R6 Gerraint: Claudus, part 2 of 3

Gerraint found he could see better than he used to in the dark.  He imagined it like the dwarf nose and the elf ears.  He tried not to let the thought bother him, and turned to Manskin who stood beside him in the dark.  He had come up from Bringloren with the complaint that he did not know Gerraint planned to have so much fun toying with the humans.  His goblins and the few trolls they brought with them wanted in on the action.  Gerraint allowed it on the condition that they be gone by dawn.  He let them haunt the Roman line and keep them awake, especially at the end of the lines where the attacks would come.  He knew the Romans would be half broken by the time the attack came, and Manskin just kept grinning like the cat who caught the mouse.

Numbknuckles, the dwarf chief, Ringwald and Heurst came up to report that the elves and dwarfs were ready.  Gerraint already knew that Lord Birch and young Larchmont had the fee in the trees on the edge of the Vivane, ready to fly to whatever point on the line they might be needed.  More effective than reserve cavalry, he thought, and suddenly doubled over from guilt. He despised putting his little ones at risk, even if they were happy to do it.  Percival came over when Gerraint moaned.  The little ones vanished as Percival expressed his concern.

I’m all right,” Gerraint responded.  “I just don’t like the killing part.”  He tried to smile.  “Twelve thousand years, past and future, and I pray I never get used to it. Now I have a special task to discuss with my two-fifty.”  He mounted his horse and rode to his men.

When the sun began to rise, the horsemen came out from behind the line of archers and bunched up a little on the edge of the plains. Clearly, the Romans expected an infantry charge and set themselves to defend the field.  Also, clearly, they expected the Celts to be tired after charging across that long field, thus adding to their advantage.  A cavalry charge appeared unexpected and the Romans did not know what to make of it.

The knights of the lance came last to the field and formed a perfect arrow head shape.  They appeared an incredibly imposing sight, reflecting back the sunrise into the eyes of the Romans.  Each Knight sported a symbol on the small flag at the top of their lance, on their shield and on their tunic.  Every knight sported a different symbol—no two alike, and Gerraint surmised it would be the only way to tell one from another.  The Knights did not wait for the horsemen to fill the space.  Gerraint and Percival barely got to shout. “For Arthur!” and hear it echoed by Arthur’s men before they started at a brisk walk.

A third of the way across the field, and the knights stepped it up to a brisk trot.  Two thirds of the way across, they began the charge and every lance came down in unison.  The Romans did not like it one bit, disciplined or not, and the whole center of the Roman lines on both sides broke and ran.  The knights and their fifteen hundred followers did not make nearly the noise at impact Gerraint expected.  He looked for a thunderclap, but the sound did not overwhelm the sound of running, screaming Romans.

When the horsemen broke through, they divided well enough.  The RDF set ahead of time which men would go which way, and they divided fairly evenly, taking their lances as close to the front as they could.  Arthur’s men went left to support Arthur.  Hoel’s men went right for Hoel.  Both Arthur’s and Hoel’s foot men charged the flanks.  It came late according to the plan, but Gerraint imagined they were in awe of the cavalry charge and probably did not think to move sooner.  It hardly mattered.  The flanks quickly fell apart, especially when the horsemen charged from their rear, and that left only one way for the Romans to run, across the field and up the rise toward the waiting bowmen.

Some of those Romans did make it to the line of archers, but they were so beaten and tired, they put up little fight, all except one man and his followers.  The man had to be seven feet tall and looked broad in the shoulders besides.  He swept Arthur’s and Hoel’s men aside with a sword altogether too big.  It looked like he and his followers might make it to the shelter of the forest and escape, but an eight-foot ogre came bounding out of the trees.  He tore the man’s sword out of his hand, along with his hand, and hit the big man on the head with his fist, crumpling the man’s helmet and the top of his skull as well.  Then he knocked the man down and stomped on him until he became mush.  A number of Arthur’s and Hoel’s men ran on sight of the beast, but some had the good sense to cheer and renew their efforts.  At that same time, young Larchmont and his fairy troop arrived, assumed their big forms, and shot every Roman in the area, so in the end, none escaped.

Gerraint knew none of this.  He held his two-fifty back from the fray and watched the knights of the lance.  The Roman cavalry had not moved, like men stunned to stillness, and the knights of the lance took advantage of the moment to form four long lines.  They charged the Romans, and Gerraint caught a whiff of divine wrath in their charge.  The Romans fled with all speed, and did not stop at the Frankish border.  Gerraint noticed the Franks brought up a small army, no doubt to watch and critique the battle, and he knew the Roman cavalry would not last long.

Gerraint turned his eyes to the camp and auxiliaries. Claudus was there in his chariot, a fine Roman affectation, but useless on the modern battlefield.  He looked busy arming and rallying his auxiliaries to charge the back of Hoel’s horsemen.  All those cooks and teamsters were slow to get organized, but Claudus had some Visigoths in his auxiliaries, and it began to look like Claudus might bring a credible force to bear.  Claudus watched his army be destroyed.  For him, it seemed an unparalleled disaster.

Gerraint turned and got his two hundred and fifty lancers ready to charge, but the knights of the lance got there first. They slammed into the auxiliaries, cracked shields, knocked men down made men run in absolute panic.  They tore up tents, knocked over wagons and threw everything into such disarray and confusion it would be impossible for Claudus to mount a charge.  Gerraint watched the knights pop out the other side of the camp and disappear, going back to Avalon from whence they came.  Gerraint also noticed that the knights killed no one.  They had not killed the Roman cavalry.  They just drove the enemy into waiting Frankish hands. In fact, Gerraint doubted they killed anyone in the initial charge.  They likely went through them like ghosts, the way they stood on men and tents that the men never noticed the afternoon before.

Gerraint turned to his men and said, “We must fight our own battles.”  Then he turned toward the Roman camp and yelled, “For Arthur!”  They charged on the echo from the men.

Two hundred and fifty men against roughly three thousand auxiliaries did not make good odds, even if the auxiliaries were not the best soldiers.  Fortunately, Lancelot saw and pulled a great horn from his belt.  He let out a blast which got Bohort’s attention, and he charged, Bohort and roughly three hundred men and half of the RDF on his heels.

They fought, faced plenty of resistance, but soon enough the auxiliaries surrendered in droves.  It may be because many of them saw Claudus’ chariot dancing around the battlefield with Claudus shot full of arrows.  Surrender was accepted.  And in fact, by then, Romans were surrendering and pleading for mercy all over the field.

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 3 of 3

Her own thoughts turned to Gerraint and all the struggles around York.  She saw too much blood and killing, and she willingly worked her fingers off, but it felt like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. Festuscato would be facing the same soon enough.  Greta wondered what was wrong with the human race.  So much blood would be spilled, and she thought of Darius and Marcus and Ravenshold.  She dreaded what was to come.

Greta proved right.  They arrived at the river crossing after only a short walk.  Vilam stayed there, waiting as agreed.  He quickly got to his feet and doffed his hat as he saw them coming. Finbear was not there, however. In his place stood an older man named Cecil, a member of the Eagle Clan.  The first thing Cecil did was draw his sword and take two steps back. Thunderhead ignored the man since even that sharp steel could barely scratch his hide.  Greta understood why ogre hunting never became the great sport that dragon and giant hunting once became.  Thunderhead set Hans down gently as instructed and Greta let go of the tension she had not even realized she held.  She felt ever so glad that Hans did not wake up in the ogre’s arms.

“Now, maybe you could help Bogus with his job,” she suggested and gave a few scratches on his itchy spots.  Clearly, it felt more natural and came much easier for her having spent some time now among her little ones.  This time, Thunderhead appreciated of her gift.  He really was not a bad fellow for an ogre.

“I will. And I’ll do a good job.  You’ll see.”

“There now.” She finished.  “You better get along before this poor man falls over.”

Thunderhead did not even look at the man.  He moved off through the forest a little happy and a little less itchy.

Vilam introduced his friend and Cecil came straight to the point.  “If I had not seen it myself, I would have called any man a liar.”

“Well you saw.” Greta did not mean to sound uppity, but Hans remained too heavy for her.  “Now, would you put that sharp thing away and help my brother to the raft.” She stilled herself.  “Please,” she added, coming down from the heady experience of the last few hours.  She might be the Woman of the Ways, but a mere mortal, human after all.

“I’ll help,” Berry said, but Greta let Cecil and Vilam carry the boy, and they managed to get him to the raft without waking him.  In the end, he woke up all the same as the raft moved low in the water and his backside became soaked.

“Where are we going?” Hans asked.

“To the village of the Bear Clan.”  Greta answered.  “They are going to help us finish our journey to Ravenshold, but we have to pick up Drakka, Rolfus and Koren first.”

“Are they here?” Hans asked.   He wanted to get excited, but the best he could manage was groggy.  Greta pointed ahead as if to say they were in the village, but Hans looked back.  Berry had her face hidden in Fae’s shoulder, and Greta thought she had to help Berry get over being so shy.  It would be too irresistible for a boy like Hans.

When they came to the far bank, the men held the raft steady.  Greta helped Hans and Berry helped Fae.  When they came up to the gate, they found a bonfire out front. The other Clans were coming.  Many were already present.

“Vilam.” Greta had a quick thought.  “Is there another way into the village where we might not be seen?  I need to get Hans into a real bed, and I don’t like the idea of Berry being surrounded by all of these men.”  Of course, Vilam knew who Berry was, but at that moment Cecil stood in the gate shouting.

“They’re here! They’re here!”  Vilam looked at Greta and shrugged, but Greta would not give up.

“Vilam, take Hans,” she said.  “Berry, you go with them and stay with Hans.  See that he gets to bed and gets a good night’s sleep.  Look.  He is falling asleep standing here.”

“Yes, Lady,” Berry curtsied and Greta reminded herself again that these were not her little ones.  Human interactions were far more complicated.

“Do you mind?” she asked Vilam

“Not at all,” he answered.  “Three days and three nights under fairy charms and it is a wonder he is still on his feet at all.  No offence to the present company.”

“Does he mean me?” Berry had to ask, innocently, though she knew full well who he spoke of and who he stared at.

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.

“Oh, no offense.” Berry replied.  “Bogus the Skin would take that as a great compliment.  I must tell Bogus, I mean, Grandfather the next time I see him.”

Vilam smiled, sort of, and they scooted along the stockade wall until they became lost in the dark.  Fae and Greta staggered to where they were met by a group of men, escorted to the center square, sat in chairs in the most prominent place, and promptly ignored. Fae fell asleep almost as soon as they sat down.  Greta felt unable to sleep as the men argued for hours, and sometimes it became rather heated.

It all sounded typically human as far as it went.  Some believed none of the talk of gods and the Vee Villy.  Some did not want to believe for the usual variety of personal reasons.  Some, on the other hand, were true believers, and some, while they did not believe, they thought making peace with the Yellow Hairs and Romans was the right thing to do.

In the end, it came down to two sides.  Chobar of the Dog Clan argued against change.  He wanted to kill the outsiders, including Greta.  Gowan of the Eagle Clan argued for change.  He wanted to let them go and seek peace so they could join in the defense of the land, because while his village and many of the others were technically outside and west of the Roman province, they had the Lazyges thundering across the plains at their backs and they would likely ride right over the Celts to get at the gold and silver being mined out of the mountains under Roman control.

Baran finally called the meeting ended for the night.  They needed to wait for all of the Clans to arrive and be represented before making a decision.  Greta had to wake Fae, though she felt reluctant to wake her, only to be escorted to a place where they could sleep.

Greta found Berry and Hans fast asleep, entwined in each other’s arms.  They were innocent, being fully clothed.  Greta doubted if Hans even woke up.  He lay face down in bed, and Berry’s face lay beside him and with her mouth a little bit open.  She saw Berry swallow without waking, and saw Berry’s hand go up to rest in Han’s hair.  She caught a glimpse of them when they were very much older, and she decided to leave them alone.

Then she could not sleep.

Drakka and the boys had left town almost as quickly as she had gone in search of Hans. They had taken Finbear to guide them which was why he had not been at the river.  Finbear also made a rather dull knife, but she hoped he had enough sense not to trust the boys.  That thought made her turn.

Drakka did not really care about her.  He had not even left word for her.  It finally penetrated her thick head, and now it seemed painfully obvious.  He would never be with her.  At least Darius would have left word, but that just meant he was polite.  True, her view of the Romans had changed considerably in the last couple of weeks, but still!  He had his tart waiting for him in Rome.  Greta could not even be sure if Darius liked her, and here, they were going to end up stuck with each other, unless one of them got killed.  She did not want to think about it.  She turned again.

She wondered if Darius would look for her in the morning.  She would probably be a day late.  He probably would not even notice.  She turned again and finally fell into a tense and not very restful sleep.

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

MONDAY

Greta and Hans, with a few extra passengers, finish the journey to Ravenshold.  Greta fears what may be transpiring, since she became unavoidably delayed. She fears they may be fighting already.  She fears for Marcus… and maybe Darius.

Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

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R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 2 of 3

Ragwart cried, Gorse blew his nose, and Bogus hit them with his hat.  “You see, I told you,” he said, and he finished with a knock on Gorse’s noggin.

“Go on,” Greta said.  “Have lots of prickly babies.”

“That was lovely,” Fae said.  Berry got teary eyed.  She had her arms around Hans and started kissing the back of his head.  He stayed face down, asleep on the table, a half-eaten baked potato by his mouth.

It started getting late.

“Thunderhead!” Greta called.  “How are the itchies?”  She asked when he appeared.

“Better.” Thunderhead admitted in his gravel, deep voice.  He swallowed hard and added, “My lady.”  He must have figured it out and Greta knew that meant he had a tremendous headache.

“Ahem.” Bogus the Skin, still hat in hand wanted Greta’s attention once more.

“What!”  She shot him a look which on retrospect might have been harsher than it needed to be.  Bogus winced like he had been hit with a hammer.  Gorse stiffened and Ragwart hid his face in Gorse’s shirt. “You mated with a human woman which is strictly forbidden.”  Greta said. “And the child, your son, you let him run off to be lost in the wilds of the Dragon Mountains.  Now, your granddaughters have been kept apart all of these years, and that was unkind, too.  I tell you, if you like humans that much, how would you like to be one?” This was the worst of all threats for a little one, and Bogus understood.

“Oh, please.” Bogus fell to his knees and almost worried his hat to death.  “Not that. Anything but that.  I loved the lady fair and square as long as she lived. She took up with that human herself, but I never deserted her. I was faithful.  And I begged our son not to go away.  You don’t know how hard I begged him.  But I could not stop him because a young man of that age needs to make his own way in the world.   And my granddaughters, as precious to me as my own skin, I wanted them with me, but by great and noble sacrifice I let them stay with the humans, theirs being only one quarter spirit.  But when the humans gave one back to me, how I rejoiced.  And we made great magic, and all the best of us joined together so we could release the spirit within Berry so she could truly live among us as one of us. And I loved her.  And I always took best care of her.  And I’ve never been so honest in my life, but please, you must believe me.”

Greta knew he did more or less speak the truth.

“He does not lie.” Berry said, and she and Fae looked at each other with startled expressions.  Berry put her hand to her mouth as if she had said something very strange.

“But you know since the dissolution, the days for separate places is over,” Greta said.

“Yes, Lady. But I thought in this sparsely populated corner of the world we might yet have a little place for freedom, even if only for a short time.  I meant no harm.”  His voice trailed off.  His hat finally stilled, and he knelt like a condemned man waiting judgment.

“There is one thing you could do for me,” Greta said.  “You and your cohorts.”

“Anything,” Bogus said sincerely.  “Anything.”

“Make sure no guns escape,” she said, thinking fast.  “No guns, no bullets, powder or nothing else from the future must escape, either by the North road or by the South, or by any other way.  Can you do this?”

Bogus looked at her for a minute and some of his sly self began to bubble up again to the surface.  “How far can I go?” he asked.

“I prefer no one die,” Greta said plainly.  “But by hook or by crook, you must be sure none escape.  You must hide them for me, to be taken to Usgard above Midgard.”

“I think we can deal,” Bogus said.

“No deals,” Greta shot at him and his whole countenance sank.  “I am asking yes or no.”  She said it, and it was a genuine choice.  He knew he could say no with no ill effect, but he also knew he could not haggle over the job.  At last he decided.

“Yes,” he said.

“Thank you,” Greta smiled.  “Now, your granddaughters will be with me for a while, and maybe, just maybe I will let them come visit you one day.”

Bogus understood that, too, but he nodded his head.  “We will do what you ask.”  Before he could move, Greta bent over and kissed his grubby bald spot.  His face lit up like the fourth of July and he spun around with great gusto and a big smile.

“Come on, dimwits,” he said to Gorse and Ragwart.  “We got a job to do.”

“Did you mean it?” Berry asked about staying with her for a while, but Greta did not answer right off.

“Thunderhead.” Greta regained the ogre’s attention from whatever planet it had wandered to.  Actually, Thunderhead thought of nothing in particular, and likely nothing at all.  “Please pick up my brother very carefully and carry him as you would the Fairy Queen’s own baby.  I do not want him damaged, but you will have to carry him to the river.”

“Yes, Lady,” the ogre said, and with a gentleness that could hardly be believed in the rock hard, dim witted brute, he picked up Hans and they started back to the river. Thunderhead knew the way, and he was not inclined to lead them in circles.

“Did you mean that?”  Berry asked again as soon as she could.

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.  “You must stay with me for a while, but you must stay big.  I hope that won’t be a hardship for you.”

“That’s Okay,” Berry said.  “I’m big a lot.  It doesn’t bother me.  Thissle said she was never comfortable being big and did not get big very often, but it doesn’t bother me.”

“Hush,” Fae said. “You’re going on like a teenager.”

“But I’m seventy just like you,” Berry said.

“Actually.” Greta interrupted.  “In human terms, she is about thirteen.  I know it hardly seems fair, but it is true.”

“And my twin sister,” Fae said.  “And I know that is true, too, with all my heart.”

“Me too,” Berry said, and she gave her sister a little kiss and squeeze.  “Tell me more about mother,” she said, and Greta tuned them out to give them their privacy.

R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 2 of 3

“You must be Bogus,” Greta said, while a quick image flashed through her mind. Basically, she thought if he took her home to where there were six others that looked just like him, she would hit him.

“And just who are you?”  Bogus asked. Danna had hidden the truth from him so he honestly did not know.

“Greta,” she said. “Plain old Greta.”  And she thought real hard at Berry to keep her big little mouth shut.

“Oh, no,” Berry said.  “I’m no tale teller.  No I’m not.”

“So, what exactly do you want?”  Bogus asked.

“I want you to take me to my brother, Hans.  I appreciate you looking after him, but it is time that he and I finish our journey.”

“I don’t know any Hans.”  Bogus sounded very sincere.

“Just take me to him,” Greta insisted before Fae could say a thing.

“All right,” Bogus said, as if he suddenly changed his mind.  He turned, but stopped in mid-step.  “Why am I doing this?”

“Just…” Greta started.

“Oh, I’ll do it,” Bogus said, and started to walk again.  “I just don’t know why, that’s all.”

They walked slowly because Fae could not walk very fast, and all the while, Bogus mumbled. “I protect my people.  I work out a fair deal, a fair deal, mind you.  And we take the wyvern, the bogie and all of the other not so nice on our side.  And then all we get is squeezed between the river and the road, but that’s all right because at least there is a little room for us to be free, and what happens?  A mere seventy years later, a measly seventy years, mind you, and the goddess shows up out of nowhere and Poof!  It’s all gone.  Then she says I gotta give this dumb girl her dumb brother back besides.  I tell you, what is the world coming to?”

Greta looked around briefly to see how Fae and Berry were getting along, but when she looked back, Bogus had gone.  Instead, there came a tremendous roar and a vision of horrible ugliness that towered before them.  It stood right in the path, and all three women screamed, and Fae at least feared that Bogus might have been eaten.  Greta jumped forward without thinking to get between Fae and the beast.  She was not sure how Fae’s old heart could stand it.

“Stop that!” She yelled at the beast without really thinking about what she did.  She just reacted.  “Bad, bad ogre!”  She yelled, and then she slapped the ogre in his outstretched arm, truly without thinking. Curiously, the ogre wilted under her scolding and, though he would not have felt a human slap, he howled in pain at Greta’s touch.  Then Greta remembered that ogres were included among her little ones, though they could hardly be called little.  “Bad, bad.” She said again, and the ogre winced as if under hammer blows.  Then Greta felt sorry for the beast.  Berry was hide-ed in Fae’s hair, and Fae, while clearly repulsed, at the same time, she seemed fascinated with the sight.

“You scared us badly,” Greta said, a bit more softly.  “You really are an ugly, scary ogre.  I bet if you saw your own reflection you would even scare yourself.”

“I did once,” the ogre proudly admitted, and he turned a little red from embarrassment.

Fae drew her breath in sharply as Greta stepped up and put her hand right up to the ogre’s mouth; but Greta had no fear.  “Oh, I knew it.”  Greta praised the creature and he turned ever redder as she began to scratch beneath the fold of his chin where his own hammy hands could not scratch.  Ogres develop a kind of moldy fungus there which otherwise only grows on rocks.  It is not painful, but it itches terribly and Greta imagined that might be why ogres were sometimes so mean.

“Have you always been this scary, or did you grow scary when you got older?”  She made polite conversation.  At the moment, he was thumping his leg against the ground like a puppy dog.  The ground shook a little and Greta felt obliged to stop scratching to let him answer.

“Always,” he said and stuck his chin out for more.

“What’s your name?” Greta asked, not offering any more scratches.

“Thunderhead.”

“Well, Thunderhead, you know you are not allowed to scare humans.”  She almost scolded again and that took his attention from his chin.

“Bogus said it was only fairies.  He said it was a prank.”  Thunderhead defended himself in the classic way.  He blamed someone else.

“No, Dunderhead.” Berry jumped out and began to scold him herself.  Evidently, she knew him.  “No hurting the humans.  It is not permitted.”  He listened, but at the same time he made a couple of slow attempts to grab the sprite darting in front of him.  It looked a bit like trying to swat a fly with a wrought iron lamppost.  Greta backed up a little to avoid the flailing arms. “Don’t make our goddess mad at you,” Berry said.  “You have had enough scratchies.”

“No telling,” Greta insisted.

“I’m no tale teller.”  Berry said, and she fluttered back to hover between Fae and Greta.

“What do you do, Thunderhead?”  Fae asked out of curiosity.

“I make sand,” the ogre said, frankly.  “I crush the rocks to make the soil good.”  He made a fist, like he was showing her how it was done.  “But sometimes my hands get tired so I crush them with my head.  But right now, I got terrible itches.  Maybe you scratch or I eat you, rule or no rule.”

Greta’s jaw dropped.  “Of all the nerve!”  She got a little angry, and the ogre wilted again under her lashing.  “You frighten my friends, but I make nice.  I compliment you and scratch under your chin, and what do I get?  You threaten to eat us anyway!  Serves me right for being nice to an ogre!  Now move, you big, ugly oaf!”  The ogre raised his arms as if to ward off her tongue, but she slapped his arm again, and this time he felt something electric in her touch.  Thunderhead howled and jumped back about eight feet.

“You sound like Bogus,” he confessed, while he sucked on his arm and eyed Greta with awe.

“Yes.” Greta started building up a good head of steam.  “Bogus! Bogus the Skin!”

“What? Who?”  He appeared right in front of her.  “What am I doing back here?”  He got confused, at first.

“The goddess said take me to my brother and she meant safely.  She did not say I should be threatened by an ogre!”

Bogus deflected her anger by turning on Thunderhead.  “Thunderhead.  What have you been doing?”  He began a scolding of his own, but Greta interrupted before the ogre could speak.

“He only did what you told him to do,” she said.  “Yes, I know the truth.”  She added before Bogus could lie about his innocence.  “Now get moving.  I want my Hans back, and Thunderhead.”

“Me?” Thunderhead paused in his sucking. He looked visibly shaken.

“Go make some sand, and maybe, if you are real good, just maybe your itchies will go away for a while.”

“Yes,” Thunderhead said.  “I will. I will.”  He did not know what to make of her, but he felt sure that she was one he ought to listen to.

“Move,” Greta said a bit more softly as the steam began to run its’ course.

“I’m moving,” Bogus said.  “What is the world coming to?  And who are you, anyway?”