Avalon 7.3 Down to Egypt, part 6 of 6

“My father,” Elder Stow yelled to Lockhart.  He dragged Boston by the hand.  Boston looked down at the ground and would not look up for anyone.  “My father, I must tell you.  We scared the horses well.  There was no way they would ride to catch you or follow you.  But young Boston, here, fired three explosive arrows unnecessarily, killing men and horses.  And she seemed happy to do it.  My father.  I am Gott-Druk as you know.  I spent most of my life wanting to kill homo sapiens.  But even I would not slaughter men from behind, and when I am invisible, no less.  That is cheating.  A man should be able to face his doom.  And having killed, I would hope I would not feel happy about it.”

“Sorry.  Sorry,” Boston said, and looked at the ground.

Lincoln, Decker and Katie stood around, not condemning Boston, but seriously concerned.  Lockhart put one gentle hand on her shoulder.  “You always spoke wild and crazy,” he said to her.  “But you were always kind and gentle.  Now that you are no longer human, I would hate to see you lose that good heart.  I am willing to believe you did what you thought best, and we will say no more about it.”

Boston began to cry.  She grabbed Lockhart around the middle and hugged him so she could cry on him.  Katie stepped to the two to offer her support, a few tears in her own eyes.

“So, what now?” Lincoln asked.

“I am the Gott-Druk,” Elder Stow said.  “I will do what I should have done at the first with these humans.”  He pulled out his sonic device and adjusted the setting.  He did not wait for anyone to say anything.  He held it up and let it squeal.  Romans and travelers alike held their ears against the sound, and Boston screamed, but in a matter of moments, black powder began to explode all over the field.  A number of horses got killed when the saddle bags they carried exploded and sent great plumes of flame and smoke into the sky.  They heard the rifle men scream as the pouches of powder they carried mostly burned.  Then Elder Stow finished, and he had a tear in his own eye.

Everyone stood in the silence, when a man, near seven feet tall, appeared in front of the group, out in front of the roadblock. He had a jackal head.  “You are finished?” he said, without turning around.

Lockhart stepped forward.  “Yes,” he said.

The jackal-headed man raised a hand that came with claw-like fingers.  Fifteen surviving gunmen appeared before him.  Many of them looked badly burned.  All of them trembled in fear, facing that monstrosity, but one protested.  He looked different in some ways, but he was recognizably the same Roman officer who stood in the gate back in the days of Bodanagus.

“This isn’t right.  You should not be here.  You are gone.  All the gods have gone.  It isn’t fair.”

The jackal-headed man simply closed his hand, and the gunmen squeezed together into a ball of flesh and crushed bones, with a great deal of water and blood poured out on the ground.  Then the jackal-headed man disappeared, and he kindly took the ball of former human beings with him.

Gaius sent Marcus with a squad of men to gather what horses survived and kill the wounded animals that could not be saved.  “Do not touch the weapons or whatever else the men may have had with them.  Those things will be collected by others.”

“The little ones,” Katie guessed, and Gaius nodded, while he instructed Tiberius to get the remaining men to strike the camp and remove the roadblock. Then Gaius, on horseback, and Lockhart on Seahorse, led the group down the road, while Katie rode next to a very sad Boston.

Lockhart only asked, “Who was that?”

“Anubis, the defender of Egypt, and servant of his father Osiris, lord of the dead,” Katie said.

“Yes.”  Lockhart vaguely remembered.  They had seen Anubis before.

In less than an hour, they arrived at the camp of the children.  They found Alexis, Tony, Nanette, and Sukki sitting around a cooking fire with a few other guests.  As the riders dismounted, a tall, thin, and good looking, though older African woman with gray hair walked to them.  Gaius removed his helmet to reveal a full head of hair that appeared almost silver.  The couple hugged and kissed, and the travelers left them alone, including Boston, while they got their horses ready for the night.

Sukki came up to Boston and said, “She won’t let us go into the camp with the families and children.  We have to stay out here.  She even posted guards to make sure we don’t mingle.”

“Just as well,” Boston said, sadly.  “I would probably just screw it up.”

“No.  Not so,” Lockhart and Katie interrupted.

“Young Boston,” Elder Stow came over to scold her again.  “We all have lessons to learn.  What you did may have been a step too far, but not something you should feel guilty or condemn yourself about.  Just learn and be wiser next time.”  He hugged her.  He hugged Sukki as well.  “For example.  I have learned on this journey that touch is a very important thing for people of all sorts.  To be sure, for people who are as family oriented as us Gott-Druk, we don’t hug nearly enough.”

They headed toward the fire and heard a voice.  “Boston.”

Boston ran, but stopped, until Candace opened her arms.  She raced into the hug and began to cry.  Somehow, Candace made herself heard.

“Boston.  It is not nice to sneak up on people, invisible, when they don’t know you are there.  Sometimes, it may be unavoidable.  That means you may have to.  But to blow up men and horses when they don’t know you are there and have no chance to defend themselves is cheating.”  Candace used Elder Stow’s word, but squeezed Boston, and it felt like she squeezed all the tears out of her.  “I still love you” Candace said.  “I still want my hug, you know.  I would be very sad if I didn’t get my hug.”  Boston began to cry again as Candace let her go and spoke to the others.

“Alice in the future was able to send a few more things back to Alice in the past.  Tony has a Colt M1911 handgun on a belt complete with a high-quality, Mark 1 trench knife, so he won’t have to borrow Katie’s anymore.  Sad to say, he may need the weapons when he gets home.  Nanette has a fine elf made elm wand, though her magic should come and go as you move through the future.  I have had a long talk with Nanette, and Alexis has volunteered to train her in her magic, so she will stay on the straight and narrow path.”  People smiled for Nanette and Tony as Candace walked up to Decker and waved for Katie to come near.  “Now, I had to wait for you to give these two last items.  Major Decker.  Here are the silver leafs of a lieutenant colonel.  I believe you need to pass on your major insignia to Katherine Harper-Lockhart”

Decker accepted the insignia graciously, but he had a thought.  “I don’t understand how you manage these promotions without going through the proper board procedures.”

“It is not important for you to know,” Candace said.  “Suffice to say, these promotions are genuine, and I have been promised your promotion to full bird colonel if you make it back to your proper time.  Leave it at that.”

Candace stepped back while Katie and Decker saluted, and the two strangers by the fire stepped up.  The woman, Aphrodite, stepped straight to Colonel Decker.  He still stood at attention and dared not move.  He could not smile.  He stared at her like a man wondering how much it was going to hurt.

“I hate unfinished business,” Aphrodite said, in her best, sexy voice.  She took Decker’s face and pulled his head down to plant a kiss on his forehead.  “Have a lovely life,” she said, with a knowing smile, and vanished.  Everyone wondered what Aphrodite knew.  No one saw Nanette turn her eyes to the ground.

Decker sighed, like he just dodged a bullet; if that was what he did.

The other visitor turned out to be Ptah, the god of Memphis.  He smiled for the group.  The group returned his smile and found themselves, horses, wagon, and even the cooking fire, not far beyond Alexandria on the far west side of the Nile delta.  Boston whipped out her amulet and protested.

“Great.  Now the time gate is two or more days behind us.”

“It will catch up in about three days when Candace reaches the edge of the land of Goshen.  Meanwhile, you have some friends who want to visit you before they go, including my daughter, Sekhmet.

Katie turned to hug her friend Artemis, who stood there, waiting.  Artemis also hugged Boston, whom she still called Little Fire.

Lincoln spoke.  “Land of Goshen.”

“Land a Goshen,” Decker corrected.

“Now, don’t you start,” Lockhart said.

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

MONDAY

The Ambassadors from Rome and the Han empire will run into each other somewhere around Bactria.  Beginning Monday, The People in the Middle.  Don”t miss it.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 7.3 Down to Egypt, part 5 of 6

Lockhart, Katie, and Decker took an hour to ride out of their way.  When they cut towards the back end of the wadi, they watched the enemy through their binoculars.  Fortunately, the same ridge that kept the horsemen from being seen by the defenders on the road, also quickly cut off sight of the travelers.  Some of the men sneaking up on the roadblock with their rifles might have seen them, but they figured those men were far enough away to make the picture unclear to the naked eye, and by the time the riflemen reported back, they would be among the trees, sparse as they were.  As long as Elder Stow and Boston kept the men on horseback busy, so if they were seen, the men could not give chase, they should make it to the roadblock in one piece.

Lockhart felt the creep climb up his back as they moved.  He kept nearly seeing something—movement of a sort in the corner of his eye.  From the beginning of their journey, he felt uncomfortable around the nature spirits, including fairies, dwarfs, elves, and especially dark elves, a name he preferred over goblins.  He could not describe it well, except to say these purely natural spirits felt unnatural.  Alexis had been one who became human to marry Lincoln.  She still showed some creepy attributes now and then, though the others insisted that was not the case.  Boston became one.  What was wrong with that girl?  She was starting to get regularly creepy.  That probably just meant she was starting to fit in with her elf kind.

“We got company,” Katie said, clearly having noticed the same movement Lockhart noticed.

“Invisible, mostly,” Decker said.

Invisible.  Lockhart felt the chill in his spine.  He couldn’t help it.  Oddly enough, he had no problem with Elder Stow going invisible.  Traveling with a Neanderthal did not bother him.  And if the man had access to technologies well beyond his understanding; he could accept that.  The man had a device that let him go invisible.  Okay.  Boston, on the other hand, had no device.  She just went invisible on a whim.  She went creepy invisible, like by magic.

“They seem to be gathering,” Decker noticed.

Magic was another thing, and both Boston and Alexis had that, and Nanette would have magic when they came to a time period where the other earth came close.  He tried to remember.  The other earth, in another dimension, had an energy of sorts the Earth, his Earth—universe, did not have.  They called it creative and variable energy.  He understood it as magic energy, which empowered a rare number of individuals.  But the other earth, for some reason, cycled closer and further away, like the cycles of the moon went from full to dark and back again.  For three hundred years, the other earth leaked magic energy into his world.  For three hundred years, it moved too far away.  Lockhart checked with Lincoln in the database.  The other earth was presently out of phase, as Lincoln said.  It would be out in the next time zone as well.  It would come into phase in the zone after that.  Then Nanette would discover she could do magic.  That seemed scary.

“I think we need to stop,” Katie said. They stopped, and Lockhart felt glad Katie was paying attention.

The clone of Nanette, the one Minerva-Athena made, became a monster once she discovered she could do magic.  They said it was because in the spiritual world identical twins sometimes produced a good twin and a bad twin.  The clone Nanette had been the bad one, so logically, that said the real Nanette should be the good one.  Lockhart was not so sure.  He imagined that kind of power would corrupt absolutely.

“Howdy folks,” a little one manifested in front of the group, and he had a dozen more like him in attendance.  Lockhart guessed they were desert imps, or gnomes, or maybe dwarfs come down from the hills.  He could not call them elves, but he was not sure.  To his eyes, they all looked alike, and they all looked unique at the same time, which did not make sense.  Mainly, they did not fit well into neat categories.

“Howdy,” Katie returned the greeting.  And she smiled.  Katie smiled!  Lockhart pulled himself together.

“We are trying to get to the roadblock to reinforce the defenders,” he said.  “Any chance you can help?”  Lockhart bit his tongue the minute the words escaped his mouth.

“Well, let’s see,” the imp said.  “We might help, but we might not.  That sort of depends on what you might be willing to pay for…”

“We are going to find Candace,” Katie interrupted.  “How much should I tell her you asked for your services?”

“Er…” the imps smiled, and two even removed their hats.  “A token.  Just a token to feed our poor families, mind you.  Not for us, personally.  No.”

Katie did not mind.  She had a small purse.  They all carried one since they entered the days when money mattered.  “Here are three gold pieces for us, and five silver for the horses.”

The imps looked pleased, but the speaker for the group had to say something.  Lockhart figured it was an instinctive compulsion.  “Mind you, we have very big families.”

“Don’t push it,” Decker said, and every head turned as they heard several explosions back behind the ridge.  The smoke poured high into the sky.

###

Boston and Elder Stow easily snuck up to the back of the horsemen.  The gunmen were arguing.  Several wanted to ride right over the Romans, and they got loud.  They did not look behind and would not have seen two invisible people if they did.

Elder Stow stopped them when there was still some distance between them and the horsemen.  He did not want Boston trampled by panicked horses.  Each of the horsemen had the reigns of at least one other horse, so there were twenty-five or so horses, but only twelve with riders.

“I thought you were working on letting me see you,” Elder Stow whispered.

“I will,” Boston said.  “Maybe not right now.”  She got busy turning her magic on three arrows, the way her husband showed her.  She thought she was getting good at making explosive arrows.  She paused.  Maybe she was getting too good at it.

“Are you ready?” Elder Stow sounded impatient.

Boston put the first arrow on her string and said, “Ready.”

Elder Stow had his sonic device on the right frequency.  He let it rip, and the horses bucked.  Some threw their riders.  Other riders held on for their life.  The free horses broke free of their handlers and bolted to get away from that sound.  Boston fired her three arrows.  They exploded on contact.  Men got tossed.  Horses staggered from the concussive blast.  Boston felt she did a good job, but found her hand grabbed by Elder Stow.  Maybe he could not see her, but the arrows became visible as soon as they left her person, and he could guess.

Elder Stow lifted the two of them ten feet in the air, and just in time.  Three horses, in their panic, raced right at the source of the squealing sound that scared them so much.  They would have run over Boston without realizing it, her being invisible and all.  She did not notice, concentrating as she was on making her explosions.

“That is quite enough,” Elder Stow said, with his gruff voice.  Boston did not argue as he flew her invisible self to the roadblock.

###

Lockhart, Katie, and Decker walked their horses behind the imps for an hour, until the imps vanished, and the travelers found themselves surrounded by Roman soldiers.

“We have come to help defend the road,” Lockhart said, quickly.

“Where did that gnome go?” Decker asked.

“Is that what it was—he was?  I guessed imp,” Lockhart said.

“Or dwarf,” Katie said, and shrugged.  “But cute.”

Lockhart made a disgusted face as the imp came back with a centurion.  “And I am cute,” the imp said.  “Lord Gaius will take it from here.  I got work to do.”  He walked off and vanished among the trees.

“Come,” Lord Gaius said.  “Boston and Elder Stow flew into the road camp some time ago.  They appeared out of nowhere, like the gods, though they claim to not be gods.  They are strange ones, though.  Your Boston I know to be one of the little ones of my lady Candace.  The elder.  I don’t know what he is.  He is a strange one.  When he appeared out of nowhere, I know he scared the skirt off Tiberius here.”

“Did not,” Tiberius protested, but several soldiers around him heard and chuckled.

“You seem informed of something,” Lockhart responded.  “But I hardly know what to say.  I don’t know what they told you.”

“Not them,” Gaius said.  “We expected you, if you got here in time.

“What?” Katie asked.

“The goddess, Astarte.  She came to the camp of the children.  She said she wanted to say goodbye to her friend, Princess Candace.  She brought your fellow travelers.  No.  Don’t tell me.  Lincoln, Alexis, Anthony, Nanette, and that big girl… Sukki.  They warned us what was coming.”

“We barely got the road blocked in time,” one man said.

Gaius continued.  “Marcus here says that Sukki looks very strong.  He would not want to wrestle her, but Tiberius said he would not mind a tussle with the girl.”

“Lord,” Tiberius complained.  The man turned red, obviously thinking about it.

“I’m surprised Lincoln did not come with you,” Lockhart said.

“Oh, he did,” Gaius said.  “He is at the road, and so are we.”

Avalon 7.3 Down to Egypt, part 4 of 6

“She keeps moving,” Boston groused.  “She has been moving this whole time, and the time gate keep getting further and further away.”

“She is trying to get a precious cargo to safety in Egypt,” Katie said. “I’m surprised she stops.”

“Like us,” Lockhart said.  “She has to stop every day, like it or not.  Especially if she is escorting families with lots of small children.”

“This one is even known among the Gott-Druk,” Elder Stow said.  “Most Gott-Druk sadly still reject anything connected to homo sapiens, but there are some believers among my people, too.”

“There are some few believers among the homo sapiens, too,” Decker said.

“Decker!” Boston scolded him.

“Okay.  Ride.” Lockhart said, to cut off the commentary.  They mounted and rode some more.

In the early morning, when the wagon left Bethlehem, the five riders out front got a guide and cut across country to Rafah.  They arrived in two days and figured if the wagon stayed on the road to Ashkelon before picking up the coast road, that put them at least two days behind.

“More like we are two days ahead of the wagon at this point,” Katie said.

“The question is, by cutting across country, did we get in front of the gunmen?” Lockhart asked.

“No.”  Elder Stow said, definitely.  “I just picked them up on the scanner.  It is the metal they use in the gun barrels.  They are ten miles away, maybe half a day.  We picked up a half day, I would say.”

“Boston?”

“The Kairos is two days away, probably three by the time we get there since they are still moving.  I figure they move about ten to fifteen miles a day, which is probably very good for a bunch of children.”

“Donkeys, camels, and wagons,” Katie suggested.

“We need to rest, and the horses need to rest,” Lockhart said.  “Try to sleep.  We leave at first light.”

The travelers got three miles closer on that first day.  They picked up five more miles on the second day before they had to stop for the night.  At that pace, they hoped to catch the gunmen by mid-afternoon on the following day.  That was cutting it close.  They expected to reach the camp of the Kairos later in the afternoon on the same day.  This time, they left before the first light.  The moon was up and the sky cloudless, so they had enough light.  They still had the lanterns that came in very handy at times, but Lockhart felt reluctant to give themselves away.

Lunch on that day was brief.  They came to a spot where the horses could graze a bit, and Lockhart deliberately made a fire and cooked something.  Katie paced.  Boston bit her nails.  Elder Stow never looked up from his scanner.  Decker spit.

“All right,” Lockhart said.  “All right, Decker.  You have been spitting since the Athol valley.  What are you eating?”

“Dwarf beef jerky,” Decker said.  “Guaranteed to last two hundred years, and right now we are at two hundred and two years.  That’s okay.  I only have a couple of pieces left.”

“Some dwarf told you it would last for two hundred years.  And you believed him?”

“Princess approved.  I checked.”

“That’s the longest expiration date I ever heard of,” Katie said, as she came to the fire.  She squatted, stirred the fire, and got up to pace some more.

Decker spit.

“Are we ready?” Lockhart asked.  People checked their weapons.  The fire got put out.  People mounted.  They generally nodded to each other, and set off down the road, slowly picking up their pace as they went.  They did not have to go far before they heard gunfire in the distance.  They stopped in the road.

Boston whipped out her amulet.  “Not the camp yet,” she reported.  “The Kairos is still a couple of miles away.”

“I got them,” Elder Stow said.  He pulled up a holographic projection of the area.  The projection looked clear, not being that far away.  The road looked blocked at the edge of a wood.  Trees were an unusual sight on the north coast of the Saini, but Katie pointed to a stream that meandered through the woods that might account for it.

“A wadi,” she called it.  “Probably doesn’t have water in it half the year.”

“Enough to grow some trees,” Lockhart said, offhandedly.  He kept staring at the enemy in the projection.

“The trees probably get some extra rain off the Mediterranean,” Boston suggested, as she also looked at the projection

A pocket of a dozen horsemen sat exposed, but behind a ridge from the trees, so out of sight from the roadblock.  They looked ready to ride as soon as the roadblock got removed.  A dozen men on foot had gotten close to the block in the road and appeared to be firing their rifles, trying to pick off the defenders.  A few arrows came from the roadblock when the gunmen got too close, but generally, there seemed nothing else the defenders could do outside of keeping their heads down.

“The whole thing looks like it is moving in slow motion,” Decker said.  “With those single shot, muzzle-loaded weapons, it could take them a couple of days to break through if they don’t come up with a better plan.”

“The road is barely a scratch through mostly desert,” Katie said in her curious voice.  “Why don’t they ride around?  A hundred yards to the left or the right should hardly matter.”

“Must be some reason,” Lockhart said, and looked at Elder Stow, who shrugged.

“Little ones to the left and right,” Boston said, and grinned.  “The message I got is they will prevent the enemy from riding around, but otherwise, they don’t want to get involved.  There are three dead men that tried to go around, and six dead horses, and, Ew! Gross.  There are a couple of disgusting ogres who are happily eating the horses.”

“So, the road is the only way through,” Lockhart concluded.

“We got a group not looking in our direction,” Katie said. “Probably the main group led by our former centurion from the Roman gate.  We can catch them from behind, but the land is so flat and empty, how do we get there without being seen, and without giving them enough time to take up defensive positions?”

“Elder Stow?” Lockhart asked, but Elder Stow shook his head.

“Not long ago, I would have been delighted with the chance to go invisible and kill some humans.  But I am no more judge, jury and executioner than any of you.  If we can get them to surrender, the people, or these Romans may decide on the death penalty, but that is not my job.”

“This is war,” Decker said.  “Ambush and attack from the rear are acceptable.”

“Robert?” Katie looked up at Lockhart, who was thinking.

“Okay.  We take the middle ground.  Boston, will your friends let us circle around so we can get to the roadblock?”

“Yes.  They know we are here, and know we are hedged by the gods.  They will not interfere.”

“Good,” Lockhart said.  “Then we just need a distraction.”

Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device.  “I can do that.  Their horses will not be able to follow you.”

“I’m staying with Elder Stow,” Boston said

“I was going to suggest Elder Stow fly over top, invisible, and meet us at the roadblock,” Lockhart said.

Elder Stow did not have a problem with Boston staying.  “I carried this whole crew in a screen, once.”

“Yeah, and crashed us in the city,” Decker remembered.

“Too much weight,” Elder Stow admitted.  “But it was no trouble lifting Boston and Alexis from the water and carrying them away from the eels and sea serpent.  I think I can carry a skinny elf to the road.”

“I want to practice my invisibility,” Boston said.  “I want to make a window so an invisible Elder Stow can still see me, even if no one else can.”

“This is not the time for experiments,” Katie said.

“You take Strawberry and Mudd with you,” Boston said, and went invisible.

Lockhart simply said, “Come on.”  Boston had been hard-headed as a human.  Now that she became an elf, she only got worse.  Lockhart technically remained her boss, but Boston had a mind of her own and he could not force her to do anything.  “Katie and Decker keep your binoculars handy.  We need to keep an eye on the enemy while we ride outside human, visual range.”

“Not possible,” Decker said.  “In a flat desert environment, people can see for miles.”

“And that is why we need a distraction.”

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 3 of 3

They found plenty of lumber around the edge of the woods.  It proved easy to find some good pieces for a splint.  On finding some rope in his things, Gerraint remarked that Luckless had a way of thinking of everything.  He tore up Menw’s cloak to tie the splint.  Menw just stared and made no objection.  With the rope, he made a travois and carried the still dazed Lionel to where he could tie down both the man and the leg.

“Bedivere.”  Gerraint called out.  The young man came, his arm in a sling.  “You ride this horse.”  Gerraint said.  “You feel the bump in your arm, slow down or go around because Lionel will feel it ten times worse.

“Yes, majesty, and I really am sorry to have taken that blade,” Bedivere said.

“Howel,” Gerraint called.  “Will you tell this puppy he has done nothing to be ashamed of.”

“First time you’ve been bloodied?”  Howel asked.  Bedivere nodded.  “Well, don’t worry about it.  It happens to everyone.  In fact, I would tell you about my first time, but it was too embarrassing to speak of.”

“Thanks a lot,” Gerraint said.  That was hardly what Bedivere needed to hear.

Once they were set, they did not linger in that area.  They took their own dead, of course, and all of the horses that had not run off, but they left the Romans in the field.  Howel said they were headed to meet a larger force just south of the Lake and if they did not show up soon, there would certainly be scouts.

“But what can I do?”  Howel asked Gerraint.  “Much of our strength was spent in Britain over the past years.  Now that we are facing our own crisis, I do not know if we have the strength to meet it.”

“The Sons of Claudus do seem to be intruding,” Gerraint said.  “But I thought their hands were being tied up by the Franks in the East.”

“I am afraid they may make a treaty with the Franks, and then we would really have to struggle,” Howel said.

“Well then.  I guess you will just have to get there first.”  It seemed a common enough expression.

“I’m sorry?”  Howel did not quite grasp the idea offered.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you make a treaty with the Sons of Claudus first and offer your help against the Franks.  That way, they will be in your debt, and more importantly, their army will be in debt to your army and, if you play it right, they may even respect your army.”

Howel shook his head.

“Now, think.  It is very hard to get men to invade a land whose army they have come to respect.  Help is the best way to peace.  If your father’s father had not come to Uther’s aid, he might not have stayed long on the throne of the War Chief.  In return, Arthur came out against Claudus.”

“Yes, I suppose that is a point.  Way back then, Claudus was a real threat, and my father did have a fight on his hands.”

“Are you kidding?”  Gerraint said.  “We kicked Claudus so bad it took his sons twenty years just to climb out of the hole.  And for your information, it was not way back then.  I was there, too, and I’m only forty-seven, not an eighty-year-old dotard.”

Howel smiled before he turned serious again.  “But it still would not work.  There is too much bad blood between our families, and maybe because we beat Claudus so badly.  And, don’t forget, both Lancelot’s and Lionel’s fathers lost their lives in those battles.”

Gerraint shrugged and offered another cliché.  “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said, then he made a sour face.  “And I hate clichés.”

Back at Howel’s castle, Gerraint let his armor go home and returned to wearing his comfortable clothes.  He spent a week being sure he did not miss one opportunity to soak in a hot, indoor tub.  It did his muscles wonders and he thanked the Romans, privately, for instituting the idea.

“We send Kvendelig, Gwarhyr and Menw home and see what has turned up in our absence,” Gerraint said, plainly enough.  Besides, he was missing Enid, and little Guimier, too.  He just wondered what it might be like to have a good, Cuban cigar to smoke, not that he ever smoked, or even knew exactly what tobacco was, when Uwaine summed it up in his way of few words.

“One down, one to go,” he said.  And so it appeared.

This time, the Channel crossing went uneventful.  Gerraint got promises from the three Welsh Lords that they would give up their quest and stop threatening the future by dredging up the past.  He did not feel entirely satisfied with their pledges, but they were men of the Round Table, and as such, he accepted that their word could be trusted.

Once home, Gerraint felt delighted to find that Enid missed him too, and so did Guimier.  Indeed, it was hard for him to decide which one hugged him longer and harder. Sadly, he also found a messenger waiting for him, even as he pulled into the docks.  Urien, the Raven and his sidekick Arawn had been seen and traced.  Weldig, Nanters, and Ogryvan had all noted their passage.  Only old Pelenor seemed to have missed them on this trip.  Perhaps their lack of a warm reception the last time around, when Peredur was there, made them avoid those lands.  Perhaps Pelenor was just getting old and just missed them, Gerraint thought.  In any case, they appeared headed for the North coast of Wales, and from there, Gerraint guessed they would head for the Isle of Man.

In the evening, while Enid lay peacefully beside him, Gerraint knew Manannon, the old son of Lyr, God of the Sea, still roamed around.  Rhiannon remained.  Manannon had been reported by sailors and fishermen from time to time.  He guessed Urien went on those rumors.  He imagined they headed for the Isle of Man on the strength of such gossip.  It made sense.  Surely a god would know the way to Avalon, or Annwn, as Urien of Leogria would call it.

Enid pulled up and laid her arm across Gerraint’s chest.  She threw her leg around his and he pushed the hair from her back to see her face.  Enid was not able to sleep, either.

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

MONDAY

Gerraint is needed again.  Urien, the Raven is headed for the Isle of Man and Gerraint will have to stop him.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

 

 

 

 

*

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 2 of 3

Gerraint returned to his horse and mounted, unstrapped his lance at the same time, turned the point to the front and tucked it securely in place.

“What are you doing?”  Kvendelig asked, as if he did not know.

“For Arthur!”  Gerraint shouted and he shot out of the woods at full charge.  The men behind him were a little slower, but Uwaine and Bedivere were quick enough to almost catch up.  Menw and Gwarhyr were a little quicker than Kvendelig, who swore first before he added his voice to the charge.  “For Arthur!”

The Romans still had twice the men, but Howel now had six mounted warriors on his side.  They rode through the Romans first of all, evening the odds a little as they did.  As they turned, Gerraint saw Howel and Lionel arm themselves in the confusion.  The fight was on again, but several of the Romans had quickly mounted and found spears of their own.

This was no joust such as became almost a sport in the late Middle Ages.  This was ancient men with spears, lances, clubs, swords, whatever they could find with which to kill.  This was war, and Gerraint knew the business well.  He put down the first man he faced without the other’s spear even touching him.  The second, however, grabbed the shaft of Gerraint’s lance as he fell, effectively ripping it from Gerraint’s hands.  Indeed, Gerraint knew well enough to let it go and pull his sword.

Unfortunately, with Gerraint’s progress slowed, a Roman became able to grab him by the leg.  Gerraint let go of the reins, directed the horse with his knees alone, and pulled his long knife across the face of his attacker.  The man cried out and fell away, but Gerraint got poked from the other side by another Roman with a spear.  The spear head was not strong enough to penetrate Gerraint’s armor, but the strike landed hard enough to shove Gerraint right out of the saddle.  He hit the ground, hard, and nearly got caught in his exposed face by that same spear.  He ducked in time and swung up and out with Wyrd.  The Roman spear got cut in two at the shaft.

The Roman then arched his back and his eyes glazed.  They heard the sound of whizzing and buzzing all around, as the air filled with arrows.   After barely a minute, the sounds of battle ended.

Three men, dressed in hunter green and carrying bows stepped from the trees on the other side of the clearing.  Two were rather old and grubby looking.  The third, a youngster, looked about Bedivere’s age, but clearly not one to be overawed by the men of armor he faced.  They came up to Gerraint, and the eldest bowed slightly.

“My Lord,” he said.  Gerraint pointed at Howel.

“Not me.  There’s your king.”

The man looked at Gerraint briefly and whispered for his ears only.  “The lady thought we might be better help than the dragon.”  Then he turned to the king and bowed more regally, but very much like a real, old hunter in the woods might bow to his king.

“More of yours?”  Kvendelig distracted Gerraint with the question.

“You never know,” Gerraint said, but he knew the young one was young Larchmont.  One thing seemed certain.  No three pairs of human hands wiped out twelve or fifteen Romans in the span of sixty seconds; and nearly every arrow a perfect shot.

“Odyar?”  Gerraint asked Uwaine when he came up.  Uwaine pointed at the body.

“But Bedivere is hurt, and Lionel,” Uwaine said.

Gerraint looked at Kvendelig who stood at his shoulder and shook his head.  It would not be prudent to bring a more experienced healer into the present.  At least Gerraint needed to examine the patients first.

“Master.  I am so ashamed,” Bedivere said.

“No need.”  Gerraint smiled.  The wound was not bad. “You won’t have nearly the scar I have in my shoulder.”  The bleeding got staunched.  Uwaine could see to Bedivere.

Lionel’s problem looked a little more difficult.  His leg broke and Gerraint did not imagine he had the skill to set it.  So much of that sort of thing was by feel, and he was not sure what he was feeling for.

“Will I lose it?”  Lionel asked.  Howel looked worried as well.

“Afraid not,” Gerraint said.  “Rather, it is whether you will run or limp.”  He looked around.  The hunters were still there.  The eldest caught the gist of what was needed.

“My king,” he called, and Howel stepped over reluctantly to speak with the hunter, and his guards accompanied him.  Gerraint did not wait.  He let himself slip away and Greta came to take his place.  Gerraint knew he lived as a real surgeon in the early Twentieth Century and probably set more broken legs than could be counted, but the Good Doctor felt too distant in his mind at present.  Greta, the Woman of the Ways among the Dacians, felt much closer in time and in his memory.  She also served as a healer, and a good one.

While Lionel gasped and Greta told him quietly over and over to hold his tongue, she quickly made sure her golden hair got securely hidden by her helmet.  She fluffed out her cape with the hope that from the rear no one would suspect she was not Gerraint.  Then she took Lionel’s leg, carefully, and examined it.  “A clean break,” she said.  It should heal completely if you stay off of it for a while.”

“But.”  Lionel wanted to protest at her presence, but he did not have the strength.  He struggled too hard against the pain and against passing out.

“You can talk to Bohort about it when you are better, and Lancelot if you need to, but no one else.  Do I make myself clear?”  She shot a thought to the hunters.  They instantly reverted to fairy form and flew off even as she snapped Lionel’s leg in place.  Lionel stayed busy saying yes to her question about it being clear, so that delayed his scream.  By the time he let out the sound, and Howel and the others shook themselves free from the wonder of the fairies, and came running, Greta had gone and Gerraint was home.

“Keep still,” Gerraint ordered Lionel, though Lionel had passed out at that moment.  “Have to immobilize it.”  Gerraint stood and swung his fist into the image which Greta, with her own gifts of sight, had seen.  Gerraint’s fist landed square in Menw’s invisible face.  As the man fell to the ground, dazed, he lost his concentration and became visible.  Gerraint picked him up, right off his feet, and stepped him back a couple of steps.  The others laughed, not sure what they were laughing at, when Gerraint whispered straight into Menw’s ear.  “If I catch you trying to look down my dress again,” he said.  “I’ll make you a eunuch.”  He tossed Menw about five feet to where the man fell on his rear and yelped.

M3 Gerraint: Revived Romans, part 1 of 3

Gerraint awoke to the smell of fried eggs, biscuits and plenty of bacon.  They slept on the grass not far from the lake, but it felt quite comfortable, all things considered.  He opened his eyes, slowly.  Uwaine and Kvendelig were already up and by the fire.

“Lolly!”  Gerraint shouted and woke the rest of the crew.

“Lord.”  Lolly said without looking.  Her eyes were focused hard on the pair trying to snitch bits of breakfast before it was ready.  Kvendelig, the less experienced of the two, had already felt the rap of her cooking spoon on his knuckles more than once.

“Here.  Gerraint.”  Kvendelig protested.  “Uwaine says this dwarf female is one of yours, whatever that means.”

“And if I am?”  Lolly was also not one to take back talk or be maligned in any way.

Kvendelig drew his hand up and away from the spoon.  “I was just going to ask his majesty if perhaps he could convince you to let me have my breakfast now.  A man could starve to death waiting to be fed around here.”

“Chief Kvendelig!”  Gerraint pretended offence but he clearly smiled on the inside.  “I would not dream of asking the good woman for such a thing.  She will feed you when it is good and ready, and not one moment sooner.”

“Trouble is,” Uwaine pointed out.  “You haven’t eaten anything in four days.”

Lolly’s spoon snapped out and everyone heard Menw yelp.  “Give it up,” Gerraint said.  He imagined he could just make out the outline of the man, but then it might have been a trick of the rising sun.  Menw became visible.

“But I’m with Kvendelig,” Menw complained, as he became visible in a place Gerraint had not guessed.  “I’m starving.”  Menw sucked his wrist.

Gerraint smiled but while the others laughed his eyes snapped back to the place where he had imagined the outline of a man.  It appeared gone, but Gerraint wondered.  He might be a little slower and less agile than in his youth, but his senses were not diminished.  In some ways, they were sharper.  He had felt someone there, looking at him.  But then, he could not be sure if perhaps it was not the light after all.  He said nothing about it.

“No nun ever snapped a better ruler,” Gerraint said instead, to everyone’s incomprehension, but by then, Lolly started serving up, and in typical dwarf fashion, they had twice as much as they could possibly eat, even with three of them half starved.

“I don’t understand,” Menw said.  “My legs are like rubber, and I’m so tired.”

“I have a terrible headache,” Gwarhyr admitted.

“I remember,” Kvendelig said, plainly, and it became clear in that moment that all three remembered all at once, and they were embarrassed beyond words.

Gerraint stared them down, one by one.  “There is no way to Melwas through the lake.”

“Gwynwas,” Gwarhyr said.  “In the Welsh, its’ Gwynwas for Gwyn who guards the gate to the island.”

“It has many names,” Uwaine suggested.

“But is that certain?” Bedivere said his first words of the morning.  He still seemed a little uncomfortable, being so near the dwarf.

“Does any doubt the word of Rhiannon?”  Gerraint asked.

“The Lady Nimue?”  Kvendelig asked and Gerraint nodded.  They had imagined she was a spirit or a fairy of sorts.  They did not know going in that it was the goddess, herself.  Slowly, Kvendelig nodded, and Gwarhyr and Menw nodded with him.  “No point in arguing with a goddess once she has her mind set,” Kvendelig said, and that seemed to settle the matter.

“Now we seem to be missing someone.”  Gerraint looked around.

“No sir.”  Bedivere counted.  “All present and accounted for.”

“Ah, Luckless!”  Gerraint shouted.

“My Lord,” Luckless said as he brought in their horses, saddled and loaded with precious gifts, blankets of elfin weave, small saddlebags of silver and gold, and not a few jewels, and the weapons of the three Welsh Lords all made like new, if not replaced by better.

Luckless cleared his throat.  “The Lady of the Lake says let this be a gift for your trouble and the fine entertainment you provided for the court.  Do not return, however, or the fine things will all turn to dust.”  The dwarf did not like speeches, and immediately turned to his dwarf wife.  “Got any seconds?  Leftovers?”  He looked famished, but Gerraint felt sure he had eaten his fill before the men awoke.

“Always for you, my sweet.”  Lolly handed him the most enormous plate of all.

“Young love?”  Uwaine asked.

Gerraint nodded again.  “Quite young.  She’s only about two hundred years old.  Luckless is about three hundred.”  Bedivere swallowed on their ages and nearly choked in the process.  A sharp slap on the back by Gwarhyr was needed.

“Perhaps they are yours after all,” Kvendelig concluded.  “Always thought there was something odd about you.”

“And vice versa,” Gerraint said, but he did not explain as he got up and turned toward Luckless and Lolly.  “Many thanks,” he said.  “Will you be traveling with us?”  He asked and found himself a little disappointed when they declined.

“Little ones,” Lolly said, a little embarrassed, and Luckless puffed out his chest.

“I got me a young one to hand down the family treasure,” Luckless said, proudly.

Gerraint quickly turned to the Welshmen.  “He means iron tools, like a blacksmith or tinsmith might use, not real dragon-type treasure.”  The three Welsh faces drooped, but they understood and did not doubt.

Soon enough, the six men were off on the road, headed toward Howel’s castle and the coast.

“That was easy enough.”  Bedivere whispered when he had the chance.

“Not home yet.”  Uwaine pointed out.

That afternoon, they crossed a trail which Kvendelig said was freshly made by troops of some sort.

“Romans?”  Uwaine wondered.

“In search of what?”  Gwarhyr asked.

Gerraint looked around at those with him and shrugged.  He turned to the trail and put Kvendelig in front.  Despite his enchantment at the Lake, Kvendelig really was a first-rate hunter and tracker.

Not much further along, Kvendelig signaled them to be quiet.  He and Gerraint pushed up ahead to look and dismounted just before they came to the edge of the trees.  Howel stood there, with Lionel and three guards of Amorica.  Two other guards appeared to be dead along with three Romans, but twenty more Romans had them prisoner.  Odyar had led the king and Lionel into a trap and Odyar clearly commanded the Romans.  Neither Gerraint nor Kvendelig could hear what they were saying.  A shallow hill covered with meadow grass stood before the clearing in which the men stood.  But then, Gerraint did not need to hear what they were saying.

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 1 of 3

They slept in the wilderness, and in the morning, headed straight for the North road.  “The main way down the center is just as quick and probably easier traveling,” Gerraint explained.  “But this way will take us by the old Cairns, the burial places of the kings.”

“You think the Welshmen came this way?” Bedivere asked.

“No.”  Gerraint spoke plainly.  “I think they must already be at the Lake, or near enough.  But we are less likely to be pursued in this direction.  I doubt any trouble would guess we even know about this road.”

“Trouble?”  Bedivere asked.  “I thought last night you said that was all cleared up.”

“Odyar,” Uwaine said.  Gerraint liked his old squire.  He had a gift in the judgment of character.

They stayed at a coastal inn that next night, and again, on the night after that.  The following evening, they had hopes of reaching the lake, but they were surprised around midday by the last thing Gerraint expected.  Instead of swords from behind, they ran smack into swords ahead.  Even as they turned to the Southeast and toward the actual lake, they were surrounded by about thirty swords of the Romans coming up from the south.  Gerraint knew the lake area was like a kind of no man’s land that separated the Romanish lands from Amorica.  He felt distressed to see the revived Romans making incursions across the border and again, he did not doubt Howel’s concerns about a possible war in the near future.

Gerraint would not let Uwaine draw his sword against such odds.  They surrendered quietly.

Ondyaw was the Captain of the Romans, despite his obvious Gallic name.  Gerraint looked at him closely and immediately saw the family resemblance.  “Odyar’s brother?”  He asked.  Ondyaw confirmed as much with a slap across Gerraint’s face.  Bedivere struggled against the ropes, but Uwaine knew better and kept still.  Bedivere only hurt his own wrists.

“And where are you headed?” he asked.  “My brother’s message was rather vague on the details and said only that I should stop you.”

“To the Lake of the Vivane,” Gerraint said.  He saw no reason to hide it.

“That accursed place.  I should take you there and dump you.  I doubt you would last the night.”

“Fluff and mirrors,” Gerraint said.  “Rhiannon just likes her privacy is all.”

Ondyaw slapped him again.  “That great Lady’s name should never touch your lips.”  Gerraint felt it in his jaw, and for a moment, he was sorry his hands were tied so he could not put his hand up to help wiggle his jaw back into place.

“Sorry,” he said.  “But I thought you were Roman.  Shouldn’t you be defending Diana and Venus instead?

Ondyaw struck him one more time just for that, or perhaps just for fun, because he could.  Gerraint decided silence was called for.  He had to pause in any case until the dizziness passed.

“Tell my brother all is well.”  Ondyaw spoke to the man who was waiting.  “The men are still watching the lake and I will send more when I know more.”  The man left and Ondyaw turned as if he had something else to say, but then decided against it.  He left and the three were alone in the tent.

“Are you all right?”  Bedivere asked while Uwaine spoke at the same time.

“Now what?”  Uwaine asked.

“Now we leave.”  Gerraint showed anger.  They had freely surrendered and honorably submitted to being captive.  They did not need to be tied.  They certainly did not deserve to be beaten, not by any standard of civilized behavior. “More like barbarians than Romans,” Gerraint said and spat out a tooth.  “Damn.  Now I’m really mad.”  He had to calm down and think for a minute.

Margueritte came immediately to mind and when he traded places with her once more, her feminine, eleven-year-old hands and feet slipped right out of the ropes.  She had on her red dress, of course, and would from then on until she changed it.

“Let me see your wrists,” she said to Bedivere.  They were chaffed raw from his attempts to tug himself free.  “Now you were so smart with the horses,” Margueritte scolded him.  “How could you be so stupid now?  How are you going to hold your sword with your wrists hurting so?”  She shook her finger at him and frowned.  Bedivere melted.

“But she’s so cute,” he said to Uwaine.

“Yes, and dangerous I’ll warrant.”  Uwaine responded.

“Not.”  Margueritte insisted, but she was getting nowhere with her young hands and fingers against the knots.  She felt obliged to trade once again with Ali.  He still wore the Armor, and though his nimble thief’s fingers would soon have them free, he pulled his long knife, not wanting to take forever.

Once Bedivere and Uwaine were up, and Ali had to say hush three or four times, they got their weapons back as they had simply been dumped in a corner of the tent. Ali then cut a small slit in the back of the tent which grew bigger as he looked and saw no one back there.  “Allow me to steal our horses,” he said.  “Must keep in practice, you know.  Be right back.”

Ali slipped from the tent and, quiet as a snake in the grass, he wound his way around the camp to where their horses were tied but unguarded.  He considered the problem, and then went back for his companions, believing the men might move more quietly than the beasts.  Perhaps they did, but they were still too loud.  The Romans would have got them but for the noise from above and the shadow that crossed over their heads.  As soon as the beast landed, the tent they had just vacated went up in flames and a roar and fire shot up into the sky.

Uwaine stared.  Bedivere screamed, though not nearly as loud as some of the Romans.  The camp turned into chaos while the dragon nosed through the burning tent.  On finding nothing edible, the dragon set its’ sights on the scattering men.

“You!”  Ondyaw saw them and pointed.  “Cursed.”  He shouted and he and three other Romans attacked.  Gerraint came back, of course, Ali having returned to his own place in time at the first sign of trouble; and none too soon as far as Ali was concerned.  Gerraint drew his sword and the long knife he had sheathed and he and his friends went at the Romans, even as the dragon contentedly swallowed a piece of charcoal which only vaguely retained the shape of a man.

M3 Festuscato: Beowulf and the Grendel, part 1 of 3

It took a great deal of convincing to get Mousden to go up to his night watch on the roof of the hall.  Good thing he went, because he popped in about two hours before sunrise with great news.

“A sail,” he said.  “Struggling hard against the wind, but the ship is coming on fast in spite of the struggle.  It should be here by noon.”

Festuscato woke enough to recognize that Mousden was speaking.  He got up to get dressed, and Hilde woke enough to imagine a bat.  She shrieked and pulled the covers over her head.

Mirowen did not sleep at all.  She could not imagine sleeping after their encounter with the Grendel.  “You amaze me.”  She shook her head.  “Shall we wake the king?”

Festuscato had intended that, but now he thought to let the old man sleep.  “We can catch him at breakfast,” he said, and they got out the chess set, a game which Mirowen usually won.

Breakfast came and went without the king.  Mirowen and Seamus were inclined to worry, lest something happened to the old man in the night.  Festuscato told them to keep their places, and soon enough he became able to distract their attention as the others showed up.

“And where have you been?”  Festuscato asked, generally, as Bran and Gregor came from opposite directions.

“Snoring wonderfully.”  Gregor admitted with a satisfied smile.  Bran shot him a look.

“I’ve been searching for the one with the missing finger.”  Bran admitted.  He shook his head.  Apparently, he had no luck.

“I looked myself,” Festuscato admitted.  “All digits present and accounted for.”

Luckless spoke up.  “The only bandage I saw was around Ragnard’s finger.  The cook’s assistant.  But the poor fool burned it in the grease.  I saw the finger, all red and swollen.”

“So where does that leave us?”  Mirowen asked.

“Are you sure of your suspicions?”  Seamus asked at almost the same time.

“How else would the creature know of the new arrivals to the hall and which rooms were theirs?”  Gregor said, and lifted his one, uncovered eyebrow for emphasis.

“Ours.  Which rooms were ours,” Seamus corrected.

“So?”  Mirowen retook the conversation.  “Where does that leave us?”

“With a lizard’s tale,” Festuscato said.

Mirowen nodded and answered the unspoken question of the others.  “Cut off a lizard’s tail and it will grow back,” she said.

The king came in then, but after an hour it was still not convenient to get his attention.  Finally, Mousden, the boy came running in.  It turned about ten in the morning.

“They have landed,” Mousden whispered.  “Svergen is with them now.”

“Mirowen,” Festuscato said as he stood, and she stood and went immediately to her post.  Bran of the bandaged hand and Gregor of the bandaged head followed Festuscato to the little room on the side where they once found Unferth.  Seamus, Luckless and Mousden held the table, though Mousden took a moment to lay his head down.

After making sure the little room remained empty and secure, Festuscato went to wait with Mirowen by the gate to the hall.  He found Svergen there and the Geats had already come up from the shore.  Vingevourt came with them, and it explained how their ship could come on so fast against the wind.  Mirowen had already separated out the young Beowulf, and they were talking quietly, a few steps apart from the others.  Festuscato thought he had better move fast if he was going to catch Beowulf before they went into the hall.  He paused only to acknowledge the water sprite.

“Vingevourt,” he said.  “I am glad you have come back to join us in this adventure.”

“I may be small,” Vingevourt confessed.  “But my Lord can count on me to contribute everything I have.”  Vingevourt bowed low, and that got Beowulf’s attention, along with the eyes of several of the Geats.

“Svergen,” Festuscato spoke up, which stopped the man at the door.  Mirowen dutifully translated his words.  “Before you fetch Wulfgar, for the king’s sake, allow me a few moments alone with young Beowulf.”

Svergen paused.  The Roman had no standing, being himself just a guest.  Clearly, Svergen had a distrust of outsiders, but then these Geats were outsiders as well.  He spent a moment considering the request and staring at the water sprite.  “For the king’s sake,” he said at last and went into the hall.

“Beowulf.”  Mirowen spoke.  “My Lord, Festuscato of whom I spoke.”  Mirowen made the introduction, but before she could translate, Festuscato interrupted.

“This way,” he said, and they followed him to the room while Mirowen furiously tried to explain something along the way.

The room was across a walkway, so not in the hall, proper.  It served as a storage room of some kind, but big enough for their purposes.  Gregor and Bran stood outside and gave the all clear to show the room remained empty.  When they went in, Beowulf became vocal.

“What is this about?”  Mirowen translated, hardly giving the full translation of all Beowulf said.

“How is the young man’s wrestling skills?”  Festuscato asked.

“What need have I for wrestling?”  Beowulf asked.  He paused to look at Festuscato who dressed in a comfortable tunic and hardly appeared a threat.  “I have heard you Romans enjoy that sport, but my steel speaks for me.”

Festuscato and Mirowen both shook their heads.  “The creature cannot be hurt by any weapon forged by man,” Mirowen explained.

Beowulf paused while Festuscato looked him over.  This was not the giant he had expected.  Beowulf stood shorter than Bran, and not much taller than Festuscato himself, but he looked very broad in the shoulders and clearly strong.  He looked like a lead cannonball, and probably as strong, though of course, cannons had not yet been invented.

“Turn around,” Festuscato instructed.  “And lift your arms a little.”  Beowulf did this as Mirowen explained, though the look on his face seemed wary.  “This is called a Full Nelson,” Festuscato said, and he slipped the hold on the man and barely got his fingers locked before the violent reaction.

Beowulf almost broke free at the start when he tried to lower his arms, but Festuscato wrapped his legs around his opponent and leaned in for more leverage.

“Don’t hurt him,” Mirowen cried, even as Beowulf tried to ram Festuscato against the wall.

“Not likely.”  Festuscato said as he gave a little more lean into the hold.  He felt afraid to put too much into it, for fear of hurting the man’s neck or dislocating one or both of the man’s shoulders.

“Wait.  Wait,” Mirowen said, and got in front of Beowulf so he could hardly move without hurting her.  He paused, and with that, Festuscato let go and ducked, just in case.

“My gift,” he said quickly and showed how his hands had been locked behind Beowulf’s neck.

“A gift,” Mirowen said to Beowulf who rubbed his neck and shoulders back to life.  He paused to smile for her before he left without another word.

“Nice battle,” Bran said, as they exited the door.

“Better you than me,” Gregor said with a grin.

“My arms feel broken,” Festuscato confessed.

“You could have hurt him,” Mirowen scolded, and Festuscato took her scolding to heart.  He heard something in her words which she did not recognize in herself.  All he thought was it was bound to happen, someday.

Back in their seats, one extra seat provided for perpetual to drip on, as Gregor put it, and they watched the Geats parade in.  Beowulf and his fourteen warriors did make an impressive band even in that great and glistening hall.

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.