R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 3 of 3

The horse looked bigger than any horse they had ever seen, its nostrils flared, and its breath came in great puffs like mist in the dawn of early spring.  The horse looked covered in a blanket that sported great crosses embroidered in the fabric.  The rider appeared covered head to toe in plate armor so that no part of his flesh could be seen.  He sat on a saddle with a high front and back, and stirrups for his armored feet. And he sported the biggest, longest lance they could imagine, with a simple flag tied to the lance that showed a figure eight on its side, the symbol for infinity.

“About eight hundred years ahead of yourself, wouldn’t you say?”  Gerraint was the first to speak.  The Knight lowered his lance and touched the ground in Gerraint’s direction.

“Who is this magnificent looking warrior?” Lancelot seemed enthralled.

“One of the knights of the lance from Avalon, the same place Excalibur came from,” Gerraint answered.

“Good sir knight,” Arthur started but Gerraint interrupted.

“No.  They don’t talk.  A vow of silence.”  He added that for Lancelot and took a step forward.  “And the answer is no.  No way. Tell Yin Mo no way.”

“No way what?” Lancelot asked.

“Is he volunteering to help?” Arthur, who had been around Gerraint for some time and knew better how to read his shorthand speech, guessed.”

“Yes,” Gerraint answered roughly.  “And a thousand more just like him if I let him.”

“But that would be perfect.”

“No.  It was bad enough endangering the kobold, brownies and fee under Lord Birch, but they were just scouts and kept their bows in the background.  They didn’t attack the enemy directly.”

“But.”

“No.”  Gerraint hesitated.  “Tell Yin Mo I will think about it.  Now please, if you don’t mind.”  He waved off the Knight who raised his lance, turned his horse, and in a few paces disappeared into the trees and the mist.  Even the sound of the horse crunching through the leaves vanished.

###

When Percival and his crew returned in the afternoon, there were six riders instead of five.  Bohort and Lionel went straight to Lancelot.  They had a lot to catch up on.  Gawain and Uwaine still talked about something.  Gerraint did not pry.  The sixth horse took his attention.  It was Meryddin, but he looked old and drained.  Gerraint greeted him normally, and he returned the greeting, but Meryddin made no indication that he thought Gerraint might be anything other than the fourteen-year-old boy he first met outside of Londugnum.  Arthur would barely talk to the man, and when he did it came out in cold, short words.

Percival, not really knowing why Arthur would not be overjoyed to see the old man, sought to reassure Meryddin.  “Be patient,” he said.  “Arthur will come around.”

Meryddin sighed and said he had an appointment. He took the big staff he sometimes carried and stepped into the woods of the lake.

“I wonder how the Lady of the Lake will find him,” Arthur whispered.

“Maybe she will keep him out of our hair for a while,” Gerraint whispered back and said no more about it.

Two days later, the horsemen of Claudus and his advance troops arrived.  It took all that day and all the next for the rest of the legions to catch up.  They immediately took up a defensive position across the open fields, dug trenches and built fortifications around their camp and auxiliaries, but left the field free so the legions could form up and move freely in phalanx formation.  Looking at the way they camped, it became clear they would form up in a kind of upside-down “V” shape, one legion to either side, like the open jaws of a great lion, one man called it.

“More like the paws of a great bear,” Hoel said, when they went into conference.  “The weak point is at the top of the formation where the majority of their troops angle away from each other.  That is the temptation, to attack the center only to have the paws of the great bear close and crush us.”  Hoel had two old men with him, Lord Feswich and Lord Grummon.  Both were in their late forties, Hoel early fifties, and they spoke like they were old and wise and well-seasoned warriors.  Arthur, by contrast, had not yet turned thirty. Gerraint, a year younger, and Percival three years younger at just twenty-five.

“This time, when we hit the enemy from the side and rear we will only drive them to cut deeper into our own men,” Lord Grummon added.

“Excuse me,” Gerraint said.  “But as I understand it, last time you abandoned the plan and went chasing after pockets of Roman Cavalry.”

“That was important,” Lord Grummon defended himself. “We had to make sure the Romans did not regroup,” he said, but then fell silent.

“Maybe we could have the men attack only one legion head on,” Feswich tried thinking.

“And leave the other legion at our backs?” Hoel rejected that idea.

“Well, at least this time we have the advantage in horses,” Feswich said with a nod to Arthur.  “We should be able to deal with the Roman cavalry well enough.”

“That is not what the horsemen must do,” Arthur finally spoke.  “And the foot soldiers need to do something different as well.”

“What?” Feswich shook his head.  “Footmen fight footmen and horse men fight horse men. You are young, but I tell you that is the way it is done.  The stronger arm gains the victory.”

Arthur ignored him and looked at Hoel who looked willing to listen.  “Chieftain, you invited me to your company to take advantage of my experience.  You know we have fought Saxons, Angles, Picts, Scots and the Irish, and we have never lost a battle.  That is because we have not followed the old way of doing things. Listen, and I will tell you how we must fight this battle.”  Arthur paused.  Hoel nodded and kept his men quiet.  Arthur returned the nod and turned to Gerraint.  They had discussed it, but Gerraint could best explain it.  Besides, it would be his knights of the lance out front, and Arthur could step in if needed to negotiate any objections.

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MONDAY

Claudus:  Arthur and Gerraint order the battle formation.  The Knights of the Lance are ready.  Claudus and his revived Romans await the attack.  The fighting will be fierce.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 3 of 3

By mid-afternoon, the town looked totally in flames, and even the wall in some sections looked on fire.  The stream of refugees which became a river when the bombardment began, dried up around noon.  The brave men manning the walls kept waiting for the assault, but it would not come.  Gerraint packed up his catapults and lead his men east.  He left strong groups of little ones behind, the kobold, the brownies and Larchmont with his fairy troop.  They would be sure no soldiers or otherwise would attempt to follow, or go in any direction other than south.  After two days and several attempts, the defenders of the town went south by horse and by foot to catch up with the refugees and left the smoldering wreck behind them.

When Gerraint’s men reached the village on the inland road, they found a surprise.  A Frankish troop of about a hundred had moved in and they were enjoying the local ale and entertainment.  Gerraint and Lord Birch went alone to confront them.  There were arguments, not the least from Bohort and Uwaine.  Sergeant Paul wanted to send a troop of escorts, but in the end, Gerraint prevailed.

No one stopped them at the village edge.  The villagers were too busy cowering in their homes.  The Franks watched them, but did not interfere as they rode to the one inn in that village and dismounted.  Several Frankish soldiers greeted them there, or rather greeted their horses and began to discuss what fine specimens they were.  Gerraint ignored them and entered, then took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and his nose to adjust to the abundance of alcohol.

“Who is in charge of these soldiers?” Gerraint asked. Lord Birch repeated the question in the Frankish tongue.

“Who is asking?” a man said, rudely.

Gerraint went through the litany.  “I am Gerraint, son of Erbin, High Prince of Cornwall, Knight of the Round Table, sometimes called the Lion of Cornwall, and in the name of Arthur Pendragon of all Britain, Cornwall and Wales I ask again, who is in charge of these soldiers.”

The man stood, but Gerraint made an imposing figure and this man did not look nearly as impressive.  “I am,” the man said without giving his name.  “I have heard of this Arthur.”  Gerraint waited for no more information.

“You should not be here.  I am working here right now and I don’t appreciate the interruption.  You need to stay on Frankish lands.”

“This is Frankish land.”

“Not until I am finished.  Listen, and tell your king.  Arthur and Hoel have no designs on the Atlantique.  When we have forced Claudus to bring up his army and we destroy his army, you can play with the Atlantique province all you want, but not before.  You are just getting in the way.  You can kill any Romans who enter fully into your territory, or do what you like with them, but not here on the border.  Right now, you need to go away.  Am I clear?”

A man grabbed Lord Birch, but Gerraint raised his hand and an electrical charge sprang from his hand like lightning and threw the man hard against the men at the side table. The two who had gotten around Gerraint and were about to grab him hesitated, but then Gerraint went away and the Nameless god came to fill his boots.

“Lord Birch.”  Nameless tapped his shoulder and Birch reverted instantly to his true fairy form and took a seat on that shoulder.  “Let me repeat,” Nameless said, as if he was the one who did all of the talking, which in a sense he did.  “Go away until I am finished here.”  Nameless did not wave his hand like Danna or wiggle his fingers like Amphitrite.  He did nothing overt, but a hundred Frankish soldiers, their horses and equipment instantly found themselves deposited a thousand yards into Frankish territory outside of the village.  They rode off in panic, but the commander of the Franks had a thought.

“He did say we could kill any Romans who came on to Frankish lands, didn’t he?”  He heard an answer, out loud and in his face.

“Yes.”

He tried to make his horse run faster.

Gerraint returned with Lord Birch to the camp.  He did not say much as he turned his men to head back to the coast.  After that, he did not bother with the inland road.

Gerraint gave his men a week around Samhain.  It remained time in the wilderness, but the men started getting tired.  They took a village around the winter solstice, and Gerraint stayed for what he called Christmas week.  The only grumbling he got from his troops came because he made them all go to church on Sunday.

Things continued then until late January.  Long range reports said men started marching out of Vascon lands.  Close by, five hundred Roman cavalry got sent to find the Lion and his men.  It did not turn out fair, in a way.  The Romans camped in a large clearing not far from the main road.  It had snowed in the night and threatened more snow all day, so the Romans were not going anywhere for the moment.  Of course, Gerraint knew exactly where they were thanks to his fairy spies, and they had no idea where he might be.  So, it was not really fair, and in some sense too easy.

Gerraint mapped out where the lancers would reenter the forest on the far side.  Then he lined up two hundred of his men and they rode straight through the enemy camp at dawn.  Tents got burned, horses run off and men got run through the middle.  Some lances were lost and some got shattered, but Gerraint did not stop to fight.  He rode his men out the other side of the camp and back into the woods to be swallowed up by the deep shadows under the deep gray sky and the light fog that filtered through the trees.  Then he let his remaining men, all his best hunters, join with the elves in target practice.  As long as they kept to the woods and moved around so as not to be caught, they could shoot as many as they could reach.

One group of twenty Romans on horseback charged a section of the woods where the kobold stood.  One horse, devoid of rider, made it to the tree line.

At noon, the Romans abandoned their tents and equipment and rode hard for the main road.  Gerraint had his eyes watching, but on reaching the road, the Romans went south so Gerraint let them go.  He returned to the abandoned camp to count one hundred and thirteen Roman bodies. Gerraint had some wounded and lost three men in the charge.  They were the last casualties Gerraint suffered in the campaign, and they were remembered.

Uwaine had a comment as they sent out men to round up as many locals as they could find.  “Next time we need to bring more arrows.”  They put the locals to work digging a great trench beside the road. The Romans got buried there, laid out, but in a mass grave.  When they got covered, they made a nice little mound.  Gerraint had simple wooden crosses planted, one hundred and thirteen to mark the graves, and then he left the Roman armor and equipment laid out like it was ready to be worn by the dead.

“You are too kind,” Bohort said.  “You should have left the men hanging from the trees.  That would have sent a much stronger message.” Gerraint sighed.  Bohort was not particularly bloodthirsty, it was the age they lived in.  They had a chance to do that very thing when they caught several groups of advanced scouts from Claudus’ army.

Gerraint affected an orderly withdraw, giving up ground only as fast as the army approached.  He sent fifty men with Sergeant Paul to the inland road and sent Larchmont and his troop with him.  They had to watch ahead and behind, and also be sure the Franks stayed away. He had no trouble, but Gerraint wanted to be sure Claudus did not get the idea of sneaking up the back road in order to get behind him.

Gerraint sent a hundred men with Uwaine to the coastal road.  They found a few places where the locals snuck back to rebuild, but he left them alone. His job was simply to make sure Claudus did not send any more cavalry units in an attempt to get on their flank.

Gerraint kept the last hundred and fifty with him on the main road, though by then it had become more like a hundred.  They had taken some casualties over the year.  He backed up slowly.  Bohort called it terminally slow.  Gerraint understood that the army of Claudus did not feel motivated.

The Romans built the roads so they could move men and equipment quickly.  The men of Claudus were clearly not Romans, despite the publicity, and they despised the road because they did not want to move quickly.  They counted two full legions coming, roughly ten thousand men, though only about six thousand were actual fighters, the others being supply and auxiliary troops.  They were being led by Claudus himself, but even with all that preparation and leadership, they moved like snails.  Gerraint got to calling it the escargot army, though no one knew what that was.

Gerraint sent messages to Hoel and Arthur as soon as things were confirmed.  Apparently, Claudus also managed some messages to his men that were still in Amorica. Gerraint could not imagine how, except maybe by boat.  Arthur and Hoel had been having slow success all year and just about had the land cleared, but whatever Romans remained at that point withdrew and went beyond the Vivane forest to hide in the hills and knolls of the open land, as close to the Frankish border as they dared.  There, they no doubt planned to await the army of Claudus.  Gerraint wrote that they should be taken out, but Arthur and Hoel decided that would take more time and effort, and risk more lives than it would be worth.  So, the allies settled in on the edge of the Vivane forest and waited in the snow.

Hoel lost most of his army when the Romans vacated the land.  The men went home for the winter, but they would be back in the spring or when called. Arthur’s men did not have the luxury. They camped on the cutoff that came down from the north-coast road and skirted just below the mysterious Lake Vivane. That road met the north coast at a very good port where Thomas of Dorset was able to supply the men with many of the comforts of home in lieu of their actual homes.  Arthur kept the men busy with a building project they started in January.  He wanted a fort literally on the other side of the road from the lake to take advantage of the lake to help keep out any invading force.  They just about got the fort finished when Gerraint arrived.  Claudus came a week behind, and Hoel’s men still straggled in.  Gerraint guessed it would be another week to ten days before the deadbeats all caught up and the two armies settled in to face each other. In that time, Arthur had a notion, and he would not be talked out of it.

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Next Week: The Lady of the Lake

M T & W, 8 o’clock, EST

Lake Vivane, is not haunted, as the locals claim, but it does have its secrets, and Arthur and Gerraint can’t resist a look.  They recover a young man that everyone thought was dead, and Arthur sees his first real medieval castle as well as his first real knight.  MONDAY.

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 1 of 3

Gerraint came into the great hall at Caerleon wondering what was up.  Enid stayed in the nice home they bought in town, feeding one-year-old Peter and having all the fun.  Worse. She started making sweet little noises in the night and getting very touchy-feely, which suggested she might be pregnant again.  Gerraint did not want to miss that.  He hoped whatever this was, it would not be something that would send him far away from home.

“Gerraint!”  Several men hollered as he came in and he mumbled something about “Norm!”  He glanced at the door that lead to the back rooms and the now greatly enlarged room that held the Round Table.  Gerraint guessed this would not be Round Table business, which meant an appeal from someone not part of the club.  He could not imagine.  The world had been at relative peace for the last five years.

“What’s up?”  Gerraint got to ask his question.

“Sit.  Sit.” Arthur said.  “Hush.”

“Gwyr is about to read the letter,” Tristam said.

Gerraint looked at the table.  His old master Pelenor looked ready to nod off.  Peredur and Ederyn looked sprightly enough. Percival, seated beside them looked so serious.  Kai looked pensive.  Bedwyr grinned.  Gerraint sat next to Gwillim and Gwillim’s brother, Thomas the Sailor, but as he thought about it, he would have guessed Kai would be the grinning one.  Kai came all the way down to Caerleon from the north to show off his new, young bride, Lisel.  She was much younger than Kai and blonde in the worst cliché sort of way. Enid and Gwynyvar said spending time with the girl felt like going into battle.  Constance, Bedwyr’s wife, and a proper woman of grace who had eight years on Enid, said Lisel did not have enough brains to be stupid.  Gwynyvar and Enid professed they were shocked to hear their thoughts expressed aloud.

Gerraint looked again at Kai.  He definitely looked pensive, but then Gwyr started reading.

“You may not yet be aware of Claudus, a cruel and wicked man who is the latest to dream of reviving the glory of Rome. This one, unlike the host of others, may have both the military skill and cleverness to succeed.  Beginning in Provence, he has taken Septimania and Vasconia, carved out a chunk of Aquitaine including Bordeaux, and taken all of the Atlantique coast for his kingdom.  He has halted the Franks in their inevitable advance, and beat the Visigoths back over the mountains.  Now he has trained his eye on Amorica.  I believe it is his plan to swallow up our pleasant land before turning against the Franks in Paris.

“It was some years back when my father Budic gave sanctuary and comfort to your father Uther in the days of Vortigen the Usurper. What is more, he gave Uther the means and support to raise an army to return to Britain and remove the plague from your land.  Now, we are the ones in need, and I have sent my son Howel to you in the hope that you will remember the kindness my father showed to your father.  Furthermore, I request that you may seek out those men who fought for your father and stayed in your good land, and that you may tell them of our need and ask if they may be willing to come home to aid us in our fight. We are hard pressed, and I appreciate whatever help you may deem right and proper.”  Gwyr looked up from the paper before he finished.  “He signed it, your faithful friend and ally, Hoel.”

“Is Howel outside?”  Kai asked straight out.

“He is,” Arthur said.  “But I would hear your opinion first.”  Arthur looked around the table and no one especially had an opinion. His eyes ended on Gerraint, and the other eyes at the table looked as well.  Gerraint stood and threw his gloves to the tabletop.  He paced for a moment and made noises like a man in pain. Everyone stared at him when he yelled.

“All right!”  He lowered his voice and leaned on the table.  “Okay.”  He calmed himself.  “So, when do we sail for Amorica.”  All the men present tried talking at once, but Arthur just grinned like maybe he became the man with a trophy wife.  Kai looked distraught.

Things did not take long to straighten out.  But Kai mentioned that the Scots were getting above themselves, like maybe they defeated the Picts.  And worse, Loth in some ways appeared to be encouraging them. He thought he better stay at Guinnon. Bedwyr got prevailed upon to stay at Oxford as well.  Arthur told Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn that they would have to keep vigilant while he was away.  Then Arthur decided to take only volunteers with Gerraint being the first lest he decide to stay home with that lovely wife of his.  Finally, Arthur instructed Gwyr to put something in the letter encouraging those who came from Amorica and fought for Uther, or their descendants, to consider returning to Amorica to fight for Hoel.

Once that got settled, Arthur called in their visitors.  There were many details to work out, not the least procuring the ships and supplies they would need, but the basics were done and he was able to greet the men as honored guests.

Howel, at eighteen or nineteen, got escorted by a mere six soldiers, one of whom at least appeared to be a well-seasoned sergeant named Grist.  Howel came accompanied by two brothers, both Chiefs in Amorica, called Bohort and Lionel. Lionel was Howel’s age, or maybe twenty.  Bohort, the elder at twenty-three or four, did most of the talking.  Gerraint felt suddenly old at twenty-seven.  Then he thought of being home with Enid and the baby. Then he thought of Enid being all touchy-feely.  And then he thought he better pay attention.

“It is worse than you may have heard,” Bohort said. “The Romans of Claudus are playing with us like a cat with a mouse.  They strike here, but by the time we arrive they have vanished to strike there.  They will not give pitched battle, but once. They are softening us up and wearing us out.  They have overrun two thirds of the land this way, by nibbling us to death.

“One battle?”  Percival asked.

“On the plains near the mysterious Lake Vivane, he tested our strength in battle.  That happened four years ago.  We won the battle and won the test, but I figure he just sent some expendable troops and did not really care who won, though I am sure he would have been happier with a victory.  I lost my father and his brother in that battle.  My young cousin, just sixteen got lost in the woods around the lake.” Bohort took a moment to shake his head before he continued.  “That was when Claudus hit on the strategy of eating us alive, piece by piece.  I don’t know how much longer Hoel may hold out.”

“It is settled,” Arthur announced, and that was that.

Gerraint stepped outside and Uwaine met him on the steps.  “About time,” Uwaine said.  “I was really going mad this time.  When do we go?”

“Preparations.”  Gerraint shrugged.  “Then I go, but where you go will be up to you.”  Uwaine raised an eyebrow, so Gerraint answered his question.  “I have prevailed on Arthur to knight you and Gawain before we sail.”

“So?  That changes nothing.  If you have taught me one thing, it is the safest place in battle is right next to you.” Gerraint made no answer.

###

Six months later, Thomas of Dorset contracted a hundred ships for a minimal fee to deliver a cargo of two thousand men and horses to Amorica.  Roughly a quarter of those ships would continue in the months ahead to supply the troops.

“We don’t want to beggar our hosts,” Gwillim said.

Gerraint stayed in Cornwall where he moved his wife so she could be around his mother, her own mother having died a year earlier. Marcus Adronicus started making noises like he had become an old man and Gerraint needed to be prepared to take over. Gerraint could not worry about that. All he wanted was a safe delivery of his second son, James, and the knowledge that Enid was in good hands. With that assured, he took three hundred of Cornwall’s finest, a good Festuscato number.  They were men all trained to the horse and the lance, and he sailed them out of Plymouth to catch up with Arthur.

Arthur was in the field, in a big tent with Hoel, and discussed things.  Percival sat out front, and his take was, “Don’t go in there.”  Uwaine also sat up front, but he only shook his head.

Gerraint took a deep breath.  “Wish me uck-lay.”  He explained before anyone asked.  “I’m practicing my Pig Latin for use on the revived Romans,” not that anyone understood what he was talking about.  He went in.

There were greetings and pleasantries before Arthur explained the situation.  “We are having limited success in driving the forces of Claudus back.  We have almost doubled Hoel’s numbers, and with the RDF, trained to move quickly and quietly, we have routed out a number of pockets of the enemy.  They have come up and overrun village after village, but then remain hidden in the wilderness.  They require the poor, decimated villagers to supply them with food, sending men from their hidden camp to collect it.  We have had some success in following those men back to their base and then we have gone in and finished the job.  But the men of Claudus, like Saxon raiders, are in many small groups and scattered all over the countryside.  Mostly, they simply hide whenever we come near with a large force and reappear after we have gone.”

“But we are succeeding, slowly, but succeeding,” Hoel said.

“Yes, but at this rate we may be bogged down here for two or three years.  Now, my plan is to take a third of our force and invade the Atlantique.  In that way, Claudus will be forced to call out his army, and we can finish this much more quickly.”

“But if you take so many, our efforts here will be badly hampered and we may soon be back to stabbing at ghosts,” Hoel objected.

Arthur looked at Gerraint and knew to wait while Gerraint thought.  Hoel fidgeted.  At last, Gerraint spoke as plainly as he could.

“So, I have come up with three hundred fresh troops, the veterans being mostly RDF trained and able to bring along the young ones. My men, one way or the other, will not be significant here, but I see no reason why Cornwall cannot turn the tactics of Claudus against him in the Atlantique.  I have people who know something of the province, and while it would not be an invasion, it may be enough to force Claudus’ hand.”

“How can you know the province?” Hoel asked. Gerraint saw that Arthur understood, but he had to give Hoel his best, human answer.

“Cornish sailors have been trading all along the coast for generations.  Amorica has been our chief trading partner after Wales and Britain, but many have also traded down the Atlantique and learned the area.”

“Not much portage there,” Hoel said.

“But some,” Gerraint answered and quickly changed the subject before Hoel thought too long about it.  “I said turn the tactics of Claudus against him, but I don’t plan to leave small groups hidden in the woods to keep the people oppressed. More like true Saxon raiders, I plan to burn the villages and their crops and food supplies and drive the people south as refugees.  Hundreds, hopefully thousands of refugees fleeing south out of the Atlantique province should force the hand of Claudus well enough.”

“A good plan,” Arthur agreed.  Hoel looked like he might object.  Gerraint could read the man’s mind, thinking that the addition of Gerraint’s men could speed up the success they were having in Amorica, but Gerraint got up to leave before Hoel could fully frame his thoughts.  Gerraint knew his three hundred would not hold the pass for long, but they might wreak havoc in Persia.

R6 Gerraint: Caerdyf, part 1 of 3

Enid glanced at the fire before she spoke in a whisper like one afraid she might be overheard.  “It is that Sir Gerraint, the one they call the Lion of Cornwall.  They say he traffics with spirits, fairies, goblins and devils and makes them do his bidding.  They say he can change his appearance, even to appear as a woman, and thus he can learn a man’s deepest secrets, to what purpose I cannot say. They say he is a giant that is best not angered.  And they say he is faithful to Arthur, the Pendragon, but I think he must be like a guard dog in need of a strong chain.”

Her words finally caught up to Gerraint’s brain and he sighed and responded.  “You must not believe everything they say.  The truth is often stranger, but better than you suppose.  Gerraint is a kind and loving man whose heart is as big as the rest of him.  If the little spirits of the earth sometimes are kind to him, it is only because he loves all the world as God made it and he loves all people, even the littlest spirits. And as for him changing his appearance, that is in fact a long and rather sad story that I may tell you one day.” Gerraint sighed and looked again in Enid’s eyes.  Her eyes said she believed him, or at least they said she desperately wanted to believe him.  Then he saw a flash behind those eyes, and she spoke.

“Do they make all men in Cornwall as big as you?” She did not sound bothered by that, just curious.

“Some,” Gerraint hedged.  “A few.  Not all, but some.”  Then he lifted his head and took a whiff of the air.  “It is getting stuffy in here,” he decided

Enid also sniffed.  “And smoky.”

“The Flue,” both shouted.  Both jumped for the handle and they banged their heads and fell to laughing.  Gerraint rubbed his head and thought Enid had the harder skull.  For some reason, he felt he should remember that for the future.

###

In the morning, Gerraint put on the rusty chain that fell loose to his knees.  He cinched it tighter to his body when he fitted the breastplate.  It proved a bit small, and the back plate would not fit at all, but he really did this for show more than anything else.  He kept his own boots, gloves and gauntlets which were fitted to him, but he took the helmet which fit with a little extra brick banging around the neck.  Last of all, he took the long spear in the corner of the room and made his way downstairs.

When Enid saw him, she put her hands to her mouth and began to cry.  Enid’s mother also cried, and Ynywl took a deep breath.  “May it serve you well,” he said.

“One condition,” Gerraint responded.  “You must come with us to Caerdyf.”  Enid had gotten up early with Uwaine and had all the horses saddled and waiting.  When Ynywl agreed, Gerraint removed his helmet and sat awkwardly at the table. He was never much for eating before a battle.  He was more the kind that ended up starving when the battle was over.

The ride to Caerdyf seemed uneventful.  People stared in disbelief, but no one moved to stop them.  When they came to the city, and Gerraint insisted they approach the fort from the city side, people came out from their homes and work to stare all the harder. Some cheered.  Many followed, so by the time they arrived at the fort, they had a great train of gawkers, watchers and more than one man who fingered a blade or another sharp instrument and stared where the Irish should be.

“What is this?”  A big, gruff looking man came out from the barracks building where he was no doubt ready to enjoy a good lunch.  He indeed looked as big as Gerraint, but a bit older and with a bit of a stomach, no doubt from the lazy life and too much lunch.  The men in the fort had certainly heard the commotion in town and knew what was coming, but the big man, in fact Fenn, played coy.

Gerraint spoke from horseback in clear and calm tones. “Your bitch yesterday suggested you might want to cut my heart out.”  Gerraint understood the score.  Erin had technically married Megalis, but she still slept with Fenn.

Fenn roared with laughter.  “You look like a chicken in that old armor, a right plucked rooster I would say.”

“This is the armor of the great centurion who built this fort to keep out you Irish scum.”  Gerraint raised his voice.  “Every true man of Caerdyf should rise up and throw you and your Irish dogs back into the sea.  You should swim home with your tails between your legs.”  Gerraint pointed his spear at the man’s chest and waited.

“Roman ass.”  Fenn got angry.  “The Romans are all dead.  You look like a dead man wearing that.”  Fenn slammed his fist into the innocent man beside him, the one with his mouth hanging open, and he knocked him to the ground, while he shouted, “My horse.  My spear and shield.  We have a guest who needs a lesson in manners.”

Gerraint inched over to one side of the open court while Uwaine, knowing how this worked, inched over to the other side. Fenn mounted and did not give Uwaine a second glance.  He started toward Gerraint without warning, and Gerraint started, expecting no warning. They crashed in the middle. Gerraint used his shield effectively to knock Fenn’s spear aside without letting him get a good hit.  Gerraint’s spear struck solidly on Fenn’s shield and everyone heard the explosion.  Fenn got shaken and his shield cracked, but Gerraint’s spear splintered and fell to pieces.

Fenn slowed, but then laughed, thinking he had his opponent.  He turned in time to see Gerraint take his lance from Uwaine and turn for a second run.

R5 Greta: The End of the Day, part 1 of 3

Cleaning up after the battle proved a grizzly and horrifying job, but all the same, Greta worked long into the night.  The battle had been terrible.  Her side had won, but the price had been high.  The surviving Quadi were allowed to leave with pledges that they would not return, for all the good those pledges would be, but the Romans and Dacians together were not able to hold more than a few of the Quadi leadership.  There were simply neither the men nor the facilities to do more.

Greta found out that shortly before her arrival in the village of the Bear Clan, Samartin raiders attacked the far northern Dragon Clan.  That really convinced the Celts that their time of isolation was over.  They had to choose, and though Fae’s courage helped, in truth they had already chosen the known evils of Rome and the Yellow Hairs over the unknown.  With the Romans as mediators, they would keep their own land and retain their own way of life; but there would be trade, and in time, marriages, and life would go on.

Of more immediate concern to Greta was the fate of the rebels.  She sent an early plea for mercy to Marcus and General Pontius, and on that basis, she met with them early the next morning.

“Come in,” Marcus said.  “Sit down.”  He sat at a large writing table.  General Pontius stood behind him and leaned over his shoulder.

Greta was grateful for the seat.  She felt exhausted.

“You know,” Marcus continued before she could speak. “I cannot really tell my father that I pardoned the rebels on the basis of their being bewitched.”  He stopped writing to look up.  “Even if we both know there is some truth in that.”

“Personally, I hate it when someone reads over my shoulder.” Greta said, and slumped down in her chair.  Marcus looked up over his shoulder.  The General looked at Greta and took a large step backward.

“By the way,” Marcus spoke, as he went back to his letter.  “Whatever happened to the lady?”

“She made an ass out of herself,” Greta said. “She is no longer around.”

Marcus did not understand exactly what she meant, but he accepted her at her word.  “Just as well,” he said.  “I’m not sure it would have worked out in any case.”  Greta felt she had been right.  Lady Brunhild would not have been able to control him.  Then something occurred to her.

“I thought you promised to stay out of the fighting,” she said.  Marcus turned red, but she sat straight up.  “You lied to her.”

The red deepened.  “I don’t lie.”

“Then you changed your mind only a second after you promised,” she teased.

“Yes, I did,” he said.  “Let us remember it that way.”

An awkward moment of silence followed. Greta just framed her thoughts when Marcus spoke again.

“The other proposal of yours does have some merit. I can personally vouch for seeing many rebels pour off the Mount and attack the Quadi from behind.  I am sure they fought as bravely as any patriot on the battlefield.”

“It is one thing to have internal disagreements,” Greta said.  “But quite another to be invaded by outsiders.”

“Lady,” General Pontius interrupted.  “This was not internal disagreements.  This was outright rebellion.”

Marcus held up his hand for quiet before Greta and the General started arguing.  “Kunther, Eldegard and the known leaders of the rebellion have already lost their heads.” Marcus said.  “That is a done deal.”

“I’m sorry,” Greta said, and slouched again. “I feel Eldegard really came around to our side at the last.”

“Then let the gods show him mercy.”  Marcus continued.  “In any case, your proposal that we spare the lives of the rest on condition that they take land along the frontier, North of Napoca, and be first in line to defend the border.  This is an idea which I think I can sell to the emperor.  The only adjustment is that all of the rebels be identified and branded.”

“Branded?” Greta asked.  “Like slaves?”

“Their lives are forfeit,” Marcus explained. “This is a way to keep track in case they get out of line.  Besides, I don’t believe Rome will go for it, otherwise.”

Greta had a sudden concern.  “Bragi?” she asked.

“Your brother is a special case,” Marcus said.

Greta sat up again, fearing the worst.  “What do you mean?  He stopped Kunther and saved your life,” she reminded him.

Marcus shook his head.  “Technically, he threw Drakka to the ground.  But I won’t quibble.  He is being remanded to the custody of your father.  Your father is very strict, but fair, like the emperor, my father. I imagine that is why your people made him high chief.”

“Strict is right,” Greta said, as the relief made her slouch once more.

Marcus paused.  “Come, now.  You are his only daughter, and it is different for girls.  I am sure a few tears from you and he will do whatever you ask.”

“I wish,” Greta groused.

Marcus let out his smile.  “I am sure your father will punish your brother in far more appropriate ways than I could imagine.  In any case, it would not be politically wise to behead the son of the high chief.  As wife of the new provincial governor, you must learn these things.”

“What?”

“I am recommending that Darius be made governor here,” Marcus said.

“But he is a soldier,” Greta protested.

Marcus actually became tender for a moment, but whether that was for her sake or the sake of his childhood friend, was not clear. “Actually, now that his parentage is known, he will never rise above his current rank.  He will never be a General.  He will never be given his own legion.”

“His strict but fair father will not be happy about that,” she said.

“No,” Marcus agreed.  “And you can be sure my strict but fair father will be very aware of his father’s unhappiness.  Making Darius Governor of the province, however, should satisfy.”  Marcus fell silent and stared at Greta.  It took a moment for her to get it.

“Why you stinker,” she shouted.  “You’re sticking me in the middle between Darius and my father.  I’ll spend the rest of my life having to choose sides.”

“You’re the wise woman,” Marcus said.  “Choose wisely.”  Greta growled, but Marcus could only continue to smile.  “Besides, can you think of anyone better to be in the middle?”

Almost anyone, Greta thought, but she changed the subject instead.  “What about Drakka?”

“You tell me,” Marcus said and lost his smile. “The son of Eldegard.  He kidnapped the son of an Elder of the Bear Clan. He tried to kill me, only he shot you instead.  He would be dead already if you did not specifically mention him in your note.”

“He was not a rebel,” Greta said, firmly. “He was a late comer who followed Hans and I through the forest.”  Greta paused. The big, strong, handsome son of the blacksmith.  Hard to imagine why she once thought she loved him.  “He only did what his father told him,” she said.  “We all answer to our fathers.”  Liselle was pregnant, though Marcus would hardly be moved by that. But Liselle had been an only child because her mother had several miscarriages and died shortly after Liselle’s birth.  Greta feared the same for Liselle if Drakka was not there to support and love her. “Besides,” Greta concluded.  “The frontier farmers are going to need a good blacksmith.  I bear no grudge against his taking his shot.  I know what kind of expectations fathers can have and what kind of demands they can make.  I am sure once he marries Liselle and they have their baby, he will settle down.”

“He will be branded,” Marcus said.  “My every instinct says he should be crucified. But if you vouch for him, I will let you have him on your responsibility.”  That appeared to end the interview as Marcus returned to writing his letter.

R5 Greta: Battle, part 1 of 3

“What is this place?”  Eldegard asked as he got weakly to his feet.

Greta conceded.  “Most who live here call it Avalon after the ancient tongue, but it has many names.”

“Is this Elvir?” Vasen asked.

“No, it is Usgard above Midgard,” Greta said. “Elvir is over there.  Nidelvir is that way, and Svardelvir is in that direction.”

“Usgard,” Bragi repeated.

“Usgard above Midgard,” Greta corrected.  “But you may as well call it Avalon.”

The fairy queen arrived at that point and became big, even as she landed.  Her court followed suit.  Immediately, she walked up to Greta, got on one knee and held up her hand.  “Lady Kairos.  All is well?”  She asked.

Greta took the hand, but made the Queen get up. “I don’t know,” she said.  “I cannot stay this time.  My anxiety is too great.  I must get back to work.”

“My Lady works too hard sometimes, I think,” Thumbelin said.

“This is Lord Eldegard of Boarshag.”  Greta introduced him.  “And this is Vasen the Priest of the Temple on the Mount.” Vasen had been staring at Thumbelin and Greta.

“And this?”  Thumbelin asked, sweetly.

“This is my brother, Bragi,” Greta said.

“Sir Bragi.”  One of the ladies of the court nearest him offered her hand.  Bragi took it, but since he did not know what to do with it, he merely held it for a second before he let go.

“And that.”  Greta pointed to the last of her party.  “Is all that remains of Brunhild.”

“She had become a powerful sorceress.” Thumbelin confirmed.  “What then of her god, Mithras?  What game is he playing?”

Greta shrugged.  “Same old?” she said.  It was time to go.  “Please take Brunhild to an outer isle where she can live out her days in peace.  I don’t want her eaten by dragons or cyclopses or any such thing.”

Thumbelin suddenly hugged Greta and whispered through a small tear.  “I love your kind heart,” she said.

“I love you, too, Thumbelina.”  Greta returned the same as she received.

The door appeared behind them.  It would let out at the outpost.  Everyone took a last look before they left, and Bragi especially had to partly drag Vasen back to reality.  Once through the door, Avalon vanished, but several men, Romans and Dacians, saw them step out onto the Earth.  They stopped what they were doing and stared.

Greta took advantage of the moment and pointed to Eldegard and Vasen.  “Take them to safety,” she said.  “Treat them kindly.  They have had a hard morning.”

“Indeed I have, Lady Kairos,” Vasen said, having caught her name.

“Forgive this old fool, Mother Greta,” Eldegard said, and for her part, Greta did forgive him.

She watched for a moment as the man hobbled away, head lowered.  “The rest of you need to follow me.”  She said that in both Dacian and Greek.

“Where are we going?” Bragi asked.  She could tell he was beginning to enjoy this.

“We are ordered to stay and guard this post,” one of the Romans spoke up.

Greta ignored them both.  She focused and held out her hands.  Her shield appeared in her left hand and Salvation vanished from its’ sheath to appear in her right hand.  They were heavy, but she held them well enough.  Some men stepped back in surprise, but she was not really showing off. As before, she did not feel sure if she could draw Salvation without cutting her own ear off.  This felt safer, but then she immediately handed them to Bragi. “Here,” she said.  “You know how to work these.”  She did not wait.  She started running across the field and about ten of the thirty or so men followed her.

It looked and smelled like a slaughterhouse. She saw bodies of the dead and dying everywhere.  A few might recover if they received help in time, but that seemed unlikely.  Some of the bravest survivors were out on the long field trying to help those that they could, carrying men on makeshift stretchers back to the outpost or the forest’s edge.  Greta knew she could help, but she had something more important to do first. She turned toward the mount and caught her breath at the sight. The mount looked gone, along with the temple, and the water which bubbled from the sides, still crumbled parts and carried away boulders.

“The explosion blew the temple off the top.” A man said, as he stepped up beside her. It was the Centurion, Alesander. The water did the rest.  It must have shot a hundred feet in the air and threw the walls of the mount for hundreds of yards in every direction. The rest then collapsed all the way around.”

“I said it was full of water under tremendous pressure, but I never expected this,” Greta said, then she had to save her breath to run.  She had the feeling she might be too late.  “Come on,” she said, but Alesander paused, and grabbed at her arm to stop her.

“Wait,” he yelled.  “The fighting is over there.  It is not safe.  Damn!” He followed.

It felt like running through a nightmare, even on the edge of the battle.  Greta had to run around and twice leap over men who were not quite dead.  The sounds of agony were deafening.  Some tried to grab for her legs or arms.  She heard the word “Valkyra” over and over.  She imagined a woman in armor with straw colored hair flowing behind would invoke that image, but for her own part, she wished the Valkyra were still around.  She could use their help.

A man jumped in front of her and made her pause. She did not know from his blood-soaked clothing if he was Dacian or Quadi.  He stared at her for a long second in disbelief, then he held out his arm. His hand was missing and the stump poured out his life’s blood.  She brushed past even as Alesander and Bragi caught up, followed by the rest of the squad.

Greta passed by other horrors.  She could not stop.  She began to panic and reminded herself that she did not respond well in panic situations.  But she feared she might be too late.  It was her vision.

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 3 of 3

Gregor confirmed that Kunther was a fool and Lady Brunhild wielded the real power behind the rebellion.  She had presumably bewitched most of the rebels, but he was no longer fooled.  He had lost family up by Porolissum to Quadi raiders.  He said there were others who felt the way he did and Greta felt glad to hear that Bragi was among them.

“What I don’t understand is what she intends to gain,” Gregor said.

“Obviously, the people did not rise up in support of Kunther’s rebellion, so she had no choice but to look for help from the outside.”

“Yes,” he said. “But if the Quadi overrun the land, what place will there be for her?”

“I don’t know.” Greta wondered that, herself.

After about an hour, she heard Bragi at the door demanding to see his sister.  The guard did not sound unsympathetic, and said he could go in as long as it was brief.  Bragi and Greta hugged for a long time, and Greta cried just a little. Despite her outward bravado, Greta still felt very scared and everything about her, her face, her shoulder and her hip throbbed with a kind of dull pain.

Soon, Bragi and Gregor started exchanging notes and planning.  They must have mentioned two dozen men who were firmly with them and the only disagreement became whether to effect a rebellion within the ranks and sue for peace, or to contact the Romans first and bring them into the Temple for a surprise attack on Kunther.  Bragi saw the political implications and imagined the penalty the Romans might require for traitors.  He argued for bringing the Romans in as early as possible.  Gregor, however, argued for rebellion within the ranks. A successful rebellion would convince the Romans whose side they were really on more than any talk, he said. Greta imagined the man might have a personal grudge, though she never asked what that might be.

“No.”  Greta pulled herself together at last and stood to gain everyone’s attention.  “Priest. I take it you have not been cooperating of late.”

“Not since Boarshag,” Vasen said, and the others confirmed this.

“You know where the weapons of Trajan are stored?”  She shot straight to the point.

“Yes, good Mother,” Vasen said, but he wondered what she was after.

“They are in the cavern and diggings beneath the Temple,” Gregor said.  “But it is very damp down there.”

“Most of the weapons are rusty and useless,” Bragi added.  “And the powder is not dry enough to use, either.”

“Is any of it any good?” Greta asked.

“Some.” Bragi shrugged.  “But not enough of it to turn the tide of battle, even if our people got all of the good stuff.”

Greta closed her eyes and cleared her heart before she spoke.  “Thorn and Thissle.”  She commanded, and they appeared a few feet away.  It took them a few moments to orient themselves.  Then they hugged as if they had not seen each other lately, and they turned together to face Greta.

“My gracious, lovely lady,” Thorn said, with a bow, and Thissle curtsied as well as she could in her new form.  Bragi jumped in fright, but stayed beside his sister.  Vasen looked delighted as if, like Fae, they represented something he had longed to see all of his life.  Finbear looked curious.  He had seen Berry fluttering around and had also seen the goddess, so he did not get especially surprised.  Gregor let out a short shout and jumped to the wall, but he made no other noise for fear that the guard might hear.

“Thorn, how far away is General Pontius?”

“He should be here by morning,” Thorn reported.  “And Gumbeater the Hobgoblin of the lower hills says the Celts are moving through the woods in great numbers.  They should also be here by morning.”

“Thissle. Can you make yourself invisible so only Bragi can see you?” Greta asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  “That is very hard to do.”

“Bragi is my brother.”  Greta explained, and Thissle brightened.

“Sir Bragi,” she said with a little bow.  “For family of the goddess, if his heart is true to you as with your brother Hans, he will be able to see me.”  She vanished from the sight of the others.

Bragi looked up after a minute to see everyone staring at him.  “Is she?  Oh.  I still see her, but there is a glow about her that I did not notice before.”

“The invisible spectrum, some call it,” Greta said, and Bragi understood.

“Thorn.  Can you open this door when the time comes?” Greta asked.

Thorn examined the door.  He made himself small enough to squeeze through a mouse crack, and then he came right back.  “There is a guard,” Thorn said.  “But the door should be easy to open.”

“I’ll deal with the guard,” Gregor growled while Greta explained things to Finbear. Finbear also pledged to help with the guard and extended his hand to Gregor.  It made Gregor pause, but then he accepted Finbear’s hand and Greta smiled for them.  They were all in it together, now.

“When the time comes and Thorn opens the door, you must follow the Priest.  I am sure he knows the quickest and safest way down the Mount.  Do you all understand, Thorn?”

“Yes, Lady,” Thorn said and looked at the floor.

“Good,” she said. “Now Bragi and Thissle, here is what you must do.  As soon as you can, you must take the statue to where the good powder is and leave it there. Put it as close as you can to the dry powder, and leave it there.”

“The statue?” Bragi asked.  “The one you brought?  Is it safe?”

“You won’t be hurt,” Greta said.  “I have told them, I think.  But just to be sure, Thissle, tell Burns and Madwick they are not to harm Bragi.”

“Scorch and Sparky too?”  She asked.

“Scorch and Sparky, too,” Greta answered.

“I’ll make triple sure,” Thissle said, and there came an interruption.

Vasen had finally moved close to Thorn.  “Do you live in Elfhome?” he asked.

“No,” Thorn answered.  “Thissle and I live in the forest.  Her family is from Elfhome, but my people all come from Mid-elf-land.”

“Quiet.” Greta insisted.  She turned again to her brother.  “Don’t bury the statue or put it under anything, but hide it behind something, behind the powder if you can.”
“Who are Spark and those others?” Bragi asked.

“Fire sprites.” Thissle started to speak, but Greta hushed her.

“Never mind, just trust me and do what I ask,” Greta said.  “And when the statue is in place, gather your friends, the ones who have had a change of heart, and wait until Thissle gives the signal.”

“What signal? For what?”  Bragi asked.

“It will probably be something like, “Get Out!”  You must hurry down the Mount as fast as you can and head for the Roman outpost and surrender yourselves.  Don’t worry about Gregor and these others.  Thorn will get them out all right, and they will have the same message. Do you understand?”  She looked at Thorn and Thissle, but everyone nodded, including Finbear who had no idea what he nodded for.

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

MONDAY

Greta has been lucky so far, in one sense.  That terrible, powerful witch, Lady Brunhild, has been missing.  Hopefully, plans can be put in motion before she returns, but she will return.  Next week: Confrontation.  Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 2 of 3

Greta made sure Thissle stayed invisible, because she half expected to find the hall full of men eating and arguing about what to do.  It turned out that they had some food, a veritable feast for the locals, though it looked meager compared to the work of Mrs. Kettleblack.  But the only men she found were Marcus, Darius, Gaius, Hersecles, and Gunwort, a Dacian from Ravenshold, and they were worrying over a makeshift map.  Greta listened for a few minutes to catch the drift of the arguments before she entered the room.  She carried the statue with her, but set it on a table before she came fully into their presence.  The men were polite enough to pause in their argument as she came close, and she took advantage of the silence.

Reaching out, she first called to her armor.  It came to replace her dress and it fit her perfectly.  She had Salvation over her shoulder and Defender across the small of her back.  She wore the cloak of Athena over all, but she left her helmet on Usgard.  The men all jumped, except Hersecles who had seen this trick in Boarshag.

Greta quickly took in the map and spoke.  “The Quadi have camped to the north of the city and have slowly worked their way around to the east and south, leaving only the road and the big open field west of the city as unoccupied.”  The men nodded.  She checked her facts.  Between the outpost on the forest’s edge and the city wall sat a long, flat field. The Temple Mount, the Kogaionon or Holy Mountain rose up out of that field beyond the northwest corner of the city. That seemed one of the reasons the Temple Mount appeared so impressive, rising out of the flatlands as it did.

“We must stop them here.”  Marcus pressed his knife into the table where the west field showed on the map.  “We need to protect the road in the southwest for the arrival of the Legion and General Pontius.”

The others started to object, but Greta yelled.  “Quiet!”  And they all quieted.  “I have heard the arguments,” Greta said.  “Lord Gunwort wants to withdraw to the city, behind the walls, and wait for the legion. I know he wants to protect his city and his people, and that is laudable and reasonable, but it might make matters worse if the Legion has to fight its’ way through to link up with us.  Caesar, that is Julius and I once discussed the notion of divide and conquer.  Right now, we are the divided ones.  We need to minimize that division, not cast it in stone.  Two small mouthfuls are easier for the Quadi to swallow than one big lump.”

“Here, here!” Darius supported what she said.

“My beloved Darius wishes to strike the main camp of the Quadi in the north.  He believes a strong sortie will scatter them sufficiently so that by the time they pull themselves together, the Legion will have arrived.  Unfortunately, he has failed to sufficiently consider the enemy.  This is no sedentary, standing army such as you might face in Gaul, Iberia, Africa or the East.  These are migratory people, mobile people, and for the most part they are on horseback.  They are used to moving from place to place, and sudden enemy raids, and setting up camp quickly, and breaking camp just as quickly.  You can sortie all you want and within an hour they will be right back where they started and entrenched against you besides.”

“At some personal risk, I say, here, here!”  Marcus grinned.

“Lord Marcus,” she said.

“I knew it!” He snapped his fingers and grimaced before she even began.

“I am sorry, but yours is the worst idea.  That is exactly what they want and unfortunately there may be no choice.  As I have said, this is no standing army. They have no catapults and siege engines, and won’t build any unless they have to.  They are not trying to encircle the city.”

“But then why have they moved into the fields east and south of the city?”  Gunwort asked as if to suggest that she was wrong, so she explained.

“Look at the land there.  It is all small farm fields punctuated by bits of woods, rocky outcroppings, springs and bogs.  It is small hills and ridges.  It is land where a foot soldier might stand a fighting chance against horsemen.  They have taken that option away.  The only option left is Marcus’ wide, flat open meadow in the west.  They don’t care how many legionnaires you bring up, or how well trained they are. On that flat terrain, they know their overwhelming number of horsemen have the total advantage.”

“So if all ideas are bad.”  Marcus no longer grinned.  “What then can we do?”

“Gaius?” She did not hesitate to call on the old soldier.  He was the only one who had said nothing thus far.

Gaius stepped up and looked at the map, but Greta knew he already had something in mind. “I would double fortify the road,” he said.  “Give them the field and don’t even man the fortification on that side of the road, only build it tall enough to keep their horses from jumping it.  That should blunt any cavalry advantage.  They will have to dismount and tear down the first fortification to get at us while we rain arrows down on them from the second line of defense.  Have a group of locals who know the terrain harass the Quadi in the south which are not many but would otherwise be at our backs while we are building.  Also, a couple of quick sorties to the north, not to break them as Lord Darius suggested, but just to keep them off balance and prevent a serious attack until we are ready.  Then, when the Legion arrives, send a thousand into the forest along the edge between the road and the outpost.  Hopefully, they will be unseen.  When the Quadi finally attack, we will have them outflanked, not only by the city wall, but with a thousand bows in the trees as well.”

“Mostly good,” Marcus said.

“But the field is wide.”  Darius spoke before Marcus could frame his objection.  “What if they charge down the middle out of bowshot from both sides? They could overwhelm the road by sheer numbers and we would still be divided and maybe even easier to conquer.”

“You need a flying wedge,” Greta said, and when they stared at her, she had to explain herself again.  “It is an old football term.  Call it an arrowhead with a wide base, pointed at the enemy, using your far fewer horses than a normal cavalry charge

“Not to engage the enemy,” Marcus said, catching on quickly.  “But to push through them, as it were, to divide them and conquer, to force them to the edges of the field and within bowshot.”

“Exactly,” Greta said.  “Like a hot knife through butter.”  Greta did not like using the expression, but there were reasons why some expressions became clichés.

“I like that,” Marcus said.

“I don’t.” Greta spoke honestly.  “But you get the idea.”

“Lady.” Thissle tugged on the skirt of Greta’s armor which hung down just below the knees.

“What?” Greta looked down at her and then looked up when Thissle pointed.  The elf wizard, Sunstone and Yin Mo, lord of the knights of the lance were standing near, patiently waiting.  “Show yourselves,” Greta said.  “What is it? Is there trouble in Usgard?”

Yin Mo and Lord Sunstone appeared as if out of a mist.

“Me, too?” Thissle asked.

Might as well, Greta thought.  “Yes, you, too,” she said, and Thissle appeared, though nobody much noticed except Darius who smiled.  Gaius and Hersecles were busy for the moment keeping Gunwort from fleeing the room.  Marcus, however, appeared fascinated.  It was not clear if he stood fascinated by the fact that they were elves, though they looked quite human, or whether he became fascinated by Yin Mo whose features and dress appeared strikingly Asian.

“My lady.” Yin Mo walked up to Greta and dropped to one knee.  He took her left hand and placed it on his head.  “Goddess.  We come on behalf of the knights of the lance.”

Greta went with her impulse, even if it did not sound quite right to her own ears.  “They are not happy with the new arrangement for the defense of the land?”

“No, lady.” Lord Sunstone spoke quickly.  “They see that as a perfect solution and have organized themselves as a second line of defense which is the perfect work for them given their limited numbers.”

Greta took her hand back.  “Stand up, Lord Yin.  Stand up and tell me plainly what they want.”

Yin Mo stood and looked once at Lord Sunstone, then he craned to look quickly at the map, and then he spoke.  “They want to participate in your battle.”

Greta did not pause.  “No. No way.”  She sounded firm.  “Their vow is to defend Avalon, not fight in a human battle.”

“You are Avalon,” Yin Mo countered.

“But maybe I am supposed to die,” she said.  “Defending me might interfere with what is supposed to happen.  Besides, I have no intention of being in the battle.”

“But you also wish to defend Lord Marcus and Lord Darius,” Lord Sunstone said.

“Not necessarily. I have no knowledge that either is in danger.  The Masters don’t appear to be around, just some old guns.  It is just something I wonder when someone of note crosses my path.”

“Who are the knights of the lance?”  Darius asked.

“Killing machines,” Thissle said, with a bit of a shiver.  Some of the little ones were afraid of the knights.

“You met one,” Greta told Darius.  “In my room.”

“He killed the night creatures,” Thissle said.

Darius’ eyes got wide.  “You mean there is more than one of him, them?”

“Many more.” Yin Mo said.

“Yes!” Darius got excited.  “Two dozen could change the whole complexion of this battle.  Marcus, you have to see them.”  He almost danced a little jig and Greta wondered if he might temporarily be suffering from elf overload.

“Can I see?” Marcus asked.

“Of course,” Lord Sunstone said, and before Greta could speak, the wizard waved his hand and three knights, horse and all, appeared in the hall looking for all the world like late medieval warriors in full plate armor from the top of their plumed helmet to the tips of their stirrup shoes.  Though they were the size and shape of men, there really was no telling what might be inside all of that metal, except that it seemed at least clear that they were marvelous horsemen.  Their horses hardly moved at the sudden, shocking change of scenery. The knights tipped their lances to the ground in salute.  Each lance had a different ribbon, a red dot, orange waves, a blue lion, and it matched the markings on their helmets and shields.  It appeared the only way to tell them apart.  Having saluted, then, they dismounted and dropped to one knee before rising to stand at attention, while Thissle hid behind Greta’s legs.

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 1 of 3

“Thissle!” Greta saw the little one and wondered what she was doing there.  She was invisible, so in no immediate danger from the men in the room, but still…

“Gods you’re beautiful,” Darius said.  It took a moment for Greta to realize he was talking about her.

“I am not,” she said.  “Have you been here all night?”

“Yes he has. Just about,” Thissle said.

Darius recovered himself.  “Nice outfit.”

“What, this old thing?”  Greta joked, but when he laughed she rebuked herself.  She was not going to play lovers games with him.  “All right, Thissle.”  She turned her back on Darius.  “What is this all about?  Why are you here?”

“You see?” Greta heard Darius interrupt.

“I see, but I don’t believe it.”  The Roman guard answered in Greek.

“Agreed.” The Dacian also knew some Greek.

Greta knew what they were talking about.  Thissle stayed invisible after all.  “Do you want to see?”

“No Mother.” The Dacian responded quickly and in Dacian.

The Roman sounded more thoughtful.  “If Lord Darius has not been talking to himself all night, I really do not want to know it.”  Berry laughed and started to hand him a tart.

“No!”  Greta jumped.  “That’s fairy food,” and to the Dacian she said, “Food of the elves.”  The Roman politely said, “No thank you,” and stepped back while Greta closed the door to Usgard above Midgard, and let it dissipate and disappear.  Darius asked the guards if they would rather wait outside, and they readily agreed. But Berry had not finished.  She offered a tart to Darius who examined it carefully, and sniffed it.

“Is it safe?” Darius asked.

“It’s too late for you,” Greta answered.  “You might as well enjoy it.”  At which point he took a bite and lost himself in contented munching sounds. “Well?”  Greta turned again to Thissle, confident that this time she would not be interrupted.

“Well, Lady.” Thissle curtsied.  “Thorn and I were awakened around sundown by the sound of a whole army setting up to camp beside the road.”

“Thorn?” Greta asked.

“Yes, it’s just Thorn, now, if you please,” Thissle said.  “And, well, we did not know if they were goods or bads, so we thought we had better come and warn you.  He knows all the ways, you know.  Forwards and backs and overs and unders.  We got here around midnight, I guess, and my Thorn found us all the way to your room.”

“The legion is still a day and a half away,” Darius interjected.

“My Lord thinks so, but Thorn and I think it is more like two days the way they move so slow and all,” Thissle continued.  “But then when we got here, you were not here, but the door was, so we figured out where you were.”

“You figured it out, Miss Thissle,” Darius said.  “I heard you say she’s gone to Avalon.”

Thissle reddened a bit and turned to Darius.  “It was a lucky guess, is all,” she said.  “But then came the real surprise.  You saw us plain as day, you did.”  She turned back to Greta.  “Thorn said to stand still and quiet and maybe he just saw a glimpse or heard something like the wind, but he walked right up to us and he said we had better come right in and tell him who we were, he said, “My lady will want to know why you have come, but she won’t be back until morning.”

“I could go fetch her,” Thorn said, but my lord blocked his way.

“No, she said I was the only one to fetch her if she needed to be fetched.”  And as the doorway was closed, there wasn’t much else we could do except sit down and explain ourselves.  Lord Darius caught on real quick.  He knew we were invisible to the guards, but he just ignored them and talked free as if he did not care if they thought he was crazy.  We told him all about the army and he figured out from some of the things we said that it was his seventh legion.  So he got a paper and wrote some words, and then took Thorn to wake up his friend Marcus so Marcus could put his seal on the paper. Then Thorn is up and gone to take this message to General Pontius, and my Lord is back here to keep me company all night.”  Greta looked at Darius and she did not give him a soft look.

“I outlined the situation here with a note that we might be able to hold them for a day, but once they broke into the city, they would be fortified and able to mount a real defense.  Then it would be impossible to dislodge them except at great expense.”

“How could you do that to Thorn?” she asked.  “He will be in as much danger with you Romans as he would be with the Quadi.  Do you trust this General not to stick him in a cage and do—who knows what?”  Out of deference to Thissle, she did not suggest that the General might roast him for supper.

Darius nodded thoughtfully.  “General Pontius is a true believer.  He would not dare hurt Thorn, especially since Marcus wrote at the top of the letter, if you hurt one quill on my little friend, I will have you crucified.” Darius seemed to think that would answer everything.

“My Lady.” Thissle spoke innocently, but out of turn.  “You must love him very much for him to have such authority to see us invisible and all. And here, you are only betrothed and not even properly married and all.”

Greta felt embarrassed, and with her fair skin that became easy to see.  It made her freckles stand out and that felt even more embarrassing.  “I don’t,” she lied.  “This wedding was not my idea.”

“Well it wasn’t mine, either.”  Darius shot right back.

“But you’re a soldier, and a loyal Roman,” she said, sharply.  “What do you want with a wife?”

“Look at you, wise woman.”  He also returned her tone.  “With all of your little ones and every man and woman of the Dacians doting on your every word, what need do you have for a husband?  What am I?  Just some burden you have to bear.”

“What do the Dacians matter?  I suppose you will want to live in Rome.”

“I thought about it,” he answered honestly.

“Well, you can forget it.  I’ll never be your submissive, obedient little wife to stay at home with the servants, cooking and cleaning your villa so you can run off to your Roman lover.”

Darius gave her a hard look.  “That’s not fair.  I never asked you to cook or clean.  You never asked what I want, so don’t start putting words in my mouth.”

“You said yourself that you wanted that Roman woman.”

“That’s not fair, either.  I haven’t even thought of her for almost a month.  But what about that lover boy of yours?”

“He’s a jerk,” Greta said, in all honestly, and with a bit more softness in her voice.

“And she never answered any of my letters.”  He also softened his response.  “It was all one sided.  She may even be married by now.”

“So, where does that leave us?” Greta asked.

“Where we started, I guess,” he answered.

“Ahem!” Berry interrupted.  “My Lord Darius, I mean, Darius, would you make an escort for me and Hans to visit my sister, Fae?”

“I can do that, Berry,” Darius said.  He still looked at Greta but took Berry’s hand.

“Wait.” Greta stopped them.  She stood on her toes and planted a quick kiss on Darius’ lips.  Then she stepped away and looked down.  “I’ll see you in the hall.”  She could not tell the expression on his face.  She could not bring herself to look up at him.

“I’ll see you at breakfast.”  He touched her hair, but she still would not look at him.  She did hear Berry, however, as they left.

“I hope me and Hans don’t have to say those things.  I could never ‘member all that.”

Greta looked at Thissle and almost laughed.  “You love him and he loves you,” Thissle said.  “You humans are the strangest creatures in all creation.”

Greta did laugh, and she also cried, smiled and sniffed.  “I do love him, you know.  I tried calling him the enemy and the oppressor of my people and whatever awful thing I could think of, but he is all I can think of no matter what I do.”

“Not like my Thorn,” Thissle said.  “We spent a hundred years, hardly able to touch each other, praying that we would find you, and praying that you would help us when we did.  And you did help us.  But then there is you.  Lady, all you need to do is help yourself.  He is already as much yours as anyone can be.”

Could she really give up her friends, her family, her home?  Could she really be a Roman wife and not feel a traitor to her own people? “But if I help myself, I might be…” She started to speak her thoughts but they all sounded hollow and foolish.

“Might be what?” Thissle asked rhetorically.  “Might be happy?  Yes, you might.”  She answered herself.

“Hear hear!” An echo came from the statuette. Greta had forgotten about Madwick and the others, covered as they were under the cloth she brought, but they had been privy to everything.  Greta pulled down the cloth.  “Please to make your acquaintance, Miss Thissle.”  Lord Burns popped his head out.  Greta had to introduce them all, but then she reminded them that they were supposed to be a dead idol, and she covered them again, picked them up carefully and headed toward the Great Hall.

R5 Greta: The Way Things Are, part 3 of 3

“My lord.” Berry interrupted.  “If you are going to marry my lady, it is important that I do what you say.  That makes you our lord, and all of us need to pay attention to what you say.”

“All of us?” Darius asked.  Greta took his arm again and turned him back toward the tents.

“I have a kind of special relationship with the little ones,” she said.  “It is kind of hard to explain.”  And she tried to explain as well as she could, doing everything in her power to avoid using the word, “goddess.”  She ended by begging him not to tell anyone, especially Marcus. “I know you and Marcus grew up together and you are very close, but I would be so afraid that Marcus might take advantage of them and they might end up slaves, or worse.”

“Marcus wouldn’t,” he assured her.  “But don’t worry.  I won’t say a thing.  This will be our little secret known only by you, me and Berry.”

They heard a wild party going on in the tent.  Baggins beat the drums and Fidget stroked his fiddle.  The visible Hobknot danced a jig and Fae clapped delightedly to the rhythm. Gaius stood by the door, also clapping, while Hersecles both clapped and tapped his feet.  Vilam kept bobbing up and down, keeping time.  Vedix and Cecil circled arm in arm like a couple of hicks at a square dance, while Marcus, worst of all, looked doubled up on the ground, laughing so hard he appeared to be in pain.

“Baggins!” The drums stopped beating. “Fidget!”  The fiddler stopped fiddling.  “Hobknot!” Greta did not sound happy. “Right here, right now!”  The little ones vanished and reappeared instantly outside the tent.  “You call that staying invisible?”  Greta turned on Hobknot.

“They were just passing by,” Hobknot said.  Even Darius rolled his eyes as he picked up on the fact that “Just passing by” was ten or twelve miles away.  “And I figured one more wouldn’t matter,” Hobknot went on. “There’s plenty of humans that think we all look alike, anyway.  Besides.”  He played his hole card.  “I haven’t been paid yet.”

“How would you like no teeth and have to mush the grain and take it through a straw?” she asked.

“Oh Lady, you wouldn’t,” Hobknot protested.

“Miss Fae is a frail, old woman,” Greta pleaded.  “I need someone with a brain to watch over her and tell me if I am needed. You claim to have a brain.”

Hobknot quickly changed the subject.  “Who’s the beef?”

“Lord Darius is my betrothed,” Greta said and reached for his hand though she did not really focus on Darius.

“Oh.” Hobknot got down on one knee and pulled the other two down with him.  “Great Lord Darius, on behalf of all the little ones from the Great Trolls of the mountains to the littlest of smidgens, I hereby pledge our eternal loyalty and devotion ‘till death do us part.  Your word is our command.”

“Ya-di, ya-di, ya-di,” Greta interrupted.  “You swell his head and you will get a lot worse than no teeth.  Now tell the truth.”

Hobknot stood up again.  “Of course, the odds are good we might not follow your commands, exactly, or even one for that matter.  We are all natural liars, you know, and good for nothing thieves, besides.  Hey!  I didn’t intend to tell him that.”

“I think I knew that already,” Darius said, and eyed the dwarfish imp with a look that was not fooled and not going to be fooled.

“Miss Fae,” Greta said.  “Or do I get someone else?”  Greta knew he really wanted to be with her, but he just was not going to make it easy.

“It’s a dirty job watching over that old bat,” he said.  “But I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.  I better do it myself.”  He walked back into the tent.

“Baggins and Fidget!”  Greta’s words thundered.  “You two helped Ragwart and Gorse keep my poor brother prisoner for three days.” This did not come out as an allegation. The goddess knew the reality, and they knew that she knew.  “Do you know what punishment they got?”

“Oh, no, Lady. Please not that,” Baggins began to weep. “The Mrs and the little ones. What will become of them? Anything but that.”  Then Fidget hit him on the head.

“They didn’t get no punishment,” Fidget said.  “In fact, the Lady gave them permission to steal some things.”

“That’s right,” Baggins suddenly perked up. “How did they get so lucky?”

“Do you want the same punishment they got?” Greta asked.

“Oh, no, please.” Baggins started again so Fidget hit him again.  “I mean, yes, please.”  Baggins finished.

“Then here is what you must do,” Greta said.  “Go over to the Quadi camp.  Take as many other musicians as want to go.  Throw a big party.  Keep the Quadi up all night dancing and singing.  Only one condition.  I don’t want you or any of my little ones to get hurt.  Do you understand?  Party all you want, only no little ones get hurt.”

“Party, but no one gets hurt.”  Baggins nodded.

Fidget stood and knocked Baggins on the shoulder to follow.  “Yes, ma’am.  Thank you ma’am.”  Fidget said quickly.  They bowed several times and vanished before Greta might change her mind.  Only three words floated back to their ears.  “We do weddings.”

Darius looked at her.  “I’m afraid to ask what that means,” he said, and he laughed; but to Greta it sounded like nervous laughter.

“What will they do to the Quadi?”  Marcus stood right there to ask.

“Probably not much,” Greta answered.  “Despite the bravado, they really have no interest in humans or human affairs. They will party.  I only hope it will keep enough of the Quadi up and prevent them from making a serious, full scale attack in the morning.  Give you and Darius another day to argue.”  Greta meant that as a joke, but Marcus looked serious and Darius looked at her with an uncertain eye.  Greta stepped into the tent and found Gaius and Vedix already beginning the arguments.

“Excuse me.” Darius said.  He stepped from the tent, found his horse, and rode back toward the city.

“What’s with him?” Marcus did not really ask.

“I have a terrible headache,” Greta said, and she went back to where she, Darius and Berry had spoken privately.  Damn it! It felt true enough.  She did love him.  And she had to cry about it because she felt sure he was lost to her.

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MONDAY

Greta needs to think.  The rebels have the guns and are fortified on the temple mount.  The Roman numbers are small for the moment, and the legion is days away. And the Germanic Quadi invaders are arriving in their thousands.  Greta needs to get away, to think.  She will go to Avalon, her real home, the home of the Kairos, or as she calls it her her Dacian tongue, Usgard above Midgard…

Until then, Happy Reading

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