poor Greta felt very ordinary.  She had her yellow hair braided down her back at the moment because, while it was as clean and set as it had ever been, if she let it loose, it had a mind of its own and would never behave.  Besides, she had freckles, and a big nose, and short legs and a big butt, and fat hands, and she constantly fought against getting fat like her mother, and she would have gone on for a while if she did not hear a call from the distance.

“Lady!”  Mavis raced up, jumped before the horse even stopped, and fell into Greta’s arms for a hug. “I thought I lost you forever, too.  But Pincushion said you were still alive, and I felt it.”  Mavis cried.

Darius was the next to arrive, and Mavis stepped aside so he could throw his arms around Greta and squeeze her.  All thoughts about life and war and death went away for a while so Darius and Greta could get lost in their kiss.  When they took a breath, Greta scooted back a little and looked at her belly with a word.  “You don’t want to crush the baby.”

“Are you?  Did you?”

“Of course.  What did you think you were doing before you went away?”

“Making good memories?”

“You made more than good memories,” Greta patted her belly which was beginning to bump, and grinned as she thought through her own memories.

“Hello baby,” Darius leaned down.  “Are you Marcus or another girl?”

“I’m only half-way there, not even half,” Greta protested as if to say she had no way of knowing for sure.  Honestly, she knew he would be Marcus, but she wanted to tease Darius first.  Before Greta could say anything else, the crowd showed up.  Bragi ran to her and Hans.  Father tried to run, but his leg where he got wounded stayed stiff and uncooperative.  Alesander, Vedix and Briana were all there.  Pincushion even ran to yell at Bogus, but Hermes was not there.  Mavis began to cry, and this time Greta ignored the others and went to hug her handmaid.

“He was like a father to her,” Briana explained later. “She said she had no father, since he died in the days of the Wolv invasion, which you didn’t tell us about. She said she followed her mother up here from Thrace a hundred years ago to escape the memory of their loss.”

“On Hermes’ part,” Alesander took up the telling. “He had a family in Greece, but they were killed by brigands who were pirates in the Aegean and sheltered in the Pindar Mountains.  He joined the auxiliary troop to hunt down the brigands, and he succeeded, but then he had nothing to go home for, so he stayed with the military.  He served all around the Black Sea and in Asia, including once in Syria, before his troop got assigned here after the last rebellion. He said Mavis reminded him of his daughter and was about the age his daughter would have been.  I don’t know about that, but they were close.”

“Two Scythians drew their swords on us in the meeting.  Hermes saved my life,” Vedix added.

“He saved all of our lives,” Briana said.

“Lucius is the Mars.”  Alesander blurted it out and stiffened his lip to speak without emotion. “He said he had been moving among the Iranian people for a hundred and fifty years and infiltrated the Roman ranks a hundred years ago.  He said everything was ready to build the new Empire of the Gods, but he decided some time back that the others were just using him to do all the leg work and build the new army.  He said it was easy to get lost in a Roman legion and attached himself to my century ten years ago in Gaul.  But he was not surprised when I got transferred to the Gemina XIII in Dacia. The others conspired, he said, to position him for the plan.”

“What plan?” Greta wondered out loud.  “That is the question.”

While Pincushion and Karina fixed supper, Rhiannon stepped up to Greta for a private moment.  “I have all I need from here,” she said.  “But I have stayed too long at the fair.  I have my own work to do and must leave.  Besides, Briana and Vedix will eat better if I am not seated at the same table.”

“So, what did you figure out?” Greta asked quickly before Rhiannon could vanish.  Darius stepped up and slipped his arm over Greta’s shoulder while he smiled for their guest.  Not to say it would have been possible to look at Rhiannon and not smile.

“No, no.”  Rhiannon returned the smile and shook her finger.  “That is for me to know and you to find out.  But I will say, I think Mother may be right.  It is past time to let go of the Gaelic enclave and Latinize my people.  They need to be integrated into the Roman fold to avoid being wiped out by the Lazyges, if nothing else.”

“Sounds like work,” Darius said, not quite following the conversation.

Rhiannon smiled again at that thought.  “I would rather have something to do.  Sitting all day long, guarding the apples of Avalon and playing chess would bore me silly.”

“Who?  No, wait. What brought the apples of Avalon to mind?”  Greta got suspicious and Rhiannon’s face showed that she said too much.

“Apollo took the last basket full I know of.  The rest are safe,” she was continuing to spout, and knew it.  “I have to go.”  Rhiannon vanished, and Darius opened his eyes as wide as they could open.

“She was not one of your little ones, I could tell,” Darius said.

Briana ran up and pointed at the empty spot where Rhiannon had been.  “That was—”

“Yes, it was,” Greta said, and she took Darius inside where she could get warm.

Supper became an interesting affair.  Bragi borrowed a neighbor’s table and put it end to end with his own table to fit everyone.  As it was, Father at one end had his back to the big fireplace, which he said he did not mind, cold as it was outside, and Bragi at the other end sat up to the door, and got cold, but he did not complain.  Karina sat next to her husband on the kitchen side where she could fetch whatever was needed and keep one eye on the children who sat on the kitchen floor.  Then came Pincushion, Karina’s fellow cook, followed by Bogus, Vedix, Greta and Darius next to Greta’s father.

Hans sat next to Father on the other side, followed by Berry, Alesander, Briana, Hobknot and Fae next to Bragi.  Fae was a wise human woman for seventy years before she became a dwarf, so Greta figured her conversation should be safe for brotherly consumption.

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

MONDAY

Time get to work. The enemy is on the horizon  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 2 of 3

“I was able to bring in food and we have blankets and such things, but I did not have the power to take us out.  My power is greatly diminished and the more so when I am blocked by the Nymphus.”

“You are broken, old man,” Greta responded.  “Why have you not gone over to the other side?”

The old man smiled a little, but it did not look like a warm or welcoming smile.  Greta saw something calculating in that smile.  “How can I pass over when I am not every whit whole?”

Greta shook her head.  “Your brother Varuna would be very unhappy with you.”

The old man’s visage changed.  He gritted his teeth and furrowed his brows.  He did not expect that comment.  “My brother surrendered to the invaders and gave everything to that moron, Indra.  My brother got reduced to the lowest of the low, a simple god of the sea, not even allowed to set his foot on the dry land.”

“Your brother saved millions of people and ended a war among the gods that might have killed every living thing.  And Amphitrite says she does not appreciate your prejudicial attitude about sea gods.”

The old man looked startled, but then he softened. “Yes, I forgot.  She would see things differently, though as I recall, she did not get counted among the gods of Olympus.”

Before Greta could respond, a voice came from the doorway.  “Get him. Kill him so we can end this.”  Mithrasis showed up.  She stood in the doorway and pounded once on the invisible door that kept her out.

“Where is that dragon?” Mithras responded sharply. “The agreement was to keep you away and I care for his daughters.  Nymphus, you have no part in this conversation.”

“But she does,” Greta interrupted.  “I intend to put her in her bed.”

“What?”  Everyone but Fae asked.  Fae kept her mouth closed.  Mithrasis looked seriously interested.

Greta, who wore her armor since Samarvant, called for her weapons.  They appeared, attached in their proper places, so the sword called Salvation rested on her back with the handle sticking out over her left shoulder, and the long knife called Defender rested comfortably across the small of her back, or as she thought, across the top of her big butt.  Greta looked at Mithrasis.

“Let me in,” Mithrasis yelled.  The Nymphus liked Greta, but paused when Greta went away and Nameless stood in her place.

“And I intend to put her in her bed, personally,” Nameless said.  Mithrasis paused before Nameless heard the click and Mithrasis doubled her effort to get in.  “But first, Mithras, I want to know what game you are playing.”  Nameless whipped out defender and put it to Mithras’ throat faster than anyone could see or react.

Mithras dared not move, but he spoke.  “I am an old man, as you see.  I should be on the other side, but I am not whole.  I thought if I could get your help, you might find a way to repair the damage and set me free.”

“He lies,” Fae said softly.  It was her one true talent, to tell truth from lies.

“Kill him, and we will all be free,” Mithrasis yelled.

“She lies,” Fae added.

Nameless raised one brow.  “I don’t believe anyone has told the whole truth this whole time. And whose stupid idea was it to pull down a Wolv transport?”

“Hers.”

“His.”

Nameless merely waved his hand and the force field around the dome ruins came down.  Nameless stood in his element, so to speak.  In the Land of Aesgard he was counted as a Prince.  As the last child of Aesgard in his own jurisdiction, his will became final.  Neither Mithras nor Mithrasis could overrule what he decided.  At least that was how it was before the time of dissolution.

Nameless held out his hand as Mithrasis tumbled into the circle.  She hesitated and squinted at Nameless’ hand, but Nameless was a love god on his mother’s side, and that became too hard to resist.  Mithrasis took the hand and while she did not exactly snuggle up to his shoulder, it was near enough.

“So what game are you playing?” Nameless asked again.

“Kill him.  Be done with it,” Mithrasis whispered in his ear.

“It is no game,” Mithras said.

“Then let me put Mithrasis in her bed,” Nameless said, and he turned, and once again in a move too swift to follow, he slipped Defender up under Mithrasis’ ribs and into her heart.  Nameless did not want to lie for fear Fae might inadvertently say something, but he thought the whole time of putting Mithrasis in her death bed.

Mithrasis’ eyes got big.  She began to shake, like one suffering an internal earthquake, and she began to sparkle, like the light inside her started burning out.  “But I’m on your side,” she said, even as she fell apart.  This time, they all saw the one spark of light rise up from Mithrasis’ crumbling remains and shoot into Mithras’ mouth.  Mithras let out a great shout, and he collapsed, unconscious to the ground.

“This is the third time we have seen this,” Hans said, while Fae knelt down to check on the old man.  “He should stay out for several hours.”

Hobknot stepped up and spoke to Nameless. “Lord.  We spent the other two times arguing about whether the Mithras was a friend or foe.”

“But he fed you, and cared for you, and kept you all alive,” Bogus said.

“So said the women, but young Hans and I had our doubts.”

“And I questioned some,” Fae said.  “It was not that he lied, but he told such half-truths as fit his agenda.  I could not help wondering if the whole truth might speak against his agenda.”

“A true progressive politician,” Nameless said, and turned toward Berry, but before he could speak to her, a giant shadow fell on them.  The Raven, the giant bird, the Roc, appeared to be coming right at them.  “The shield has been removed.”

“Wait,” Hobknot said.  Nameless waited as Hobknot pointed.  “It is not after us.”

R6 Greta: The Persian, part 3 of 3

Bogus shouted.  “Pincushion spent too much time with the gnomes.  The horses think she is their mother.”

“They do not,” Pincushion yelled and slapped Bogus on the arm to stop him from laughing.  “You—”

“Hush,” Greta said quietly, and Pincushion hushed, but she slapped Bogus once more, just because.  The men, who stopped and took a step back on the appearance of the dwarfs all saw how those same dwarfs answered to the lady in armor.  They got doubly surprised when that same lady scolded the woman who got them out of the fort dungeon.  “Mavis, why have you taken on your glamour of humanity.  I thought you were going full elf in the wilderness.”

Mavis looked back once at the men who had stopped and turned a bit red.  “These men are not so wild,” she said in a voice directed to Greta’s ears.

“Hush,” Greta repeated her word.  “These men are plenty wild, and if they get ideas about a beautiful young woman, they will show you how wild they can be.”  Greta snapped her fingers and Mavis’ glamour fell away to reveal the elf beneath.  Mavis looked down, now fully embarrassed, but Hermes squeezed her hand in support.  “Now,” Greta said to the men who stared at Greta with mouths open.  “Venedi?”

One older man with black hair and eyes stepped forward.  “Chief Venislav of the Moldav,” he introduced himself, Mavis translating, and another man, a tall blond stepped up beside him.

“Olaf of the Goths of the Elba, but this town is Venedi. We came here to form an alliance against the barbaric Scythians who are stealing our land and raiding our crops, but the people betrayed us and threw us in the dungeon.”

“How do we tell one barbarian from the other?” Hermes whispered, as Alesander and Briana came up holding hands.  Vedix still seemed determined to fetch the bones out of the water.

Chief Venislav put his hand up to the big Goth and took up the story.  “They fed us for two days, but on the third day they claimed the terror from the south was coming and they abandoned their homes in fear and panic.”

“Cowards,” Olaf scoffed.

Greta could not help the curtsey.  She still felt empowered from just being the goddess Amphitrite and from successfully overcoming the Persian.  “I assume they meant me.  Do I frighten you?  I mean you no harm.”  Greta saw the smiles on the strangers faces and knew the thoughts they were thinking were anything but frightening.  “We are travelers on an errand of mercy in the north, to save my family and friends from the Land of the Lost.”  The men lost that look and took another step back, like they knew the place and had lost friends or family there.

“The Wolv have come and rule the forest there,” Olaf said.

“Yes,” Greta sighed.  “But one thing at a time.  I am glad we could set you free.  You are free to go, to retrieve your horses and return to your people in peace. I am Mother Greta, woman of the ways for the Dacian people, wise woman for the Romans and druid for the Celts. My father is the high chief of the Dacians in the Roman province and my husband is the governor appointed by the emperor himself.  If you wish to make a friend in your fight against the Scythians, come talk to my husband and my father.”

Olaf shook his head though Venislav looked willing. Venislav clearly did not know the Romans except maybe by distant rumor, but Olaf spoke.  “We want no Romans in our land.  They are worse than the barbaric Scythians.”

Alesander stepped up and answered the man.  “I am Alesander, a war chief among the Romans, and I can tell you Rome wants nothing of the Germanys or the steppes.  Dacia provides what Rome needs and otherwise, Rome is happy with the Danube and the Rhine as borders.  Rome wishes only to live at peace with her neighbors.”

“The Scythians know nothing about peace,” Greta added.  “One man might die.  Two might be injured, but three and four men can kill the wild bear.  You need not give me an answer, but meanwhile, go in peace.”

The men looked prepared to do that very thing when Bonebreaker stepped up beside Greta.  Hermes let out a little shriek and pulled Mavis aside to give the big fellow plenty of room.  “Lady,” Bonebreaker spoke in a voice that encouraged the Goths and Slavs to take a couple of more steps back.  “I feel much better.  This is good.”

“It is,” Greta said, with a warm smile.  “But your big, ugly, smelly self is frightening our new friends,” Bonebreaker lifted his chin a little at the compliment.  “You need to go home now, and thank you for all your help.”  Greta put some urgency in the go home part, and Bonebreaker felt strongly that going home was the thing he wanted most.  He turned to walk off, but after two steps he vanished as Greta sent him home.

“If you pledge friendship, I will meet these Romans of yours,” Chief Venislav said.  He looked like a man who thought it best to stay on Greta’s good side.

“I will think about it,” Olaf agreed with that much, and they and their men sought out their horses among the herd.  What blankets, saddles and equipment they had got stored in the barn out behind the big building, though Greta could not swear they did not take some extra things.  For her crew, Bogus, Pincushion, Mavis and Hermes found eight good horses.

By the time the Riders all stopped at the cave entrance, Vedix had all the bones he could reach stacked up with plenty of dry wood against the scorpion carcass.  He set it on fire, pronounced a Celtic curse against the bones of an enemy, and they all rode through the cave before the smell got too bad.  As expected, the tunnel led them to the back side of the hills and cliffs that penned in the river.  There, the Goths went off to the northwest.  The Slavs rode off to the northeast.  Greta and her group headed straight north along a wagon trail.

“Under the heart of the goddess,” Mavis said.

Greta nodded since she had figured it out. “Carpasis, Oread of the Carpathian Mountains buried her pet dragon here.  She probably created the hill to do it.  That old dragon got loose in the end and ate his way straight across the Ukraine.  He finally fell to old age, here in this place.”

“As you say,” Mavis said, and fell quiet.

“The road of dreams,” Briana called it, and she looked at Alesander like she might be dreaming about something.

“I seem to be missing someone,” Alesander said quietly to Greta.

“I told you,” Greta responded.  “Lucius is a Mithrite.  He kind of gave himself away back there.  I hope we don’t see him again, but I bet he will follow us.”

Alesander nodded, and spurred up front to ride beside Briana.  Hermes and Mavis rode behind Greta, and Bogus and Vedix took the flanks.  Sadly, that put Greta next to Pincushion.

“I know how to handle these horses,” she spoke too loud.  “But I never thought I would have to ride on one.  My legs hurt already and my butt is going to be so sore in the morning it will probably swell up to three times its size.”

“Shh,” Greta said.  “The baby is sleeping.”  She patted her belly, and Pincushion got mostly quiet for a while.  Mostly.

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

MONDAY

The Road of Dreams.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: The Persian, part 2 of 3

The Persian waved his hand, and a scorpion appeared.  It looked the size of a rhinoceros, though flat and low to the ground like a true insect. The horn on this beast appeared, not on the head, but at the end of the multi-jointed tail where it waved slowly up and down, ready to strike at any moment.  Its six legs made the creature shuffle back and forth, and it made a great clicking sound with its jaws, but it did not charge.

“Oh, Lovely.”  Greta clapped like an excited schoolgirl.  “A teleport device.  I can do that.”  The Persian looked confused again as Greta called.  “Bonebreaker!”

The ogre appeared beside his goddess as he had no choice.  He looked confused about what just happened and where he was, but looking confused was not an unusual thing for an ogre.  The poor ogre looked cut up, a few deep cuts, and he looked burned in several places, but he lived and would heal.  Greta touched Bonebreaker’s upper arm, about as high as she could reach, and the ogre felt strength and healing enter his body.

“But you can’t do that,” the Persian protested.  “You are just an ordinary, stinking, mortal human.”

“And this is my ordinary, stinking ugly friend,” Greta asked the ogre a simple question.  “Bonebreaker, dear.  Would you smash the scorpion?”

Bonebreaker grinned, which made Alesander and Briana look away and made Vedix swallow to keep from throwing up.  “Yes, Lady,” Bonebreaker said.  Ogres lived to smash things.

The scorpion moved, but Bonebreaker leapt and both fists came down at once on the scorpion head.  He grabbed the clicking jaws and with a great roar, ripped them out. The scorpion insides and brains began to leak out on the dock even as the stinger struck Bonebreaker in the shoulder. Bonebreaker howled, but grabbed the tail below the stinger and yanked.  Reflex kept the stinger in attack mode, but Briana let out a great scream of her own and leapt.  One swing of her sword and her sword broke even as the scorpion stinger flew off into the bushes.

Briana landed hard on the ground, the wind knocked from her lungs and the strength gone from her arms.  Alesander raced up and grabbed her.  He carried her to safety even as she protested that she could walk.  He told her to shut-up and kissed her to keep her quiet.

It turned out a good thing Alesander pulled her back from the action, because Bonebreaker shifted his hands on the scorpion tail and began to swing the scorpion to the left and the right, smashing it against the ground on the left and on the docks to the right.  When the scorpion became sufficient pulpy, Greta said stop, and Bonebreaker stopped and fell to his knees.

Greta rushed up.  The scorpion venom started having its way.  Greta was not a goddess, but even as a human, she remained Bonebreaker’s goddess, and she was the woman of the ways for all the Dacian people, and not without training and some small power.  She prayed as she touched the big ogre on the shoulder.  She emptied her mind and focused as well as she could, even as Mother Hulda taught her, and the venom collected next to the wound and forced itself out of the hole in the shoulder.  It dribbled to the ground and the earth steamed where it landed.

“That’s not possible,” the Persian shrieked.  “You are not a god.”

“I am human, but as Mother Greta, you know I have some small power.”  Greta turned and her eyes were hard and cruel enough to startle the Persian.  Her hand once again shook a finger at the Persian like he had been a naughty child.  “You claim to be a god, a claim I dispute.  So let me put you to the test of water, fire, earth, air and ether.  We will see if you are truly a god or not.”

The Persian looked surprised, but soon enough the sly look returned to his face and he accepted the challenge.

“We are here by the river,” Greta said in her stern voice and left little time for the Persian to think.  “Since I am already soaked from the rain, let us begin with the water test.”  Greta sat down on the dock and dangled her feet over the side.  “Let us see which of us can stay longer under the water.”  She slipped off the dock and sank beneath the waves.  The fish gave her plenty of room as instructed, and the water sprites surrounded her with a bubble of air and kept her supplied with plenty of oxygen.  The Persian slipped into the water to stand beside her, a smug look on his face before he realized she tricked him again. The water sprites that protected Greta could also feed off the pressure at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, and they pressed in on the Persian and would have crushed him utterly, before he could react, if they were not followed by the Piranha.  It took less than thirty seconds to strip the Persian of every ounce of flesh.  Greta surfaced, as a spark of white light shot out of the water and zoomed into the north.  Then the gnawed bones floated up.

Greta looked at Alesander and Briana, but they were busy kissing.  All the same, she positioned Vedix between her and the lovers before she traded places with Amphitrite.  Amphitrite bent down to the water and thanked her water sprites first of all.  Bubbles popped up from the water and she petted his head like a mom might brush the hair out or her little one’s eyes. Bubbles turned from a gray-blue color to slightly pink and broke to water pieces.  Amphitrite looked up to the sky sprites, and made a point of thanking them as well as singling out the winds that helped.  She turned again to the water and called her Piranha to the surface.  When they jumped from the water, she sent them all the way home to the Amazon, a little less hungry.

“They would not have survived in these cold waters,” she said, and went away so Greta could come back.  “Better they go home,” Greta finished the thought before she added, “I wish we could go home.”

Vedix nodded.  “As you say,” he said, while he got a boat pole and hook and tried to fish the Persian’s bones out of the water.

“Lady!”  Greta heard Mavis’ voice and looked around.  Lucius was nowhere to be seen.  Greta walked off the dock and headed toward the fort where Mavis and Hermes started walking toward her, followed by a great host of hard looking men in leather armor, round wooden and some metal shields, long spears and great swords that hung from leather straps that fit over the opposite shoulder. Bogus and Pincushion came from the big building with dozens of horses in their trail.