Flern woke when she heard a rustle in the bushes not far from where she and the other girls slept. She got up slowly, thinking at first that one of the horses may have wandered into the woods and away from the open, grassy area in which they rested. To be sure, the grassy area where they slept came merely at the edge of the grassland that stretched all of the way back to the river. They stopped when they reached the trees. Common sense told her if the horse was inclined to wander anywhere it would be deeper into the grasses, yet the rustling came from the woods, and it sounded large. She thought of a horse, in part, because she did not really want to consider the other possibilities. Several had been afraid the horses might wander off in the night, but Pinn had kept the rope Diogenes found, and it seemed long enough to tie all fourteen horses to the rope and tie the rope to a tree. So, it could not be a horse, Flern thought to herself. She reached for her sword and long knife as a comfort. She certainly did not know how to use them. Then she supposed that the horses were not tied comfortably. The rope did not seem long enough for that. One horse might have pulled free, or it might not have been tied well in the first place.
Flern heard the rustling again. The rustling came from the leaves. Vinnu stuck her head up to listen. “A bear?” Vinnu asked in a shaky whisper. Flern just shook her head, though whatever it was, it had to be big. She imagined night creature big. She looked around the camp. Fritt, Trell and Tird were missing. Flern supposed it could be them, but why didn’t they just show themselves? Unless they were joking around.
Flern put down her blades and reached into the back of her cloak. She found the bow there, the one the Princess used in town. A true, ebony wood, elf bow, with plenty of arrows, and Flern at least felt she knew something about using the weapon. She notched an arrow and backed up from the sound to listen once more.
“What’s up?” Tiren called from the far side of the fire, and he called much too loud.
“Quiet!” Vinnu hushed him with even more volume, and everyone started to stir. At once there came a great rustling of leaves. Two Jaccar stepped out from the trees. They looked like they had spent half the night underwater. One charged the campfire, but Flern’s arrow caught the man dead center. At that distance, she could hardly miss. Kined and Tiren jumped on the man, and he did not live long. The other man went for the horses, and brandishing a blade, he cut one free. He mounted on the run like a well-trained horseman, and everyone started yelling at once, but Flern no longer stood there. The Princess came to take her place.
The Princess called to her weapons, and they rose up, the sword attaching to her back, so it stuck out over her left shoulder, and her long knife attaching across the small of her back just before it jumped into her hand. She cut Flern’s horse free, mounted like the expert horsewoman she was, and rode after the man. She passed Vilder and Gunder on the way as they ran across the field, yelling.
The Jaccar looked back once, but the Princess already had an arrow on her string. She stood on the back of the galloping horse, like some circus act, but not for showing off. It was the only way she would get a clear shot. It only took one shot. The man, struck in the back, peeled off the back of the horse that immediately slowed to a trot and then to a walk. The Princess finished the journey more comfortably in the seat and finished the man with her long knife before she let Flern return to her own time and place. Flern immediately mounted again and rounded up what turned out to be Thrud’s big steed. “Lazy as her mistress,” Flern said to herself. Then she started to cry as she rode back to the camp and decided that she did not like killing at all. The only thing that made it palatable was the certainty that the Princess did not like killing either.
“That was amazing, incredible, I knew you were good, but…” Most of the camp looked ecstatic, but Vilder and Kined stayed quiet. They saw that it was the Princess, and so did Pinn, apparently, but with her hood up, Flern imagined that all of the others saw her back and they just assumed Flern. Drud was hard to read. He stayed quiet but kneeled and stared into the fire. Who knew what he might be thinking?
Flern cried a little more as she dismounted, and after a moment of rejoicing, Elluin and Vinnu offered their condolences. Not long after that, Fat Fritt, Strawhead Trell and Tird came waltzing into the camp. They bagged a deer and expected massive congratulations. What they got instead was regaled with Flern’s adventure, as they were calling it. Flern took out the long knife the Princess used to slice the man’s throat. She threw it into the side of the deer, and it sank, almost to the hilt.
“It’s like a Ginsu knife, you know, never need sharpening,” she said, and she stepped off into the woods where she could have some privacy to relieve herself and cry some more.
Flern hardly stayed alone for long before she felt a tingling in her hands and a rumbling in her gut. Anyone else might have thought they were getting sick, but Flern felt suspicious. She looked up at the sun to gauge the time and mumbled two names. “Wlvn. Odin.” But why should she be feeling the effects of Odin’s gift to Wlvn? Surely, he did not mean to empower the Kairos forever.
“That gift isn’t in me.” The Princess spoke into Flern’s mind.
“Or me.” Diogenes and the Storyteller each confirmed.
“Perhaps because you are Wlvn’s genetic reflection, you are also reflecting his gifts.” Doctor Mishka suggested. “You certainly received his gift for horses.”
“But not to his extent.” Flern often tried to deny the gift even if it became self-evident.
“So, Odin’s gift may also be reflected in you to a lesser extent, but it is being reflected in you all the same.”
“But I don’t want it.” Flern confessed, and all she could see was the minute she started throwing thunderbolts around, she would have no friends left at all, and Kined would not want anything to do with her. She refused to do that, and she tried to make the feeling go away, and tried not to think about it at the same time, which proved very hard to do. Eventually, she remembered how to send her armor and blades back to wherever they came from and recall her own dress from that same place. The poor boys probably had a bit of a shock when her long knife disappeared, but she figured they were well skilled with their copper instruments and her long blade, while more than up to the task, had not really been designed as a butcher’s tool.
After a while, Flern went quietly back to the camp where she could sit on the grass and frown. The boys still argued about cutting up the deer and the girls argued about how to cook it. They all paused to look at her in her regular dress, and Kined spoke.
“Your knife,” he said.
“I know,” she responded, and that ended it. They all went back to their arguing, except for Pinn, who came over and sat beside Flern. She said nothing, so after a while, Flern spoke.
“Bunder is staring again. Dunder head.” Flern added the insult when she pointed at the boy who all but drooled.
“Maybe your Princess could beat him up. I assume that was the Princess, earlier,” Pinn suggested and Flern did not reject that suggestion. “Who is she, anyway?”
“Me.” Flern gave the simple answer and looked at her friend. “But I won’t be born as the Princess for three thousand, two hundred and twenty-four years, according to the Storyteller’s estimate.”
Pinn raised her eyebrows. “Three thousand years in the future?”
Flern and her companions find the first people beyond their village. They are nomads, an unsettled people heading in their direction, an they have had run-ins with the Jaccar, twice. Until Monday, Happy Reading.