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.

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

*