Reflections Flern-6 part 1 of 3

The river ford ran by the back of the camp. Flern walked in up to her ankles and stopped. She knelt down to place her hand in the water. The naiad had spoken to Wlvn about the water sprites, and Wlvn went under the impression that they were part of his responsibilities since Kartesh, when the Kairos got made responsible for the little spirits in the Earth. They were sprites, or spirits in the air, the fire, the water, and the earth, but at the moment, she had to try and get in touch with the ones in the water, this water, if there were any. It turned out to be easy, and in almost no time a little gelatinous head popped up from the current.

“My Lady,” the sprite said with deep respect, despite the squeaky little voice. Elluin and Vinnu looked a little frightened at this sight, but Pinn, Thrud Arania and Borsiloff all looked fascinated. Flern had to do everything in her power to keep herself from reaching out and hugging the cute little thing.

“I have a dangerous thing to ask you,” Flern sounded like a mother who might speak to a child. “And I will be just as happy if you say yes or no.”

“Please tell.” The water sprite spoke in a voice as cute as his looks, and he looked anxious to please his Lady.

Flern put on her most serious Disney Princess face and shook her finger. “I mean it now. This is a free choice, and I would not want to see any of my water babies hurt.” She could not help calling them water babies. She thought that the instant she caught sight of that cute little head. “Do you know who the Jaccar are?”

“Dirty muddy creatures,” the sprite answered, with a look meant to say he did not think much of the Jaccar, but which in reality made him look cuter than ever.  “Some swam in our good waters in the night.”

Flern nodded. “Well, if any more try to swim the river, you have my permission to stop them and wash them back to their own shore, and if you cannot stop them, you must come tell me right away, before they reach the village shore.”

“We will!” The sprite smiled and appeared to dance in the water. “Thank you, Lady. We will! You will see.”

“Thank you, Sweetwater.” Flern called the sprite by name. She was not sure how she knew the sprite’s name, but if these water babies were indeed part of her responsibility as it appeared, it would only be natural for her to know them all by name. Flern cut off her thoughts in that direction before she did know them all, and all at once. She felt rather certain that such an influx of information would have incapacitated her mind for some time.

“Now Tird?” Flern looked back at Pinn for guidance.

Pinn smiled very broadly. “Now Tird,” she assured her. They started to cross the ford at that point, but found their feet lifted from the water so that it felt like crossing a bridge, an invisible bridge made of water itself, and Flern heard Karenski in the distance as he now yelled at men to get up on those wagons!

Vinnu looked afraid to cross the river at first, but Flern took her hand and helped her. “They are sweet and will never hurt you,” she assured her friend. Vinnu looked like she was not quite sure.

When they got to Venislav’s house, Flern suggested that all of the wounded be brought to the common house to be tended for their wounds. Any number of people were wounded, not just Tird, and even one Jaccar survived the night raid. No one moved, though, until Pinn insisted on it, and then she insisted that the healthy men get out to the front line with the travelers and the young people.

The village elders that helped bring the wounded to the common house stood there, ready to protest that the Jaccar might swim the river again and they needed to protect their families. Borsiloff and Thrud tried to explain, and Pinn eventually took over explaining how Flern had solved that problem. They looked at Flern, and since she was waiting for that moment, she took advantage of it by instantly trading places with Doctor Mishka. Mishka was even an inch taller that the Princess, and her brown hair, a genuine brown, but the most startling thing, for those who noticed, was seeing Flern’s fawn brown eyes turn suddenly blue. The Princess had blue eyes as well, but no one watched that transformation.

“My friends are on that line.” Mishka spoke right up. “You would not want it said that on that day, the children showed more courage than their elders.” That stung a couple of the elders, and the rest wisely held their tongues. “Go, go. Now, go.” Mishka waved them off like she might dismiss a class. “Borsiloff, I need you here in case I need to send word to Karenski. I am Doctor Mishka, from Saint Petersburg. I had the dubious honor of learning my trade in a world war and practicing more than a lifetime in the Second War as well. Just remember, I am no miracle worker. Sometimes people die despite our best efforts, is it not so?” They all nodded, more or less. “Now let us see who we can help.” Mishka called to that same place her armor came from, and a little black bag appeared in her hand. She knew that with some of the equipment and medicine in that bag she tempted time and there might be a danger of changing the future, but she remained a careful person and her things never went far from her hands. Besides, this far in the past, more than likely they would not even recognize what she was doing, and no way they could duplicate her equipment. “Go, go,” she said. “See who you can help.” Elluin, Vinnu, Arania and Borsiloff went to see what they could do, but Pinn and Thrud shadowed the doctor.

When she came to Tird, she saw the terrible gash down his leg. It had been bandaged after a fashion, and it had stopped bleeding, so he appeared in no immediate danger of bleeding to death. Vincas sat right there with him, holding his hand, letting him squeeze her hand every time the throbbing pain in his leg became unbearable. “He saved my life.” She kept saying it over and over.

Tird said nothing but, “Who?”

“Flern,” Thrud answered.

“Mishka,” Pinn corrected her friend.

“Your healer,” Mishka clarified as she removed the bandage and spread an ointment over the whole area which had the effect of anesthetizing the leg in a few seconds. She pulled out a scalpel, a hemostat and a pair of tweezers and shocked everyone by first opening the leg. “We must make sure there is no stone or metal inside to poison him.” Mishka explained. “You should be around in the days of lead bullets and powder burns.” Seeing that the wound was clean and assuming it bled clean, Mishka got out her needle and self-dissolving thread. “A dermal regenerator would be better, but we use what we have,” she said, and sewed up the leg as neatly as sewing a tear in a dress. “You must stay off it for a week,” she instructed. “If you do, it should be good as new.” Then she polished it off with some antiseptic and a clean bandage and told Vincas how to be sure the bandages were always clean. “Boil them. Boil them.”

Reflections Flern-4 part 1 of 3

Flern nodded. “There are other lives,” she said. “But I don’t remember most of them, you understand.”

“But some of them are men, aren’t they?’ Pinn became very insightful. “Like maybe this Wolven you sometimes talk about?” It might have been a question.

“Wlvn.” Flern nodded and tried to say the name the right way, the way she had practiced it. It came out sounding more like “Ulvin.” “But he is from the past, about five hundred and eighty-six years ago.”

“I thought it might be something like that,” Pinn said, before she grinned a little. “I had an imaginary boyfriend when I was younger, but mine wasn’t real.”

“But yours did not turn out to be yourself from long ago,” Flern countered.

“It was me, in a way,” Pinn said, wisely, and Flern understood. They sat and watched the arguments for a while longer before Pinn spoke again. “So, can I meet this Wulvin? I assume you can find him the way you found the Princess.”

“Maybe someday.” Flern shifted in her seat and felt a bit uncomfortable about it all. “But only if the circumstances are right.” That was not strictly true, but she felt she had to explain, and only wished Vilder could hear as well. They were the leaders of this expedition and needed to know how it worked. “You need to tell Vilder. I can’t just make the Princess show up because someone thinks she might be needed for some reason.” Pinn raised her eyebrows again, so Flern continued. “This is my life. None of the others—the other lives I have lived don’t have any business being here at all. I am the one who has to go over the mountains and fetch the weapons—the bronze. I have to try and raise an army and come back and face the Wicca and her Jaccar warriors. That has to be me, and I have to make all of the decisions along the way, myself.” Flern dropped her eyes and yanked out a handful of grass. She slowly let it run out between her fingers as she finished her thought. “No other life is going to die in my lifetime and in my world. If it is my fate to die on this journey, I have to be there to do it.”

Pinn lowered her eyebrows. “A morbid thought.” She patted Flern’s hand and Flern took that action to grab Pinn’s hand and look at her straight on.

“I’m still just Flern, just a girl who started from nothing like any other person in the world. Pinn, we were babies together. I didn’t even know I had any other lifetimes until just a short time ago, and really not until I talked to Mother Vrya.”

“Mother Vrya?”

“Not for a couple of thousand years, but it is not what you think.” Flern honestly could not remember exactly when Nameless would be born, but she felt that was fine, because she decided it would be best if she avoided too many details about that life.

“The goddess of love will be your mother?”

“It’s not what you think.” Flern repeated herself.

Pinn nodded. “But it is what some of the others are beginning to think,” she said.

“Well, don’t let them.” Flern sounded determined and hoped Pinn would catch it. Flern dropped her eyes again. “I couldn’t stand it if everybody started treating me different—if everybody stopped being my friends.”

“How about if Kined started to think of you differently?” Pinn asked. Pinn nudged Flern in the ribs, even if it was not a physical nudge.

“Grrr.” Flern responded in her way before she confessed. “I wouldn’t mind if he thought of me differently. But not like that. Really, Pinn, sit on them if you have to.”

“I understand,” Pinn said. She patted Flern’s hand again before she took hers back to wrap her arms around her knees. “So, Mother Vrya. What is the goddess like?”

Flern smiled, broadly. “Lovely, and a wonderful person. You would like her, and I am sure she would like you very much.” Flern paused and imitated Pinn in raising her own eyebrows. “She probably already does, I suppose.”

Pinn nodded. “I guessed as much. You know, I used to pray to her every day when I was little.” Flern looked at her friend. Pinn had a big nose, little, squinty green eyes and lips which were too thick for her face. She kept her ordinary brown colored hair cut off at the shoulders because otherwise it would be as ratty and unmanageable as Strawhead’s. She might not be ugly, exactly, but out of all the girls, she was certainly the farthest away from pretty. Flern looked over at the boys. Vilder, on the other hand, had the clean-cut, sculpted look of a quarterback, or maybe a model for a trashy romance novel.

“She gave you Vilder,” Flern said in all seriousness.

Pinn let a few little tears well up in her eyes. “I know. It is all I ever wanted.”

Flern leaned over and hugged her friend. She felt happy for Pinn, and Pinn hugged Flern right back. They would remain friends, no matter what. They stood together without another word and got into the middle of how to cook the liver without a pot to boil it or a pan to fry it.

They did not leave that place until noon, and by then Flern started chomping at the bit as surely as the horses. She said if two of the Jaccar could swim to this side of the river, despite the assurances of the naiad, maybe others could, too, and they were risking another confrontation every minute they stayed. “And maybe this time one of us will get hurt,” Tird added, and Vinnu stood right there to agree with him.

“Yes, but maybe those two just wound up on our side of the river after being dumped. Maybe the naiad did not want to drown them. She seemed nice, I think,” Elluin offered.

“I feel we can trust her. She did seem nice,” Kined agreed.

Flern frowned but did not growl. Odin’s permission meant a lot. She doubted that even any of the gods would dare go against that; but still, she felt anxious and got worse by the hour. Vilder ended the discussion, however, when he became very practical.

“We have a long way to go and no telling when we might get a next meal. It is only sensible to take as much of this animal with us that we can safely smoke and burn in the short time we have.”

“Salmonella on a stick.” Doctor Mishka called it, but Flern deliberately did not listen to any of her other lifetimes at the moment. She felt seriously afraid of losing her friends, and maybe losing herself in the mix of so many lives and so much information. She did not want to stop being Flern, and she did not want to be alone.

They rode through the afternoon, though never at the pace Flern wanted. She knew they had no spirit guide like Badl to take them by the short cuts, so she feared the ground they covered could be made up easily by the Jaccar who were well practiced at moving in force at great speeds. She consoled herself by thinking that at least they were not being hunted by night creatures, slim consolation as that was. It would not be hard to understand why she did not sleep well that night in the wilderness. She dreamed about night creatures, and some of them were werewolves, and some of them were giants, and all they wanted to do was eat her friends and laugh at her in her loneliness.

The following day repeated the first, a slow and regular pace that did not help Flern’s stress. The area remained unchanged, being a gentle, rolling landscape where the meadows, grasslands and occasional swampy areas got broken up by mixed forests of oak and fir. The girls all enjoyed the ride, pointed out the lovely spring flowers at every chance, and the boys got frisky, not seeing the spring in the flowers but feeling it in their bones. The couples had agreed for the sake of Flern and the single young men that they would camp with separate boy’s and girl’s areas, but that did not keep the couples from riding side by side and whispering sweet thoughts all day long.

Pinn stayed all day beside Vilder in front, and Bunder brought up the rear, so sometimes it felt hard to remember that he was there. Thrud and Tiren came next to the front, but Vinnu and big Gunder wandered off sometimes into the woods. Flern’s stooges were not averse to showing off, pretending to be the great horsemen, which they were not. It actually became comical and entertaining, but it would have become really annoying if Flern did not have Kined beside her for most of the morning to offer his color commentary. Flern and Kined talked softly, but sadly all that day, and it was nearly all about her clowns and the fact that Elluin had seemingly trained her horse to ride a half step behind Drud. Flern found that disgusting. Kined called it sad.

They finished off the deer at lunch and Vilder started talking like he might stop them around the middle of the afternoon so they could hunt. Flern objected strongly. This was day two. The naiad only promised one more day and then the Jaccar would surely be after them.

“You don’t really think the Jaccar will follow us, do you?” Drud said, and he said it as if to suggest that Flern might be crazy to think it.

“I do,” Flern said, despite the threat of ridicule. The group actually split on that possibility, about down the middle. “They know what we are doing. The Wicca cannot afford to let us escape and raise a resistance against her. It will make her further expansion to the west much more difficult.”

“But we have come so far,” Thrud insisted. “Surely they would not come this far just for us.”

“Some have escaped before,” Kined pointed out, and Flern nearly growled at him. She counted on his support.

“A few ragged refugees,” Flern countered. “The Wicca probably let them go to spread fear of the Jaccar. That would make her job easier. That is not what we are about.”

Once again, Vilder ended the argument by being very practical. “Whether they follow or not, we still need to eat. We will have to stop long enough to hunt and gather.” Still, Flern pushed for them to ride as far as possible, and she spent the early afternoon wondering if Badl might still be alive and around somewhere, and if maybe she could find him, and he could lead them by swifter spirit ways so they could put some real distance between them and the Jaccar.

Reflections Flern-3 part 2 of 3

The Jaccar had their horses in the corral area as Diogenes supposed they would, putting them near the feed. He entered the barn and found the village horses still mostly in their stalls. He figured the Wicca, whoever that was, had not yet gotten around to dividing the spoils. “P-probably have to s-secure the village f-first,” he said to himself as he walked straight toward the four fat mares in the corner. “G-girls spoil these horses,” he added, pulling Thrud’s horse out first. The horse looked extra big and sturdy, and Diogenes smiled at his thought, or Flern’s thought. Thrud, the smallest of them all, topping out at about five feet or maybe five-one, stood even an inch or so shorter than Pinn who was no giant. Flern always thought Thrud looked like a doll on top of this big beast. She looked like Badl.

“Woah.” Diogenes calmed the horse and gained the horse’s confidence as he found a good length of rope. He tied the reigns of Pinn’s, Vinnu’s and Elluin’s horses to the rope and led them outside. They waited patiently inside the fence while he pushed the bales of hay brought out for feed up against the walls of the barn. The hay appeared very dry from being inside the barn all winter, and so he laid out a good line to give him enough time to get away. Then he pulled out Flern’s copper tinder box. She only had flint and a stone, but it always made a good spark. The hay caught immediately, and with a little blowing it began the journey toward the big pile. It would also take a moment before the Jaccar horses smelled the smoke and began to panic. Diogenes almost wanted to stay and watch what the Jaccar would do once that happened, and the flames started roaring, but he also knew the barn would go up, and he apologized in his heart to the village for their horses because few, if any of them would be saved.

“C-come on.” Diogenes grabbed the lead horse that had three more horses tied to it, and he mounted Thrud’s mare and went through the gate. He paused and closed the gate to trap the Jaccar horses. He mounted again and rode out, hardly caring if he was seen. The darkness of the night would swallow him soon enough, and then he would turn south to follow the path of the river, judging the distance in his mind, so he could hit the riverbank about where the others should be waiting. When he felt sure of his direction, he slowed for a second and made certain that he had a good grip on the lead. Then he went back to the Middle East far in the future, and Flern came home to take his place. Thrud’s horse balked, but only for a second. Flern, after all, had been the one to train the horse in the first place, and she gripped the reigns in her teeth to reach with her free hand and pat the horse’s neck. “Steady.” She said, softly.

Flern got half-way to the river before she heard the shouting behind her. The fire had gotten up and running, full speed. She could see the light reflected against the night clouds, and she could hear the terrified screams of the horses trapped in the corral. She hated that. Some would be injured, and again she apologized to the village because some of their horses in the barn would not survive at all.

By the time Flern got to the river, her arm was tired from dragging three horses behind her. “Pinn.” She shouted because she wanted to be sure she was heard and she figured with all the shouting in the village, the Jaccar might not hear. “Vinnu!” She got down and dropped the lead when she saw that the horses were content to stand and taste some of the spring grass at their feet. “Pinn.” Flern felt anxious to get going. The ford was several miles downriver and a head start felt imperative. “Vilder! Kined!”

“They are safe.” Flern heard the word and looked up, but all she saw was the river, until the naiad moved. Her watery form blended in perfectly with the river behind her. Flern smiled broadly at the sight, not because she expected help from this lesser goddess, but because the lady was so beautiful.

“Lady.” Flern curtsied politely, though that was not easy to do given the short skirt of her armor.

“No need for formality between us.” The naiad smiled. “I have watched you since you were a little girl, though I confess I was not sure it was you until you were old enough to recognize from the brief glimpse I once had. Even then, I was not certain until you spoke with the goddess of love and war and became clothed in this outfit of war.”

“You watched?” Flern wondered. “I hope you don’t mind if we cross your waters.” She thought looking down and looking appropriately humble. She found a watery finger under her chin. It lifter her face so the naiad could get a good look at her.

“I see why you need to cross in a hurry, though I must tell you, I have no great desire to allow a bunch of filthy Jaccar into my waters. Even now they are coming.” Flern shot her eyes back toward the village. “Yes.” The naiad confirmed. “The Wicca has seen your young people in her crystal, and she had horsemen ready to give chase when you showed yourselves.”

“The Wicca?” Flern had to ask.

The naiad raised her arms and a wall of water fell to the ground, poured back into the river, and revealed everyone waiting patiently on the riverbank, the girls doubled up on the horses of their men. “A powerful enchantress. The blood of the gods runs in her veins.” The naiad raised an arm and a bridge of water formed across the river. She let the sand and mud come up from the bottom to color the bridge and she let the muddy sides grow so the horses could cross, unafraid. It almost looked like a regular wood and stone bridge. “The Wicca has driven the Jaccar across the continent to satisfy her foolish, childish whims. As things are now, I would not give you and your friends much of a chance against her, even with Diogenes and the Princess to help you.”

“Thank you for the fair warning,” Flern said. “And thank you for whatever you are willing to do.” Flern could not be more sincere, but the naiad said nothing about it, having something else on her mind, which she spoke.

“You do look exactly like him, virtually identical apart from him obviously being a man and you being a woman. And I was right by the way; you do make a very pretty young woman.”

“Thank you.” Flern looked down again, not knowing what else to say and then she looked at the others who were all waiting for her. “Well?” She spoke up. “Come get your horses, and where is mine?” She whistled and Bermer came trotting right up. After the girls reluctantly got down from behind their men and mounted their own steeds, the Naiad standing quietly by that whole time, Flern noticed that they were still staring at her. “What?” she said. “I’m not in charge here.” And she looked at Vilder who simply smiled, and Pinn, who said, “Right,” with only a touch of Thrud style sarcasm in the word. Nevertheless, Vilder shouted.

“Let’s go.” And they started across the bridge, and none too soon. They could hear the thunder of horses behind them.

Once on the other side, Flern had to stop and watch, and because of that, the others all stopped for a minute as well. The naiad flowed up out of the water on their side of the river and stood beside Flern once again, standing as tall as Flern’s face, though Flern stayed on horseback. They watched together as the Jaccar hesitated only briefly before they started out across the bridge at a gallop. Once the twenty or so Jaccar were all on the bridge, the Naiad let the bridge collapse. She sent the water back into her waters, and the mud and sand back to the bottom. All of the Jaccar, their horses and weapons went in, and many went under, though Flern assumed they would come up again. She imagined most would swim to safety, but then they would have to travel several miles before they could find a safe place to cross.

“No, my dear. They will not cross.” The naiad had been peeking into Flern’s thoughts. “I have Odin’s permission. Starting with the sunrise, I will hold the Jaccar for three days and three nights. I cannot hold them any longer, but perhaps you will be out of reach by then.”

“We have met before, haven’t we?” Flern finally figured it out.

The naiad looked her in the eye. “Indeed, I was told you are not living your lives in strict chronological order. I should not have said all that I said.”

Flern smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell myself.”

That elicited a smile from the naiad, and she touched Flern’s hand ever so briefly. “You are even pretty on the inside. I am glad,” she said, and melted back into the river. Flern turned away from the river, the smile still stuck on her lips. The others turned with her, but they only went far enough that night to be able to light a fire without its being seen from the village.

Reflections Wlvn-6 part 3 of 3

The Dnapr River ran just far enough from the village to protect the houses when the floods came; but Wlvn led his troop back out the way they had come, away from the river. He made a wide circle around the village and nearly reached Flern’s small hill in the south before he headed back toward the water. He hoped when the night creatures came, they might follow the fresher trail and thus come to the river without passing through the village itself. That seemed about all he could do to save the people who had been so kind to feed them and shelter them for the night. Wlvn just started to try to decide how to cross the big river when a figure rose up in the middle of the water. She looked to be made of water, and she looked naked besides, though not exactly naked, more like skintight water that nevertheless covered certain places. She walked across the surface of the river and stood before them on the river’s edge.

“You wish to cross,” the woman said. It was a question but stated like a fact.

“Please,” Wlvn responded. “If the lovely naiad would be so kind as to make a way.”

“It has already been requested,” the naiad assured him. “And your little ones beg forgiveness. They say they failed you when the flood waters came.”

“Ah.” Wlvn thought it might have been them who made the request, but then he caught his swan friend swimming not far from the distant shore. “Tell them I understand. It is not possible for little ones to do much when the waters run so fast and furious. May I introduce Wlkn and Elleya?”

“The girl from the sea,” the naiad said.

“Badl and Moriah.”

“You have little ones of your own, I see, but they are not mine.” She nodded to them all.

“I am Wlvn.”

“I know who you are.”

Wlvn trade places with Flern. He disappeared from his own time so Flern could come to sit astride Thred in his place. “And I am Flern,” she introduced herself and the naiad looked surprised at the transformation. “Some five hundred and eighty-five or so years from now, my friends and I will need to cross the river in a hurry. I would be ever so grateful if you would let those pursuing us fall into your waters after we cross.”

“I will consider it,” the naiad said. “You make a fine-looking woman,” she decided.

“Thank you.” Flern looked down and patted Thred’s mane. “I can ask no more.” And she let Wlvn come back to his own time. Wlvn immediately turned his head to look upriver. A dozen or more men came from the village. They were armed, carrying a few spears, mostly farm implements, but armed all the same.

“Do not worry about these,” the naiad said. She waved her arm. The men from the village stopped where they were like they were frozen in place. “It is not your fault the god brought you here. I will tell them when the night creatures come, I will make a safe way across for them, and when the creatures move on, I will let them return to their homes.”

“Thank you.” Wlvn appreciated the gesture, literally. As the naiad stepped aside, there appeared to be a bridge of solid water across the whole river. “But one thing.” Wlvn let the naiad into his mind far enough to see that horses do not do well crossing moving water. They became afraid of falling and are inclined to panic.

“I see.” The naiad lifted her arms and sides grew up all along the bridge like very tall guardrails, and the bridge became colored with sand and some mud from the river bottom, so it almost looked like a real bridge.

“Thank you for everything.” Wlvn repeated himself, but the naiad said no more, so he crossed the river at that point and the others followed.

They traveled across country, moved southwest as fast as they could and dragged Elleya and Moriah along with them. Just because the naiad was gracious, that did not mean the night creatures would not find another way across the river. There were signs of snow littered here and there across the forested hills and wide valleys in which they traveled, but it did not threaten more from the sky. Wlvn felt grateful for that, too. Wlvn revised his thinking and figured it might be about November first by then, May first where Flern was concerned, and it just figured that she got all warmth and springtime while he froze his tail off.

That evening, the sky became clear as a bell. Sadly, Wlvn was not. He could not figure out what game the gods were playing, as Frigga called it; or rather the question seemed to be, why? Moriah sounded very clear about the game. She cooked and stared at him like he was the enemy, and at last she came straight out with it.

“I don’t like the gods deciding who I’m supposed to marry, and I don’t care who you kill.”

“Oh, I don’t mind.” Elleya put her thoughts in. “If my Wilken doesn’t mind.” She smiled for her Wilken who grimaced and looked away like a teenager. He wasn’t fooling anyone. He actually liked it when Elleya talked his ears off.

“Don’t worry.” Wlvn said. “I have no intention of getting married. I am going after the Titan because of my mother and father, because I have two brothers and a sister who deserve a life better than the slavery they are in, because the human race, for all its faults, does not deserve such a life.”

“You know, that Brmr is a smart little thing,” Wlkn said, as he pushed away Elleya’s attentions for the moment. Badl and Moriah looked over. “His sister,” Wlkn explained. “I had to watch them for six months, which reminds me, you never did explain where you were for all that time.”

Wlvn paused. How could he explain? Somehow, “I don’t know,” did not sound like the words of someone who knew what he was doing. He did not want the others to begin doubting this quest. He might have been better off going it alone, but then he would have been saddled with Moriah and Elleya by himself, so it was just as well Badl and Wlkn were along for the ride. Then again, the girls at least were there on the insistence of the gods. Somehow yelling and blaming the gods for unfairly stealing six months of his life probably would not have set well either, so he said nothing. He figured Elleya would pick up the slack, and she did.

“Well, I think it’s horrible what that giant is doing to your people, especially to the children. I hope you can kill it, even if it means I have to marry you…” She went on for a while—a long while. “…I mean, think of the children! I want to have a bunch of children. How about you?” She looked up at Wlvn before she turned and smiled and set her hand against Wlkn’s face.

“I want to get some air.” Wlvn stood up and started away from the campfire.

“Don’t blame you,” Badl said softly. “She just sucked all the air out of this place. Just about put the fire out, she did.” Moriah threw something at the dwarf. Probably food, and that prompted Badl to say something more. “Now, missy, a good-looking girl like you that can cook, I would say if you wasn’t pledged to the Lord I might marry you myself.”

Moriah said nothing. Her pointed ears just turned a little red.

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

MONDAY

Wlvn meets Eir’s parents and he gets saddled with another young woman. They push on, but it turns out the Gott-Druk have not forgotten them and are waiting in ambush. Until Monday…

*

Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 5 of 6

“So, tell me about these night creatures,” Gongming said.  Lockhart explained as well as he could.  Basically, he said honestly that they were faster, stronger and tougher than the tiger, and would tear the throat from the tiger without blinking.

“Without blinking?”

“Without a second thought,” Lockhart affirmed.  “And worse, they hunt in packs, like wolves.”

“Like wolves?”  Gongming pulled on his beard.  “And why have I not heard of such creatures before?”

“They are very rare,” Katie took up the explanation.  “They must be brought here from far away.”

“It is the genie,” Boston said to Feyan, so Katie also turned to Feyan.

“He got one of the gods to work with him in the last time zone, and has one of the Shang gods working with him here, as well.”

“No other explanation as to how the night creatures could stay up with us on the trail,” Lockhart finished.

Feyan pulled on her chin, in imitation of Gongming.  “I have to think.  I assume they are not far behind you, even now, but I have to think.”  She went to the far railing and looked out across the river.

Gongming gave her a hard look, to imagine the youngest, and a girl, should have anything to say about the matter, but Aunt Chen interrupted his thoughts.  “Let the princess think.  She also has the blood of the Shang-Di in her.  Maybe she can intercede with the gods on our behalf…”

Gongming nodded grumpily as Wang came up from the small boat for the third and final time, bringing the last of the almost stolen bronze, and he spoke.  “Mother is very careful about not offending any of the gods.”  He smiled for everyone, but he really wanted Boston’s attention.  “Are you really a benevolent spirit?”

“Yes,” Gongming let that distract him.  “How is it a spirit should even know a little girl.  She has been with us since she was five, and I have not seen any spirits before now.”  Both Wang and Aunt Chen looked like they may have seen something, but they said nothing.

“We worship her, like she is our goddess,” Boston said.  Both Katie and Lockhart thought it might not be a good idea to be so honest, but Boston ignored them.  Boston, like any little spirit, knew that the secret to good lies was knowing when to lie, or stretch the truth, or be completely honest.  The little ones seemed to have a sixth sense about that, especially some imps and dwarf types.

Gongming shook his head.  “A giant being the leader of others makes sense to me.  A yellow-hair woman being captain over men makes no sense to me.  But one who appears human, claiming to be a spirit of the sky, and claiming to worship a young girl sounds dangerous.”  He looked at Chen, his wife, knowing the great care she took to give all of the gods their due.  “The gods can be jealous.  They require our worship, and do not share our devotion.  I fear you may anger them with what you say.”

“No,” Katie protested to Boston, but Boston removed her glamour to reveal herself in all her elfish glory.  Wang gasped and Aunt Chen lowered her eyes.  Gongming returned to his shocked, unmoving look, as Boston caused a fire to rise in the palm of her hand, shaped it into a ball of light, called a fairy light, and let it float into the sky to just above the mast, so it could bathe the whole boat in light.

“I am a spirit of the earth,” Boston said.  “Though the littlest spirits of the sky, water, fire, metal and wood also worship Shang Feyan, since the earliest days.  Though she is presently a young girl, she has not always been so.  Have you not seen anything strange about her?  Have you not heard words come from her that seem to make sense, though you do not understand what she is saying?”

Gongming slowly nodded, and asked an odd question.  “What is a fortune cookie?”  Boston, Wang, Aunt Chen, and Katie all laughed.  Lockhart tried to explain.

“A cookie is a treat that a person has at the end of a meal. Inside the hollow cookie is a saying, words that are usually wise and encouraging, and may point to the future.  That is called your fortune.”

“Some fortunes are funny,” Boston said.

“They are a delight for people, and instructive.”

Gongming pulled his beard.  “One who can bring delight to people will surely have good fortune.”

“Fortune cookie,” Feyan yelled back from the other side of the deck.  Eyes turned to her as she took hold of her feelings and spoke in her most humble tones.  Clearly, she was not speaking to any of the people on board.  “Great Wei.  Please.  May your most humble servant speak with you?  I have a special request, unheard of in this broken world.” She added a last word, as softly as she could.  “Tien, my son, I have need of you.”

Immediately, the river began to boil.  People walked over to watch, but backed up a couple of steps as a true giant, a woman rose out of the water and leaned her arms on the rail.  People assumed the reason the whole boat did not tip in the giant’s direction was because she was made of water, and probably did not weigh much.  Katie and Lockhart knew water could be very heavy, but they were finally getting used to the gods ignoring the laws of physics.

“Wie We?” Feyan spoke to the woman like she knew the woman.  The travelers, at least, were not surprised.

“Father doesn’t want to get involved,” the woman said, with a smile for the travelers.  “I am one of the daughters of the river, a naiad, you might call me.”

“Wei We, my friends are being followed—”

“By night Creatures.  We know.”

“I thought, maybe a collapsible water bridge,” Feyan said.

Wei We liked the thought.  “Your water sprites are anxious to help.”

The boat rocked slightly and several water blobs popped up to the deck.  They looked like little gingerbread men made of water, and spoke in the sweetest, baby-like voices.  “We are ready.  We want to help.”

“Water babies,” Feyan yelled her joy just before Boston yelled the same thing.  Both struggled to keep themselves from bending down and hugging them, which would not have offended them, but might have broken them to pieces.

Wei We looked almost as pleased with the water babies as the others.  “I understand horses do not do well over running water.  I will bring up the sand to color the bridge, if that would work.”

“That and some sides,” Lockhart said, and showed with his arms.  “That would work great.”  Boston checked her amulet.

“The time gate appears to be south, on the other side of the river,” she said, and restored her glamour of humanity, though she left the fairy light overhead.

“What about the prisoners?” Katie asked.

“Here,” Gongming shook himself enough to say the one word.

“They are tied?” Wang sought assurance.

“Yes.”  Boston looked and saw that they were.

Wei We spoke after a moment of silence.  “Are we ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lockhart responded

“Goodie,” the water sprites shouted and leapt back into the water.

“Ma’am?” Katie questioned.  Lockhart came from Michigan.  Decker was the one from North Carolina.

“It doesn’t hurt to be polite,” Lockhart responded

“Courtesy can often gain what demands cannot,” Gongming said.

All three travelers looked at each other and said, “Fortune cookie,” before they disappeared from the deck of the ship to be replaced by three frightened looking soldiers.  Bi chose that moment to come back up with Baby following.  Baby bounded to Feyan as Wei We appeared to break apart and return to the river.  They all watched from the railing.

Avalon Pilot part I-2: Thief, Kidnapper, Father.

Mingus stopped at the top of the stairs.  He heard voices in the lab.  He peeked through the glass in the door and saw old, white-bearded Doctor Procter leaning over a table, trying to concentrate.  Doctor Procter held a delicate piece of equipment in one hand, and held his wand in the other hand, ready to make whatever adjustment might be necessary.  The young elf doing all the talking and interrupting kept leaning into the light, like he might be trying to read over Doctor Procter’s shoulder.

“Roland.”  Mingus entered the room, the name of the young elf on his lips.  “Leave the man to his work.”

“Father,” Roland turned and stood tall.  A look of pride crossed his face.  “I guessed I would find you here.”

“Why?” Mingus sounded suspicious.

“Because I have not been able to find you anywhere since you came back from the past.  But you have always lived in this place… Oh, I guess you are asking…”  Roland straightened up.  “Because I want to give answer to your unasked question when you went away.”

“What question?  Maybe there was a reason it was unasked.”

“Father.”  Roland sounded serious.  “You said some terrible things about Alexis before you made the time jump, but I want you to know, I support my sister.  She freely chose to give up being an elf and became a human to marry a human, and I say, as long as she is happy, she will have my full support.”

“And you have told her this?”

“Not yet.”  Roland looked down at the table and at his feet. He worried his hands before he raised his head again.  “But I intend to.”  He spoke with conviction.

Mingus nodded and kept his sarcasm to a minimum.  “You better hurry up, son.  Your sister is sixty.  Her human husband is sixty-five.  They have children of their own.  They have grandchildren.  You know; humans don’t live very long.”  It irked Mingus every time he thought of Alexis getting old and dying, but he tried not to show it on his face.

“Like a breath,” Doctor Procter breathed.

“Roland.  Son.” Mingus stepped to the far side of the table to face the young elf.  “I am glad you support your sister.  Family is important.  But now, um…  You are over a hundred, aren’t you?”

“Father.”  Roland let out a deep breath of exasperation.  “I will be one-hundred-twenty-seven next winter solstice.”

“Good, good.”  Mingus waved off his own ignorance.  “I heard certain elf maidens have a bonfire and dance planned in the three-circle court of Giovani.  An elf your age should be out enjoying himself.”

“No good.  You spoiled him by activating his brain cells,” Doctor Procter said, with a small grin beneath his long white, unkempt beard.

“Father.  Those elf maids are not exactly well educated,” Roland admitted.

“It isn’t their education you should be looking at, at your age.  Go have some fun.  You remember fun?”

“But father—”

“Get out,” Mingus yelled.  Roland flushed red and made a fist.  He stomped his way to the door.  Mingus and Doctor Procter watched until the door closed.

“No need to yell,” Doctor Procter said.

“That is what children are for,” Mingus responded.  “They are for yelling at when they don’t get the message.”

“Um,” Doctor Procter made a sound, shook his head slightly, and returned to his work.

“So,” Mingus said, casually, taking a deep breath to calm himself.  “Is that the new amulet?  The prototype worked well enough, but it did not give much detail in terms of the surrounding area.  We—I came to a cliff in the Rockies in 1875 and had to backtrack a long way to go around.”

Doctor Procter nodded.  “See any Indians?”

“Native-Americans.  No.  Is it ready?”

Doctor Procter paused in his work.  “We have added some basic scanner technology to the amulet so it will get a reading on the area, cities, towns, forests, mountains, and so on.  But the screen is so small, it will take very good eyes, preferably elf eyes to see it.  It took some real coordination with the technology and IT departments, not to mention—”

“Doctor.”  Mingus cut the man off before he went into a half-hour unintelligible explanation.  “Is the amulet ready?”

“This?  No.  It needs further adjustments, and then testing.”

“Adjustments?”

“Additional work.  I’m afraid it would not work at all in its present condition.”

Mingus nodded.  “The prototype still around?”

“On the wall there,” Doctor Procter pointed over his shoulder without turning from the table.  Mingus walked to find it in the mess by the filing cabinets.  Doctor Procter paid no attention.

“The prototype worked well enough,” Mingus said, in his friendly voice.

“Yes, yes,” Doctor Procter responded as he leaned over his work and squinted at the amulet in his hand.

“It got me home in one piece, through the time gates.”

“And we are all glad.  Welcome home,” Doctor Procter mumbled and he leaned further into his work.  Mingus found the prototype under some papers and slipped it into his pocket.  Doctor Procter paused and turned to Mingus.  “We are glad you are home, but this time, don’t expect to steal the new amulet and leave me a note about going to test it.  The new one is shielded.  If you so much as touch it, alarms will go off and all of Avalon will know.”

Mingus looked down and nodded like a child, properly scolded.  “I understand.  It was just the first one.  I am the only one in all of Avalon who knows the history; maybe the only one who had a reasonable chance of making such a journey, and getting home in one piece.  I might have died at the outset, entering into the crystal.  I felt I was the only one who ought to take that risk.  An expedition of young elves without the proper knowledge would have been a disaster.”

“That is debatable,” Doctor Procter said.  “But you stole the amulet and went before anyone could stop you.  You won’t be stealing this one.”

“Fair enough,” Mingus said.  “I’ll leave you to your work.  You have had enough interruption for this evening.”  He headed toward the door, and paused only briefly when Doctor Procter had one more thing to say.

“Glad you made it back.  The history department would not be the same without you.”

Mingus stepped through the door and hurried down the stairs.

Now that it had become a fully dark night, he needed to get Alexis before she broke free of her enchantment.  They needed to be gone before anyone found out.  He looked once again to be sure the naiad was not in her spring.  He looked again at the tower, now pitch dark, like a giant finger pointing to the stars.  There were various opinions on just which finger the tower represented.

Mingus found his daughter in the closet where he left her.  He paused to note her gray hair, wrinkles, and pale human skin.  At least she didn’t get chunky like some human women got when they turned sixty, he thought.  He made sure her hands were still bound and the magical gag remained in place.  He made her stand and walk.  He had to lighten the trance so she could stagger.  He had to help her, but he dared not let her come to full consciousness, even bound and gagged.  She retained her elf magic when she became human.  She was hardly powerless, and might yet find some way to break free from his control.  She was his daughter, after all.

The most dangerous part came when they went out into the open to cross the green, and particularly when they crossed the little bridge over the stream.  Mingus’ mind wandered.  Doctor Procter was wrong.  The history department on Avalon would get along just fine without him.  Some fifty years ago, the dark elves learned to extract information directly from the Heart of Time and put it on computers.  The history department on Avalon started slowly filling up with computer geeks.  Elves should not be nerds, he thought.  Mingus knew he was old fashioned, like someone out of the stone age.  But he still believed in things that mattered.  He still believed in family.  He believed a daughter should not die before her father, and Alexis, now human, was ageing rapidly right before his eyes.

Mingus got them to the tower door.  He took one last look around the green before he slipped them inside.

“Uh,” Alexis made a sound and wiggled in the light, like a sleeper trying to wake.  Mingus held her until she settled down again into her enchanted sleep.  He looked around.

The ground floor was the only floor in that great hollow finger.  The walls stretched up high enough so Mingus imagined the cathedral roof might have been designed not only to keep out the rain, but to keep the stars from falling in.  No fire gave light to that room.  No torches lined the wall.  No electric lights were allowed near the place.  Only the Heart of Time throbbed with its own internal light, and somehow, the wood out of which the tower got built retained enough of the light to light up the entire inside, even to the ceiling.

There were theories about the wood.  Recently, an ancient theory had come back to the surface—that it was some alien wood Lady Alice snatched off some impossibly distant planet.  Another theory suggested that the tower had actually been planted, like a tree, and the wood was alive, and still growing.  Mingus shook his head.  Some people will believe anything.

He helped Alexis come inside the circle painted on the floor.  They faced the stand in which the crystal rested, silently pulsing with light.  Mingus reached into his right-hand pocket to make sure he still had the amulet.  He reached into his left-hand pocket where he had a handful of gold dust.

“Mister Barrie called this fairy dust,” Mingus whispered to himself—some distant memory.  He sprinkled it on Alexis and himself, three times, and mumbled a long series of unintelligible syllables.  Alexis sneezed.  Mingus reached down to scoop Alexis up in his arms when he caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye.  Lady Alice was in the room.  Mingus panicked and jumped right into the crystal.  Alexis snapped out of her trance as they jumped into the light.  She yelled, a muffled “No,” before the sound cut off.

Alice and the naiad stepped up to the crystal.

“I think he saw you,” the naiad said.

“He needed to see me,” Alice responded.  “Hopefully, he won’t put up a struggle when the rescue party arrives.  Now, let us see where they went.”

Avalon Pilot Part I: Various Nefarious

Present day, Between Avalon and Earth.  Kairos 121:  Glen, the Storyteller.

Recording…

Mingus, a well-respected elder elf, nearly eight-hundred years old, a true academic and head of the Avalon history department for the last three-hundred years, a peace-loving scholar by reputation, dragged the elderly human woman to an obscure closet on the campus in the castle of the Kairos.  She struggled, but her hands were bound behind her back and her lips were magically sealed so she could not cry out.  Her eyes got big when Mingus opened the closet door and a cloud of dust greeted them.

You wouldn’t, she thought.  Mingus, a master of mind magic, caught her thought because she directed it at him.  You can’t do this.  Lady Alice will find out.  She will know.

“Hush,” Mingus said out loud, as he forced her to sit on the closet floor beside a broom and dustpan that hardly looked used.  He raised his hand, and the woman widened her eyes.

You wouldn’t, she repeated her thought.  Father!  Her mind cried out and her whole being objected when he touched her forehead.  Her eyes rolled up and closed as she fell into a trance.

“Alexis.  I am just trying to save you from yourself,” Mingus whispered.  He left the light on when he gently closed the door.  He paused to make sure the light did not leak out the bottom or around the edges of the door frame.  Satisfied with his work, he stepped out of the first-floor door and headed across the green toward the history building.

The great, wooden tower on his right reached for the clouds.  He understood it was the first building in Avalon.  The rest of the castle got built around that ancient structure.  It housed the Heart of Time, the glowing crystal that beat with light like the beat of a living heart.  The Heart of Time held a record of all human history.  It got created when the old god, Cronos and the Kairos, Alice, held hands, the angel presiding.  Alice made a three-pronged stand to hold the great crystal, built the tower to house it, and there it rested through the ages, beating from its own internal light, capturing a record of everything that happened on the earth.

Mingus shifted his eyes to the spring beside the tower.  The spring and the stream that came from it supplied all the fresh water in the castle.  People called it the spring of life.  Fortunately, the naiad of the spring was not present.   Rumor said she was still in recovery from the time, several years earlier, when the goddess Ashtoreth invaded Avalon and enslaved the people.  The naiad was the last defender of the tower and the Heart of Time.  The goddess overcame her in the cruelest way imaginable, and then Ashtoreth had access to all of human history.

Mingus paused.  He stopped walking and looked again at the spring and the tower.

In the end, the children of the Kairos overcame the demon-goddess with the help of the Knights of the Lance, but in the meanwhile, Ashtoreth discovered some interesting things about the Heart of Time.

First, she found that gateways, something like invisible time gates, bracketed the many lives of the Kairos throughout history—like bookends.  The gates gave real access to the lives before and after whatever life the Kairos presently lived.  If one knew how to find the gates and work them, and could cross safely through each time zone, they made something like a time-travel highway through history, from the beginning of history, when the Kairos was first conceived to live lives number one and two, up to the present one hundred and twenty-first lifetime of the Kairos.

Mingus started to walk again.  The second discovery showed a person could enter the Heart of Time and travel to anywhere in the timeline of history to begin the journey.  Jumping into the past through the Heart of Time displaced a person from his or her normal time stream.  Mingus supposed a person would continue to age according to their own internal time clock, but at that point they could travel through the gates into the future and not fear prematurely ageing, or into the past without suddenly getting younger than their birth.

No one knew this before Ashtoreth.  Maybe the Kairos knew it, but no one previously guessed.  Ashtoreth proved the fact by sending all sorts of terrible persons and monsters into the past, in her effort to disrupt history.  “Unsavories,” as Doctor Procter called them.  Mingus smiled.  That quick access to any point in history was the discovery he counted on, dangerous as it might be.

After Ashtoreth got overcome, the brains and powers around Avalon got together and built a prototype amulet that would lead a person from one time gate to the next.  Mingus volunteered to test it, in the dead of night, without telling anyone.  He took his daughter to the days of her youth, not that anyone knew he kidnapped Alexis.  They jumped to the year 1776, but Alexis remained stupid and stubborn.  She refused to come home to the Long March of Elfenheim.  She insisted on staying married to that human—on remaining human.  There appeared to be no way he could get through to her.  Mingus got angry to think about it.  He ended up dragging her back to the present through the time gates, which proved their worth.  It took him half a year to do that.  He felt prepared then to let her go.  But when they got back to the present, she made him angry, again, and he thought what he had thought a thousand times before.  No daughter should die before her father.

He stepped into the history building and walked up the stairs to the lab.

###

Lady Alice stood on the wall that surrounded the tower and the campus.  She watched Mingus enter the history building before she turned to the lovely naiad that stood beside her.  “You understand.  This one time I want you to stay away from your spring and let Mingus enter the tower of the heart.  He will run.  I will send others to chase him, and when they have him, I will bring them all back through the heart.”

“Aren’t you afraid they will get lost in time or mess up something in history and set the whole course of human life off track?” the naiad asked.

“There is a risk, but it is the only way to test the Heart.  When Ashtoreth broke it, I feared time itself might unravel.  Some said history would come to an end.  Some thought the whole of creation might roll up like a scroll and be finished.  Glen’s children were able to collect the broken pieces of the Heart, and I managed to make it whole again.  It is continuing to record the events on earth, but it needs to be thoroughly tested before I can pronounce it fully healed.”

“But what if you can’t bring them back all at once from the past?”

“Mingus and his captive daughter, that is one elf and one human, tested the time gates between my Michelle Marie’s lifetime and the present; even if Mingus did not realize that was what he was doing.  If something goes wrong, it may take a long time, but we know the people will be able to get home using the time gates.”

“It just seems a big risk.”

“Relax.  Have some faith.  Everything will work out in the end, one way or another.”

“Oh, I know,” the naiad said.  “I love the conspiracy of it, except it makes my waters churn.”