R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 2 of 3

“You really are an ordinary looking girl,” Brunhild said at last, squeezing Greta’s cheeks.  “Funny that you should have gotten so close to power and then failed at the last.”

“Whatever do you mean?”  Greta asked through fish-like lips.

“Silly girl.”  Brunhild smiled wickedly and let go, scratching Greta’s face with her nails. “My god, the Lord Mithras, blessings on him, has pledged to take over the whole world, beginning with Rome.  I shall marry the next emperor and rule the world, my dear.”

At first, the idea of Rome taking over the world brought a bad episode of Star Trek to mind; but then Greta’s eyes widened. “No,” she said.  “You cannot have him.  He will not serve you.”

“So, you know.”  Lady Brunhild mused.  “Yes, I must remember that you are no fool.  At first I thought my Lord wanted me to use Trajan’s weapons against Rome, ironic as that would have been.  But now I see that in his all-powerful turning of fate, all of this, the rebellion, certain Romans being here in this hinterland, the Quadi, all of it was simply to bring Marcus to my side.”

“No.”  Greta still shook her head.  “It won’t happen that way.”

“Why, yes, my dear.”  The lady had a flashy grin.  “And when I put my Germanic peoples together with the Romans, no force on earth shall stop us.”  She laughed. “Now don’t you think Marcus will make a good puppet?”

“He will make a good emperor.”  Greta spoke carefully.  “But he will never be the puppet you imagine.  Be careful, lest you end up serving him.”  Greta shook her head.  “Oh, I forgot.”  She spoke with determination.  “You won’t be there with him.”

Lady Brunhild slapped Greta’s face and started her lip bleeding again.  Then her smile returned and she pinched Greta’s cheeks once more.

“Now, what makes you think that?” She asked.

I’ll stop you, Greta thought, but she said nothing. All the same, Lady Brunhild laughed. She might not have been able to read Greta’s mind, but she could easily read Greta’s face.

“Let’s see your toy.”  The lady said, and scratched Greta’s face again as she turned toward the altar.  She looked carefully, and so did everyone else.  Lady Brunhild slowly circled the altar until she stood right behind it. Then she laughed again and waved her hand right through the object.  The statue wavered for a moment in the wind, like a vision of heat rising from the rocks, and then it vanished altogether.  “Very good.”  Lady Brunhild appeared impressed.  “I knew you had some power by blood, though I thought it was only a little from your grandmother.  I had no idea you were capable of such an illusion.  Such magic!”  She was not really impressed, but spoke to Greta like a mother might speak to a toddler. She came to pinch Greta’s cheeks a third time, and now it started to become very painful, but there seemed nothing Greta could do about it.  Her arms were still held tight.  “You may even have something of a lesser Spirit about you and that may be why I can’t quite catch your thoughts.”  She let go once more, and the scratch in her face began to bleed.  “But no matter.  My power has been granted to me by a god, by the Divine Mithras himself, blessings on him.  You startled me well in Boarshag, but I was not nearly so strong then as I am now. Perhaps this time I can startle you.” She giggled a very girlish giggle at her own thoughts and it made Greta want to gag.

“Mother.”  Kunther interrupted at no little risk.  “I mean, Brunhild.  These are the result of no illusion.”  He brought forward the man with the burned hands.  Brunhild touched them and closed her eyes.  Greta could see the strain on Brunhild’s face, but slowly, the blisters went away, the blackened flesh turned red and then fair again, and soon enough, all of the red had gone.  The man began to weep in gratitude, but Lady Brunhild brushed him off.  She had to catch her breath.  She clearly looked worn.

“There are other ways to burn a fool than by a spurious statue,” Brunhild said.  “As you told me, he dropped the statue, but the fire stayed on his hands.”

“That’s true.”  Several men confirmed, and Lady Brunhild brushed off any further discussion on that matter as well and turned back to Greta.  Greta steeled herself, calmed her insides and wondered what would happen next.

“That armor you manifested that day in Boarshag.  I would have it.”  She came right out with it.

“It is not mine to give.”  Greta responded.  It was hers, but only in her lifetime.  In truth, it belonged to her greater self, to the Kairos, and got passed down from Traveler to Traveler, from life to life.

“Manifest it now!”  Greta felt the power of Lady Brunhild’s demand hit like a brick.  It struck her mind and twisted her gut. Greta had no power like that.  She could not resist, but the armor resisted. It remained rooted too deep in the works of the gods of old.  Lady Brunhild might kill her, Greta thought, but the woman would never have the armor.

“Now!”  The Lady got impatient, and Greta could see her straining.  She forced the issue and Greta nearly went unconscious.  Then voices came into Greta’s head.

“She would do better if she relaxed and kept herself free of her emotions and impatient will.”  Danna spoke through time.

“I would not suggest it, though.”  Salacia quipped.

“Go ahead and show her the armor.”  Nameless finished.  “Trust.  You are the Kairos now.”

Greta did not exactly understand what Nameless meant by that, but she understood that her work throughout history was always a struggle, full of human foibles and failings.  Invariably she had to trust in the source, as the gods used to call it. She knew now, and for the last hundred and fifty years or so, what she had always known but was never allowed to speak about.  She knew what Gerraint knew, what Arthur learned despite Merlin, and what Festuscato knew as well.  She had to trust in the source, now called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which is to say, the God of the gods.  She called to her armor, and the call sounded strong, though she had nearly fallen into a coma.  She could always call for her armor, she knew, whether she found herself beneath the ocean or sucked into the vacuum of space, her voice would make the sound, and her armor would come.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 1 of 3

Something bothered Gregor.  “And where will you be in all of this?” he asked.

“I have to confront the Lady Brunhild,” Greta said.  “Which reminds me, Thissle.  Under no circumstances are you to be in the same room as Lady Brunhild.”  She turned to Bragi.  “I do not know the extent of her powers, but I will not risk Thissle, Okay?”

Bragi nodded again.

“I understand, my Lady,” Thissle said.  “I don’t like witches.  No, no, no.”

“She said that right,” Bragi interjected. “Lady Brunhild is a witch.  She bewitched us all.  I know you have the sight, but you have no power like hers.”

“She turned one man into a dog,” Gregor said. The others looked at him as if he had lost all sense, but he insisted.  “It is true.  Hagen confronted her and she turned him into a dog right in front of my eyes.”

“You can’t confront her,” Bragi said.

“But I am the only one who can,” Greta responded. “And this rebellion will never be over until Lady Brunhild is finished, one way or the other.”

“Bragi.”  The guard stuck his head in the door.  “The Lady is returning from the Quadi camp.  You need to get out of there before Kunther finds you.”

Greta gave her brother a last hug.  “Good luck,” she said.  “Take care of my Thissle.”  Greta let go, and Bragi left with the invisible Thissle beside him. The door got shut and bolted once again.

After that, Vasen became full of questions for Thorn. Curiously, no one questioned her authority over these gnomes except for Vasen’s one comment near the end.

“Truly you are Mother Greta.”  Gregor started it.  “Only the woman of the ways would know such things.”

Vasen shook his head.  “There is more here than mere tales of the woman of the ways.”

“Yes, that’s right.  Much more.”  Thorn started, but Greta hushed him.

“You don’t want to be a tale teller,” she said, as she went over to examine a tapestry on the wall.  Thorn shrugged, but got the message and got quiet.

“There is a lot of fairy work in the wall hanging,” Thorn said after a while.  “I can smell it.

“Yes,” Greta agreed.  “Grandfather Woden had it on the wall when this served as his hunting lodge.  The haunted forest started as his hunting preserve, you know.”  Thorn smiled.  Greta rolled her eyes and slapped her hand to her mouth almost hard enough to start it bleeding again.

“Grandfather Woden?”  Vasen caught it.

“The wise woman keeps silent, but the fool’s tongue cannot keep still,” Greta said through her fingers just before they heard a sound at the door.  “Thorn. Behind the tapestry.”  The little one complied.

Four guards stepped in and then stepped aside to let Lady Brunhild enter.  She looked as haughty and cruel as ever, Greta thought, yet something else as well. It disturbed Greta to look at the woman because she could not pinpoint what was wrong with the picture.

Lady Brunhild glanced at Greta, looked at Gregor who had a scowl on his face, and looked briefly at Finbear who did not look sure he knew what was going on.  Vasen turned his back on the Lady, but she stared at him, and he knew it as everyone saw the back of his neck turn red.  She walked casually to the tapestry and examined it, as if she sensed something.

“An exquisite piece of work,” she said. “Don’t you think?”  Greta heard something different about the woman’s voice as well, but it still eluded Greta’s grasp.

“Fairy work, one might say.”  Greta spoke pleasantly.  “It is very finely done.”

“Indeed,” the lady said.  Her hand came away from the tapestry to focus more fully on Greta. “I have been smelling the annoying things all over the Quadi camp all day.  No wonder they were in no condition this morning to mount an attack.”  She took a few steps closer and looked at Greta as if trying to penetrate her mind, but Greta, or more precisely, the Kairos would not let her in.  “Why do I feel you know something about all of this?” she asked.

Greta shrugged and smiled.  The woman would not read her thoughts, and after a moment, Lady Brunhild gave up trying.  She turned quickly toward the door.

“Bring her,” the Lady commanded.  Two men grabbed Greta roughly and seemed to delight in dragging Greta into the sanctuary.  It felt like Vedix all over again.  They returned to the alter which got towered over by the Odin statue, and there the men held her and did not let her so much as touch the scab forming on her lip. Greta saw her own small statue still on the altar, but then she realized it was only a glamour left by Thissle to fool the men.  The real statue had already gone.

Kunther also stood there along with a half dozen other men, including the man with the burned hands.  “Mother.”  He started to speak but became silent when she looked up at him, sharply.

“You must remember to call me Brunhild, Kunther dear, now that I am younger than you, Mother will not do.”  She said it.  That was it!  Lady Brunhild was no longer an elderly woman in her late fifties.  She was now no older than twenty-five, or perhaps twenty, and she spoke as if she expected to get even younger.  She walked up to Greta and squeezed Greta’s cheeks with her boney fingers. She caught the moment of recognition on Greta’s face and thought she might try once more to penetrate Greta’s mind; but no way she could.  Lady Brunhild had obviously gained a great deal of power and strength since their last meeting.  She was probably even more powerful than the Hag at that point, but the Traveler knew too much about the future.  Greta’s mind had been covered under the contract, so to speak, that the ancient gods in unison made millennia ago in the halls of Karnak.  It was the same contract which allowed her to manifest a power far beyond her natural abilities in relation to the little ones for whom she had been made responsible at that same meeting.  For Brunhild, no matter how strong, the attempt to read Greta’s mind became like a fly attempting to penetrate a concrete wall.

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 2 of 3

“Sabazios Dyeus, grant us wisdom and courage,” Greta spoke as she walked.  “Zalmoxis, shine your light into our darkness. Artemis Bendi, defend the powerless on this day, and Selvanus, bring healing to all who do what is right.”  At the end of the sanctuary, there stood a giant statue of a man.  It looked like Odin, and Greta gasped to recognize him.  It had been carved from a single granite block, and it stood over the altar as if keeping a watchful eye on all the proceedings.

Greta set her meager offering on the table.  When she uncovered it, there were collective gasps and exclamations from the crowd. What the statue lacked in size, it more than made up for in priceless quality.  It appeared a magnificently crafted work of art, and the fact that Greta knew it got made in only one day felt almost unbelievable.

“This was made by the people who live in the forest,” she explained, not specifically naming the Celts.  “The lioness represents the Don, the Mother Goddess of the Gaelic people.  The dolphin is for the Romans, for Neptune, and in particular Salacia, Queen of the sea, to remind us that the Romans came to us from across the sea.  The bear is for the beloved grandson of the North, the Nameless god, the result of peace between the Vanir and Aesir.  If the gods can make peace, can we do less?”

“And the horse?” Vasen asked while Kunther nodded as if to say he had the same question.

“Let the horse in the middle be for all of us, and let it be a symbol of unity and peace. When well treated, the horse is a strong, loyal and tireless servant, and so we should serve one another in the cause of peace.  If there must be a fire, let it come from our unity, and let it be a fiery passion to defend our land, our loved ones, and our children who may yet harvest a legacy of peace and security for all.”  She pressed down on the horse’s tail and the horse rose up and showed flame from the eyes, nose and mouth.  When she let the horse down, the flame appeared to go out.

“Why, this is marvelous.”  Vasen said, and he tried the horse for himself.  Scorch behaved, but Greta hoped the Priest would not do that all night. Scorch would surely become sea sick.

Kunther walked once around the object.  He looked reluctant to touch it and Greta supported those feelings.  “This belongs to the temple, now,” she said.  “It is an offering to the gods and ought to be touched only by the priests.”

“Very well. I see no harm in the trinket, but as for you.”  He hit her in the mouth, knocked her down again and brought blood to her lip.  “I am sure Mother will want a word with you.  Put her in with the others,” he ordered.  “And take the Priest, too.”

Greta’s jaw hurt, her nose also bled a little along with her lip, and she feared she might get a black eye, but she refused to cry and shook off Vasen’s attention as several of the men took them to a back room in the temple.  When the door got shut and locked, Greta also knew that there were guards on duty.

The room itself seemed fairly large.  It appeared to be a place where the priests could retire for a time of meditation and prayer, and it held many of the priestly vestments as well as many artifacts of their work.  This was not a mere storage room, however, but rather a place for easy access to the sanctuary.  On one side, a door lead to the priest’s quarters.  It had been locked.  At the back, an opening and a rather small balcony unfortunately overlooked a cliff of considerable size.

Greta already found two men in the room.  They were the “others” Kunther had mentioned.  One, a Dacian named Gregor, had been accused of speaking out against the rebellion, and Kunther, and specifically against making any deals with the Quadi.  The only reason he stayed alive was because Kunther hoped to ferret out any others who might feel the same way, or cow those others into submission.  The other man in the room was Finbear.

“Lady!” Finbear made a beeline for Greta. “I almost lost hope.”

“Finbear.” Greta hugged him, which raised the eyebrows of the other men in the room.  She spoke for a moment in Gaelic which the others could not understand.

“Your father is in the Roman camp with Fae, Vedix the hunter and Cecil of the Eagle clan. They have allied with the Dacians and Romans in the field, but he does not know you are here.  He thinks you have gone home to care for your mother.”

“Yes, they have a right to know what has happened to me,” Finbear said.  “That is the only thing that kept me from jumping off the cliff. I do not think these people know what to make of me, but I think one recognized me as the son of the woodsman. I don’t know what your friend may have told them.”

“He is not my friend.”  Greta decided and confessed.  “I thought I was in love with him, once, but now I don’t think I even like him, and I assume he told them everything, about your people in the forest and everything.” She turned toward him and he noticed her bloody lip.

“But you are hurt,” he said.  “I do not understand.  Won’t the Don come now and set us free?”

“No, Finbear. It doesn’t work that way.”

“But the Don will come if you ask her,” he said, puzzled.  “I saw how she came to the village.  She revealed herself through you.  It must be something to be possessed by a god, even if only for a short time.”

Greta almost laughed.  It had to be about as interesting as a goddess being possessed by a Greta, she thought, but she said something else.  “You know how the gods work.  They put us in these impossible situations and somehow expect us to work our way out, all on our own.”  Finbear looked downcast.  He understood well enough.  “But don’t worry,” Greta added.  “We will find a way out.  The answer may be at the door even as we speak.”

They paused, but heard nothing.  That would have been too much to expect.  She did not have the timing of the little ones.  She was only human, after all.  She patted Finbear’s hand in reassurance, turned to Gregor and found him very informative.

Avalon 3.1: part 6 of 7, Close Enough to Hell

It did not take long to catch up with the procession where a dozen dwarfs were solemnly carrying the body of Carthair down the mountainside to his final resting place. Not much after the travelers caught up with those somber faces, the whole procession began to follow a stream. By late afternoon, they saw they were headed down into an upland valley where the stream became the beginning of a small river. It wound out of sight around much higher elevations, but the travelers understood it would eventually meet up with other streams and little rivers and become a big river that would flow all the way to a distant sea. Which sea was the only question, whether it would skirt the Alps and fall into the Adriatic, or join the Danube and meander to the Black Sea or head north until it emptied into the North Sea. They debated it, for something to do.

celltic town otherOnce they came further down the hill, they saw huts and tent-like structures here and there which showed every indication of human habitation. They were inspired to ride ahead in their excitement and desire for human contact, but Lockhart held them back. He said first they had to follow to where the dwarfs took the body.

“I am pretty sure that is where we will find the Kairos,” Alexis added.

The travelers dismounted at the edge of the village and walked their horses respectfully behind the dwarfs. They headed toward a big open building with fires burning bright and the sound of hammers against metal. It was a real blacksmith shop, and Hart, the one Kobald that stayed with them as they came down the mountain, made a single remark to Lockhart.

“Puckmein the dwarf drank too much and let slip the way of making bronze. Now these short livers are getting rich.”

“The knowledge is slowly making its way north,” Deepdigger, the chief dwarf spoke for only the third time that afternoon. “Lord Lucas and his father were going to take the knowledge of the bronze back over the alps to his Etruscas people, but there was trouble on the way. The way I heard it, the Lord escorted his father down into the land of Hades and barely escaped back here with his life.”

“Trouble?” Katie asked. “Land of Hades?”

“Murder,” Hart explained. “This one here.” He pointed to Carthair’s body.

“Carthair was murdered?” Lockhart asked.

“No.” Hart said, but before he could say more, they arrived.

There was something of a railing, perhaps like a fence to keep out the curious, but the travelers were able to tie their horses off before going inside. The dwarfs stopped outside with their package and only chief Deepdigger went in at first. Hart followed the travelers.

Two big men, giants in their day, though they were not necessarily bigger than Lockhart or Decker, came up to eye the intruders. The one with long brown hair tied back in a ponytail carried a big hammer. The scraggly blond had a cloth to wipe his hands, though it was hard to tell how that dirty cloth could hold any more dirt. Both men had faces streaked with charcoal, eyes that squinted, and frowns that looked etched in from years of bending over the hot fires.cetic town bar

“Lucas?” Lincoln tried the brown-haired man. The man said nothing, so he tried to blond. “Lucas?”

Lockhart tried a different approach. He stuck out his hand. “Lockhart,” he said, and introduced Katie, who smiled.

“Liam,” the one with the brown hair named himself and took Katie’s wrist. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Gunther,” the blond introduced himself to Lockhart, and shouted. “Lucas!”

A young man, not more than eighteen, came from around the back of the forge. He looked strong, well muscled and without any fat, but he also looked small compared to the blacksmiths. Deepdigger followed on the young man’s heels and stopped when the young man stopped to speak to Liam and Gunther.

“This is your place, and I am grateful for all you have done for me. All I can do is suggest you might want to go and see how Bogart’s new ale is coming along. Things around here are about to get very strange.”

“Oneesis?” Gunther asked.

“Lucas fancies himself in love with the Lady of the Mountain,” Liam confided.

Lucas shook his head. “Go ahead Deepdigger. Bring him in.” Then he spoke to the big men. “Probably Hellas, and maybe the same from the West, in case Liam has no other plans.”

Liam nudged his big friend, but Gunther first wanted to wag a finger at Lucas. “You just make sure you keep the fire hot.”

Lucas nodded, and when the dwarfs set down the body, Liam recognized the man. “Carthair.”

Lucas worried first about his job. “Dwarfs. You heard the man. Maintain the fire.”

“Just maintain it,” Gunther yelled and then he confided to the strangers. “Last time they got it so hot they just about burned the place down.”

“Turned a perfectly good plow blade into a puddle,” Liam added.

The dwarfs were delighted with the assignment and began to sing.

“We love to sing and dance and play, and work our work all through the day, And when we work the work we start, it makes us want to –“

“Knock it off!” Lucas yelled. He mumbled to the others. “This isn’t a Disney movie.” Then he turned to Carthair’s body and spoke sternly. “Carthair, come out of there.”

“No,” came the answer. “This is my body and I am going to live again as soon as I thaw out.”

inside BlacksmithThe travelers were not sure exactly what Gunther and Liam heard, but Gunther left quickly, and Liam suggested the strangers were welcome to join them.

“No thanks,” Decker answered. “I’ve already had a long talk with the fellow.”

“Carthair, there is no hiding now.”

“I’m not hiding.”

“Mother,” Lucas called out

“Where is my feast.” A woman appeared who was half woman and half rotting corpse. The travelers tried not to squirm, but it was a horrific sight as a worm crawled out of the woman’s empty eye socket and reentered the skull where the dead lips were peeled back from the teeth.

“Mother.”

“Helper,” the woman called and a ghost-like creature appeared beside her. “Collect my soul.” The creature said nothing. It merely went to the body and began to suck out the ghost.

“Mother. Oh, forget it.” Lucas said, and he was no longer standing there as Lucas. Danna, the mother goddess of the West, came from the past to stand in his place. She let out a great white light and the creature over Carthair squealed in pain and backed off.

“You have no place here,” the half-dead woman said.

“But I do,” Another woman appeared. “And maybe she does.”

‘Vrya, oh thank goodness,” Danna looked relieved.

“My son, even when you are my daughter,” Vrya said. “You know a murderer has no place in my house.”

“I know,” Danna agreed. “But maybe Odin needs to decide this. Maybe the Celts need to head west even if they are still in the Rhineland for the present.”

Vrya patted Danna’s hand like she agreed in principle. She got out the “O” and the god appeared, one eye covered and all. He made an imposing presence. And the travelers did their best to keep their eyes closed even if it didn’t prevent them from feeling the awe and trembling.

“I get the half-breeds,” Odin said without preliminaries.

“Unless they are married to a Celt or raised in the Celtic tradition to know the gods of the Celts,” Danna countered.

“Agreed,” Odin said and turned to the half-rotted woman. “Go back to your hell hole.” Both he and the woman with her creature vanished, but she managed to send back a word.

“And I would have honored him, considering who he murdered.”

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

Be sure and visit tomorrow for the conclusion of Avalon, episode 3.1, Carthair Revealed.