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 Greta: Downriver, part 3 of 3

At four in the morning when people began to stir, Festuscato got his turn, and he did not gripe because at eight o’clock, Gerraint stepped in, which meant Festuscato still had the next turn.  The sun was due to come up, not that they would see it through the fog.  More important, the width and depth of the river changed overnight.  In some places, there were obstructions in the river and the place of safe passage narrowed.  Everyone needed to be awake and poles ready just in case they needed to fend off any rocks or other obstructions in the water.  Gerraint felt confident that his water babies would guide them safely to the dock, but it would be better to be prepared, just in case.

Gerraint picked at breakfast, and at eight o’clock he traded places with Diogenes.  Diogenes was not hungry, th-thank you.  He sat in the middle of the deck, pulled his sword and laid it across his lap.  Then he spent the next four hours making Lucius uncomfortable by staring at the man and trying to puzzle out just where the man’s loyalties lay.

At noon, Doctor Mishka took a turn.  She was more animated than most and did not mind sharing lunch and several stories from the future about the very land they were traveling through.  She kept her voice low, but she figured after all that snoring the night before, surely the Wolv knew where they were.  Unless, as she hoped, they were checking out the Muskva River awaiting their arrival.

There came one moment when the boat came rushing around a corner as it turned to the east.  The boat swayed and tilted heavily to starboard as it got caught in a side current.  Hermes almost slipped and fell overboard, but Mavis grabbed him and they both tumbled to the deck, laughing.  The rest of the group shouted Wee! and Aah! like they were on a log flume ride before the boat settled down in the new current.  The boat then slipped into the calmer waters behind a jetty, which had been built out into the river.  A short while later, they came around a second jetty, and there they came gently to the dock of a fine-looking village.  They did not exactly stop perfectly.  They felt a bit of a bump, but Vedix and Hermes jumped to the dock with the ropes and tied the boat fast.

“Where are we?” Alesander whispered, having spent the day without speaking at all.  People looked up and all around as the fog lifted from their immediate vicinity. They could still see where it clearly covered the river downstream and back upstream, but after twenty-four hours, the fog started to feel a bit suffocating.  People breathed, and looked all around.

The village where they docked had been carved out of the hills and short cliffs that penned in the river.  They found several buildings by the docks that looked to be warehouse buildings, and a three-story tower about where the central village square ought to be.  The houses looked odd, a style of building unfamiliar to both the Romans and the Celts, though to be fair, they had not gotten a good look at the houses of Samarvant. Mainly, there did not seem to be anyone around.  There were no signs of life in that village.

Mishka kept back to see which way Lucius might be interested in going.  He moved immediately to the left off the dock where the village actually ended at a kind of small fort.  The fort looked shut up tight and showed no one on the walls, so Mishka assumed the fort was as empty as the rest of the place.  True, she could not be sure about the dungeon.  She saw another big building there beside the fort, like a great hall for meetings, but it also looked to be closed, and probably locked. That building stood beside what looked like a cave entrance that let people inside the hill itself.  Lucius became self-conscious when he realized everyone followed him, and he said something to ease any suspicion the others might have had.

“I think we go this way.  I think the cave should take us under the heart of the goddess.”

Greta came back, letting the good doctor Mishka return to the future.  She looked at Mavis, but Mavis shook her head.  The only thing Greta remembered saying was they had to go north.  Neither Greta nor Mavis told anyone about the signs they had been following.

“Where is everyone?  Where are the people?” Hermes interrupted.

“Deserted the village,” Alesander suggested.  “Ran away, or headed downriver to get away.”

“At least there aren’t any half-chewed bodies in this place,” Vedix offered.

“Quiet,” Greta said, and they quieted and looked at her while Greta sighed at having to face her own cave.  I would rather have a bridge to burn, she thought, but she said something else.  “Alesander, Briana, stay out here and keep hidden.  Be prepared for us to come racing back out in case the cave is full of Wolv.  Bogus and Pincushion, see if there are any people around, but stay invisible.   My guess is this is a Venedi village, so they may become friends.  Mavis and Hermes, see if there are any horses here for the borrowing.  From here on we follow the Road of Dreams.  Lucius and Vedix, you go with me to check out Lucius’ cave.”  Greta turned to Lucius.  “After you.”

“Lady?” Mavis did not exactly protest, but Greta waved her off.

“It will be all right,” she said, as she stepped toward the darkness.

Lucius drew his sword, but Diogenes said in Greta’s head that it was for show.  Lucius walked slowly up what appeared to be a wide and well-kept path, not unlike the back-door path in the village of the Dragon Clan.  Vedix fingered his wristwatch shield, thinking worst case scenario.  Greta found a stack of torches by the entrance and lit two with her little bit of flint.  She handed one to Vedix while Lucius stared off into the dark.

They did not walk far before they reached a great chamber, like a massive entrance hall carved out of the dark.  It looked like a smaller version of one of the great dwarf halls they saw in Movan Mountain, but this looked strictly human made, with great columns regularly spaced to support the ceiling.  Greta saw the path continued up and out the back of the chamber, but first she became concerned to light the torches that she found spaced regularly around the walls.  She figured this would be the way her group had to go, and guessed that they were beneath the Heart of the Goddess, whatever that was.  She managed to only light the first torch before all the torches around the room came to life as if by magic.

Vedix growled like a true member of the Bear Clan as Greta’s eyes shot to the exit tunnel on the other side of the room.  A small man in a long cloak and Phrygian cap stared right back at her.

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

MONDAY

Greta faces the second piece of Mithras, the Persian.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 1 of 3

Greta slept in the moving boat while Alesander, Lucius, Hermes, Vedix, Bogus and Briana took turns with the poles and kept as much eye as they had on the dark riverbanks, at least to be sure they did not get too close in the dark.  Pincushion slept in fits, getting up and down through the night.  She fretted about how she could make food that anyone could eat. Her nose was good, and she said she would smell the Wolv if they got close, but that did not help keep them from starving to death.  Mavis got up several times in the night and spent Hermes’ shift with him.  She said her eyes were not made for the dark like Ulladon, but her ears were sharp.  She told them when she heard movement along the banks, but she said she sensed beaver and once a bear, not Wolv.

When Greta woke in the morning, Briana asked if maybe the Wolv lost the trail.  “Not a chance,” Greta answered.  “They have eyes like a fairy, I should say, like an eagle, ears like an elf or a bat, and noses like true dwarfs, like bloodhounds that can smell us miles away.”

“My turn,” Hermes butted up with a question. “I don’t understand why this boat was just sitting there untouched.  If Wolv attacked my city, escape by the river would be an obvious option.”

“Boat’s too big?” Briana guessed.

“Probably single people or maybe a family went for the river, but there were probably smaller boats for the taking,” Alesander added.

“This big freighter was probably more than one or two could handle, especially if the attack came at night.  We only got it because we had the hands.” Briana finished the thought.

“They probably came at night” Greta wanted to explain.  “But you must remember, they are like people, they are smart, they are not animals. They probably moved right away to cut off the river as an avenue of escape.  They maybe even swam the river to close the port first thing.”

“They can swim?”   Hermes looked from bank to bank, but he sounded a bit like Nudd.

“Doggie paddle.”  Greta nodded and she took a moment to sigh for Nudd.  “But wait.”  She had another thought.  “This boat does not exactly have a shallow draft.  You men don’t know this river, the currents or the deep-water channels. How is it we haven’t run aground?” Greta imagined that might be what the Wolv were waiting for, but Mavis knew the answer.

“Water babies,” she said.  “They came early in the night when we set out and promised to keep us in the deep water and away from the banks.”  Mavis let out a mighty grin because water sprites were the cutest things.  That gave Greta an idea.  She stood and called to the sky.

“Sky babies, please come and hear me.  Water babies, listen.”  Then she waited because they were not like ogres who had to be told everything twice.

It only took a moment for the waves around the boat to form into dozens of little gingerbread-like jelly babies.  The one who jumped up on the deck shouted, “Good Lady,” in a sweet baby voice

“Bubbles,” Greta called the sprite by name and offered a small curtsey.  “Thank you for your good care of my person.”

“Think nothing of it.  A pleasure.  A real pleasure,” Bubbles said before people were distracted by two small clouds that looked to be falling from the sky.

“Lady calls,” one cloud spoke.

“Calls to us,” the other cloud agreed.

“We are here,” the first said.

“Here we are,” the second agreed.

“Fluffer and Sprinkles, welcome,” Greta said, as the two clouds took on human-like form to stand on the deck.  They were not much bigger than Bubbles, and even though they had a head, arms, legs and such, they never lost the look of little clouds. The people on deck stared and Briana wondered if the clouds were male and female, though she had no way of telling, and when she asked Mavis, all Mavis could do was shrug.

“How can we help?” One of the cloud people asked.

“We want to help,” the other echoed.

“Now babies, I have a request.”  Greta got down on her knees and whispered.  She did not want Lucius to hear.  It took a little time, but when she finished, she stood and said, “Thank you.”  The cloud people reverted to clouds right away and rose again into the sky.

“We will do everything you ask,” one cloud spoke.

“All you need to do is ask and we will do it,” the other agreed.

Bubbles stood as tall as he could, just over a foot tall.  He appeared to salute as he made his way to the edge of the boat.  “You can count on us,” he said in his sweet voice.  “We will bring you safely to the place I am not talking about.”  He waved from the edge before he dove back into the water and disappeared.

Greta stood with the inevitable grin on her face. “No need to pole,” she said.  “The sweet water sprites will carry us safely.” The others smiled as well until Lucius broke the spell by asking where they were going.  Greta answered, and as the saying goes, she lied like an elf.

“When we join up with the Muskva, we will turn upstream for a few miles and pull in to the north shore at a place where I hope the Wolv won’t find us.”  Greta knew she was no good at telling lies.  Mavis, Bogus and Pincushion all caught the lie, and Mavis gasped, but Bogus spoke right up to provide cover for the words.

“Those water sprites will have a hard job pulling us against the current, but I am sure they are up to it.”

Greta wisely said no more about it, and Pincushion changed the subject.  “Lady. Did you arrange for us to build a fire somewhere?  I can’t hardly cook on thin air.”

“Let’s see what we can find,” Greta said, and she, Pincushion, Hermes and Mavis scrounged through the hold beneath the deck. What they came up with was a bronze shield that might work as long as no one stepped on the edge and tipped it. The fire would have to be small and stay centered, but Pincushion said she could work with that, even if she could not do much.

“We have two buckets,” Hermes said, and lifted them. He found some rope and handed one bucket to Vedix.  Vedix filled his right away while Greta, Mavis and Pincushion found a place amidships where they could lay the shield and prop it with other artifacts to prevent it rolling.

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 2 of 3

In the impossibly far future, Greta would live two alien lifetimes.  Gallena of Orlan, an exobiologist who could dissect the Wolv and name every part. More importantly, because of Gallena’s understanding of so many alien cultures and alien psychology in all of its rich variety, she might be able to predict Wolv behavior.  Greta imagined that could be useful.

The other impossible life, Martok the Bospori, lived as a mathematical engineer who looked at the weapons and shields of the Wolv like Greta might look at late Neolithic stone-tipped spears.  Martok could easily repair the Wolv craft and send them back out into space, if she could figure out how to get him close enough to do it.  Greta shook her head at the idea of getting close to the Wolv ship and in her thoughts, took a step closer to her own time.

Still in the far future, she remembered the storyteller who kept track of all that went on in this and her many lifetimes, though to be honest, if he did not write down the names and things, he could get as confused as her.  Still, he knew the history of Greta’s day and age, and in a broad way which Greta could not grasp because she sat in the midst of it, and in a sense stayed too close to the subject to see the forest from the trees.  Greta grinned as she thought that, but then apologized to the storyteller because he hated clichés.  Anyway, the storyteller knew what belonged in Greta’s day and what did not; and the Wolv definitely did not belong.  I know that much, Greta thought.

Doctor Mishka came from the century before the storyteller, or at least the lifetime before.  The good doctor taught her many things about healing that even Mother Hulda did not know.  As bad as it felt at times to not be allowed into heaven, to be constantly forced into a new life, to have to live over and over and still not get it right, there were some advantages to having lived so many times.  She reluctantly admitted that in her mind where she often refused to admit it in her heart.

Greta sighed and thought again.  In the near future, there were two more lives that she seemed to be living at the same time as her own, though they quite obviously lived in their own time and place.  Gerraint sadly learned all there was to know about battle, and Greta feared his expertise might be needed in her day before this all finished, and indeed, she had already used him in that capacity.

“I volunteered,” Festuscato spoke directly from the future into Greta’s head.  Greta felt startled, and looked around to see if anyone else heard.  She told herself to be quiet and continued with her not so private thoughts.

Festuscato had some talents at negotiation, especially in negotiating with pig-headed barbarians, if only he could restrain his glib tongue.  At the moment, he still whispered in her head and reminding her that it was his turn next. Like a mom, Greta could only answer, “We’ll see,” and she backed her thoughts into the past.

In the near past, she lived as a Greek princess, gifted to the hunt by Artemis herself and master of more weapons than Greta could name.  The princess did not have the strength and natural talents of an elect, like Briana, but she more than made up for it by her training and the spirit of Artemis that dwelled in her.  The storyteller once put on his best Festuscato accent and quipped that she could track bedroom slippers across a field of linoleum, whatever that meant.

Greta smiled at that image, but turned her thoughts to Diogenes, chief of spies for Alexander the Great, sometimes called Alexander’s Eyes.  Now, he was the consummate warrior and already knew enormous amounts about battle, but he also had a special talent which might be called the talent of a true rogue; rogue being a word which she thought would be nicer than thief.  He could get in and out of a guarded room with whatever he went after, and before anyone noticed.  The storyteller said he could spy out a party of dwarfs without their ever noticing.  It was a bit of an exaggeration, Diogenes being only human and all, but not too far from the truth.

Greta shifted her seat as she remembered the gods she had been as her mind wandered into the deep past.  She remembered that on four separate occasions she lived among the gods.  Sometimes that memory made her more uncomfortable than the aliens, Martok and Gallena.  But setting her personal discomfort aside, there were four gods that stood at the four corners of the earth, and the first she thought of was the nameless god.

Nameless, an earth god, grandson of Odin and a Prince of Aesgard.  They presently traveled through territory that belonged to Nameless before the days of the dissolution of the gods, and that was perhaps why she thought of him first. Greta wondered why she even worried about Gerraint learning about battle, and Diogenes being trained in Macedonian school for war.  Nameless’ father was Tyr, the Aesgard god of war, and his mother was Vrya, goddess of love and again, war.  Nameless knew everything there was to know about war and battle, and maybe even invented some of it.  It ran in his blood, but then Greta decided she did not want to think about that.

Danna, great-great grandmother of Rhiannon, a fire goddess whose father Hephaestus lived and worked in the lava fields of Mount Etna.  She carried the underground fires of the earth in her blood, but she also served as a fertility goddess, thanks to her mother Bast, the cat of Egypt.  In fact, in Egypt, they called her Amonette, the serpent of the Nile, and considered her a goddess of creation, but that was a long story. Suffice to say, Danna gave birth to a whole pantheon of her own, and Rhiannon, her great-great grandchild or whatever, was ticking her off.  Greta frowned and thought again.

Salacia or Amphitrite, the queen of the seven seas, having married Poseidon, the one called Neptune by the Romans.  Her heart desired only to play with the little fishies in her streams and lakes and her lovely dolphins in the deep blue seas, but Greta remembered that Salacia had another side.  Don’t piss her off or upset her, because her anger could easily rise to hurricane proportions.  “But then everything feels so good and clean after the storm has passed.”  Greta heard the words in her head, and shook her head to clear her thoughts.

Then she thought of Junior, a man Greta felt especially close to because of her recent access.  Greta waited, but Junior kindly said nothing.  Junior, a god of the air, and she thought that like Nameless, his mother Ishtar had been a goddess of both love and war, but unlike Nameless, Junior’s father was Amun, the one true ancient god of the Nile, the creator god who became the Ra, the king of the gods of Egypt.  Amun Ra.  This could be good, Greta thought, not the power part, but the creativity.  Greta might need some real creative thinking to deal with the seven broken off pieces of Mithras, and Greta herself was not especially good in panic situations.

Greta shook her head again and put down her food. She stared at the city, and Vedix finally stole her attention when he spoke.

“It will be all right.  We will find them and get them home, safe.”  Vedix referred to Berry, Hans, Fae and Hobknot.  He apparently reacted to the look on her face, but had no idea what she really worried about.

The lives among the gods that she lived in the past were usually unavailable, no matter what lifetime she lived and no matter what terrible thing she faced.  She knew they were not there to step in and fix all her problems any more than she was there to fix all of the problems for her elves, fairies, gnomes and goblins. She knew it strongly related to the idea that she had to fight her own battles and cross her own bridges when she came to them, or burn those bridges, as the storyteller liked to say.  But in this case, Nameless, Danna, Amphitrite and Junior were virtually tripping over themselves to come and help her out. That really worried her more than anything else.  She supposed it was because she was due to start facing the godly, broken off pieces of Mithras, directly.

Mithrasis and the others failed to stop her by more indirect means, by threat, by general Pontius, by Chobar and his Dogs or the Lazyges. They failed with the initial hunters of the Wolv.  They failed with the followers of Helios and the followers of the lion-headed Jupiter. But Greta knew she had no power in her small human self to face such things as gods or demi-gods or whatever the pieces of Mithras were.  She felt grateful to her godly lives, but scared all the same.  She said something out loud, though perhaps no one listened.

“Now it begins in earnest.”

“Lady.”  Mavis got Greta’s attention as soon as they left the shelter of the swamp and headed out across the grass toward the city.

“What are we going to do about Stinky?” Hermes asked. “He might not fit through the tunnels, and even if he does, it is not likely we will find a boat big enough to take him downriver.”

Everyone heard and everyone stopped where they were. Alesander began to unload the mule. He made packages and divided them as evenly as he could between the members of the group so no one person would be overburdened.  They would not let Greta carry any more than her medical pack.  She protested, but got told bluntly that she had a baby to carry.

“I won’t even start showing for another month, at least,” she said, but it made no difference.

When everyone had been loaded down, Alesander’s final act was to remove Stinky’s reigns.  “I can’t imagine he will survive long in this wilderness,” Alesander said.

“We won’t touch him,” Rotwood responded as the goblins, three trolls, and Bonebreaker stood, ready to go.  Greta knew that was right.  Several had received electro-shock burns in the night.

Mavis and Hermes said good-bye to the beast. Greta stepped over to kiss the mule on the nose.  Briana offered one last carrot, and Vedix offered a Celtic word of parting, though he said it in jest.  The group turned for the city.  Stinky followed them most of the way, but stopped short of the gate.  It was like he sensed what was inside.

R6 Greta: The Swamp of Sorrows, part 2 of 3

Greta looked hard at Lucius before she continued. “It was by trick, and with some help, I got Mithras out of the land of the dead.  He faced down Baal again, and this time he won, and Baal got sent over to the other side, and the world was saved, Hooray!  But Mithras got badly broken.  At the time, I had no idea how badly broken he was, but you know, I had a different life too, at that point in history.  Lydia had other worries, like her own husband and children, and trying to get the Han and Roman ambassadors to meet and peacefully discuss trade rather than posture from too much testosterone.”

“And Mithras did not volunteer to go over to the other side after his task was done,” Treeborn interjected.

“No,” Greta nodded.  “He went to Apollo.”

“The sun god?”  Hermes breathed.

“Yes, but Apollo, father of Aesculapius, was also a great healer.  He helped Mithras heal, though Mithras was technically dead, but Apollo could not heal the brokenness.  Apollo went over to the other side, and I wept for him.  He took his sister, Artemis, and I still weep for her because she is my best friend in the whole world, forever.  But Mithras would not go.  Instead, he fell apart.  Seven pieces of him formed themselves like a new pantheon of gods.  There is the Raven Mercury; the Nymphus Venus, Mithrasis as she calls herself; the Soldier Mars who has brought many into submission, including the Wolv; and I no longer think the Wolv are being controlled by Mithrasis. Then there is the Lion-headed man with the serpent at his feet, which is Jupiter, the judge; the Persian who is the moon and the stars, a powerful person of Magic who carries the sickle of death and rules the scorpion of the sky; Helios, the sun-runner, a demon who holds the whip of the fire of the Sun; and the Pater, Saturn, the father of them all.” Greta stopped talking, and it took a moment before anyone dared ask another question.  It was Bogus in the end.

“And what are we supposed to do about them?”

“We have to kill them, to finish the job.”  Greta spoke in a very flat voice.  “Anyone who wants is welcome to quit and go home.” Greta pulled up her blanket and laid back down where she would not have to look at them.  She was serious.  She would not blame them if the whole gang just left her to her fate.

###

Another day later, they still moved in and out of the trees.  The steppes, Greta recalled, were not necessarily endless grasslands.  Just before four in the morning on the third day, about an hour and a half before sunrise, reports came in that enemies had been sighted on the treeless section they had to cross, both to the left and to the right.  The horsemen to the left were likely Scythians.  They were the people with the sun symbols on their tunics. The horsemen to the right were the Dacians from the other day, heavily reinforced if the report proved correct.

“That is a pickle,” Hermes said.  “And when we are almost there.”

“We try to cross to the swamp and we will be crushed between the hammer and the anvil,” Briana suggested, and Alesander praised her.

“Good image.”

“We cross now,” Greta said, without a second thought.  “Pack the camp and be quick.”  She called for the fairy King.  “Treeborn, I need two volunteers, and they must be genuine volunteers because I cannot say they will come back alive.  And not you.” Treeborn’s face fell.  He thought of being one of the two.  It took a moment before two old warriors of the fee arrived, and she instructed them one at a time.

“Go seek out the chief of the Scythians and tell him the followers of the Lion, Jupiter are across the field.  Tell him the Lady and her quest will be crossing the field at dawn and point out to him that the favor and reward of Mithras cannot be shared, and then get out of there and come back to join us, and turn your natural light down so they cannot follow you with their eyes.”  The message became the same for the Dacian chief, but to suggest that the worshipers of Helios, the sun-runner were going to get the prize first if the Dacians did not move to stop them.

“Ready.”  Grassly stepped up to Greta.  Mavis had her medical bag, and Greta put it on her shoulder, over her head, and looked to see that her blanket got picked up.

“Time to move,” Alesander said, and Greta felt glad the Romans had the discipline to break camp quickly.

“Vedix and Bogus out front,” Greta said.  “Fee to the left and gnomes to the right. Come on Stinky.”

Moving as fast as they could during that hour and a half of darkness got them half-way across the field.  Then the sun touched the horizon.  They heard the horses, and should have been plain as day to the riders, but the fairies and gnomes put up a powerful glamour to make the people appear like bushes blowing in the wind, and all but invisible to the human eye. The horses pounded the earth in a full charge and Greta, and several others yelled.  “Don’t stop.  Keep going.”

Greta avoided screaming when the Dacians rode through their line.  The horses were able to sense the people and the mule and managed to avoid them, but it felt terrifying to be in the way of a cavalry charge.  A great roar split the air when the Dacians and Scythians met, fifty yards off.  Greta and her group kept moving.

They were a thousand yards from the forest at the edge of the swamps when thirty Scythians, still on horseback, and some fifty Dacians, mostly on foot, moved to cut them off from their goal.  It seemed someone woke up and remembered what they were there for, and Greta felt out of options.  The group stopped moving

“Shields on,” Alesander yelled, and the five who had shields clicked the button on their wrist-watches.

“Nudd, stay behind me,” Greta grabbed the boy and pulled him back while everyone got out their bows and swords.  They walked forward, slowly, while the Scythians got down from their horses and pulled their own bows and swords.

A volley of arrows came from the Dacians who were off to the side, in the direction of the battle.  The arrows missed or bounced off the shielding, and one bounced off Greta’s chain mailed breast and would leave a slight bruise.  Stinky bucked as one arrow grazed his flank.  Fortunately, a second volley did not follow as the Dacians charged.  Treeborn’s fairies raced out to meet the Dacians after the men only took a few steps, and they sped around the heads of the men until the Dacians began to get dizzy. Then they backed off as the gnomes stepped up.

The gnomes stood only two and three feet tall, but with their fairy weave clothing they were all but impossible to see in the tall grass.  That negated any advantage the men might have had due to size and reach, and it gave the gnome’s long knives a field day.

When the fairies backed off a few yards, they took on their big form and looked resplendent in the morning sun.  They were man sized, but wore armor and breastplates that glistened in the sun.  They began to walk forward in formation, and the Dacians decided it was not worth the effort.  Soldiers were disappearing into the grass as three and four gnomes took down one after another.  Now faced with these fairy warriors, the Dacians wisely turned and fled.

Meanwhile, the Scythians ranged themselves between the people and the swamp woods.  They looked ready to charge the oncoming group as Greta and her people walked slowly forward, but the Scythians paused when Treeborn and a half-dozen fairies landed in front of the group and took on their big size.  Grassly and a dozen gnomes stepped up with the fairies and made themselves visible.  Greta knew, unless the Scythians concentrated on them, her group still looked like bushes blowing in the wind.  But when the Scythians caught sight of what happened to the Dacians, the got back up on their horses.

“Ready for a cavalry charge,” Alesander yelled and the soldiers, Briana and Mavis made sure they had their bows and arrows ready. Greta thought she had suffered the better part of valor, and Festuscato complained so loudly that it was his turn, she just had to oblige.

“Stay behind me,” Greta told Nudd in her own voice before she went away and let Festuscato fill her boots.  He came with the helmet of Mars and all the weapons any unreasonable person might need.  He also held tight to his bow, a bow that sadly had seen plenty of action.  Mavis stepped up beside him, determination on her face.  She looked ready to die beside her mistress, even if her mistress was a man at present.

The Scythians had spears which they lowered in Samartian fashion, like Arthur and his lancers, and they were well disciplined to wait until the others crossed most of the ground on foot. They looked ready to charge when a horse and rider got tossed twenty feet through the air to land in a lump on the ground.  The Scythians started to scream, and Nudd joined them, but he only screamed once before he closed his eyes.  A whole family of ogres came tumbling out of the swamp-woods behind the horsemen.

Scythian bows and arrows were of no use at such close range.  Swords cut the ogres, but not bad or deep into their rock-hard skin, so that only made the ogres mad.  The spears were all pointed the wrong way, and when the Scythians tried to turn around to get some weight behind their spear thrust, the horses knew better and ran.

It was all over very quickly.  A dozen Scythians were down and torn up, several with their heads popped from their shoulders.  Three horses had to be put down, and the gnomes got terribly upset by that.  In fact, Grassly and his people were ready to attack the ogres right then for their carelessness, and would have if Greta did not return and yell.

“Grassly.  Take your people home and leave the ogres alone.”  She yelled to the ogre father.  “Bonebreaker, take the horses and take your family home, now.  Take your family home.”  She repeated it because ogres were not always quick to get the message.  Greta never would have been heard by people with all the yelling and screaming and thundering horses, but Greta knew her little ones would hear her loud and clear, and she hoped they heard the determination in her voice.  “Thank you Grassly.  Thank you Treeborn and Goldenrod,” she added and walked toward the tree line, Mavis beside her and Nudd stumbling behind.  Mavis had reached out and grabbed Nudd’s hand to pull him along, since he still had his eyes closed.

“And you were?”  Mavis asked quietly.

“Festuscato, Senator of Rome, and he felt disappointed that there was not a good fight.  Even now he is arguing that the turn did not count because he did not get to do anything.”

“Indeed?”

“He is weird,” Greta said.  “And a future me.”

They paused the conversation as they stepped among the trees and the morning sun faded and then vanished altogether, hidden above the canopy.

R6 Greta: The Swamp of Sorrows, part 1 of 3

Morning found a middle-aged gnome woman in the camp. She looked about three hundred years old, or so Greta guessed in her sleepy mind.  The gnome woman cooked and whistled around the fire, and Greta had a moment of fear that the gnome woman might be an imp cooking her friends.  She blinked twice.  Goldenrod sat there, trying not to kibitz about the cooking, so Greta figured it was safe.  Greta squinted and then turned up her nose when she discerned the gnome’s name and thought the name translated into the Latin as Pincushion.

“Ah!  The sleepy one is awake at last.”  Pincushion raised her voice when she saw Greta move under her blanket.  “Late to rise fills a person with lies.” Pincushion had to stop to decide if that was a bad thing or not.  Goldenrod whispered in Pincushion’s ear.

“What?  I had a goddess once.  I didn’t like her so I threw her back.”

Whisper.

“No.  Just for us? I thought we were an independent lot, libertine and all that.”

Whisper.

“With child?  Lazy mama won’t get the house clean.”

Whisper.

“Oh.”  Pincushion put on a haughty face.  “We have servants for that sort of thing.  Hey!”  Pincushion’s hand snapped out quick as a snake.  Bogus had come up to the fire and tried to snitch a bit of breakfast.  He got his hand seriously slapped.  “Not ready yet,” Pincushion stared Bogus down, not an easy thing to do, while Goldenrod continued with the whisper, whisper.

“Lady.  Over here.” Mavis called from the reeds, and Greta staggered over to wash up in the lake.  She paused to see if she would throw up, but she got to thinking she had passed that stage.  Once the reeds stood between her and the fire, Pincushion’s voice got cut off, loud as she was.  That felt fine.  Greta had seen the hungry dwarf and fussy cook game played out a thousand times.

The lake water proved frigid, and Greta imagined it would freeze in the winter.  Greta hardly got in before she got out.  She dressed with only a thought and a call to her armor.  She knew the fairy weave she wore beneath her armor would absorb all the excess wet and yet remain comfortably dry.  It was a miracle with sweat.  Greta took the time, then, to braid her hair into pigtails.  The lake had been too cold to stay in long enough to wash her hair, but she had to do something with it, so she braided it, and Mavis helped.  When Greta got good and ready, and had some blush on her cheeks over her freckles and some pink on her lips because she felt like it, she and Mavis returned to the fire.  Everyone sat there, waiting patiently, even Bogus, though he had his fingers in his mouth which told Greta he tried more than once for a little advanced taste.

When Pincushion got good and ready, and to be fair it happened about when the sun first stuck a fraction of an inch above the horizon, everyone got more food than they could possibly eat.  It tasted wonderful, and no one spoke at first for fear of breaking the spell.

“This is as good as the elf feast,” Vedix finally admitted.

“Better,” Greta said quickly to prevent Pincushion from throwing a fit.

“Much better,” Bogus agreed, and held out his empty plate for seconds.

Once breakfast was done, and it took almost no time to clean up, King Treeborn arrived with thirty fairies, all volunteers, he said.  At the same time, a true gnome named Grassly arrived with six others just like him, the tallest of which stood about three feet tall. They were clothed in a kind of fairy weave that imitated the environment they were standing in, so they were hard to see; virtually invisible, without having to make an effort to be invisible.

“Grassly, here, has volunteered to walk with you to the swamp so we don’t fly too far ahead,” Treeborn said to Greta, Mavis, Briana and Alesander who were hanging around the breakfast fire.  Hermes, Lucius, Vedix and Nudd were packing while Bogus tried for fourths.

“We got more volunteers,” Grassly said.  “But they will be ranging out to the fields where they can keep an eye on any horsemen who might happen along.” Grassly called, “Pincushion.” He waved, and turned again to Greta.  “Sorry about her.  She doesn’t do gnome very well, but who else will have the unfortunate child of an imp and an elf?”  Greta looked closely.  Bogus stood a bit less than four feet tall.  Pincushion stood a bit shorter than that, but certainly taller than any of the true gnomes.  “I hope she didn’t poison you or make you sick or something, but she insisted on helping and, well, she cooks okay.”

“All are well,” Greta said.  “Lead the way.”  She looked at Treeborn who nodded and tried not to grin.  Obviously Treeborn and Goldenrod set this up.  No telling if Bogus the Skin and Pincushion might end up together. It kind of depended if Pincushion decided to trap him with her good cooking.  They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but that is even more true with certain dwarfish little ones.  Those two might not end up a couple, but Treeborn clearly grinned at the notion, and Greta thought, God help the world if they ever had children.

That thought caused Greta to miss her husband and her children.  She thought of them most of that day and hardly said a word.  When they arrived in a small wood, around four in the afternoon, Grassly said they did not have enough daylight to make it to more open land before nightfall.  Greta said nothing.  She just plopped down on the grass, damp though it was in that spot, and moped while everyone else set up the camp.

Greta said nothing during supper, and nothing when she went to lie down early, but her mind slowly turned from being homesick for Darius and the children to other, truly disturbing thoughts.  She imagined Darius as an old man, and their children all around him.  They fell prostrate before a man hidden by a fancy red robe with the hood raised to hide his face.  All Greta could see was the man’s hands.  He wore a big ruby ring on one hand, and held a staff in the other, a staff that exuded unimaginable power.

Mithrasis stood beside the man, and she laughed her wicked laugh and pointed at the action, which drew Greta’s eyes to the outside. They were in Rome.  Greta recognized the forum, and the great coliseum where she had a bird’s eye view of the proceedings.  In the great open space where they raced chariots, and gladiators fought to the death, and Christians were crucified or filled the empty bellies of the lions, She saw a great raven chained to a perch.  It feasted on people who lined up to the lower doors.

Outside, a man with a lion head, and a serpent worthy of Eden wrapped around his legs, divided the endless line of humans.  Some went to the right and disappeared into the streets.  Some went to the left and entered the line for the evening meal.  Some few objected.  Greta saw the ichthys on them.  The lion headed man had lightning in his fingertips and fried all objections. Greta wanted to look away, but the birds eye view shifted again.

In the streets of Rome, the people were being herded into the line by soldiers.  Some of the soldiers were Romans.  Some of them were barbarians.  Over all of the soldiers were the Wolv, and Greta remembered again that the Wolv were front line soldiers of the old Humanoid empire.  Their allegiance might have changed, but the work seemed the same. Now, she really wanted to look away, but again, her view shifted.

Greta looked down on the coliseum and saw the one forcing people into the raven’s beak.  He looked like a demon, with horns and fangs and claws in place of hands. He appeared a titan-like creature, being twenty feet tall, and in his claw, he held a whip of flames.  Any person touched by the whip became charcoal and then ash to blow away on the wind, but mostly the creature just snapped the whip, and laughed a very Mithrasis, wicked sort of laugh. Suddenly Greta wanted to look under the hood of the man with the ruby ring, and she forced her sight to go back to where old man Darius kept trying to keep the children behind him, to protect them.

Another man stepped up to the left of the hooded man, as Mithrasis stood to his right.  This man appeared darker skinned, not like a tan but like a true Persian. He wore a Phrygian cap and carried a sickle.  Greta thought he should have had a robe, a black robe because death with the sickle always wore a black robe.  The man laughed like Mithrasis and pointed his sickle at Darius and the children to suggest they were next to die.  Then he did the one thing no one does in dreams.  He looked directly at Greta and waved, and Greta sat up from beneath her blanket and screamed.

###

Greta could not speak right away.  Everyone gathered, concerned, but she indicated she needed some water.  Her throat tasted dry and her palms sweated.  Finally, she spoke in a soft voice so everyone had to stay still and quiet to listen. “We are being used.  Someone is betraying Mithras, and is using us to do the dirty work.  Berry, Hans, Fae and Hobknot are prisoners in the Land of the Lost to force my hand.” Greta sipped her water and thought things through as well as she could, given her limited information.

“I had a nightmare,” she said.  “It was not a vision and it was not a dream.  All day long I felt homesick and thought if Berry and the others were safe I should go home and not worry.  I think someone started working on my mind, because when I think clearly about it, I know if Berry and the others are trapped I am very worried.  But I was missing Darius and the children very much and leaning toward going home, so the aspect of Mithras that is betraying the others gave me a terrible dream. I saw what the future might look like if I don’t follow through with this quest.  It was a nightmare.”  Greta sipped again, and Alesander dared to interrupt.

“The aspect of Mithras?” it was a question.

“How can I explain this?”  Greta took one more sip of water and handed Mavis the cup.  She sat up and spoke a little louder, with her eyes closed so she could focus on the story.  “When the time came for the dissolution of the gods, the great sign for them was all of the lands of the dead, like Hades, emptied, and all the spirits of the dead gathered through the centuries vanished and went over to the other side. Most of the gods went with them, but some refused.  Baal, god of the dead from the sea coast of Asia, the bull god refused.  He wanted to refill the land of the dead that he ruled, and he did not care if he had to kill the entire human race to do it. Only Mithras stood against him.”

“We know the basic story,” Alesander said.

“Mithras lost,” Greta said to everyone’s surprise. “He went to the deepest pit in Baal’s kingdom.  Technically, he died.”

“But that is not true,” Lucius objected. “Mithras defeated the bull…”

R6 Greta: The Lake of Gold, part 2 of 3

The morning journey started out damp and cool, a reminder winter would be just around the corner.  The sky stayed overcast most of the day, but by lunch the ground had dried and the going got easier as the trees around them began to thin. They traveled by secret elf paths and covered an four-day journey in only two days.  By two o’clock on the third day they topped a rise where they saw the lake in the distance.  The forest in that place gave out altogether so only small clumps of trees dotted the landscape between them and the water.

“A lake on the Dnieper,” Greta called it, but the others ignored her.

They crossed the river to put the lake on their left side and then Longbow explained.  “Look up river, over the water to the other side of the lake.  If your eyes are sharp enough you might just make out a tent camp of the Samartians, or maybe Scythians.  It is hard to tell you human folk apart.  This is the only safe side of the lake, and when you get to the top of the lake, you will have to cross a half day of grasslands before you enter the swamps.”

“Our eyes are not quite that good,” Hermes admitted. “Especially mine.”  He squinted all the same, but as the sun had come out after another overcast morning, and it started dropping down in the sky, and glaring in their eyes, the reflection off the water became increasingly hard on the eyes.

“Get the sun near the horizon, and I can see why some might call it the lake of gold,” Vedix said, as he raised a hand to shade his eyes and tried to make out the tents Longbow talked about.

“Longbow.  My Lady!” Lord Horns came up with three young elf men that were outfitted in armor and all sorts of weapons.  All of the elf men were volunteers.  Greta insisted, but the whole elf village wanted to volunteer, so her insisting really did no good.  In the end, she let Horns and Longbow select a reasonable company, which became more than she would have chosen, but less than there might have been. “There are riders in the south, coming up fast,” Horns reported.  “Dacians I think.  They must have got word of our travels.”  Everyone assumed he meant Mithrasis had a big mouth.

“Quickly now,” Longbow got them moving, but it did not appear as if they would cover the whole ground to the lake before they were overtaken.  After a bit, Longbow sent out scouts who by magic or otherwise, caused the horsemen to slow.  The Dacian chief sent riders to the lake on the left and the trees on the right, but continued forward with the bulk of his men.

Greta’s first thought was, at least they were not Scythians.  Her second thought confessed that this far from the Carpathian Mountains would hardly count them as real Dacians.  They might have some Thracian blood in their ancestry, but they were likely as Iranian as the Scythians, and thus as easily swayed by Mithrasis.  The Germanic tribes that mingled with the original Dacians lived far to the north and were cut off by Scythian and Samartian incursions in the area that began several centuries ago.  Greta hoped they were going far enough north to escape the Scythians altogether, not that she expected better treatment in the land of the Vandals, Goths and truly barbaric Slavs.

Longbow stopped, so everyone stopped with him. The sky filled with little flashes of light, visible even in the late afternoon sun.  One flash of light came up to Mavis and Greta and took on the form of a chubby, middle-aged Lord.  “My Lady,” he said with a bow.

“No time for that,” Lord Horns interrupted.  “You need to get men in the trees with bows ready. My men will take the ground and set a wall against the oncoming horses.”

The fairy King agreed and called several light flashes to escort the traveling party to the nest, as he called it.

“Follow the lights,” Bogus yelled, and the party hardly had time to say good-bye before they came to a small group of trees, a half-dozen lights leading the way, and whatever might be happening behind them got cut off from their sight and sound.

“These trees do not go all of the way to the nest,” a floating light said in a woman’s voice.  “But they will bring us close, and then it is only a short way across the grass to the lake.”

“Thank you, Goldenrod.”  Greta named the fairy queen.  “And you, too, Waterborn.”  She noticed the little light, the prince beside his mother.  He could not have been older than fifty, which in human terms made him about a nine or ten-year-old.  He spouted and squealed at being recognized, and Goldenrod, his mother, hushed him.

Mavis smiled for the little one and looked back at Hermes who dutifully led Stinky, now burdened with food and gifts from the elves of the forest.  Hermes suddenly jerked and collapsed, and Mavis screamed.  Several arrows came from the trees.

“Ambush!”  The fairies and men yelled together.  The fairies raced into the woods to rout out the Dacians.  The men and Briana drew their swords.  Mavis knelt, hovered over Hermes, and pulled a wicked looking long knife. The look in her eye must have made the three men who stepped from the trees pause, not to mention the fact that as an elf, she undoubtedly knew how to use that knife.   That pause cost the men, dearly.

A very big man in the armor of Hephaestus, complete with helmet but lacking the cloak of Athena stepped up to face the three men. He had the sword Wyrd in his right hand and the long knife Defender in his left.  He showed no quarter, and two men quickly went to the ground, dead. The third did not follow, but only because Stinky tried to kick him as he ran away.

“Lord?”  Mavis looked up at the man, but the man paused to see that Alesander, Briana, and the men, with fairy help, made quick work of the rest of the Dacians.

The big man then removed his Ares designed helmet and knelt down to Hermes.  “Gerraint, son of Erbin,” Gerraint said in his native Cornish, which Mavis understood perfectly, and Hermes did not understand at all.  “I thought borrowing a life from the future might give Mithrasis a headache.”  He laughed, but the tears came up into Mavis’ eyes.

Gerraint went home and Greta returned to her own time and place.  She kept the armor in place of the dress and red cloak she wore all day, but sent the weapons and helmet home and recalled Athena’s cloak.  It came still turned out with camouflage in place of the silver side. “Let me look,” she said even as Hermes moaned.  She had to push Mavis out of the way because Mavis seemed inclined to hug the man.

Hermes had an arrow scrape along his hard head. It bled a bit, as cuts to the head tend to do, but he would not need more than a little ointment and a bandage for a few days.  She helped him sit up while she bandaged him with supplies from her side pack, and she turned to look at the others.

Six Dacians were dead.  Greta saw the image of a lion headed man on their tunics, a great serpent curled around the lion-man’s feet.  She also noticed that none of the Dacians were wounded, but Greta did not ask any questions.  Nudd had a cut on his arm; but not a bad one, or deep, and he took it well.  The soldiers and Briana looked untouched, as did the fairies.  “A two hitter and final score of six to nothing.  I’ll take that,” she said at last.

“As you say,” Alesander and Briana spoke together.

“Wow.  That was great.  Do it again,” a young voice shouted near Greta’s ear.

“Young man,” Greta spoke sternly as she bandaged Nudd’s arm.  “Sit here and mind your own business.”  She tapped her shoulder, and the young fairy hesitated.  “You can hold my hair, just don’t pull it hard.”  The boy sat with his face completely scrunched up in case it hurt.  Alesander, Lucius and Briana all saw and laughed.  Bogus and Vedix made a reappearance from the trees.

“They have gone completely,” Vedix reported.

“Indeed,” the queen’s voice confirmed.  “They had horses waiting at the edge of the woods. They rode off, fast.”  Greta nodded.  She understood fast as a relative thing.  A fairy could fly around the entire lake of gold, stop to flap the doors of the Scythian tents on the other side and be back by the count of ten.

“How is Hermes?” Briana asked.

“He’ll live,” Greta said, and she looked to see him on his feet.  Mavis stood right there, arm around him, helping him stand and walk.  Stinky nudged up behind them.

Greta would not violate Mavis’ thoughts.  She did not think after walking all day she could handle the migraine it would give her.  But soon enough she would have to find the right time to ask just what was going on with those two.

They started walking again, and Greta became inundated with questions from a certain young fairy on her shoulder. Fortunately, Goldenrod flew alongside and pointed out to her son which questions were not appropriate.

The short space of grassland between the trees and the lake took an hour to cross so the sun started setting by the time they reached the water’s edge.  Lord Treeborn caught up with them there.

“It was disappointing, really,” he said.  “When they got close enough to take a look at us, they stopped and argued about it.  Some of the humans were determined to try us, but some were equally determined that they were not going to do that.  When the men came riding up from the flank, and now I see they were the ones who ambushed you, the arguments became really intense.  The elves finally quit the field, and we came here as soon as you were safely in the circle.  By the goddess, I swear they may argue all night.

Goldenrod coughed.

Everyone got silent.

No one especially looked at Greta but she felt nothing but eyes turned on her.

“It’s all right,” Greta said, before Lord Treeborn tried to apologize.  “I would rather you not swear at all, either by heaven or earth or anything beneath the earth, but if you can’t help yourself, better you swear by my name rather than so many other things that can get you in real trouble.  Say no more about it.”  She turned and stepped toward the lake.  The others followed to where they found a fairy ring of stones and a small clearing by the water.  The water itself looked full of reeds, but the ground seemed dry and with more than enough room for the travelers to sleep.

A group of fairies came in while the humans got out their things to set up camp.   The fairies dropped twigs, branches and logs into the circle and then they began to fly around the fairy circle fast enough to make a small tornado.  The humans could not guess how they escaped being sucked into the whirlwind and mercilessly tossed about, but somehow the wind only happened inside the fairy circle.  The circle of speeding fairies began to rise, and as they did, the circle contracted in size until all at once they vanished and the fire sprang up on the wood deposited within the circle.  The smoke rose straight into the night sky, and it continued to rise straight up no matter how strong the wind that came off the lake.

R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 3 of 3

Alesander stood when the lady came in and he took the moment to introduced the group before he sat.  The elves were good to wait until the introductions were over, but they appeared to nod as if they already understood as much.  Alesander ended with Mavis, whom he called the Lady’s handmaid, and Mother Greta, whom he called by her Dacian title without any other title.

“Mother Greta.  So I see,” Oreona said with a smile, and Greta was the only one who understood, besides Mavis.  Greta nodded and responded.

“I have to be careful what I eat at this point. I have been feeling sick in the morning.”  Everyone suddenly looked at Greta as if for the first time.  Greta could see the wheels working in several minds that wondered if such a journey was wise in her condition.  She ignored them.

“Morning sickness.  A human affectation I am glad elf-kind does not share,” Oreona said.

“We thank you for this supper and the promise of a time of rest, but you should know we are being followed,” Alesander took back the conversation and turned everyone’s attention from Greta, for the moment. Lord Longbow interrupted.

“By the followers of Mithras and the Wolv of Mithrasis. This we know, but rest assured, they will not come here.”

“And who told you we were coming?” Briana asked this time, and Greta smiled her approval.  As an elect, Briana naturally began to pick up on such things and ask for herself.

“Mithras,” Oreona said.  “The male one, and I do not understand what game the old man is playing.” Oreona glanced at Greta who quietly nibbled on a bit of venison and bread.  The elder elf looked at her hands and took a deep breath, which made it look like a time of confession.  “By my art, I have seen the monstrous crow, the lion in the thunder, the Persian whose magic is great and terrible, and the sun-runner, a magnificent beast, and I have discerned that all of them, including Mithrasis, appeared just over a hundred years ago, certainly less than two hundred years.  For some reason the soldier and the Pater, the Father are hidden from me.”  She paused and Lucius interjected a question.

“How could this be?  I thought the gods were there at the beginning of all things.”

Greta spoke up to answer the man.  “In the ancient days, when a god or goddess was born, reality changed to accommodate this new god, and the people all knew the god or goddess by name and believed this new one was as old as the others, being from the beginning of history.  When Apollo and Artemis were born, the people in the jurisdiction of Olympus, not everyone in the world mind you, but those subject to Olympus and the little and lesser spirits knew them and believed they were born at the beginning of history with all the others.  In truth they were born later, I won’t say how much later, but suffice it to say they were imagined to be grown up even when they were only babies. Mithrasis was born or created less than two hundred years ago.  It is only the reality adjustment that is telling you she is from the beginning of time.”

Greta saw Hermes, Lucius and Briana shake their heads, so she offered a bit more.  “Think about it.  You know that once the Titans ruled the earth, and the gods were born long after time began.  Zeus, that is Jupiter, was the youngest of his siblings.  He set his siblings free and they overcame their father Cronos and banished Cronos to the deepest pit of Tartarus.  And Briana.  You know Rhiannon calls Danna “Mother.” and I told you it was more like great-great grandmother, but you know that had to happen at some point after time began. Think about it.”
“And Salacia?” Alesander asked.

Greta took a deep breath, but could not imagine any harm coming from the telling.  “This age began between ten thousand and forty-five hundred years ago, with a flood and a foolish tower.  Salacia is less than two thousand years old.  She was born after the days of Hammurabi; just after the Hyksos invaded Egypt, and just before the Hittites sacked Babylon.”

“Two thousand years is still a long time ago for us poor mortals,” he said.

“That is a long time for us elves as well,” Lady Oreona added.

Greta paused and turned to Oreona.  “Since the time of dissolution, Mithras seems to want to build a new pantheon, and where better these days than Rome?  Mithrasis is the Nymphus, the female groom, the masculine bride.  What worries me is there are six altogether out there with her, but I cannot be certain about that because Mithras seems to be changing his mind.”

“She is trapped.  I have seen it.” Oreona responded.  “And the old Lord Mitra is trapped with her.  He warned us of your coming in a dream.  We only wish to help.”

“And I thank you,” Greta said for the group. “But good food and a good night’s rest is the best help.”  She would not ask the descendants of the elves of Miroven to risk anything more.

“But here, we have it all worked out.” Lord Horns interjected, and Longbow took up the telling.

“In a few days, when you are fed and rested, we will take you to the Lake of Gold.  There we will give you into the hands of Lord Treeborn, the fairy King. He and his will then guide you to the edge of the Swamp of Sorrow where Lord Crag and the goblins hold sway. They have pledged by every mighty word to guide you safely through the swamp to the city of Samarvant on the River called Heartbreak.  The river flows northeast from there, but after that point, you will be beyond our help.

“Goblins in the swamp?”  Poor Nudd had his eyes closed most of that time, and Greta took a moment to run a hand through his hair.

“Hush.  It will be all right.”

Vedix spoke up in the common Gaelic of the people. “Eat up, boy.  It may be some time before you get another feast as good as this.”

Nudd smiled a little, but having his eyes closed had not prevented him from eating plenty.

“I knew a goblin in a swamp once,” Greta said as a matter of conversation.  “I met Friend in China when I was cursed and sent to the hell of the Nine Gods.” Greta let her voice trail off as she reminisced.

“What happened?” Lord Horns asked, before Hermes could voice the question.

“He helped me escape from that hell, so as a reward I turned him into the first hobgoblin in history.  To this day, I am not convinced that was a wise decision. Hobgoblins, by definition are no end of trouble.”  Greta paused and came out of her reverie to look around the table.  Most mouths were open and staring, and the elves looked especially wide eyed at being reminded just what their goddess could do.  Greta decided it might be best to retreat.

She rose first from her seat, and after thanking her hosts and hostess, she made for the back of the room and the nearest bed. She sent her armor away with a thought but kept the fairy weave she wore beneath, and she curled up under the covers. She would let the others argue about the details of the journey.  After a moment, she heard Mavis curl up in the bed beside her, but then she slept like a baby.

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

MONDAY

Greta and her friends soon need to leave the elves behind and travel to the lake of gold.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: The Elect and Her Cousins, part 2 of 3

Greta felt pleased with the way things turned out, and would have said so if she had not been interrupted by a scream in the distance.  The men on the wall were turned toward the bonfire and clapping along with the music instead of watching for the enemy.  As feared, the Lazyges did gather reinforcements and brought them up into the hills.  One wall watcher fell off the wall inside the stockade and another yelled, “Plainsmen,” even as everyone could see the plainsmen perfectly well, scrambling over the wall in that spot, and sporting swords and long knives, ready to do battle as they came to the ground.

Greta sent her dress and red cloak away again as she recalled her armor, this time with all of her weapons.  Then she vanished as Gerraint, son of Erbin, a six-foot virtual giant for that day and age stepped into Greta’s place and immediately drew that big sword from his back.  Even as people were screaming and running away, some of the men searched for a weapon, and Mavis let loose three arrows from a bow that no one knew she had. Three Lazyges went down before Gerraint waded into the invaders.  He put three more down almost before Gwen could draw a breath and the boys could close their mouths.  Then the Lazyges made some mistakes.  One fired an arrow back at Mavis, not that he had any chance of hitting her.  One got a good right fist into the eye of Briana and knocked her head to the side.  Briana got mad, struck him back and the man went straight to the ground.  And one Lazyges let out a pirate worthy laugh as he cornered three young women against a wagon.  Gerraint went away, and the Nameless god stepped into his shoes.

“Enough,” Nameless shouted a shout that reverberated all through those hills.  Every Lazyges inside or outside the wall froze in place and could not move. Nameless let his godly senses search the area and found the leader of this raiding party still outside, sitting comfortably on his horse, waiting for his expendable men to make it safe for him to enter the village.  “You.” The Lazyges leader instantly found himself inside the compound, suspended a foot off the ground, Nameless’ hand wrapped around his throat.  For only a second, Nameless let the man glimpse the deepest pits of Hella’s domain and experience the hopelessness of Tartarus.  The man caught the idea that Nameless could leave him there, and he came back to the compound without the same degree of sanity he had a second earlier.

“You.”  Nameless’ own word was turned on him as there came a flash of light and the sound of thunder beside the bonfire.  A woman appeared, tall and beautiful with a haughty, arrogant look on her face and fire in her moonlit eyes.

Nameless tossed the Lazyges leader twenty feet away and marched straight at the woman.  She lifted her chin and tried to show courage in the face of this man, but it did not look like he was going to stop.  When he got real close, she staggered back a step, but he caught her around the waist, pulled her in close and planted his lips on hers.  Her eyes got big for a moment before Nameless heard something go click in the woman’s mind.  Nameless was, after all, the son of Vrya, the Aesgard goddess of love, and he poured all that love into the woman’s heart before he let the woman go.  The woman took a couple of steps back and stared at him in silence.  This time, her eyes showed a layer of deep confusion over the fire of deep desire. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand and slowly faded from sight.

“Go,” Nameless said and waved his hand.  The Lazyges found themselves back outside the wall, seated on their horses.  Their leader screamed a scream that sounded only slightly sane, and he rode as fast as his horse would ride in the dark, certainly faster than would be safe, but his men followed without complaint

The man of the Wolf Clan that had been stabbed and thrown off the wall got tended to by Gwen, and the boys were right there, helping. Nameless smiled.  They were honestly good people.  He went away with that thought and took his weapons with him. Greta came back, but she kept the armor because it felt safe.

“Lady?”  Mavis came right to her elbow, her bow long since vanished, because people did not bring weapons to a feast.

“Come,” Greta said.  “We have to praise Briana for the effort, even if she gets a black eye, and then we need to find where Alesander, Lucius and Hermes are hiding.”

“Lady!”  Mavis scolded Greta for her thoughts.

###

In the morning, Elder Dunova had ten men of the Wolf Clan, all volunteers, ready to escort the party, first to the village of the Raven Clan, and then to the Dragon Clan.  The men were all on horseback and had two mules of their own because Alesander assured them his group would not be going on foot.

“So, it’s the low road.  That is mostly safe.  The Lazyges would have to be stupid to attack a party of fighters.  Even against merchants and simple farmers, they always lose men whenever they come up on to the low road.  Of course, no one ever said the Lazyges were smart.”  Dunova grinned, and Alesander returned an honest smile.

“As long as the lady is safe.  My men and I and Briana have pledged to take her safely to her destination, wherever that may be.”

“So, you think she will not stay with the Dragons?” Dunova asked, but Mavis with her good ears reported curiosity in the question, not probing.

“Druids do not stay long in one place,” Alesander said honestly enough.  “She did mention wanting to visit her brother at Porolissum.”

“Back into Roman lands,” Dunova nodded.

“At least he did not say that like a swear word,” Mavis reported.

“Good,” Greta responded, and made Mavis ride beside her all that day.  Mavis stayed good, and only looked back now and then to where Hermes and Lucius followed. Alesander and Briana rode in front of them and seemed to be getting along well.  Greta imagined if it had just been the six of them, they might do well enough, but to be sure, she felt safer surrounded by the men of the Wolf Clan.

Greta spent the day observing the hamlets and many farms they passed along the road.  The west side of the mountains and the foothills were hardly the unpopulated wilderness it might appear to an outsider.  It really was a bulwark against the wild Lazyges, the plainsmen that rode the steppes that started where the hills petered out and stretched to the horizon.  She remembered there were some two thousand Celts that came through the forest to aid the defenders of Ravenshold against an invasion of the Germanic Quadi.  She wondered how many of Dunova’s ten men of the Wolf Clan might have been there.  It only happened seven years ago.

R6 Greta: Going, Regardless, part 1 of 3

Greta sat up in bed when she heard a woman’s voice. “Stay away.  Don’t come here.”

“Who is calling?” Greta asked.  It did not sound like her mother’s voice.    She looked once around her darkened room.  She saw no one there at all.  Even Darius was missing.  In the back of her mind, she knew this had to be a dream, but she felt helpless to wake.  Perhaps it came from all the stress of preparing for Darius and her father’s six-month trip around the province.  Then again, Greta secretly prepared for her own trip, and she had to do so without letting on to anyone.  That seemed stressful by definition.

“You must stay away,” the woman’s voice echoed in the night.

Greta went out from her room and wandered through the house, calling, “Hello.  Who is there? Is anyone there?”  The whole house appeared empty and dark.

“Hello,” the woman called.  “Over here.”  The voice sounded spooky with echoes, but it came from the Great Hall.  Greta went into the big room slowly and carefully. It appeared as dark and empty as the rest of the house.  Only a sliver of light from the fingernail moon slanted across the floor.

“Hello?”  Greta called again and the response came from only a few feet away.

“Here you are,” the woman said, and Greta saw her, and gasped, because she had seen this woman before, only she could not say where.

“Who are you?” Greta asked, and she looked close. The woman had long black hair that curled over her shoulders.  She had eyes that glowed with the color of the moonlight, and she appeared to be wearing a nightgown made of silk, see-through.  It hid nothing.  The woman’s breasts were full and firm, her waist slim, and her hips where her hands rested were well made to carry her long legs.  Greta gasped at the woman’s beauty and felt very small and plain.

Greta blinked and they ended up back in her bedroom, and Greta realized she wore much the same slinky, silky night dress.  She fought the urge to look in the full-length brass mirror.

“I love your hair,” the woman said.  “Your yellow-white hair sets off your soft brown eyes.  I would call them beige, sparkling eyes.  And the way you have your hair cut.  It just fits your cute little round face.”

“Who are you?”  Greta felt very wary.  She felt strongly that she had seen this woman before, at least in her dreams, and of late they had not been pleasant dreams.

“Mithrasis,” the woman said, and stepped closer.  “And I think if you came for me I might be able to work something out.”  She moved her hands across Greta’s breasts, a quick caress, and snaked her arms around Greta’s back until they encircled her and pulled her in tight.  Then the woman pressed her lips to Greta’s lips in a lover’s kiss.  Greta’s eyes went wide and she wriggled her hands up to push the woman away.  As Mithrasis staggered two steps back, Greta wiped her mouth, but Mithrasis laughed.

“Such a pity,” Mithrasis said.  “So, we are back to stay away.  If you want to live, stay away.”

“I will be coming, to get Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot, and I will bring them safely home.”

“Then I will stop you.  I will probably have to kill you.  True, the geis of the gods is still on you, Traveler, so it will have to be done carefully, but there are ways.”

“I might die,” Greta admitted.  “I am a person of small magic.”  She certainly had nowhere near the magic of Mithrasis to invade a person’s dream with such a real presence.

“Killing you would be a terrible waste.” Mithrasis winked and let out a sly grin. “Let me know if you change your mind and decide to share my bed, but otherwise, stay away.”  Mithrasis began to glow until the light became so bright, Greta had to shut and cover her eyes.  Then she sat up in bed.

Darius mumbled and put his hand out to touch her, but he did not wake.  Greta spit on the floor and wiped her mouth again.  She thought, another few months and she will have been married for seven years. She would be twenty-four soon enough, and she still loved her husband.  She slid down under the covers and took his arm.  She made him turn a little to his side and draped the arm over her waist.  She snuggled and put her hand over his arm and on to his back.  Then she got close to his face where she could hear and feel his long, slow, sleepy breaths.

Mithrasis could not be the witch Greta first thought. She had to be a goddess, and as such she did not belong there. The time of the gods ended some hundred and fifty years ago, but a few did refuse to go over to the other side.  Greta should have been afraid to disobey a goddess, but as the Kairos, she had been counted among the gods for thousands of years.  That was why Mithrasis needed to be careful. For a god, to kill the Kairos became an instant ticket to Hell, at least back when the gods were around and in charge of such things.

Greta shifted her head on the pillow and blew the hair away that had fallen into her mouth.  Mithras, she thought.  The great mascot of the Roman army.  But he was a male.  Who was this Mithrasis woman?  She tried to put it out of her mind, except she thought that she really had no interest in that direction.  She thought about Darius and fell happily asleep before she woke him to show him how much she loved him.  He would have been happy to oblige her.  He would be going away soon and he would be gone for months.

###

Greta stood on the battlements of the city and watched her husband and father ride off to the south, accompanied by a whole troop of Roman cavalry and auxiliaries.  They would spend near two months touring the Danube and the land grants given to the faithful families after the last rebellion.  It turned to early October, and they wanted a good feel for the harvest.  The emperor himself wrote demanding as much, and Marcus Aurelius, the emperor’s son, added a note at the bottom of the letter.  “Darius, my old friend,” it said.  “Winters have been hard in Italy of late.  You need to be sure every speck of grain that is due to Rome is sent. Pax.”  So, Darius headed south and Greta’s father, the high chief of the Dacians, went with him.

They would spend the heart of the winter at Romula, the capital of Dacia Inferior, before they headed north all the way to Porolissum in the spring.  Porolissum was where the rebels who were not given to the headsman’s axe were branded and told to guard the border at all costs.

This October, 151 A. D., as Greta thought of it, became the seventh and last year Darius would be imperial governor of the province of Dacia, after which he promised to retire.  This also became the seventh year of Greta’s father being high chief of the Dacians, a dubious position the Romans allowed for the sake of peace—and there had been peace for seven years.  But now Darius would retire, and her father started getting old and his strength started failing, and after they were gone, who knew what the future might hold.  Greta smelled rebellion on the wind, and not like last time where a few hundred disgruntled young men took up arms around the capital.  This smelled to Greta like the whole province might go up in flames.

“My Lady.”  Mavis, Greta’s handmaid, stood dutifully close and held Greta’s cloak in her arms.  It still felt early in the fall, but the wind came up and felt cold.  Greta waved her off.  She had too much on her mind and a simple cloak would not help against the chill she felt in the air.