Greta went to the city that evening, escorted by Sergeant Gaius and an honor guard of Romans and Dacians. They had a feast in the banquet hall of the Roman fort. Fae stayed with her people at the outpost, but Hans went with his sister. He felt well recovered, being young, and since he went, naturally Berry went too. Greta did not even have to insist.
Greta thought she ate less than Berry, and considering the size of Berry’s true stomach was smaller than a thimble, that said something. Hans, on the other hand, got his old appetite back. He ate with both hands, and Berry had a wonderful time feeding him.
The men argued about what to do. In a way, it felt like being back in the village of the Bear Clan. Greta’s headache did not feel improved by it at all.
Marcus looked up at her, concerned a little by her silence. “Tell me, wise woman, what is your opinion on these matters?”
Greta just looked at him. She suddenly felt very tired, and she yawned to prove it.
“Come now,” Marcus said. “You came all this way and risked your life to cross the forest. Surely you had a reason. You must have something to contribute.”
“Sleep,” Greta said. “There won’t be anything decided tonight that you won’t still be arguing about in the morning. I intend to get a good night’s rest and take a fresh look at it all in the morning. Berry.” She stood.
“Oh, please,” Berry said. “One more potato.”
Hans pushed back from the table. “No, I could not eat another bite,” he said, and Berry put down her potato, only a little disappointed.
“Hans, you need to get to bed, too,” Greta said.
Hans paused to look around the room, and then with an annoying tongue he said, “Yes, mother.” The men laughed. Greta frowned, but Hans got up and followed without further protest.
There were rooms prepared for them in the fort. Berry would be staying with Greta. Hans would stay with Darius. Berry had spent her own time in tears earlier in the afternoon, because four years was forever. Perhaps because she had been worn so thin, when they reached their room, Berry curled up and went right to sleep. Greta cleaned up, and then sat and thought and thought. As tired as she felt, her mind would not let her rest.
It may have been as late as ten or eleven o’clock when she woke Berry. Berry sat up, rubbed the sleepies from her eyes, and waited patiently for Greta to speak.
“Berry,” she asked. “How do we get to Usgard?”
“My Lady knows the road to Avalon, certainly,” Berry said. “I tried to find my way once, but all I did was get lost.”
Greta knew of Usgard, of course. She knew all about it if she cared to think about it, but in some ways, it seemed like encyclopedic knowledge, lacking any real substance, and that being the case, it felt almost equally true to say she knew nothing about Avalon. She knew she had to go there, but she felt reluctant to go alone, uncertain of what they would find once they arrived. “Will you go with me?” She asked.
“Yes.” Berry spoke with evident excitement. She grabbed Greta’s hand and said, “Let’s go.”
It would not be that easy, Greta thought. Then again, maybe it would. Greta and Berry stood and Greta simply raised her hand. A doorway slowly formed at the back of the room by the window. It took a moment to come into focus and solidify. Greta looked once at Berry before she reached out and opened the door.
Berry screamed. Greta screamed. Two creatures attacked. It took a few moments for them to cross the open lawn which appeared on the other side of the doorway. They could see them clearly in the moonlight, and did not doubt their intentions. These were not like guard dogs. They were not Greta’s creatures. They did not belong there. In retrospect, Greta should have closed the door, but at the time she stayed too busy screaming. Another panic situation. Even so, she saw the horseman in the distance, but feared he might be too far away to do anything.
The first creature leapt and Berry and Greta separated so it landed between them. It turned immediately on Berry, but that became a mistake. For the second time, Greta felt a power beyond reckoning surge through her. She felt a bit like she had when, as Salacia, she stood in the eye of the hurricane. She discharged. The first creature collapsed and gave off the distinct smell of ozone and burnt fur.
The second creature hesitated. It looked at Greta as if trying to remember something, or trying to figure something out. It took too long. It had to turn because the horseman came upon it. It growled an unearthly growl and leapt, but the horseman had a lance and knew his weapon well. He caught the creature dead center, pushed through the door by his momentum and pinned the creature to the far wall, even as the bedroom door crashed open. Hans ducked. Darius said something, but Greta could not hear. He had a sword in his hand as did the dismounted horseman. They made sure of both the creature on the floor and the one against the wall, then the knight went to one knee before his mistress. Greta looked away for most of the time. Berry, cradled in her arms, still screamed. Then Greta moved suddenly, before she changed her mind. She grabbed the knight by the arm and dragged Berry behind and through the door.
She turned to look at Darius. “If you need me before morning, you can come fetch me, but only you. No, Hans. You must not come.” She closed the door and left the facsimile of an actual door on the other side.