Heads nodded with understanding as Wlvn spoke. He felt he had been patient enough. “But now, you have something to tell us I think.”
“Indeed,” Lord Oakvein also nodded his head. “Of late I have become aware of a great power in the east. Her eyes are turned in this direction, and not for good. She alone has power to force others to her will. There is nothing that even the gods can do to force my will, being counted as a lesser god myself, but I fear the little ones, the elves and dwarfs and the dark elves who live under the mountain might not have the strength to resist her. As for men, she might not have the power in herself to take a whole village. I see she has soldiers for that task. But one man here, one woman there might be swayed by her, even at this great distance. I know you oppose her. Be careful whom you trust. What is more, she does not work alone.”
“What do you mean?”
“I cannot say who, but I imagine one of the gods themselves is supporting her, directly, and I see the other great gods holding back as if they promised not to interfere.”
“The gods don’t make promises,” Wlvn said.
“So I have heard, but they may pledge to stand back for a season. It is not unknown.”
“One of the gods?” Vinnu sounded frightened by the thought of opposing a god.
Wlvn could not help teasing her. “Do you see what trouble Flern has gotten you into?”
Thrud and Tiren laughed nervously.
“I don’t care.” Vilder spoke up, and it sounded a bit loud. “The Jaccar have taken our homes and imprisoned our families. I will fight the gods if I have to in order to set them free.” Pinn touched Vilder on the arm and leaned up to kiss his cheek. Everyone but Oakvein and Riah gasped. They had never seen them so much as touch. Vilder also appeared shocked, from the look on his face, but he quieted and took Pinn by the hand, and they held hands for the rest of that night.
“What of the Were?” Wlvn asked.
“I do not know,” Lord Oakvein admitted. “They may be beyond her reach for one reason or another.”
Wlvn nodded. “I am not as concerned about my little ones as I am about those that are not mine.”
“Your little ones?”
“Yes, mine and Flern’s.” Wlvn told Oakvein, and the others by extension, though they understood or suspected as much.
“So that was why she traveled with the half dwarf and the half elf and Moriah’s mother, Laurel. But what of the mermaid? How do you explain that?”
“Tell us about Flern,” Vinnu spoke up. She wanted to get her mind off the idea of fighting the gods.
“Yes, what did she stumble into?” Thrud asked, having been exceptionally quiet that whole time. “Flern was always a pretty good klutz.”
Lord Oakvein lifted his ivy vest and showed his scar again. “That sword, actually.” He pointed at Wlvn. “She was learning.”
Wlvn listened at that point. He felt glad to hear that things were continuing according to plan. Skinny Wlkn and Elleya were still clinging to each other, Badl and Moriah would end up together and Flern apparently found the one Mother Vrya and Aphrodite designated for Andrea. If Wlvn should find his way back to his own time, he would not have to marry any of those women. He smiled and turned over to sleep while they talked, Riah right in the middle of the conversation.
Wlvn instinctively knew it would be best not to listen too closely. If he heard too much about how things turned out in those days, he might be tempted to change things, or accidentally change things if and when he got back there. He considered his situation and wondered briefly if this double trade might really be the accident it seemed, but then he slept.
In the early morning, Riah woke with him before the sun. They walked as they talked so as not to wake the others.
“You were named after Moriah, my friend,” Wlvn said it out loud.
“Yes.” Riah looked at the ground. “She died seventy-two years ago, the day I was born. She and mother were best of friends.”
Wlvn nodded and stopped when the light began to peek above the horizon. “And Badl?” he asked.
“Very old,” Riah said. “His son, Balken is chief of the dwarfs of Movan Mountain.”
Wlvn stopped walking at the edge of a small clearing and looked at the elf. She became self-conscious under his stare and looked away. “So, you are seventy-two. From your appearance, a girl about fourteen or fifteen sounds right.”
“I am older than my mother was when she accompanied you, I mean Flern.” Riah said in her defense and wondered what Wlvn might be getting at.
“And I suppose you can’t tell me what happened with your mother.”
Riah shook her head. “Mother was right about that. I never paid attention. I only know what Lord Oakvein spoke about last night, and I am sure some of that is not to be told. I would not be surprised if the others woke up without remembering it at all, and while I remember what he said, I am sure my tongue will not form the words. The law is young, but I know the law in my deepest being. I cannot tell you about things you have not experienced for yourself, even if they are things in the deep past.”
That was indeed the law, his law. It was safer that way. He understood, but he did not answer. He stood still instead when he heard the bushes rustle behind him. Riah looked and smiled, but Wlvn figured it might be one or more of the others. His eyes were drawn instead to the increasing light in the forest because that light did not come from the rising sun.
After only a moment, a bright white light erupted from the trees and into the little clearing. When the light dimmed, they saw a unicorn, its horn pointed up in a non-threatening manner. It shook its head and glowing white sprinkles fell from its mane. It pointed at Wlvn and stomped its left foot twice on the ground. Then it turned and bolted back into the woods to be lost from sight.