Flern knew exactly when the moon goddess touched the head of her reflection. “Grrr.” She had to say it. She wondered what Mother Vrya meant about her willingness to be herself. How could she, with all these giftly interruptions? But that was what Vrya said. Flern did not know what that meant, but she would willingly give it a try if she could.
She turned down Arania’s last dress. They were all too big for her anyway. She was the tallest one after Elluin, but she had nice long legs and a short waist and was really a petite—a petite with long arms, so very hard to fit. Flern called to her armor, though she took off her sword and long knife, and then she lay down on her blanket and hugged her weapons like a child might hug a teddy bear. She let her exhaustion overwhelm her until she fell asleep.
No one woke Flern for breakfast, though the girls never left her alone for a minute. Thrud sat there when she awoke, and Thrud stayed uncharacteristically quiet. She did not even make a crack about Flern being lazy, and that made Flern very suspicious.
“What?” Flern asked. “Out with it,” she commanded, but Thrud looked reluctant to say anything at all. Flern heard nothing until Pinn and the others returned from breakfast, and then she heard it all. The Jaccar had come in the night. A dozen Jaccar had swum the river and came up into the village, searching for the girl with the auburn-red hair, as if Flern could not guess who that was. There were nearly a dozen villagers, along with a number of women and children dead, and that was a great toll in a village that supported barely over three hundred all told. One attacked the house of Venislav. He wounded the man and threatened Vincas, but Tird showed up and put the man down. Fritt arrived to stop the flow of blood, but the village healer says Tird may lose his leg.
“Tird?” Flern could not believe it.
“Worse,” Elluin said. “They have poor Bunder staked out. His screams are terrible to hear.”
Pinn, Thrud and Vinnu all hushed the girl, thinking of Bunder as the last one Flern needed to hear about, but Flern showed no emotion at all at the news. She called for her weapons. Her sword and long knife flew up to attach themselves to her armor, and she walked at a firm pace toward the wall of wagons. The others followed her. She hardly got out the door before she heard the wailing in the distance. She drew her ebony, elf-made bow from the secret pouch in her cape and found it looked much improved from the bow Wlvn once used.
“Revenge?” Pinn’s word made Flern pause for just a minute. She shook her head.
“Maybe mercy,” she said, and she did something that she knew she could do, thanks to Nanna, the moon. She floated up and forward just enough to land with both feet on the top of the nearest house wagon. No one screamed, and in fact Flern heard no noise at all from the girls or anyone else who might have seen.
Bunder, out there, looked tied to a cross of two logs, lashed together in a great “X.” Flern rose up again and moved to a house wagon that stood directly out from that spot. She noted that she could fly, sort of, or float anyway, and again she noted that she only reflected the gifts given to Wlvn, and in a lesser degree. Once she landed on her feet, she took a closer look. The Jaccar had not been content to merely crucify the boy. They had skinned him in several places, and they had peeled back his lips, ripped out his cheeks, and peeled the skin away from his eyes expertly so he appeared to have a skeleton head, with eyes that were still alive. Of course, he could not speak. He could only wail, but Flern imagined what Bunder would say if he could speak. Two words: “Kill me.”
Flern put her hood down. “The Jaccar have men in the grass!” A man shouted up to her. It was Borsiloff, and she waved to say she heard, but she had already seen the men. The Jaccar had taken the green paint of Karenski one step further. They had grasses and branches from bushes tied to their clothes so they might not be noticed unless one went looking for them. Flern looked, and one of the Jaccar inched closer with the intention, no doubt, of getting a good shot at her. Flern only thought for a second. Though not bad with the bow, the Princess had been, or rather would be the best with the bow in her generation, and maybe in any generation. So, with three arrows in her hand, Flern reached out through time and traded places with the Princess. All that anyone below might have seen was Flern’s hair, shining red in the morning sun, turn to such a golden brown it almost appeared blonde. That, and the fact that the Princess stood three inches taller, now being an inch taller than Elluin herself.
The Princess made three shots without the space of a breath between them. Three Jaccar were struck dead on, beginning with the one who inched up close. The other Jaccar wisely began to back away, and the Princess pulled out a silver tipped arrow she found. She kissed the tip with a prayer. “Artemis, strengthen me.” She did not know if a Greek goddess could reach into Odin’s jurisdiction, but she gave it her best try and intended to give it her best shot. Poor Bunder suffered just out of bow range. The Jaccar were obviously well practiced at this, keeping the boy just far enough from the camp so the best archer and strongest arm could not reach him. Dying, surely, but the longer he screamed, the more demoralized the locals tended to become. The Princess saw several arrows in the grass where men had tried and failed. A few were close, but not close enough. The Princess would need the strength of Artemis, and she took aim and let the arrow fly. It did not exactly hit Bunder in the heart as she hoped, but it hit near enough so he would be gone in a minute or two. At least his agony would not be prolonged into the afternoon, screaming until he got hoarse, until his peeled lips dried out like two worms in the sun.
The Princess spun around. She could not fly like Flern, but it did not appear that far to the ground. She jumped and used her legs to cushion the fall. This became the first close look in daylight the girls had, and the Princess could not help smiling for them as she set her hand on Pinn’s shoulder. “We may need to move from this place,” she said without too much of a Greek accent.
“Princess,” Pinn said, but she said no more. She stared.
“Karenski!” The Princess turned to the side. “Get some men up on those house wagons. You can see the Jaccar clearly from there, even in their grass suits; and tell them to keep their heads down.” Quite unlike Flern, in certain situations the Princess did not get into the habit of asking. She did the telling. “Borsiloff!” She turned again. The man had wandered down the row for a better look at her work, but he looked up as she called. “Come with me. We have to get the village men out here to hold the line. No telling how many Jaccar are out there.”
“The village men say they have to stay in the village and protect their houses in case the Jaccar swim the river again.” Borsiloff said as he jogged up. He arrived about the same time as Karenski. Both did a double take on the armor with a stranger inside. The Princess had already turned and used her own long legs to make for the village. She changed back to Flern without breaking stride, but then stopped and turned when no one followed.
She eyed Karenski. “Well?” She shouted, still having the spirit of the Princess with her like a ghost image. “Get the men up,” she insisted. “And come on.” She looked at Borsiloff, but when she turned her eyes on the girls, she added a thought. “We have to see if we can help Tird, don’t we?”
Pinn and Thrud smiled at each other. Dear old Flern.
Flern does everything secant prepare the village and the travelers for battle, and she reaches out to the natural world to see what help she can get from that direction. Until then, Happy Reading.