M3 Festuscato: The Jutes, part 2 of 3

Mirowen went on to whisper the king’s response.

“He is thanking the fine ship builder for his thoughtfulness and is offering him a ring of gold for his trouble.”  The king stood and gave the gift.  “He is telling Ingut to stay and be refreshed.  He will get the finest rooms to spend the evening and can make a fresh start home in the morning.

“Ingut says his poor dear daughter will miss him in the night, and how he hates to be away from his only living kin.”

“The king says, here.  This inlaid necklace should soothe her fears.  Now please be seated and say no more about it.”  The king sat back down while men at the table to the king’s left moved down to make room for the shipwright.  Festuscato took Mirowen by the wrist and stepped forward.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Senator of Imperial Rome and Ambassador of his most August Emperor, Valentinian III, the Divine Caesar, ruler of the Western World, it is an honor to be at your table,” he said, Mirowen translating.  The king slowly grinned.

“Ruler of the Western World?” he questioned.  There were a couple of muffled laughs at that.

“The civilized world,” Festuscato said, eliciting a very loud burp from a man at the back. “And many a man has underestimated the power and reach of Rome.”  He spoke plainly, not threatening.

“We have no quarrel, Roman,” the king said.  He made no other comment and looked over the crew, instead.

“Lady Mirowen.” Festuscato began the introductions with her.  “The big Britain is Bran the Sword, and these other good men are Gregor One Eye, the Saxon, Seamus the cleric, is Irish, Luckless from the mines of Wales, Mousden, the Pixie from Cornwall, and of course you know Vingevourt, king of the sprites of the Baltic.”  Festuscato began to look around.

“I was not aware they had names,” King Hroden said.

“And ah, there he is.”  Festuscato pointed.  “And Hrugen the Sailor.”  He knew better than to name the Dane, as a Dane, but then Hrugen surprised them by stepping forward.

“I am Hrugen son of Unferth, grandson of Edglaf of the Danes,” he said, proudly.  Several benches got shoved back and several men reached for their weapons, but the king stopped them with his hand.

“I have heard of your father,” Hroden said.

“I fled my home twelve years ago when my father killed his two brothers,” Hrugen said. “I feared for my life, but I have conquered that fear and I am returning home to confront my sire, once and for all.” He sounded far braver and more confident in that assembly than he really was.

“He is a stinking drunk,” Hroden said.  “He sits at Hrothgar’s feet in Heorot and fears the monster that assails them.  He is a drunk and a coward.”  The king baited Hrugen, but Hrugen did not bite.

“What you say may be true,” Hrugen said.  “I have not been home in all these years.”

The king frowned at his lack of success, so he broadened his jibes.  “Still, I suppose we can encourage enmity between Danes. You may stay.  As for the rest of your crew, however, they seem no threat. Even the big one looks docile enough. Stay and eat.”

“I thank the king for his generosity,” Festuscato said.  “But before you underestimate Rome, may I suggest a friendly contest or two?”

“Eh?”  The shrewdness returned to the king’s eyes.

“Something to entertain and pass the time,” Festuscato shrugged.  “Perhaps archery to start, if you have a target.”

The king nodded. He indicated to a man who called for the target.  “But what if you lose?” the king asked.

“Mousden.” Festuscato called.  The Pixie came forward and produced a small leather purse out of nowhere.  He handed it to Festuscato and flew back to the others.  Festuscato took out a couple of pieces of gold as if judging how much to bet.  He looked around, and then smiled, dumped half the bag of nuggets on the table before the king and set the rest of the bag beside it.  “But what if we win?”  Festuscato countered.  The king’s wide eyes looked up at the Roman.  “Rome is a fat cow,” he reminded the king.

“Enough,” the king promised.  “I will give enough.”  He stood. “But my men will not lose.”  He roared to be sure everyone got the message.  A table, one back from the front, was cleared for the strangers, but the king stopped Festuscato.  “You sit with me,” he said.  “And the Lady of Light.”  He literally threw a man out of his seat to make room at his own table.  When he sat back down, the man beside him whispered in his ear.  He laughed. “Olaf the Swede has bet on you and your crew.”  He laughed again.  “Yonstrom!” He called out.  The king’s hunter stepped forward, arrow already on the string. A line got drawn on the floor and the target set across the room far enough away to not make it too easy. Yonstrom shot, and it appeared a good shot.  It was not centered, but close enough to take down a stag.  The king smiled and looked at Festuscato.

“Mirowen.” That was all he said, without looking. She jumped on the table itself, adding another twelve yards distance to the target, produced a bow seemingly out of thin air and shot, not once, but two arrows so close together the second was away before the first one hit the target.  The first hit dead center and the second one hit so perfectly on the end it drove the first nearly all the way through the hardwood, but without splitting the first shaft.

Mirowen got back in her seat, the bow gone, and she looked demure and sweet before the men could hardly react.  Then they broke out.  Some hooted. Some hollered.  All praised her, in amazement, and only Festuscato noticed that she turned a little red.  When the king bent over to say something, she spoke first to cut him off.

“My Lord Agitus is far better than I am,” she said.  Festuscato shook his head.  He knew his reflection in the past, Diana, his genetic twin, had been graced by both the goddess Justitia and the goddess Diana, her namesake.  He reflected her sense of justice and power of negotiation as well as her ability to hunt and use the bow, to fire the arrow of justice as he called it, but Mirowen remained the best he had ever seen.

“Perhaps,” the king said.  “But he did not shoot.  Magic does not count.  I will have the target examined in the morning to see if the arrows are still there or if it was all just illusion.”  He looked at Festuscato and considered whether or not he might be better than the elf.  “We will call it a draw,” the king concluded.  “Swords.”  He announced.

Mirowen wanted to protest, but Festuscato held her hand down.  He looked.  Bran did not have to be called.  His opponent was a big Jute, though not quite Bran’s size.  Neither was the Jute’s sword as big as Bran’s early broadsword. They did not wait for the word, but went at it evenly at first.  When Bran looked to be gaining the advantage, and the Jute appeared to be tiring, a man at the table stuck out his own weapon, and Bran lost his grip.  The broadsword clattered across the floor and king Hroden looked pleased.

Festuscato showed no emotion as the big Jute moved in for what he believed would be the deciding blow, but as he moved in close to strike, Bran did the opposite of what was expected.  Instead of backing away, Bran stepped in even closer and hit the Jute with a wicked uppercut followed by two jabs and a right hook that slammed the Jute against the wall, unconscious.  Bran rubbed his knuckles a bit before he retrieved his broadsword and laid it at the Jute’s throat.

“One for me.” Festuscato said to the king’s great displeasure.  He called for food and thought quietly while everyone ate and drank.  He called a man close and whispered to him.

Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 5 of 6

“It is true,” Alexis said.  “Boston was born human and became a spirit of the day to marry my brother.  I was born a spirit of the day, but became human to marry Benjamin.” she reached for Lincoln, but he was studiously staying out of the conversation.  “I still have some magic, though.  On my bad days, Benjamin calls me his witch.”

“Like the witch we are following?” Felix asked.

Alexis shook her head.  “She is a very powerful sorceress.  She can do things I cannot imagine doing.”  Alexis slid back beside her husband, and Katie took up the telling.

“Lincoln and Alexis are especially worried about Evan and Millie.  Evan and Millie also belong in the future, and Lincoln and Alexis found Evan about three hundred and fifty years ago in what was going to become Rome.  Romulus and Remus were young boys then.”

“We met the wolf, Valencia,” Lockhart interjected.

“She was a woman,” Katie said. “She could turn into a wolf to suckle the boys when they were babies.”

“It wasn’t Rome yet,” Lockhart insisted.

“But it was getting there,” Katie said. “Anyway, Millie, Evan’s wife, got lost in Babylon.”  Felix did not know what Babylon was.  “But Evan went back to the founding of Rome.  Lincoln and Alexis were the ones who found him and saved him, so they kind of feel responsible for him, and for Millie.”

Felix understood that feeling of responsibility, but he said nothing as Boston and Sukki came riding back from the front.  Boston looked like a superb rider.  Felix expected that from the spirits of the earth, but Lockhart said that was not it. Boston rode in rodeo competitions when she was young.  Felix nodded, though he did not know what Rodeos were.

“Rome,” Boston shouted and pointed behind her.  The group saw the trees, but the glimmer of the city could be seen through the branches.

Decker and Elder Stow, who rode out from the edges of the road, came in to join the group.  They fell in behind where they could protect the rear. Boston and Sukki continued out front. Lockhart asked a question.

“You can take us to Diana?”

“Furi Camilla Claudia, or Claudia Camilla, however the names work in this part of the world,” Katie added, with a look at Lockhart.

This was something Felix could do. “I am an officer among the Romans, and counted a patrician among the Romans, even if my family is Etruscan rooted.  I don’t know where she is in the city, but we can find Furi Claudia Diana.”

Katie confessed.  “Roman naming conventions are hard to follow, and I studied them.”

“As long as we find her,” Lockhart said. “The Kairos will know what to do if there is any hope of saving Evan and Millie.”

“Yeah,” Boston spoke up, having heard with her good elf ears.  “It wasn’t me that got kidnapped, or shot, or anything for a change.  I even escaped the spiders, unscathed.”

“No,” Sukki said.  “I got stung instead.”

“I must be rubbing off,” Boston said, with a true elf grin.  Sukki did not look sure if that was a good idea or not.  “Anyway,” Boston continued.  “At least we got Alexis.  The best healer in the business.”

That much was true.  Sukki looked back and smiled at Alexis, whom she thought of as an aunt, even if Alexis did not see the smile.  She looked again at Boston, her best sister, and wondered. Who would have ever thought she would be sisters with an elf?

###

When they arrived at the house, Boston got right down and raced up to the gate.  She saw a girl through the gate, one becoming a young woman, but one with a cloth tied around her eyes.  An elder elf, with some gray in her hair, an unusual sight in an elf, stood next to the girl, whispering in the girl’s ear.  The girl looked uncertain, but smiled well enough.

By the time a servant came to the gate, the others joined Boston.  When the gate opened, Boston did not know what to do.  Katie and Alexis came to the front and smiled for the girl and the one they thought of as an old woman, though Alexis suspected.  Decker, Lockhart, and Lincoln kept back while Felix spoke.

“I am Lucius Falerna Felix.  Is Lady Diana home?”

Elder Stow and Sukki came in last. Elder Stow explained to Sukki that her familial feelings for the travelers was perfectly acceptable.  He said, “For now, they are the only family we have. And all things considered, they are a rather good family.  We just need to find your cousins, Evan and Millie.  That’s all.”

Suki smiled, as they heard a woman’s voice from inside the house.  “Lockhart. What’s wrong?”

“Diana?” Boston asked before Lincoln could mouth the words, but the woman came into the gate area with her arms open. The woman had red hair and light brown eyes, and Boston said, “You’re red, like me,” as she ran into the hug.  She added, “You hug like a mom.”

“We are evaluating the hugs now, are we?” Diana said.

Boston grimaced.  “You even sound like a mom.”

Diana laughed and held on to Boston with one hand while she opened her other arm and hand.  The blind girl smiled and slipped under Diana’s wing, though some wondered how she knew, not being able to see and all.

“My daughter, Justitia,” Diana said.

“Lucky girl,” Boston whispered, and Justitia nodded.

“The best mom.”

Diana turned to Justitia.  “These are the travelers I told you about.  The ones from the future.”

“Oh,” Justitia exclaimed.  “That makes sense.  They are hedged around by the gods.”

“Yes, sweet,” Diana hugged Justitia into her side.  “But that does not solve everything.”  Diana looked and Katie, and Lockhart who walked up beside her.

“We lost Evan and Millie,” Katie said.

“Oh!” Justitia exclaimed again as Decker spoke from behind.

“And all of the guns.”

“It was the witch,” Alexis explained. “She hypnotized Evan and Millie and had them steal our weapons when we slept.  Now she has them as prisoners, maybe hostages.”

“And the weapons,” Lockhart added. “Which we have needed far too often in our journey.”

“Nanette?”  A young man came from the house.  He heard something, and every eye turned toward him as he came into the light.  “Nanette is holding Evan and Millie hostage?”

“Charles Wallace Dodd,” Diana introduced the young man.  “Yes, Wallace.  The evil Nanette has taken Evan and Millie prisoner.”

Wallace shook his head, like he did not like the term, evil Nanette; but Justitia tapped her mom’s side and whispered. “He knows something.”

“Wallace?” Diana said, with some command in her voice.

Wallace reached up to scratch his beard before he nodded.  “I think I saw her, this morning.  She was surrounded by men, and with a wagon.  I don’t know the cargo.  It was covered with a blanket, but it looked heavy.  The other woman could have been Mildred, but I couldn’t be sure.  It was far away.”

“Where was that?”  Lincoln asked the intel question, not doubting the veracity of the report.

“A warehouse by the docks, down by the river,” He paused and glanced at Diana, who betrayed nothing on her face, but from the look on Wallace face, maybe he went somewhere he was not supposed to go.  “I didn’t see Publia and her friends,” he confessed.  Alexis, at least, imagined there was a story behind that.

“How did you know it was Nanette?” Lockhart asked the police question, not willing to run off on a rumor.

Wallace acted like it was obvious. “She was a darkie, like your friend there.”  Decker rolled his eyes as Wallace continued.  “There are not many negroes in Rome, if any.”  Alexis and Lincoln looked miffed, and about to speak. Boston opened her mouth in surprise, but waited to see what happened.  Lockhart covered his chuckle as Katie elbowed him in the stomach. Diana raised her hand for quiet.

“1905,” she said.  “Don’t forget Wallace came here from 1905.  Be gracious.”  She stared at the group and saw no objections, except Wallace who looked confused and wondered what he said wrong.  Diana continued.  “Alexis.  Justitia is learning to cook.  I would appreciate you sharing some thoughts on that with her.  The rest of you need to come with me.  Before you go running off, you need to be properly armed.  She led them to a big, open room where she had metal Roman helmets and breastplates, pikes, sears, and boxes of Roman short swords.  She also had several famous, big rectangular Roman shields that she was edging with metal. She explained.

“The Gauls are getting restless. Next time my father takes out the army, I am going to make sure the army is properly equipped to fend off those Celtic broadsword hammer blows.”

Katie told Lockhart.  “History imagines her father came up with all these innovations and outfitted his army overnight…”  Lockhart nodded that he knew better.

Meanwhile, Alexis asked about the scales in the kitchen.

“Oh, I have to weigh everything,” Justitia said.  “I even take the scale and weights with me when I shop.  Of course, no merchant in their right mind would dare cheat me at this point.”

“Your mother?” Alexis asked.

Justitia grinned.  “Mom lays down the law.”

“And your sister?”

Justitia’s smile turned to a frown. “Publia delights in breaking the law.”

Alexis took and patted Justitia’s hand gently.  “She is a teenager.  You will understand better in a year or two.”

###

The travelers still had their binoculars, along with the rest of their equipment.  They examined the warehouse from a distance and saw signs that the witch had indeed taken up residence.  Lockhart, Katie, Decker, and Elder Stow formulated a plan.  Boston listened in and explained it to Sukki.

Diana put in her two cents and then stepped back to let them argue.  She wore her armor, where she had a sword at her back and a long knife across the small of her back, but she looked more formidable than she felt, especially since Justitia insisted on tagging along.  She knew she need not worry about the girl, but she felt a mother’s worry all the same. Gaius, her son, was absolutely forbidden to be there.  She charged his nurse, Livia, with tying him to the front gate if she needed to. Then, who knew where Publia was? No doubt gallivanting with her friends in the market, and getting into trouble.

Diana looked at Justitia.  She had removed her blindfold.  She was not utterly blind, and could make out shadows and light well enough, but people expressed feeling awkward and uncomfortable looking at her eyes.  She got better reception when she wore the cloth around her eyes.  Diana once imagined making sunglasses for the girl, but obviously, she was there to keep history on track, not change history. The only reason she got to upgrade the Roman arms and armor is because that was going to happen anyway, and while she might have been the reason it happened, the point was, it happened.

Diana shook her head.  Her lives were much too complicated.

Diana kept the girl between herself and Lincoln.  Justitia ignored him, but showed great anticipation, wondering how events would unfold.  Of course, Lincoln would no doubt keep himself in reserve.  He would hopefully grab Justitia if she ran out in her excitement. She would have asked Alexis to take that position, but thought Alexis might be needed for her magic.  Lincoln seemed the right choice.  Diana knew Lincoln would not run out in excitement.

Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 4 of 6

Lucius Falerna Felix,” the goddess Diana spoke to the officer in charge, the same officer the travelers met in the gate the day before.  “The spiders are all gone.  But the family in this house are also gone.  You need to send the night watch to collect the bodies and prepare them for their funeral.”

Felix, the name the travelers latched onto the day before, nodded, and got his men moving.  He would have gone with them, but Lockhart waved for him to join them, and the goddess also urged him in the spirit to come.  He came, but he would not lift his eyes to so much as look at the Diana, and he felt in awe of the travelers who appeared to be on very familiar ground with the goddess.

“Speak,” Diana said, and Felix spoke.

“I thought these people were strange enough to keep an eye on.  I gathered some of the night watch.  I wondered if they might have something to do with the ghosts in town, though when I mentioned it to them, they pretended like they did not know about the ghosts. We saw the first giant spiders at sundown, and I called up the gate guards and got the full night watch to surround the house, to keep the creatures contained.  It would have been a disaster to have giant spiders all over the city.”

Diana interrupted.  “The ghosts, as you call them, were wraiths in the night. I have sent them back to the place from whence they came.  There is one that is out of time placement that I am not authorized to touch.  She is with the witch, but she has been partially subdued.  There will be no more ghosts in the town.  Continue.”  Felix continued.

“We fought in every quarter.  The spiders seemed everywhere.  I saw two of the strangers come out of the gate, their arms loaded down with equipment of some kind; but I was too busy to stop them and ask them what they were doing.  Fortunately, they left the gate unlatched.”

Diana interrupted again.  “Evan and Millie were enchanted by the witch.  She called it hypnosis.  She could not make Evan and Millie harm you in any way, but stealing your weapons was an easy thing.  Continue.”

“Well, at last there seemed a break in the spiders climbing over the wall.  I gathered my men and broke into the house through the unlatched gate.  I found these people fighting against the same spiders in the court, which suggests the strangers were not responsible for the spider swarm.”

“I assume that the witch made the spiders get big,” Lockhart spoke, and Felix nodded.  Diana said nothing.

“That is really it,” Felix finished. “With the last spider killed, I saw the most glorious sight I ever thought to see…”  He began to weep softly, tears of joy and fear.

“Yeah, yeah.  Blah, blah,” Diana said, and turned to the travelers.  “My brother says the time of the gods is coming-to-a-close.  Just as well. After thousands of years of being worshiped, it gets kind of tiresome.  Now listen.  I am breaching etiquette a bit, but Evan and Millie are alive, disenchanted, but prisoners of the witch.  You will have to save them… or not.  And before you ask, there is nothing I can do about the witch.  She is the creation of Minerva.  That will be your headache.”

“Can’t you ask Minerva to fix it?” Katie asked.

“Minerva?” Lockhart was not sure who that was.

“Athena,” Katie told him, as he remembered.

“I can ask, again,” Diana said.  “She knows full well in the spiritual world, identical twins often produce one good and one bad, like the two faces of Janus, who some say should have been born twins.  But you know Minerva.  She can’t ever admit she made a mistake.”  Diana shrugged, and vanished.

Katie stepped over to hug Felix. He looked grateful, until he thought about who was hugging him.  These travelers seemed human enough, but who knew the truth of it?  They were on a first name basis with the gods, or at least one goddess, and that made him wonder just how human these people really were. He did not feel entirely surprised when Boston came in looking like the elf she was.

Boston saw the stares and quickly restored her glamour of humanity.  “I was the only one who could wiggle out of Elder Stow’s screens,” she said.

“Oh, I am sorry,” Elder Stow apologized. “I should have left some discs for the rest of you to come and go.  I didn’t think of it.”

“That’s okay,” Lockhart told him. “We were kind of in a hurry.”

“And preoccupied,” Decker added.

“Boston,” Katie saw something. “What is that look on your face? You look upset.”

Boston took a big breath.  “Honey and Freedom are fine, and so is Sukki. Weber, Dog, and Elder Stow’s horse were bitten, or stung, but Alexis got the poison out in time and they will heal.” Boston found some tears.  “Black Beauty and Misty Gray are gone.”  She did not have to say anything else.

Katie found some tears, but Lockhart hugged her and helped her walk toward the back door.  Decker and Elder Stow followed.  Felix shouted to the men in hearing distance, and the two from the road that first met the travelers, the ones Lockhart called two-headed chicken and two-headed snake, followed after Felix and the travelers.  No one paid attention, the travelers thinking of the horses as they were, but it came as a bit of a shock when they locals walked smack into Elder Stow’s screen.  Two-headed snake yelped, and two-headed chicken landed on his rump, where he rubbed his bruised nose.

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” Elder Stow said. He gave the men discs and invited them in.  They came carefully.  He took all the discs back when he turned off his screen device.  Everyone got too busy being in tears or comforting the others to notice.

###

The travelers stayed the rest of the night and into the next day, to give the horses as much time as possible to heal. Then, they planned to walk them the ten miles to Rome, but Felix and his two soldiers offered to go with them, and Felix felt sure he could scrounge up some horses for the journey.  No guarantee that they would be good horses.

Alexis and Lincoln were especially worried about Evan and Millie, but Boston and Katie rode out in the morning on Honey and Freedom and both got the impression that for the time being, they were fine.  They appeared to be walking to Rome themselves, and on horseback, the others thought they might catch the couple.

Elder Stow said he could not pick out, on his scanner, which travelers they might be.  He would have to work on being able to do that.  Meanwhile, the road between Rome and Veii had become well used since the city of Veii fell to the Romans.  Decker, on the other hand, looked for them with his totem eagle.  He felt sure he saw them in the distance, beyond the range of his eagle flight, but two, walking beside a wagon filled with shiny objects of some sort.  That had to be their weapons.

Finally, around noon, the travelers left their horses in a new barn and stable; the place they found the horses they borrowed, or actually rented.  Felix charged his two soldiers to watch the travelers’ horses under threat of crucifixion if anything happened to them, then the travelers and Felix headed out on the south road toward Rome.

Lockhart, Katie, and Felix kept the group to a reasonable pace.  Boston, Decker, and Lincoln especially wanted to ride ahead and catch the wagon before the witch made it to the city, to get lost in the city streets.  Felix assured them that if the thieves walked all night and all morning, they were likely in the city already.  They would get there, and Lockhart had to repeat the phrase. “We will find them.”

Felix did not say much.  He seemed shy in front of these people who were friends with the gods.  Lockhart and Katie, and sometimes Sukki and Alexis included him in their conversation, but mostly he asked questions, even if he did not ask some questions for fear of the answers.  He did ask where they were from and felt disturbed enough by that answer.

“We come from roughly twenty-five hundred years in the future,” Katie said.  “But we started this journey about four thousand years in the past.”

“We have been on the road for about three, going on four years,” Lockhart agreed.  “We have about two or three more years to travel to get home.”

“That is a very rough estimate,” Katie said.

Felix nodded before he shook his head.  He did not understand.  The words made sense, but his mind could not grasp the concept.

“Maybe a story would help,” Alexis butted in.

Lockhart told the story about being in Troy during the war.  He told about meeting Diomedes, and old man Nestor.  “We met the Amazons bringing cattle to the relief of Troy.  You know, my wife is an honorary Amazon queen.” Lockhart grinned at Katie who did not deny it.

“We did not get to stay long, though,” Katie said.  “Aphrodite, the one you call Venus, moved us along before we had a chance to see the city or any of the war.”

“We were being chased by monsters at that time,” Lockhart concluded.

“Somehow,” Felix mused.  “You and monsters I can understand.”

Lockhart nodded, but Katie continued. “Diomedes and Athena, that is, Minerva, seemed to be in love.  I wonder if they ever had children.”

“The virgin goddess?”  Felix looked shocked by the idea.

“Don’t believe everything you read,” Lockhart quipped.

Felix shook his head again.  “They say Diomedes was one of the only Greeks that got home safe from the war.  But soon, he abandoned Greece and came here, to the Apulia region in the south.  They say he left his weapons as an offering in the temple of Minerva Achaea there.”  Felix could not imagine it.  “But what you suggest, that the virgin goddess might have had a child.  It makes no sense.”

Sukki overheard the end of the conversation, and quite uncharacteristic, she offered a thought.  “I met Hercules.”  Felix looked up at the girl in a way where she had to tell the story of Jason, and all the Argonauts.  She did a credible job, especially when she told about the volcano.  Gott-Druk, living in the small family groups, particularly in the dead of winter, developed very strong storytelling skills.  Sukki got a little carried away, praising her friend Boston for saving their lives. She finished the story and rode out front, where Boston had ridden ahead to scout the land.  Sukki remained a very shy girl, but she started adjusting to having a family, even if most of it was not a Gott-Druk family.

“The spirit of the day?” Felix asked, to clarify who Boston was.

“The red head,” Katie nodded, and Alexis moved up again, and interrupted.

“My sister.”

Felix gave the woman a strange look. He watched when the red-headed elf put her glamour of humanity back on.

Lockhart saw the look of slight disgust, and chuckled.  It seemed the same way he still felt sometimes when he came face to face with the ones the Kairos called little ones.  Especially goblins.

“Don’t worry.  She is human, like us,” Katie said of Alexis.

Felix squinted at Alexis and twisted his brow.  “I don’t know about us, but I will take your word for it.”

Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 2 of 6

The travelers stabled their horses and took all five empty rooms at the inn.  They would have preferred six rooms.  Boston and Sukki did not mind rooming together, but Decker and Elder Stow did not mix well.  Major Decker, the marine, had been trained to sleep wherever, when he had a chance, but Elder Stow snored, terribly.  Decker claimed he kept waking up, thinking someone was sneaking up on him.

In the back of their minds, Millie and Evan wondered if that night would be the night they could steal the formidable weapons of the travelers.  When they came in from the stables where they took a turn seeing to the horses, a man got in their way.  He got their attention with a word.

“Light and dark.  Light and dark.”  He said it twice and handed them a potion of some sort.  “The lady said spill this in the room of the marines.  Do not breathe the vapors, but wait an hour. Then the sleepers should stay asleep.”

Evan took the potion and slipped it in a pocket.  Millie nodded, as they entered the common room.  She looked once at Boston, but Boston did not indicate that she heard anything with her good elf ears.  Evan imagined no one noticed.

That evening, Evan and Millie went up to their room early.  Millie ran into a spider web on the stairs, and nearly screamed, but Evan held her.

“Just a cobweb,” he told her. “Hush.  Just a cobweb.”

Evan stepped inside Decker and Elder Stow’s door and spilled half of the potion on the floor by the bed.  He did not see or smell any vapor, but he did not stay in the room for long.  The other half he spilled in the Lockhart’s room.  He knew Captain Katherine Harper-Lockhart was a marine who worked out of the Pentagon, though maybe Nanette did not know that.  Then Millie and Evan sat on the edge of their bed, staring at the wall, and waited for an hour, looking like two china dolls with no will of their own.

The others came up and went to bed. Something outside roared.  Someone down the street screamed.  Strange lights flashed outside the inn and sped off to disappear in the city streets.  Evan and Millie heard the click-click-click overhead, like squirrels in the attic.  Being from 1905, they never imagined Santa Claus.  Then the hour was up.

Evan pulled back the curtain that acted as a door, and stepped carefully into Decker and Elder Stow’s room.  Major Decker slept on the floor, though it looked like he may have passed out.  Evan gathered up Decker’s rifle and gun-belt, which had been laid carefully on a small table in the room.  Decker shifted in his sleep, but he did not wake.

Elder Stow slept on the bed, and was not presently snoring at all.  Evan paused to look long at Elder Stow’s things, which had been piled on an end table beside the bed.  He honestly did not know one item from another, so he could not imagine what might be the weapon.  When Elder Stow turned on his back and snorted, Evan left the whole pile undisturbed. He was only supposed to gather the weapons.

Millie crept into Katie and Lockhart’s room as quiet as a mother might check on a sleeping child.  Their weapons sat in a single pile on the floor, by the bed. Millie easily picked up the rifle, Lockhart’s shotgun, and both gun-belts, though that was all heavy for her. She stopped still, when Katie suddenly spoke.

“No… Don’t…Wait…”

Millie dared to look, but Katie appeared to be talking in her sleep.  Millie hustled through the curtained doorway.

The hall outside the room ran like a long balcony overlooking the center courtyard of the building.  Downstairs, the common room took up the whole back end of the building.  The kitchens stood at one end.  The family rooms took up the other end.  Upstairs, a dozen rooms sat off the long balcony which had stairs where the balcony turned on both ends.  The three rooms over the family end had two cousins and a storage room.  The three rooms over the kitchen end were the ones to sleep in during the cold rains of winter.  Presently, Evan and Millie stood with their arms loaded with guns, lit only by the stars and the moonlight.

“Wait here,” Evan said, as he put down Decker’s rifle and gun-belt.  “If I get caught, you will have to carry these things.”

“I can’t carry all of this,” Millie complained, quietly.  She stared at the guns, an uncertain look on her face, but she said no more.

Evan crept into Lincoln and Alexis’ room, quiet as a mouse.  He knew Alexis carried no weapon, but Lincoln had a gun-belt he wanted to get.  He briefly wished he used some of the sleep-vapor potion in the room.  He remembered Alexis was a witch of sorts and he feared she might wake.  But his instruction had been to use it on the marines.  There were actually two marines, but neither was Alexis or Lincoln.

Evan paused and stared at the enormous spider web in the corner of the room by the closed window shutters.  He knew that could not be just old cobwebs, but he could not stop to worry about that.  He had a task to finish, for Nanette.

When he came out, he took a rifle, the shotgun and three gun-belts, two of which he quickly slipped around his waist. That left Millie with the other rifle and the last gun-belt.  She handled that well enough, but she had a question which she whispered when they reached the stairs.

“What about Boston and Sukki?”

“Sukki doesn’t have a weapon,” he answered.  “Boston has one, but she keeps it in what she calls her elf slip.  It is invisible to me.  Besides, being and elf, I am sure Boston would wake up the minute we pulled back her curtain.  We go with what we have.  One gun is no big deal.”

Millie said nothing, but as they came to the bottom of the stairs and started across the central courtyard, headed toward the wall and iron gate that served as the front door, she first wondered why they were doing what they were doing—disarming the others.

Just before they reached the gate, a foul wind and brilliant light entered the courtyard from above.  It stopped near the couple, swirling lights of yellow, red, and blue.  Evan and Millie stared, as a darker ghost-like form grew in the center of the light.  It looked human enough, until the form turned to face them.  As the colors of light swirled and cleared, Millie screamed.

“Demon,” Evan gasped.

“Jesus,” Millie honestly prayed.

“I rebuke you,” Evan yelled, and the demon image screamed, a high pitched, piercing sound that echoed in the natural acoustics of the home.  Evan and Millie ran out the gate.  The demon light flew up and over the roof.  Alexis, Lincoln, Boston, and Sukki sprang to their feet.

“What was that?” Sukki shivered.

“Something to wake the dead,” Boston said, but she only meant it as the overused twenty-first century expression.

Katie kicked Lockhart and fell out of bed.  Lockhart groaned, and got up like a father needing to hold the baby in the night. Katie shook her head to try to clear it. The couple threw on their clothes, a simple thing with fairy weave which seemed to cover them with almost a mind of its own.

Decker sprang up, and felt very dizzy. Elder Stow held his head and complained.

“I feel like I drank alcohol,” he said. Elder Stow could not hold his liquor, at all.

Decker reached for his rifle, which wasn’t there.  “The weapons are gone,” he said.

Elder Stow looked at the pile of his things beside the bed.  He picked up his own weapon and fired at something behind Decker.  Decker whipped his head around and saw a spider roast. The spider looked the size of a small end table.

###

Millie and Evan found the man from earlier, and without thinking, they followed him to a house down the street from the inn.  There were other men there, a half-dozen in all, and they all had the same look about them. The men moved slow and awkward, and their eyes appeared glazed over.  Someone from the twenty-first century might refer to them as mind-numbed robots.  But Millie and Evan, being from 1905, saw them the way every human before the twenty-first century would see them, as enchanted, and under the spell of the witch.

When Millie and Evans dropped the weapons on the floor in front of Nanette, they did a little head shaking of their own, to come out of the hypnotic suggestion.  They looked at each other, wondering why they disarmed their friends.

“Is this all of them?” Nanette asked.

Evan found his mouth open.  Words came out, and he could not stop them. “Boston, the elf still has her weapons. They were in her slip and invisible to me.  Sukki still has her knife, but we thought it best not to enter the elf room, lest we be stopped.  Alexis still has her wand in her old elf slip, that is invisible to me, but if she has a weapon, it would be a bow and arrows at most.”

“Alexis hates weapons,” Millie added.

“Elder Stow still has his things,” Evan continued.  “I looked at it all, but I did not know which one was the weapon, so I thought it best not to disturb the pile.  But we brought all of their guns and weapons of power to you.  Why did you make us do this?”

“Why are you haunting the town with demons?” Millie asked.

Nanette grinned a wicked grin.  “Meg,” she called, and something came from the back room.  It appeared a ghost-like person, a woman not quite solid, and she floated into the room and cackled—her attempt at laughter.

Evan’s eyes got big.  Millie moved into Evan’s arms and turned her head into his shoulder so she would not have to see.

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 6 of 6

The chariots could not move as fast as the horses alone, even on open and relatively flat ground, but there seemed no doubt who they were after.  Lincoln figured they could track the horses, even in the woods, so their only hope was to keep their distance, or find back-up.  Alexis looked back when they came to the edge of the woods on the other side of the open field.  The chariots had fallen behind, and the men were well off, but jogging dutifully along.

“They will have to slow way down when they reach the forest,” Evan said, with a look back.

“So will we,” Alexis said, as they started in among the trees.

“What happened?” Lincoln asked.

“They must have had the chariots already hitched up and the soldiers ready to move out for some reason.”

Lincoln grunted, as an arrow whizzed past him and stuck in a tree.  “Damn,” he said.  As Alexis pushed out front, Lincoln pulled his handgun and fired twice in the direction of the archer.

“Help,” Evan yelled.  “We are not far now,” he told Lincoln.  “Help!” He pointed for Lincoln. “It is more over to the right, I believe.  Help!”

Alexis and Lincoln angled in the way he pointed, and probably hurried the horses more than they should.  Evan tried one more “Help”, before Lincoln hushed him.

“Trees are a great way to get hidden. quickly.  But it loses the point if you keep giving away our position.”

“Yes, of course,” Evan said, but he did not look too embarrassed.

They very quickly came to a clearing filled with horses. On closer examination, they realized half the horses were centaurs.  On a grassy ledge beside a cave and some rocks, a wolf with black hair filled with red streaks growled, not at them, but at something else.  When they got up to the others, they turned and saw a path through the woods that Evan either did not know about or forgot about.  The three chariots were coming up the path in single file.

“There are a couple of dozen soldiers coming along behind the chariots,” Lincoln reported.  Poor Evan stared at the centaurs, like they were something he never imagined before.

The chariot in front stopped and a man shouted.  “I see you have friends.  Cecil.” He pointed.  “I suppose these people have also come from the future.”

“Yes,” Lincoln shouted back.  “And Cecil is going with us.”  Lincoln took courage being back among the travelers.

The man scoffed.  “You are welcome to him.  He has proved useless, and in some cases, dangerous.  Good luck.”

“Lord Tarquin.  I told you that you needed horse riders, not just chariots,” Evan responded, as he got down from behind Lincoln.  He went up toward the ledge to be protected by the wolf.

Tarquin paid no attention, as he already moved on to the centaurs.  “Colon,” he said.  “Don’t tell me she has forgiven you.”

“I forgave you,” the wolf seemed to say.

“We are working it out,” Colon answered at the same time, as the wolf changed into Valencia.  She took a moment to brush back her long red hair before she rose up about ten feet where she could hover and look down on everyone.

“Tarquin,” she said, a sharpness in her voice.  “You have no business here.”

Tarquin got mad.  “People come onto my land.  It is my business to know who they are and what they want.”  The foot soldiers came up to stand alongside the chariots.  Some had spears, but some had bows and arrows ready.  “The seven hills are filling up.  There are new homes, hamlets, even growing villages crowding one another. Soon, a man will not be able to walk and know where one village ends and the next begins.”

“There is time before that happens, but the King in Alba Longa got old, and he stopped paying attention.  Latium is falling apart, the tribes are fighting one another, and the brothers quarreled.  The usurper has the rightful king locked away, but he does not care about Latium.  People are coming to the seven hills by the hundreds to escape the fighting and find peace.  Maybe you need to talk to all the people, to make the seven hills like one big city, for mutual protection, if nothing else.”

Tarquin shook his head.  “I will not share the crown with what you call representatives from the other hills and villages.  Why do you not understand?  That would only lead to chaos.”

“Tarquin.  Some things are beyond your understanding, but some things you already know.  Have you made a decision about your daughter and my boys?”

“I heard they got adopted by the chief shepherd and his wife.”

“I suckled and weaned them.  I still claim them.”

“Wolf’s milk,” the driver of Tarquin’s chariot mumbled plenty loud.

“My daughter is only six,” Tarquin protested.

“And the boys are twelve.  What’s your point?”

“Maybe I will have a son to follow after me.”  Tarquin grinned, but it looked like the grin of a man who had little hope.

“Make up your mind soon, before Acca Longia begins looking for potential mates.”

“Faustulus can be bought.”

Valencia appeared to roll her eyes, but they got interrupted by a voice on the wristwatches worn by the travelers. They heard Elder Stow’s voice.

“Things are wrapped up here.  The humanoids are locked away, and the Gott-Druk Father…er, Captain has agreed they do not belong here.  They only came here as a last resort.  I only have one last thing to do, and then we will be ready to ride.”

“Roger,” Lockhart responded and looked up at Valencia.  Valencia appeared to be talking to someone that no one else could see.

“Yes, lover.  Everyone, please.”

Everyone in the conversation, travelers, chariots, soldiers, and centaurs all vanished and reappeared on the island in front of the Gott-Druk freighter.  Most of the men and centaurs shouted in fear and surprise.  The travelers hardly blink, having traveled that way on plenty of occasions.

Valencia arrived, still in the air, but she came down to earth and hustled to the boys, Romulus and Remus, who arrived with a dozen sheep. A big man stood there as well, his back to everyone, shaking his finger at the boys.

“Tell your father these are the sheep I claim for the blessing of his flock.  It is spring, and he will more than make up for these with new lambs.”

“You brought these for me?” Valencia asked.  “The Gott-Druk don’t eat much meat.”

“No,” the man said.  “But those others do.  You said it is still a long way to the new Gott-Druk world.”

Valencia nodded and stood on her toes to kiss the man’s cheek.  He turned, wrapped her up in his arms, and planted his kiss right on her lips.  Then he vanished.  Valencia turned to the nearest Gott-Druk, still smiling, a silly smile, but serious in her tone of voice.

“Fresh water and sweet grass to keep them alive until you feed them to the humanoid prisoners.”  She turned on the boys.  “Drive the sheep to the cargo hold where this man tells you, then come right back, and don’t you dare touch anything, do you understand?”

The boys nodded, and one of them said, “Yes, Mama.”

Valencia returned the nod and turned to Tarquin and Colon, who somehow managed to end up next to each other. Tarquin spoke.  “That was?”

“Saturn,” Valencia said, plainly. She did not give it another thought, but several of Tarquin’s soldiers and a couple of centaurs backed up a bit.

Finally, Valencia turned to the travelers, and specifically the two on foot, Elder Stow and Sukki.  “So?” she asked without spelling anything out.

“She is being stubborn,” Elder Stow said. “Here, she has a chance of joining a crew of nine on a ship that needs twenty.  She has a free ride back to the new world where she can live a happy and safe life, away from all the dangers of the road.  She refuses.”

“Father!”  Sukki got unexpectedly verbal.  “You agreed to be my father and I agreed to be your daughter.”

“Exactly,” Elder Stow raised his voice a bit.  “A daughter should obey her father.  You are grown, and not a child, but now it is a father’s job to make sure his daughter will be cared for and safe.”

“But I have a whole family.”  By which she meant tribe, in the Neanderthal sense.  “I have Katie and Lockhart, who are the best Mother and Father.  And Lincoln and Alexis take good care of us all.  And Major Decker makes me laugh, sometimes. Laughing feels good.  Our people don’t laugh enough.  And Boston is my best friend, ever.  I don’t want to leave.”

“But it is dangerous,” Elder Stow tried once more.  “There is no telling what we will run into on the road.  I would never forgive myself if you got hurt.”

“Or if you got hurt,” Sukki responded.

They stared at each other.  They hugged.  They turned to their waiting horses and got right up.  Sukki went to ride beside Boston, and just to make the point, she put her glamour back on so she looked human, albeit, a big, strong looking girl.

Elder Stow turned to Lockhart with a word.  “Ready to ride.”

They had to cross the river the hard way. Tarquin had to abandon his chariots. He said he would have to fetch them when he sent men with rafts.  Evan crossed, holding on to Lincoln, and that prompted Lincoln to ask.

“Do you know how to ride?”

“Of course,” Evan said.  “I ride horses like this all the time, when I am not driving the wagon.  My family cannot exactly afford one of those automobiles.  They are a rich man’s toys.”

Lincoln and Alexis got busy figuring out the horse business, but Katie overheard and asked.  “When, exactly, did you leave the future and find yourself stuck in the past?”

“October twenty-first, 1905. Why?  Isn’t that where you are from?”

“Figure that out later,” Valencia said. “You are going to want to watch this.” She stood between the boys who were already almost as tall as herself.  She put one hand on each of the boy’s shoulders, soaking wet as the boys were, and she nodded across the river.  The big Gott-Druk freighter rose slowly in the sky, and when it got high enough, it rapidly increased speed until it disappeared in the clouds.

“Tarquin,” Valencia said.  “As I said, some things are beyond your understanding. But your daughter needs a husband.”

Tarquin turned quickly from awe at the Gott-Druk ship to sneering at Valencia.  “We shall see about that.”  He turned, and his people turned with him and marched back toward the village.

Colon bowed to Valencia and whispered, “Forgive me,” like he just figured something out, and it frightened him.  He rode off with his company and made a point of shoving one centaur.  No telling what that was about.

“Evan will ride Misty Gray,” Alexis announced.  “He is a good horse and will give no trouble.”

“Alexis will double with me on Cortez,” Lincoln said, and helped her up.

Lockhart looked around.  “We are all here.  Soaking wet, but all here.”  He noticed Valencia and the boys walked off, but he guessed the boys were already bugging her on wanting their own horses to ride.

“Boston and Sukki, keep up.  No straggling,” Katie said.

“Yes, Mother,” Sukki responded. Boston had to go one better.

“Yes Mom.”

Lincoln, who rode beside Evan asked, “So, you came from the future back here to the past.  Any idea what we will find in the next time zone?”

“Oh,” Evan said.  “That will be very dangerous.”

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

MONDAY

The travelers enter a war zone…Episode 6.4, Stories, will post in only 4 parts, so there will be a post next THURSDAY and it will post in a single week… Don’t miss it.

So, until MONDAY, Happy Reading

*

 

Avalon 6.3 Stubborn, part 5 of 6

“Valencia?” Lockhart asked. Valencia nodded, and Lockhart felt the need to defend himself.  “Well, Lincoln wasn’t here to ask.”

Katie didn’t smile.  “We got trouble,” she said as she got down from her horse.

“Right here in River City,” Lockhart said, as he and the others got down to join her.

“Good one,” Decker told him, quietly.

“I know,” Valencia agreed, but she had other duties.  She turned to the boys and shooed them off.  The boys groused, but picked up staffs that leaned against the rocks and ran off like in a race.  “They are supposed to be helping their father with the sheep.”  Valencia invited the travelers to join her on the ledge, and maybe in the cave.  “The dwarfs dug it out for me. It is quite comfortable,” she said, about the cave.

“Seriously,” Katie said, with a hard look at both Lockhart and Decker, to be sure they kept their mouths shut.  “We were not sure what to do in this situation. It never came up before.  But now, apparently, Lincoln and Alexis have managed to get Professor Emerson, though we have no idea where they are.”

Lockhart cleared his throat. “Elder Stow and Sukki have gone invisible to check on the Gott-Druk merchant ship on the island.”

Valencia nodded, but it looked hard to tell if she thought that had been a good idea or not.  “Cecil lost his chestnut.  I told him he had to wait until you came so you could take him back into the future.  I said he had to try to fit himself in while he waited, and warned him against saying things about the future.  I know he said some things, but none of it history shattering.”

“But, how did you know we were coming?” Boston asked.

Valencia smiled.  “I always know you are coming, I just never know when. I said Cecil might have to wait six months or six years.  I had no way of knowing.”

“How long has it been?” Katie asked.

“They have been stuck in the past for almost seven years, as far as I know.  Six months or six years was only a suggestion.  Lucky for him, it turned out he has only been stuck in this time zone for about three months.  But then the Gott-Druk ship landed, and they are a pickle.”

“What do you mean?” Lockhart asked.

“Three humanoid warships caught them outside of a planetary system when they were making some minor repairs.  They could not run, but being only a merchant ship, with a minimum of second-hand weapons, they destroyed all three warships, but not before a humanoid shuttle crashed into the cargo bay. To be fair, the Gott-Druk were merchants, not warriors, and were outnumbered three to one.”

“Not made to fight against trained soldiers,” Decker understood.

Valencia said, “Yes, well, the humanoids captured the ship, and the Gott-Druk faked engine trouble and came here. I am sure they are stalling, figuring that I will show up eventually, but I honestly don’t know what I can do to help them. Neither Salacia, nor any of the other gods will help.  They all say it is a flesh and blood problem and needs a flesh and blood answer.  I am afraid my intervention might make less flesh and more blood.”

Katie got ready to call Elder Stow and get an update, but Colon, who nobody realized was still there, interrupted as everyone heard a Bang! Bang!

“I hear sounds of distress.  It sounds like humans.”  Colon waved, and a half-dozen centaurs came out of the woods to stand beside him.  They carried clubs, and two had bags of stones and slings.

The travelers went back to their horses and mounted up.  They pulled their weapons to be ready.

“I hear it too,” Boston shouted. “I think it is Lincoln and Alexis. I think the shouting is Evan, or Cecil…Whatever.”

###

After stunning, or maybe killing the humanoid, Elder Stow spoke to Alexis over his communication device so the two Gott-Druk engineers could hear.  He did that on purpose so they would not go into shock when he made himself visible. He kept Sukki invisible for the time being.  “What seems to be the trouble?” he asked.  The engineers stared at him, so he thought to explain a little. “Never mind how I got here, or where I came from.  Let’s just start at the beginning.  How many humanoids are on board?”

“Eighteen,” one said.

“There are usually two here at all times,” the other said, almost as quickly.  Elder Stow touched a spot on his belt just before the other humanoid came into the engine room, gun drawn.

“What are you doing here?” he yelled, giving his fallen comrade a long look.  He did not wait for the translation device to work before he spoke again.  “You do not belong here.”  He pulled the trigger on his gun, but the power did not penetrate Elder Stow’s personal screen.  Elder Stow responded by pointing what hardly looked like a small stick at the humanoid. The humanoid either became stunned, or died and fell next to his companion.

The engineers spoke fast.  “We had a crew of twenty, but lost five in the battle and the crash in the cargo bay.”

“Two got killed defending the ship before the surrender.”

“Three got eaten.”

Elder Stow held up his hands for quiet. “Get weapons and watch these two in case they are only stunned.”

“But, there are eighteen,” one said. He looked rather young, about Sukki’s age.

“Not now, son,” Elder Stow said, kindly. “Only sixteen.”  He pulled out his scanner.  “You two stay here and repair what may or may not need repairing.  I will be back.”  He became invisible again, and said, “Come along, Sukki.”

“Yes, Father,” the engineers heard Sukki respond and looked at each other before they scrambled to arm themselves.

Elder Stow and Sukki followed the signs on Elder Stow’s scanner.  They found nine sleeping in two rooms in the crew quarters.  Elder Stow carefully shot all nine of them, to stun them, so if they did not die, they would stay asleep for a while.  He checked each room to make sure they had no other way of escape while Sukki took all of their weapons to the hall.  He noted that even the vents were too small to crawl through. Once he helped Sukki remove anything in the room that might be used as a weapon, he shut and locked the doors. Then he turned up the power of his weapon and melted the metal doors to the metal frames.  Any humanoid who woke would not escape those rooms without cutting equipment.

Elder Stow and Sukki found two guarding the communications room.  The humanoids did not want any of the Gott-Druk calling for help.  Clearly, they had no idea how long a range the Gott-Druk device might reach.  Also, clearly, the Gott-Druk had reached a level of technology beyond anything the humanoids knew.  Elder Stow recalled the histories.  His people far surpassed Anazi technology, and that happened a thousand years ago.  Now, they absolutely surpassed any humanoid technology, since the humanoids, at first, merely built off the scraps of what the Anazi left them.

“The gap between the elder and younger races is widening,” Elder Stow told Sukki as he shot the two guards.  He and Sukki dragged them to a closet where they locked them in.

“Father,” Sukki said.  “These creatures have invaded and killed our own people.  They do not deserve to live.”

Elder Stow stopped to look at her, kindly.  “Yes,” he said.  “I must remember you are from the before time.  Your distrust of the Elenar, and your disrespect for humans is strong.  There seems to be something in nature which is innately xenophobic.  All creatures naturally hate and fear anything that is intelligent and different. Call it the fear of the unknown. But I have learned some things in this journey.  All life is precious.  Mercy is not a bad thing.  And sometimes half measures are enough.  Most of all, good and bad are not determined by outward appearance, and people come in many shapes and sizes.  Some will be good and some will be evil, but we cannot judge by appearance alone.  It is not our place to determine who should live and who should die.  We are not God.  And even the worst offenders deserve a chance to repent.”

Sukki nodded and kept quiet.  She might not have understood exactly what he said, but she willingly trusted her adopted father.

They came to the flight deck. Sukki shrieked, and alerted the three humanoids there, even if they could see nothing to account for the noise. Sukki could not help it.  The Gott-Druk pilot sat in the command chair, half-eaten.  Elder Stow did not mind killing those three so much.  He turned up the power on his weapon and left three small piles of ash where there had been humanoids.  Apparently, knowing the lesson about mercy in his head did not prevent him from reacting out of anger and upset.

“Father?” Sukki wondered.

Elder Stow turned his weapon back down and sighed.  “As Alexis sometimes says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.”

When they returned to the engine room, they found the humanoids had only been stunned after all.  The Gott-Druk engineers had them well tied, and in fact, Elder Stow had to cut the ties around their legs so he could get them to walk. The humanoids were astounded that he could understand them and speak to them in their own tongue without the need for the translation device.  They were appalled that he had the technology of invisibility.

Elder Stow went invisible in front of them all and spoke.  “Come along.” Anyone watching would have seen two tied humanoids followed and guarded by two Gott-Druk coming down the runway, and that is it.

###

Alexis and Lincoln, with Evan behind him, started across the open fields by the river with some trepidation on the part of the travelers.  They walked their horses well within sight of the village walls.  Lincoln feared the villagers would come out and get after them in no time, but Evan-Cecil assured them.

“By the time Lord Tarquin hitches up his chariots and gathers his men, we should be well out of range and hidden again in the forest on the other side.”

Lincoln thought to distract himself from his worry.  “So, is it Evan or Cecil?”

“Evan,” the man said.  “But apparently, it is too Gaelic for the locals. Cecil fits better on the Latin tongue and memory.”

“Where are we going?” Alexis asked. She and Lincoln had agreed to meet the others back at the campsite on the other side of the river.

Evan understood.  “We need to go around the hill to the cave of the she-wolf.” He paused to think before he quickly added.  “It isn’t what you think.  She is not a werewolf, exactly.  I mean, she is a werewolf after a fashion.  But she is a very nice lady.  And brilliant, in a way.  Yes, I think she is brilliant.  And she can fly.  I don’t know how she does that, but it is true.”  He looked at Alexis to see if he put her mind at ease.  He felt some surprise that she did not appear to be surprised or distressed at all.

“Valencia,” Lincoln said.

“Might as well,” Alexis responded. “It is where the others are, except Elder Stow and Sukki.  I wonder how they are making out.”  She reached to turn on her wrist communicator, but stopped when they heard and saw movement at the village gate.  Three chariots came out and headed straight for them.  Twenty men, all armed, jogged after the chariots.

“Damn,” Lincoln shouted, and they began to gallop.  Evan just had to hold on.

R6 Greta: Cleaning Up, part 1 of 3

Greta took her seat on the battements and stewed all afternoon.  She kept her eyes on the enemy in the distance and fretted.  There did not seem to be much movement, not much to see, but they were still there.  They did not look to be leaving anytime soon, and that worried her.  She knew she should have been tending the wounded. That was her real job, not the Kairos’ job, it remained Greta’s job, but she felt bloated, and rotten like the weather, and drained from a day that seemed too long already.  She slept briefly in her chair, a cold afternoon nap, but woke up covered in blankets, a pillow on the ground, which she guessed had once been put behind her head.  Someone cared.

Pincushion made her eat some soup which was not hard because it tasted really good, and Greta had the good sense not to ask what was in it.  Then Pincushion, Karina and Snowflake went off to play with the children.  Greta got grumpy.  She missed her children.

Goldenrod and Oreona checked on her and told her Ulladon was sleeping in the deeps.  They were happy that things went so well, but Greta added, “so far,” and she did not feel sure how well things really went.  The reports she got in passing were a thousand defenders dead and a thousand who would be dead soon enough.  Darius told her there were as many as five hundred or so, a rough estimate, who might be saved if the Roman physicians and various tribal healers could hack off enough limbs before they got infected.  Greta knew in practice, more than half of them would die as well.

The rest of the men were in good spirits, her Father told her.  She listened. He said beyond their casualties, there were as many as a thousand more among the various groups of people who would survive and heal, but who were wounded seriously enough to where they would not be fighting much.  He said both Hans and Bragi fought well and she should be proud of her brothers.  He said he was glad Mother stayed with the children, far away from there.  Icechip, still riding on Father’s shoulder, picked up something of Greta’s distress.

“I never knew what war was like before.  I’m sorry so many had to die,” he said, and it sounded heart felt.

Greta sniffed and turned her back on them and Father left with a word that he would check on her again, later.  She missed her children.

Mavis went off with Hermes and Captain Ardacles’ troop to clean up the mess, as she called it.  Wagons went out over the field all afternoon collecting the dead and wounded.  By two o’clock, it began to drizzle softy and Rhiannon showed up.  She said nothing, but made something like a beach umbrella against the rain so Greta could continue to sit and stay dry.  It felt like Rhiannon wanted to say something, but she did not.  She looked sad when she disappeared into the misty rain.

Vedix and Bogus came and sat with her for a while. Neither said much, not even to each other, and after a time they quit the rain and went to find shelter. Alesander and Briana showed up moments later and Briana had an announcement.

“We want to get married.”

“And this is news?” Greta asked.

“Her father has given his blessing if it is all right with you,” Alesander said, and kissed Briana on the cheek.  She responded with a loving and happy face.

“I have said a thousand times, I will not be the decider of such things.”  Greta sounded angry, though she did not mean to be.  “You know what marriage is.  The union between one man and one woman is not to be entered into lightly, but if it is what you want, it is not my place to approve or object.  Personally, I wish you nothing but happiness, but you make your own decisions.”

“So, yes?” Briana asked.

“Yes.  Go on. Have fun.  Get fat.  Have babies. Scat.”  Greta snorted and looked across the field, though in the drizzle, she could hardly see the enemy.  She knew Briana and Alesander stood and kissed for a while, but she ignored them and paid no attention when they left, holding tight to each other and laughing at the rain.

It became four, or close enough.  The sky got ready to turn a dreary afternoon into the equivalent of an early night, when Greta thought she finally saw some movement in the distant camps.  She listened in her mind and caught words first from Longbow, the elf.

“The Scythian chief has convinced the others to make one last try.  He says they damaged the defenders in the first attacks and now the defenders are weak and ready to fall.  He says they would all be cowards if they ran away.  One good drive against the center, and the Romans will break and fall apart is what he says.  He knows the Legion in Porolissum is the only serious Roman presence in the whole province, and once they break through there will be nothing to stand in their way all the way to the Danube.  All of the outsider tribes are leery, but the Scythian has convinced half of the Sarmatians to lead the charge.  That is about five thousand lances.”

“The other tribes will follow,” Treeborn the fairy King interrupted.  “They are preparing as we speak.”

Lord Horns added one thought.  “Though they no longer feel the urging of Mithras, I think the Scythian chief is interested in what he calls the mountain of gold that the Romans have mined and guarded so carefully.”

“Don’t I know it,” Portent peeped, and Greta cut off the long-distance conversation.  Now she had a headache and was not sure if it would turn into a migraine.

Greta stood alone when she stood.  She looked over at the men’s side where Tribune Hadrianus had a tarp erected against the rain.  The constant drizzle actually stopped an hour earlier, but the sky remained as dark and dreary as it had been all day, and water continued to drip now and then off the edge of the tarp where the water had collected.

Darius, who spent the day watching her from a distance and feeling powerless to comfort her, noticed right away when she stood. Cecil saw and pointed.  Olaf, Venislav and Hadrianus all looked and genuine concern covered their faces.  “Darius,” Greta called, and he came to hear what she had to say.  The others followed out of curiosity,

“They are preparing for another attack.  The Scythian chief will not let them wait until the morning for fear they may desert in the night.  They believe the legion here is the only thing standing between them and the riches of Dacia.  They believe the legion is the only form of Roman power in the province. They are wrong.”  Greta scooted up to Darius and gave him a quick kiss with a word.  “Pardon me, my love.”  She went away, and Amphitrite, the one worshiped as Salacia by the Romans, the wife of Neptune, god of the sea, came to stand in her place.  Olaf, Cecil and Venislav all took a step back.  Hadrianus looked too stunned to move, but Darius grinned and hid his grin as Salacia shouted at the sky.

“Fluffer, Sprinkles, Bubbles, get ready for a wild ride.” Salacia raised her hands, reached into the sky and took hold of the clouds.  She caused a great wind to blow over her shoulder, and another to come pouring over the distant mountains.  They crashed over the enemy camps with hurricane force, and Salacia squeezed her hands.  Torrents of rain fell and whipped through the wind.  It drove the men back and some men drowned from the fury of the liquid assault. A number of tornados formed from the contrary winds, and men panicked.

Many men scattered and fell to the ground in fear, or were lifted by the winds and slammed again on the ground or blown for miles. Tents were ripped up and shredded. Horses stampeded.  Some men, horses, wagons and equipment got caught in the tornadoes and tossed away, sometimes landing on other men.  When Salacia really got things going, she began to dance with glee on the battlement.  The wind ripped up whole trees and threw around wagon-sized boulders. The rain came with hail the size of bowling balls and sleet that fell in whole sheets of sharp edges.  Then at once, Salacia decided it was enough, and it all stopped, instantly.

Salacia let her face appear on the clouds where she could look down on the devastation she caused and the survivors who cowered all over the ground.  They looked so puny and helpless, but Salacia thought there still might be something to say. She said two words.  “Go home,” and the words were not only heard and understood by all, but they reverberated for a moment inside thousands of minds. Then Salacia returned in her power to the battement on which she physically stood.

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned,” Salacia said, almost too softy to hear, but she grinned as she thought of Festuscato, and she frowned as she thought of all those ships and sailors who died at sea when her temper flared after Poseidon did something stupid.  Then she smiled again as she remembered her cult had always been one to care for the widows and orphans of the sea, a small payment for her guilt, and she thought of her friends and her own children, Triton, Proteus and Nyssa.  She frowned again when she remembered poor Orion, and how she lost him in a terrible accident, and even as a goddess, she could not do anything to save him.  She went away and let Greta return, and Greta reached up to Darius for another kiss, which Darius was happy to give.

“Sorry love,” she said, and with one hand on her belly and without another word, she turned and walked slowly back to Karina’s house where she had the best sleep she had in years.  When she woke up the next morning, there was not an enemy to be found, and she finished Salacia’s thought about children by admitting she missed her own.

R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 3 of 3

Gerraint put away his sword, and when the titan fell dead on his face, he leapt up on the titan’s back, grabbed the lance, and finished pulling it all the way through.  He thanked Hephaestus for the fingerless gloves that protected the palms of his hands, because the lance felt as hot as fire itself.  Grassly had a bucket of water, as Rhiannon instructed him, and Gerraint stuck the point in the water and watched it steam for a minute.

By the time Stinky arrived, Manannan also arrived, and he had a pouch in his hand.  “Poppy seeds,” Manannan said.  “To help it sleep.”  He tied the pouch around the lance point and held it until the lance stopped wiggling.

“Don’t go far away,” Gerraint commanded as was his nature as a king and a knight of the Round Table.

“Never far,” Manannan insisted, before he and the lance vanished.

“Lord,” Grassly shouted to him as Gerraint mounted the mule.  “The knights and the enemy are about to meet.”

Gerraint said nothing, but he did not want to look. He felt sorry for the Sarmatians being, by comparison, such amateurs.  Gerraint heard the titan deflate and saw it start to liquefy.  He saw the spark of life leave the titan body and shoot up to the man-made ridge where the Pater, Mithras undoubtedly still stood.  He thought about the thousands of men on each wing that were about to press the attack, but in the center of the field, with the gnomes all but invisible, it looked like only one man stood.  One woman, he thought, and traded back to Greta’s life.  He brought back her dress and red cloak, and she reached out to pet her mule.

“Walk gently, Stinky,” Greta said, though Stinky seemed inclined to do that very thing, and several of the gnomes accompanied her to help.

Greta almost got back to the Roman lines when she had company.  A man appeared out of thin air.  He rode on a plain horse and said nothing.  Greta knew who it was without having to look, and for all of her efforts, she still did not like the man.  It was a personality thing, she decided.

“I wonder if this was how Mary felt riding into Bethlehem,” Greta said.  She shifted to ride side-saddle, and that relieved a bit of the pressure.  Lucius made no response, but Greta knew Lucius had no doubt to whom she referred.

Greta had to dismount when she reached the ridge fortification.  No way she could force her mule to climb that.  The gnomes brought Stinky.  Greta held her belly as she climbed.  The man beside her dismounted when she did, and he saved the horse by letting it vanish and go back to where it came from.  He offered to help Greta up the hill, but she withdrew.  She did not want him to touch her.

Up top, Greta found the women standing to one side, Rhiannon out front.  The men all stood on the other side, with Darius, Manannan and Alesander keeping a wary eye on the man in their midst.  Mithras stood alone, in the same spot where he had been when he first arrived. The whip had gone, but his staff remained, and he leaned heavily on it.  He looked every bit like a very old man who suddenly felt his age.  Greta stopped, said nothing, and looked at the man as he spoke.

“Apollo prophesied that the seven pieces of Mithras would not be made as one until time herself lifted her hand against them. For a while, at first, I though the seven pieces meant I would have seven children.  Even when I became shattered and I guessed Apollo was talking about you, the Kairos time, that did not make sense.  You were a man, turning back an invasion of Wolv and fighting against Trajan and his weapons in Mesopotamia.  Early on, when Mithrasis and I trapped each other in the north, I managed to persuade a young man to come north in search of his grandmother. I thought, just in case you came this way, you might make the effort to free your half-spirit of the earth, and him being only a half spirit, I knew I could hang on to him and force you to come. But then Mithrasis brought down a Wolv transport and I became forced to turn that man into a dragon for my own protection.

Suddenly, you were born a woman in this place, and I started to put it together, but I was trapped in the ancient dome and it seemed impossible to reach you.  Then, entirely by chance or as you Christians would say, by providential grace, I discovered that my soldier-self, my Mars, felt ready to rebel.  He tried to hide among the Romans, but I got word to him.  He is the one who told Mithrasis about the leftover guns of Trajan that were hidden in the Temple Mount of Ravenshold. But when I saw how her plans failed so spectacularly, I truly began to despair.  Then my soldier-self told young Hans and Berry where Berry could find her father.  The rest you know, except let me say this, that I have never known such love or good company than I had these last two years with Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot. You, my dear, are a very lucky woman to have such a family to love.”  Mithras wiped one eye where a tear wanted to fall.

Greta said nothing as Lucius stepped forward to face the man, Mithras.  “It is time for us to go,” he said.  “As was made clear to me often enough on our journey north; the old way has gone.  The new way has come.  The time for the gods is over and we must go over to the other side.” Lucius said no more as he reached out and hugged the old man.

“No, no.”  Greta understood right away, and she felt awful about it and wanted to protest. She looked at her faithful Centurion, Alesander, but he could only look away.   Darius would have done it for her, but he could not.  Only she could do the deed.  Manannan and Rhiannon showed no expression.  Mavis cried.

With one hand on her belly and tears in her eyes, Greta called to her long knife, Defender.  It appeared in her hand, and she shoved it into Lucius’ back where his heart ought to be.  Neither Lucius nor Mithras made a sound.  Greta pulled Defender back out, and Lucius began to crumble.  They saw a flash of light, and Mithras stood alone on the ridge top.  Greta cried great big tears while Darius ran to her, to hold her and offer every ounce of comfort he had.

“I am whole again,” Mithras said quietly.  “I must think about the other side.”

“You can do it,” Greta interrupted her cry.  “You have the courage.  I have seen it.”

Mithras made no answer.  He simply faded until he vanished.  Curiously, Danna’s disobedient children who themselves had yet to let go of this life had also gone from sight.

Darius still cooed when Greta pushed back.  “Oh, but Darius,” she pointed.  The enemy on the wings were starting the attack, and though the Sarmatians withdrew completely from the battle, perhaps because they concluded the magic turned against them was too great for victory, there were some seven thousand Scythians determined to get some revenge for their beating the day before.  That still added up to some twenty-one thousand men attacking some sixteen thousand human defenders.  Greta knew, if it was not for the addition of her little ones, the defenders in their bunkers and behind their make-shift walls and ridge would be hard pressed to fight off such an attack.  Greta buried her face in Darius’ chest.  She did not want to watch.  She did not do well in panic situations.

The Goths on the left, with their Roman and Celtic allies fought like the berserkers Greta called them.  As they showed no quarter and drove back the Lazyges and Outsider Dacians with their fury, the Romans and Celts were impressed that these men were serious about war, and very good at it.

On the right, the Slavs, with their Celts and Romans had a bit more difficulty, in part because the Slavs kept attacking, like they were the aggressors, not the defenders.  Small pockets of Slavs kept getting surrounded by the enemy, and it took some serious work to rescue them.  When they did, they usually found a pocket of Slavs surrounded by dead bodies, and the Slavs laughing and ready to do it again.  Indeed, Venislav seemed to laugh the whole time, even when he hacked an enemy in two.  The Romans and Celts came away from there thinking that these Slavs were warriors and great fighters, but also insane.  Eventually the enemy figured this out as well, and when they withdrew, no doubt some felt they were lucky to get away from those mad men.

In the center, Drakka, Bragi and the men of Porolissum were backed up by the Romans and Celts.  Nudd and his brothers fought there, and Hans finally got to use that sword. Father was in charge, and when the Scythians dismounted outside the trenches and spikes, he charged, Slav style. The Scythians were not ready for that turning of the table, and they withdrew.  Father ran his people back to their wall and bunkers, before the arrows started to fly again.

Father pulled that off twice, but by the third time he figured he might be pushing his luck and kept his men back to await the attack. It proved wise, because the third attack came with less men on foot and more men still in the saddle firing arrows to keep the Roman and Celtic heads down.  Once the Scythians on foot got near enough to be in the way, the Scythians had to hold their arrows, and many of them dismounted and joined the attack. They got close, too close for many of the defenders, but this time, Father used his advantages.  He let loose the goblins, the trolls, ogres and dwarfs with their big axes and their most frightening aspect.  Most of the Scythians screamed, turned and ran to be picked off by elf and fairy archers, who rarely missed.  Those who did not run right away became meat for the grinder. By the time the Romans moved out in formation, backed up by the Celts and Bragi’s locals, they only had some cleaning up to do.

Greta yelled at her father the minute she heard. How dare he put her little ones in that kind of danger.  They were there, kind enough to back up the humans.  They were not there to take the lead.  Some of them got killed, and Greta did not talk to her father for a whole day. The only thing that made it palatable was the fact that the little ones all praised her father for what he did, and thought things like it was about time they got the chance to really fight, and said things about how they hated to always have to be in the background.

“You’re all crazy,” Greta shouted.

“So I keep saying,” Venislav agreed.  “Your sprites are hard to trust and all crazy in the head.”  Coming from Venislav, that did not help.

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

MONDAY

Greta is angry and upset, and the Scythians refuse to leave the battlefield, even though they know the tide has turned against them.  Greta dreads what she will have to do to clean up the mess.  Monday: Cleaning Up.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Battle Lines, part 3 of 3

The Scythians knew their business.  They made a line several men thick and swept from left to right across the face of the defenders, firing arrow after arrow at anything and everything.  When they reached the far end of the wall the town erected, having ridden outside the trenches and pikes set out against cavalry, the Scythians turned away to circle around and get in line for another go.  Roman, Celtic and Elf archers all returned fire when they could, but they mostly had to keep their heads down because the Scythians were very good at this tactic.

The Dacians and the Roxolani on the ends became the first to attack.  The other outsiders followed them and then several thousand Scythians joined them in the center while their fellow Scythians continued to send wave after wave of arrows over their heads and into the Roman and Celtic lines.

The Romans built well, as always.  The enemy could not bring their horses up through the pikes and ditches to impact the fight.  They had to dismount and charge on foot, a great disadvantage for horsemen forced to charge uphill.  The Romans in particular had the height and the skill, training and equipment to hold the line at all costs.  The fighting became intense in several places, but it did not last long.

When the Scythians started to withdraw, the Celts could not contain themselves.  They followed the retreating enemy with a charge of their own, so the Celtic Auxiliary units, which contained most of the Celtic horsemen, felt obliged to back them up. Then the Roman cavalry wanted some of that action.  Then several cohorts of the legion followed, and the orderly retreat of the Scythians turned into a route.

When the Scythians reached their hill, they thought to turn and drive the Celts and Romans back, but they found a surprise waiting for them.  Thousands of Goths and Slavs had come up in the early morning, just itching for a fight. The rout of the Scythians turned into a slaughter, and the Scythian line busted in two, with some fleeing to the Lazyges and others fleeing to the Roxolani.

“Bring them back,” the Princess said.  She stood on the battlement beside Darius, Cecil and the others.  “We don’t have the men to hold the center.  We are spread too thin to hold the town.”

“Alesander.”  Darius shouted.  “Sound the recall.”  Alesander did that, and trumpets blared out across the field in the late morning. Cecil agreed and signaled his men to sound the drums.  The Romans returned in order, and the Celts in disorder, but they returned, and the Goths and Slavs followed them at a safe distance.

The Princess went away.  Greta returned and gave Darius a great big kiss.  Then she asked for his help down from the battlements.  He asked, “Where are we going?”

“To introduce you to Olaf and Venislav.  Then you need to figure out how to fit a bunch of berserker Goths and barbaric Slavs into the line of defense.”

“Thanks a lot,” Darius said, but Greta already turned to the next thought.

“Redbeard.”  She spoke in her normal voice, at normal volume, but she knew the dwarf, a half mile away, would hear her.  “Get your men back here.”  The dwarfs were searching for surviving Scythians in order to finish the job, an act of mercy, they said.

###

The afternoon started quiet enough.  Darius, Alesander, Hadrianus, Olaf, Venislav and Cecil, a most odd command group, discussed a serious strike on the Roxolani wing where the large number of diverse tribes might make it hard for them to work together in a coordinated defense.

“We are pretty diverse,” Hadrianus pointed out.

“But we work together with you Romans pretty good,” Venislav nudged the Goth.  “Do you think my friend Olaf?”

“I like the idea of a quick attack, but I am not sure about pulling back again,” Olaf said, ignoring Venislav.

“Like a sortie from a city wall,” Darius explained.

“A feint,” Alesander said further.  “The object is to draw them into the hollow where two thousand archers are waiting.  The elves and fairies rarely miss, and we use our strengths and turn their numbers and many tribes stumbling over each other against them.”

The sound of laughter interrupted the meeting. Greta, Mavis, Berry and Briana were sitting in chairs not far away.  Venislav stepped up to Alesander and named them.

“Mother Greta, her elf maid, the beauty of the land and your woman?”

Alesander nodded.  “Just as soon as her father gives his blessing,” he said.

Cecil frowned.  “I’m still thinking about it.”

Olaf got it and let out a loud guffaw.  He slapped Cecil on the back and guffawed again.  “I think maybe we do this feint.  My father taught me to never trust the Romans, but this time we fight on the same side, eh, Venislav.”

“From what I see, I think fighting on the same side is better than fighting on the against side.”

Naturally, things did not exactly go as planned.  To prevent incidents of what Greta called friendly fire, Darius assigned the Romans, Celts, Goths and Slavs four different points in the enemy camp so they attacked four different tribes.  When the recall got sounded, the Romans were disciplined, and the Goths and Celts responded well enough, especially the Celts who were mostly auxiliary troops, but the Slavs took their time.  Their enemy tribe collapsed and ran right into a fifth tribe, and it looked for a bit like the Slavs might end up routing the whole enemy field, but the Roxolani stood firm, and when the Slavs rode back as fast as they could, they had a host of people chasing them, and the Slavs appeared to be laughing and whooping and having a great time.

The Slavs rode right through several large groups of men who were already pinned down in the archery area.  By luck and hastily shouted orders, only three Slavs got hit, and none fatally.  When the big group of men that were chasing them arrived, they took the men already there for the enemy and as hoped, Mithrites killed Mithrites.  The archers simply had to keep them penned in.  To be sure, it did not take long for the enemy to figure it out and hastily retreat from the hollow, but by then, the enemy dead outnumbered the allies by three to one, at least according to the fairies that flew over the enemy camps.

Everyone shouted for joy until Bogus put a damper on the celebration.  “We need to do that every time, since they outnumber us three to one.”  The numbering was actually closer to two to one, but the point got made and the men sobered.

All this while, Greta and her friends watched the Scythians move warily back up on the center hill across the valley.  The Ladies Oreona and Goldenrod got chairs and joined the group and they were invaluable in describing what happened on that far hill; Goldenrod in particular with her fairy eyes.  There were arguments down in the Lazyges and Dacian camp.  The Roxolani, Capri and Costoboci still licked their wounds and were in no condition to mount an offensive.  And the Scythian burned their dead.  Greta concluded.

“It’s about two o’clock.  Plenty of sunlight left, but I doubt there will be another attack today.”

“We do seem to have put them off their intentions,” Father said as he walked up and kindly acknowledged all the women, human and non-human alike.  “Bragi and Drakka have already sent the local men home for the night, to come back to position before dawn.”

“Fair enough,” Lady Oreona said.  “Our enemies were decidedly unsuccessful today.  With any luck, some of the tribes may rethink this whole enterprise in the night and begin to pull back by morning.”

“Once the sun sets, I am sure Ulladon and her people can handle the night watch just fine,” Briana said.

“The Romans can take the afternoon well enough,” Mavis agreed.

“Wait a minute.  What is that?”  Berry saw something and pointed.

“I was wondering myself,” Goldenrod said.

A flash of light, and Rhiannon arrived, and Karina and Padme in her arms arrived with the goddess.  Padme shrieked and giggled and clapped her hands at disappearing from one place and instantly reappearing somewhere else.  Karina looked a bit disoriented, but Rhiannon spoke.

“Sarmatians.  Their horses and men are armored and they have big lances meant to crack the Roman phalanx.  Another ten thousand, as you say.”

“Fudge,” Greta said, and she really said fudge. “And we’ve come such a long way already.”

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

MONDAY

The SunRunner shows himself, and some Wolv…  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 3 of 3

The men in the field were given the option to be arrested as traitors and locked up to await trial, or to return to their duty to protect the gold and other mines and the people of Dacia.  The auxiliary units selected by General Pontius were given a similar option, to return to their places on the roads and their village forts and guard the roads and the people, or face execution.  Everyone chose to go back to work with the understanding that any action to support the Mithraic rebellion would mean instant crucifixion.

“We can’t keep this many men locked up in Porolissum,” Festuscato explained.  “These are mostly good men and good soldiers outside of their perverse worship.  Rome can’t afford to lose good men.  But here is the thing.  If the Scythians and whatever Mithrites they bring to the border can overcome us, Rome will be in far more trouble than whatever these few hundred men and half-dozen auxiliary units can do.  But if we beat back the Scythians, and I have every good hope that we will, then we will also have saved some good men for Rome.”

“Your confidence is contagious,” Alesander said.

“But what do we do about the general and his staff and officers?” Centurion Hadrianus, leader of the escort cavalry troop asked.

“Well,” Festuscato drew out his answer.  “If I was home, I would turn them over to Gildas. He has a favorite expression. “Kill the Bastards.”  Festuscato looked at Darius and smiled.  “But as a Senator of Rome, steeped in Roman tradition to the point where the pot has boiled over, and carrying a small reflection of a spark of Justitia as I do, I understand justice has to be considered. I recommend you hold them in irons and refuse to hear their case on the grounds that you might not be objective, and I would send them back to Rome at the first opportunity with a letter explaining their duplicity with the Scythian Mithrites.  Let Antonius Pius hear the case, and may he have mercy on them; but at least they will be out of Dacia.  Then I would write a letter to your friend Marcus Aurelius and suggest he send true Romans as replacements, and you would not even mind Christians if he wants to get the Christians out of Rome, but if he sends more Mithrites, you will just send them back.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Darius thought about it. Festuscato made a pucker face.

“So do you want to kiss me now or wait until we get back?” Darius jumped back.  Alesander laughed, and Centurion, soon to be Tribune Hadrianus raised both eyebrows.

###

Rhiannon walked up to Greta and Mavis who were seated in chairs that Greta had the morning guard bring out to the battements. “The enemy looks endless,” Greta sighed and began to plan for an orderly withdrawal and evacuation of the town, should that prove necessary.  Scythians were riding off the distant mountain in one long line, and they were settling on the hill across the valley.

“We will have to find the tail of that dragon and feed it to the mouth so it can consume itself.”  Rhiannon waved her hand and a third chair appeared.  She sat carefully in her armor.  It was well made chain and leather, not unlike the armor Greta wore when she wasn’t busy being pregnant, but it did not look worn very often so it appeared a little stiff.

“Gobinu’s work?” Greta asked, and Rhiannon nodded. “Thank you again for raising the Celts. Every bit helps.”

“Twenty-five hundred from the hills beyond the mountains isn’t very much, but they do need to start integrating.  I am glad I remembered the auxiliaries from Britannia, Gaul and Hispania scattered around the province.  I can weed out the ones like Chobar and his Dogs from my people. I’m sorry.  I can’t vouch for the Egyptians and Syrians and others.”

“Quite all right.  Four thousand total almost doubles our number.  With Bragi and Drakka raising a thousand local Dacians, that gives us ten to their ten.  The Scythians do have ten thousand, don’t they?”

Rhiannon nodded again, but she said nothing out loud.

“Ladies.”  Father stepped up and Rhiannon waved her hand to make a chair for him.  “Very considerate,” he said and sat with a great sigh.  “I’m disappointed with my own people.”  He stepped right into the conversation.  “But I understand their reluctance to fight for the Romans.”

“They think if they stay home they can defend their farms if the Scythians get that far,” Rhiannon suggested.

“Even the large number of Romans that have emigrated to the province are more interested in the price of grain than they are in the price of a good sword,” Greta added.

“Sergeant.”  A watchman interrupted their conversation.  “We got more coming from both the left and the right.  They must have come through the mountains in other places.” He pointed, the Sergeant swore, and called several men to send word to different outposts and to the command tent.

Greta shaded her eyes and took a look to the left and right.  “Mavis,” she said, and Mavis took a good look.

“I see sun symbols and lion-headed representations on the left.  I can’t tell on the right because the sun is glaring.”

“You can see that far?” Father squinted.

“Lazyges and outsider Dacians on the left,” Rhiannon said.  “About ten thousand.  And on the right, Costoboci, Capri and Roxolani.  Another ten thousand.  You’re welcome.”

“Not fair,” Greta complained.  “We paid the Roxolani to stay away.”

“My guess is they used the money to buy weapons,” Father said.

“Sergeant,” Greta called.  The Sergeant came over and listened carefully while she explained the new arrivals.  Rhiannon had gone and took her chair with her.  Father stood stiffly, and his chair disappeared.  Greta and Mavis stood and Greta watched as the messengers returned and went right back out again.  Greta waved to a soldier and thanked him for the chairs while Mavis took her arm and Father’s arm and walked them back to the house for lunch.  After lunch, Greta planned to take a nap.  Then she had to work on a serious plan of escape, should that become necessary.  Greta was not good at panic situations, and tomorrow was going to be a long day.

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

MONDAY

The Battle Lines are drawn and tested.  Until then, Happy Reading

*