R6 Gerraint: Caerdyf, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

Enid also sniffed.  “And smoky.”

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greta was grateful for the seat.  She felt exhausted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The red deepened.  “I don’t lie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wish,” Greta groused.

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

“What?”

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

“But he is a soldier,” Greta protested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R5 Greta: Battle, part 1 of 3

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

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

“Is this Elvir?” Vasen asked.

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

“Usgard,” Bragi repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

“And this?”  Thumbelin asked, sweetly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is any of it any good?” Greta asked.

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

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

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

“Thorn, how far away is General Pontius?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Scorch and Sparky too?”  She asked.

“Scorch and Sparky, too,” Greta answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What signal? For what?”  Bragi asked.

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

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

MONDAY

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

*

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lord Marcus,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mostly good,” Marcus said.

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

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

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

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

“I like that,” Marcus said.

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

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

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

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

“Me, too?” Thissle asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are Avalon,” Yin Mo countered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He killed the night creatures,” Thissle said.

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

“Many more.” Yin Mo said.

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

“Can I see?” Marcus asked.

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

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

Darius recovered himself.  “Nice outfit.”

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

“You see?” Greta heard Darius interrupt.

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

“Agreed.” The Dacian also knew some Greek.

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

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

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

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

“Is it safe?” Darius asked.

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

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

“Thorn?” Greta asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought about it,” he answered honestly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: The Way Things Are, part 2 of 3

Fae was lying down and looked very frail.  Berry looked at a scroll, upside down.  Greta bent over to search for Fae’s pulse, and she heard Marcus.

“Now there’s a woman built to carry children,” he said.  It sounded like his way of suggesting she had a fat butt.  Greta turned slowly.  She pointed to the roof of the tent and Marcus foolishly looked. Her foot came down hard on his toes.

“Oaf.”  She called him.  “I’ll probably be as fat as Mama soon enough, and then even Darius won’t want to look at me and you boys can have all the fun you want.”  Marcus laughed a hearty laugh, and that did not make things easy.  Greta had to still her feelings.  There were important things to do.  She introduced Fae as the wise woman of the forest people.  It turned out Fae’s Greek was passable, and she even knew some Latin. Then she found out Sergeant Gaius knew Gaelic well enough to recognize most of the words in the local dialect. There were rough spots, but she knew they would work things out and she really would not be needed.

Greta sighed and stared at an invisible Hobknot to be sure he stayed good.  Then she went outside and took Berry with her for safe keeping.  Darius followed, until Greta turned to face him.

“You don’t like me much.  That is obvious,” he said.  He got military, blunt and formal.  “But I will be a good husband and never give you reason to complain.”

Greta shook her head.  To his surprise, she took his arm and walked him to where they could have some privacy. Meanwhile, Berry said nothing, but followed a few steps behind with big eyes and open ears.  “That’s not it,” Greta said.  “I like you well enough.  You seem to be a nice man, only I don’t know you very well.  I never imagined myself with a Roman.  It takes some getting used to, is all.”

Darius turned and placed his hands gently on her shoulders.  He smiled a little and she let herself be drawn up into his deep eyes.  “I can live with that,” he said.  “I’m still getting used to the idea that my mother was one of your people, or I should say our people.  I understand. Maybe someday.” He did not finish that sentence and turned to another thought altogether.  “And, now that you mention it, I don’t know you very well either, I suppose.  I like what I see, and I suppose I am guilty of assuming the rest will be equally wonderful.”

Greta blushed a little, and she hated the way it made her freckles stand out.  She was not what she imagined as beautiful, and especially after so many days in the wild woods.  She imagined she looked frightful, but that mattered less than she thought as she finally began to understand her reluctance.  “But there are things about me that you know nothing about, and they are big and important things, and they would take a very special man to be able to deal with them, type things.”

He looked at her, and clearly wanted to reassure her that, whatever it might be, that he could deal with it.  But she knew he had no idea.

“There are things you need to know while there is still time to change your mind.”  She said, bluntly, and then for the life of her she could not imagine how to begin to explain.

After the longest time of silence, Darius took her hand and attention.  “Perhaps you could begin by telling me who this cute little shadow of yours is,” he suggested.

Berry sat on the ground to run her hand across the top of the grass.  There were all sorts of animals that grazed near the forest’s edge, so in spots the grass looke like a newly mowed lawn.  Greta pulled herself together.

“This is Berry.” She introduced her.  “She is my ward, and you had better get used to having her underfoot because she will be with me until she convinces me to let her marry Hans.”

Berry looked up at Greta with great big eyes.  “Really? Oh, thank you Lady.  Thank you, thank you.”  She scooted over on her knees and took Greta’s hand and began to kiss it.

“Berry,” Greta said softly.  “This man will be my husband so you had better get used to him, too.”

Berry looked first.  “I like him,” she said, and she scooted over and took his hand and began to kiss it. “Thank you, my Lord.  Thank you for giving me Hans.”

“Berry.” Greta spoke, and when she had the girl’s attention she finished her thought.  “You must wait four years.”

“Four years!” Berry fell over, nearly fainted dead away.

“Not before he is eighteen, don’t you think so?”  She looked at Darius.

“At least,” Darius said.  “But don’t you think Hans ought to have some say in the matter?”

Berry sat straight up.  “Why?” She asked in such a frank and innocent tone it seemed clear that she had never considered this thought before.

“I’m afraid he has no say in the matter,” Greta said.  She covered Darius’ mouth with her hand to stop him from speaking.  “You see, there are some things about me that you don’t know.  Big things.” Darius stayed wonderfully patient. “Berry.” Greta spoke at last, though she never let her eyes waver from his and the expression on his face. “Please come up to my shoulder.  I think there is a knot in my hair.”  Berry looked at Darius and tried to get up on her tip toes for a look.  “No, sweet.” Greta said.  “I mean get little.  It’s all right.”

Berry looked again at Darius and then flew straight to Greta’s shoulder.  Her head and hands went immediately into Greta’s hair and left only her wings and backside exposed.

“Great Gods!” Darius croaked, but then he stood there and watched.  He looked fascinated, and Greta felt glad he was not like so many humans who viewed the little spirits of the earth with fear and trembling.

“Hey!” Berry shouted, having forgotten all about Greta’s hair.  She turned and put her little hands on her hips.  “If you two are going to be married, what was that game you were just playing?”

“Traditional human mating ritual,” Greta said, without pause.  Darius hid his grin.

“Well I hope I won’t have to do that with Hans,” she said.  “I couldn’t remember all that foolish talk.”

Darius and Greta both turned a little red that time.  “That’s enough, sweet,” Greta said.  “You need to get down now and get big again.”

Berry did one back flip in mid-air and landed perfectly on her feet.

“I say.” Darius looked at Greta.  “But is it safe having her around?”

Greta shrugged. “Ask her.”

Berry spoke right up.  “Oh, I hope it will be safe.  I have been thinking about it and I am a little afraid of being around so many clunky humans all day, every day.  You will be there if I need help or get into trouble, won’t you?”

“Um, yes.” Darius said, though that was not what he had in mind.  He cocked one eyebrow at Greta, but this time she hid her smile.  “But now Berry,” he said.  “Will you be a good girl, and always be honest with us and do right away whatever we ask?”

“Yes I will,” Berry said, but then she thought about it and lowered her head.  “At least I will try very, very hard.”  She answered more honestly.

“Don’t expect too much,” Greta said.  “She is a teenager.”

Darius gave Greta a look and she stood up straight.  “Seventeen and a half.”  She lied. “But I feel so much older after these last couple of months.”  Darius nodded to that.

R5 Greta: To Ravenshold, part 3 of 3

Fae, meanwhile, stayed deep in conversation with the guide.  Hobknot started it.  “So, old woman,” he said.  “Plan on getting senile anytime soon?”  After that, Greta opted not to listen.  That left her to watch after the three men who became very confused about the way they were going.

“It feels sort of like hunting a bear,” Vedix said.  “All of a sudden the hairs rise up on the back of your neck because you realize the bear has circled around and is now hunting you.”  Hobknot lost even the hunter right from the start.

“I’ll say it again,” Cecil spoke up.  “If I wasn’t seeing it with my own eyes I would call any man a liar.”  That seemed about all Cecil said.

As Greta listened, Vilam took a turn to be thoughtful.  “When your boyfriends left town,” he said.  “The image of Danna was still fresh in everyone’s mind and pleasing the goddess was all that we wanted to do.  By the time you returned, though, the image already faded, and some people began to wonder why they were thinking and doing what they were thinking and doing.”

“They were wondering what it was they had actually seen,” Greta concluded.

“That’s a good way to put it,” Vilam agreed.  “By the time Chobar finished speaking, some were determined to do just the opposite of what the goddess asked.”

“I think some of that was out of spite,” Vedix added.

“Spite or unbelief.” Greta said.  “The human heart and mind are amazing.  Even when presented with an undeniable reality, a plain and simple truth, it doesn’t take long to figure out how to deny the reality and believe the exact opposite is true.”

With that, Greta grew quiet and let her mind wander.  Festuscato buffaloed a bunch of ornery, stubborn men by ridiculing their differences and threatening them with the need to work together.  That wasn’t going to work with her Dacians, Romans, and Celts. Festuscato had all Celts, like cousins in a way.  Greta had the Federation trying to get along with the Klingons and the Romulans.

Greta did not know what might work.  By Gerraint’s day, it became more a matter of the old ways versus the new.  People were finding themselves in the awkward position where they had to choose.  The Celts here had a choice to make as well, but it was not old or new.  It seemed more a matter of seeing if Tara, Olympus and Aesgard could get along now that the gods had gone away.  Greta sighed and thought Christendom could not come soon enough.

They arrived at about two in the afternoon, and Vilam looked astounded.  He brought lumber to Ravenshold on a fairly regular basis and he knew how far it was.  “I did not think we would get here until afternoon tomorrow,” he said flatly, yet, there they were, peeking out from the trees, just minutes behind Drakka and the boys. A confusing sight greeted them. She saw Romans and perhaps a dozen of Greta’s people fighting more of her people and strange men with red designs on their tunics.  Greta turned her head.

She looked at the Temple Mount, a little to the West, which left an open space between the Mount and the city wall.  She also saw a wide and long, flat grassy meadow between the edge of the trees and the city, or the Mount, if they chose to go that way.  She saw where the spring from the temple cascaded down the mount in tiny waterfalls and bits of whitewater, and she followed the stream to where it entered the woods some hundred yards West of where they stood. She remembered that the Temple Mount sat on a great deal of water and that water pressed up under great pressure. In fact, the whole area was Germisara. She looked again to the Temple and saw Drakka going up the path with what looked like a prisoner.  Vilam tapped her arm and pointed, and she saw Rolfus and Koren surrendering to the Romans and being escorted from the field. She turned to the Celts.

“Shoot the ones with the red bears on their tunics,” she said.  Vilam and Vedix were ready, needing only a target, and Cecil quickly joined them.  Three arrows flew and one struck home.  Then Greta felt the Princess knocking on the door of time.  She stepped aside and let the Princess come through.

“Once again.” The Princess shouted and drew her own bow to the ready.  Vedix looked dumbfounded, but Vilam turned his head to the task and Cecil snickered. This time four, and then five arrows left the trees.  The Princess, gifted by Artemis herself and the best archer in her generation, firing a weapon made by Apollo, got off two arrows to their one, and both struck their targets perfectly.  A third arrow also hit home, and the enemy began to withdraw, to leave some space between them and the Romans.  A third volley saw four more of the enemy down and they moved off in earnest, under cover of a few wasted bullets as rifle fire came from the mount.

“Pay up, Lady.” Hobknot immediately appeared beside the Princess, tugging on her cape.  The Princess wanted to kiss his grubby little head the way Greta kissed Bogus the Skin earlier, but she knew Hobknot would have been terribly embarrassed with such a show of affection, so instead, she went home and let Greta return. Hobknot shrugged.  “Have it your way.  As I said, pay up, Lady.”

“You need to get invisible and protect Fae and Berry for a while until things are settled.” Greta spoke quickly.  Several Romans and Dacians were on their way to find out who aided them at that critical point.

“Not part of the deal,” he said, but he grinned when she looked at him with such pleading in her eyes.  “All right. But this will cost extra.”  He sauntered over to where Fae sat on a stump.

“I bet you would sell your own mother,” Fae said.

“I would not,” Hobknot insisted.  “But I might trade if the goods were right.”  Fae took the walking stick Hobknot had gotten her and clocked him on the head.  He did not seem to mind at all.

Greta turned her attention to her other worry.  “Berry!”  She shouted. Hans started walking out to meet the Romans and Dacians, and Berry, big, walked right beside him, holding his hand. They stopped.  “Berry, you stay with your sister,” Greta said.

“But lady,” Berry breathed.

“Come on.  I mean it,” Greta insisted.  Berry let go of Hans’ hand and came back looking very sad. Finally, Greta thought of herself. She let her armor go back to Usgard where she imagined it got kept and brought back her dress and red cape. They were clean and ready as she hoped, and in her heart, she thanked whoever might be responsible.  She wanted to look as presentable as she could.  She was not sure she wanted Darius to see her dressed to kill.  Besides, too many of her other lives knew all too well how to use those weapons, but she did not, and wanted to keep it that way.  It turned out to be the Centurion Alesander, and he knew Hans right away. When he saw Greta, he bowed slightly.

“My lady,” he said.  “It is not safe here.”

“Yes, yes,” Greta said, and introduced her Celts as people of the forest and allies.  Of course, they and the Romans could not understand each other at all, but two of the Romans worked well with Vilam and Cecil to make a litter with which to carry Fae.  They skirted the edge of the woods to keep as far away from the Mount as possible, until they came to a fortified outpost.  From there, they could see the city walls and almost see the road, but they were out of range of the guns on the Mount and for the most part, out of sight of the Temple.

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MONDAY

Greta needs to be brought up to date on what has happened to understand the way things are.  She has to keep Fae and Berry safe, and face Darius, even if Marcus Aurelius insists on looking over her shoulder.

Next time, “The Way Things Are”

Until then, Happy Reading

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R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 3 of 3

Her own thoughts turned to Gerraint and all the struggles around York.  She saw too much blood and killing, and she willingly worked her fingers off, but it felt like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. Festuscato would be facing the same soon enough.  Greta wondered what was wrong with the human race.  So much blood would be spilled, and she thought of Darius and Marcus and Ravenshold.  She dreaded what was to come.

Greta proved right.  They arrived at the river crossing after only a short walk.  Vilam stayed there, waiting as agreed.  He quickly got to his feet and doffed his hat as he saw them coming. Finbear was not there, however. In his place stood an older man named Cecil, a member of the Eagle Clan.  The first thing Cecil did was draw his sword and take two steps back. Thunderhead ignored the man since even that sharp steel could barely scratch his hide.  Greta understood why ogre hunting never became the great sport that dragon and giant hunting once became.  Thunderhead set Hans down gently as instructed and Greta let go of the tension she had not even realized she held.  She felt ever so glad that Hans did not wake up in the ogre’s arms.

“Now, maybe you could help Bogus with his job,” she suggested and gave a few scratches on his itchy spots.  Clearly, it felt more natural and came much easier for her having spent some time now among her little ones.  This time, Thunderhead appreciated of her gift.  He really was not a bad fellow for an ogre.

“I will. And I’ll do a good job.  You’ll see.”

“There now.” She finished.  “You better get along before this poor man falls over.”

Thunderhead did not even look at the man.  He moved off through the forest a little happy and a little less itchy.

Vilam introduced his friend and Cecil came straight to the point.  “If I had not seen it myself, I would have called any man a liar.”

“Well you saw.” Greta did not mean to sound uppity, but Hans remained too heavy for her.  “Now, would you put that sharp thing away and help my brother to the raft.” She stilled herself.  “Please,” she added, coming down from the heady experience of the last few hours.  She might be the Woman of the Ways, but a mere mortal, human after all.

“I’ll help,” Berry said, but Greta let Cecil and Vilam carry the boy, and they managed to get him to the raft without waking him.  In the end, he woke up all the same as the raft moved low in the water and his backside became soaked.

“Where are we going?” Hans asked.

“To the village of the Bear Clan.”  Greta answered.  “They are going to help us finish our journey to Ravenshold, but we have to pick up Drakka, Rolfus and Koren first.”

“Are they here?” Hans asked.   He wanted to get excited, but the best he could manage was groggy.  Greta pointed ahead as if to say they were in the village, but Hans looked back.  Berry had her face hidden in Fae’s shoulder, and Greta thought she had to help Berry get over being so shy.  It would be too irresistible for a boy like Hans.

When they came to the far bank, the men held the raft steady.  Greta helped Hans and Berry helped Fae.  When they came up to the gate, they found a bonfire out front. The other Clans were coming.  Many were already present.

“Vilam.” Greta had a quick thought.  “Is there another way into the village where we might not be seen?  I need to get Hans into a real bed, and I don’t like the idea of Berry being surrounded by all of these men.”  Of course, Vilam knew who Berry was, but at that moment Cecil stood in the gate shouting.

“They’re here! They’re here!”  Vilam looked at Greta and shrugged, but Greta would not give up.

“Vilam, take Hans,” she said.  “Berry, you go with them and stay with Hans.  See that he gets to bed and gets a good night’s sleep.  Look.  He is falling asleep standing here.”

“Yes, Lady,” Berry curtsied and Greta reminded herself again that these were not her little ones.  Human interactions were far more complicated.

“Do you mind?” she asked Vilam

“Not at all,” he answered.  “Three days and three nights under fairy charms and it is a wonder he is still on his feet at all.  No offence to the present company.”

“Does he mean me?” Berry had to ask, innocently, though she knew full well who he spoke of and who he stared at.

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.

“Oh, no offense.” Berry replied.  “Bogus the Skin would take that as a great compliment.  I must tell Bogus, I mean, Grandfather the next time I see him.”

Vilam smiled, sort of, and they scooted along the stockade wall until they became lost in the dark.  Fae and Greta staggered to where they were met by a group of men, escorted to the center square, sat in chairs in the most prominent place, and promptly ignored. Fae fell asleep almost as soon as they sat down.  Greta felt unable to sleep as the men argued for hours, and sometimes it became rather heated.

It all sounded typically human as far as it went.  Some believed none of the talk of gods and the Vee Villy.  Some did not want to believe for the usual variety of personal reasons.  Some, on the other hand, were true believers, and some, while they did not believe, they thought making peace with the Yellow Hairs and Romans was the right thing to do.

In the end, it came down to two sides.  Chobar of the Dog Clan argued against change.  He wanted to kill the outsiders, including Greta.  Gowan of the Eagle Clan argued for change.  He wanted to let them go and seek peace so they could join in the defense of the land, because while his village and many of the others were technically outside and west of the Roman province, they had the Lazyges thundering across the plains at their backs and they would likely ride right over the Celts to get at the gold and silver being mined out of the mountains under Roman control.

Baran finally called the meeting ended for the night.  They needed to wait for all of the Clans to arrive and be represented before making a decision.  Greta had to wake Fae, though she felt reluctant to wake her, only to be escorted to a place where they could sleep.

Greta found Berry and Hans fast asleep, entwined in each other’s arms.  They were innocent, being fully clothed.  Greta doubted if Hans even woke up.  He lay face down in bed, and Berry’s face lay beside him and with her mouth a little bit open.  She saw Berry swallow without waking, and saw Berry’s hand go up to rest in Han’s hair.  She caught a glimpse of them when they were very much older, and she decided to leave them alone.

Then she could not sleep.

Drakka and the boys had left town almost as quickly as she had gone in search of Hans. They had taken Finbear to guide them which was why he had not been at the river.  Finbear also made a rather dull knife, but she hoped he had enough sense not to trust the boys.  That thought made her turn.

Drakka did not really care about her.  He had not even left word for her.  It finally penetrated her thick head, and now it seemed painfully obvious.  He would never be with her.  At least Darius would have left word, but that just meant he was polite.  True, her view of the Romans had changed considerably in the last couple of weeks, but still!  He had his tart waiting for him in Rome.  Greta could not even be sure if Darius liked her, and here, they were going to end up stuck with each other, unless one of them got killed.  She did not want to think about it.  She turned again.

She wondered if Darius would look for her in the morning.  She would probably be a day late.  He probably would not even notice.  She turned again and finally fell into a tense and not very restful sleep.

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MONDAY

Greta and Hans, with a few extra passengers, finish the journey to Ravenshold.  Greta fears what may be transpiring, since she became unavoidably delayed. She fears they may be fighting already.  She fears for Marcus… and maybe Darius.

Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

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