Reflections Wlvn-14 part 2 of 3

It took a long day to reach the woods that served as the border to the domains of the Titan. Once they entered the woods and passed the one-way barrier, they would be trapped again in the land of abomination. Wlvn stopped the riders. Shana needed a rest.

“Why have we stopped?” Wlkn looked anxious to get home and see if any of his friends survived. After their abrupt exit from the land of the Titan, they feared dire consequences for their neighbors.

“It is getting late. We can camp here, and get home tomorrow morning,” Wlvn said before he focused on his wife. Mother Vrya took Brmr in hand and brought Strn and Gndr to the fire. Wlkn started it with the sticks that came to hand while Elleya supervised. Badl and Laurel went to the forest edge to gather some more wood and to check for whatever they might find that was tasty. Since Badl and Laurel were not human, they were not bothered or hindered by the barrier to the land.

Moriah and Boritz went out across the grasses in search of game. Moriah managed a fine cow and Boritz carried it. Andrea went to the nearby stream to fill the skins and then got her carefully collected spices ready to cook the cow. Of course, Moriah insisted on doing most of the actual cooking, and no one had any complaints.

Once people were settled for the night, content around the fire where they could watch as the remaining portions of the cow they cooked sizzled and send sparks toward the moon, Wlvn spoke again. “In the morning, we will pass through the barrier to the land. It should allow us to pass easily, but once we are inside the barrier, it won’t easily let us back out again—except maybe Badl and Laurel, and I don’t know about Elleya. The thing is you don’t have to go.”

“I remember getting out the first time,” Wlkn shook his head. “But now that I am here, I am anxious about my friends and neighbors.”

“Why would we not go with you?” Laurel asked.

“The journey isn’t finished,” Boritz added, and several heads around the fire nodded.

“I’m going,” Brmr spoke up. She sat on a log and rocked a little in the attempt to keep herself awake. Gndr and Strn already laid out on their blankets, and if not asleep, they were near enough.

Wlvn shifted in his seat. “What I am saying is I don’t know if I will kill the Titan or be killed. If I fail, and that seems likely, I asked the gods to take you to safety, but I don’t know that they will, and I would hate to see you trapped in hopelessness. Wlkn, if you and Elleya decide to follow the river to the sea, no one will blame you. And Badl, if you and Moriah want to make for Movan Mountain, that would be fine.”

“I’m going,” Brmr repeated herself.

Wlvn nodded for her. “I want my family with me, even if it means putting them in danger. I think it is a danger we need to face as a family. But the rest of you—”

“The rest of us,” Laurel interrupted. “It is up to us. And I am not leaving as long as I can maybe help.  If there is danger, that just makes it like the rest of the journey.”

“And the Journey isn’t over yet,” Boritz also repeated himself, and Andrea scooted in close and took his arm.

Wlvn gave his wife a kiss. “Shana won’t leave either,” he said and stood to walk away. “Brmr, go to bed,” he added even as Wlkn said the same thing. Brmr groused but got her blanket ready beside the boys.

Vrya met Wlvn just out of sight and earshot from the camp. Wlvn had tears in his eyes, and she waited patiently for Wlvn to speak. “I am crying for the people who have lived for so long in slavery and absolute hopelessness,” he said.

“It has been going on for a long time,” Vrya confirmed.

“No, not entirely. I am crying for my mother and father whose lives were consumed by Loki and the Titan and the Gott-Druk.” Vrya said nothing, so Wlvn asked what was on his heart and mind. “Will you go with us tomorrow into the land of abomination?” Before she could answer, he added a thought. “The truth is I am crying because I am afraid”

“I understand,” Vrya said. “And I will go with you in your heart, but I cannot go in the way you see me now. I have helped Brmr so she can stay on her horse, even if you need to run, and also your wife will be safe riding with Brmr so you can be free to ride if necessary. But from here on, it is up to you. I can do no more.”

“Before you leave.” Wlvn spoke quickly. “A question please.”

“One question,” She responded with a smile.

“Are there more night creatures and zombies that may disturb us in the night?”

“The night creatures that used to walk the perimeter have not been replaced, and the living dead have been shut down. Loki overstepped himself there in appealing to his daughter Hellas for help.”

“And what about the Gott-Druk?”

Vrya stood. “You have had your one question, but you don’t need me to tell you how stupid and stubborn the Gott-Druk can be,” and she vanished from that place.


In the morning, no one remembered or realized the goddess was not with them, and Wlvn opted not to tell them. He figured it would not go over well, psychologically, if they all thought the goddess abandoned them. So instead, he got ready in silence. He helped Shana up on the horse Brmr rode, as the goddess suggested, and when he got up on Thred’s back, he simply turned and walked his horse toward the woods.

Gndr and Strn fell in beside Brmr and Shana. The others followed, making a slow and silent line of horses, like a funeral procession. Even Elleya had nothing to say that morning, and it was in this solemn way they came to the edge of Wlvn’s village by midafternoon. Wlvn felt something most curious as he stopped and looked ahead to the abandoned huts and barns he once called home. He felt homesick. It felt odd to miss a place that he imagined he despised worse than any place he would ever despise, even if he lived a hundred lifetimes.

Gndr and Strn moved up to the front along with Wlkn and Elleya. The boys looked ready to ride ahead and dismount in front of the house where they were raised, but Wlvn had a bad feeling about the quiet, and he said so.

“Stay with the group and stay on horseback. The village has been abandoned so you won’t find your friends here. Besides, I smell the work of the fires from heaven.” As he looked more closely, he saw numerous scorch marks from the use of high radiation weapons. A few of the homes were burnt to the ground.

“Lord,” Badl spoke. “I can smell the Gott-Druk from here, but I don’t know if they are present, or it is just the leftover smell from the last time they came through.”

“Wlkn. Boys. I will go into the village first and alone to see what I can see. You keep everyone here. Do you know the path from here that skirts the village and leads eventually to the road to the center of the universe?” Both Wlkn and the boys said they knew the path. “Good. If the village is safe, I will call you to join me. If it is not safe, you will know. Escape by way of the path that leads to the road and make a camp for the night where you can watch the road but not be seen. I will get there when I can.”

“Wlvn.” Shana reached out for him in her concern.

Wlvn leaned over and took and kissed her hand. “I will be fine. I think they want me alive, but I think they will just kill all of you as unnecessary baggage.” He let go quickly and rode into the village before they could ask any more questions. He wondered if that was why Mother Vrya left as quickly as she did in the night.

Wlvn, dressed in his armor with his weapons close to hand, paused at the edge of the first house, not sure. Badl had been correct. Something did not smell right. The village certainly looked deserted, but it felt impossible to say what might be lurking in one of the unburnt houses or behind the trees that surrounded the dwellings. Wlvn’s village nestled in the trees, as far from the center of the universe as possible. The fields they cleared and farmed were back in the woods or along the road.

Wlvn patted Thred’s neck. The horse seemed anxious, no doubt smelling home, so Wlvn let Thred lead him into the open space at the center of the village. They stopped there. It turned out as Wlvn expected. Six Gott-Druk stepped out from the houses and trees to surround him. They probably picked up their movement on a long-range scanner and tracked them. The Gott-Druk Captain stood out front, a radiation weapon in his hand, and he spoke.

“They want you alive, but I would not mind if you tried to escape.”

“Why should I escape when you will take me where I want to go?” Wlvn only then noticed the Gott-Druk shuttle camouflaged among the trees. “But you know the Elenar are coming. After nineteen years at near light speed, they ought to be here by now.”

“Bah,” the captain said. “They are not coming. You are a liar.”

“Huh,” Wlvn responded. “Why do liars think that everyone is lying?”

The captain turned red and showed his unnaturally sharpened teeth. “I can always just say you tried to escape.” He fired. Wlvn got knocked from his horse, but the shield Frigga gave him protected him from harm. It would take more than a high radiation weapon to break through the shield of the goddess. Thred, however, had no such protection. Half of his face and his foreleg became dust and the horse fell to lie there smelling of burnt flesh and death.

Wlvn got pissed but paused at the sound overhead. A two-man Elenar fighter got attracted to the energy discharge. The first shot from the fighter turned the captain to a cinder. Wlvn only wondered if the captain had time to admit he was wrong before he died. Two more Gott-Druk were killed even as they scattered for the trees. Then the Elenar fighter backed off as the Gott-Druk shuttle sprang to life. Gott-Druk shuttles carried a powerful main weapon. Wlvn wondered why the fighter did not try to take it out while it sat grounded and vulnerable. His question got answered when he saw the Elenar cruiser coming in overhead. He did not want to be there when the cruiser melted the shuttle and set the forest on fire.

He ran at super speed and stayed to the road where he sometimes took to flight. When he reached the spot where the road joined the path around the village, he sped into the woods and stopped. He found a place where they could watch the road, be covered by the trees from overhead, and have something of a clearing in which to sleep. He figured he was the first to arrive. He waited for the horses. Then he was surprised to see only Laurel, Shana, Brmr and the boys. Brmr shouted to him before he could hush her.

“Wlkn has taken the others to another village to get help.” Wlvn got his little sister down with a hand pasted across her mouth. He helped Shana down and then wondered what help Wlkn thought he might get from another village, or even villages.

“I wished him luck.” Laurel spoke quietly. “He said whether they succeed or fail, the time had come to stop living in hopelessness.”

“Revolution!” Shana added, and Wlvn kissed her, happy to see her safe. But then he had to add a thought of his own.

“Wlkn has the least courage of anyone I know. A year ago, he would have run away from his own shadow. Succeed or fail, can I do less?” Shana just held him, one hand on her tummy.

“I am very full,” she said. “It is a wonder if I don’t go into labor right now.”

Wlvn nodded. He thought to make them move down the road in the night, under the cover of darkness, but instead, he decided to let them rest.

“No fire. No food unless Laurel knows of something. But we will rest for a time.”

The horses got tied off. Laurel did know something they could at least chew on. But it got very dark that night, as much from the clouds and fires of battle as from the night. Brmr did not stay up, but she had uneasy dreams. Laurel promised to watch the road. Wlvn watched the path and the forest, and Shana held on to him until she fell asleep, her head on his lap. Gndr and Strn, free of the watchful eye of the goddess, had questions which they asked through their yawns. Gndr especially asked about the Titan since he had seen Ymir, however briefly. He cried and thought of Wlvn as going to certain death. Strn cried with him, sure that they were all going to die.

Well before dawn, Wlvn woke everyone and got them mounted. Laurel took Brmr on Brmr’s horse so Wlvn could ride Number Two. Shana held on to Wlvn as well as she could, and she tried not to cry when the late afternoon arrived, and they came in sight of the great dome at the center of the universe.

Reflections Wlvn-12 part 3 of 3

Flern needed a minute to collect herself. She still shook from the attack of the night creatures. The others, and certainly Wlkn could not blame her.

“Who is in there?” Andrea pointed at the cave as Boritz stepped up and took her hand.

“Mother Vrya,” Flern responded. “Sylvan, I suppose. I don’t know who else.”

“Well,” Badl said. “A bit of practical might help at this point. I say the rest of us need to camp here and wait. No telling how long she might be in there.” Moriah agreed, and they set about making a fire.

“I know this place.” Boritz looked up the mountain. “There is a mountain village not far from here. They might be encouraged to trade so we might get some supplies.”

“I think we should stay where we are,” Laurel said. “We can find our own supplies.”

“Vote on it,” Flern said.

“What does it mean, vote?” Elleya asked. No one was quite sure, so Flern explained.

“How many want to try the mountain village?” She asked. “Raise your hands.” Boritz, Andrea and Elleya all raised their hands. “Put your hands down. And how many want to stay here and wait?” Wlkn, Badl, Moriah and Laurel all raised their hands with Elleya. “Elleya, you can’t vote for both.

“I want to stay with my Wilken,” she said.

“All right,” Flern responded. “So the vote is five to two in favor of staying here. So everyone voted and you can stay here until I am done.”

“But what is to keep us from going to the village anyway?” Andrea asked.

“Nothing,” Flern said. “But the group voted to stay here so you will be going on your own. It depends on what you feel is most important, going to the village or keeping the group together.”

“I see.” Boritz rubbed his chin. “That certainly settles things much better than trial by wrestling.”

“Less bloody, too.” Badl agreed.

“You should go.” Laurel encouraged Flern and Moriah nodded her support over Laurel’s shoulder.

Flern shook her head, looked down at the dirt and spoke just loud enough to be heard. “I’m afraid.”

“Of what?” Boritz looked surprised. “Red, I can’t imagine anything in the entire world that you can’t handle. I have seen you in action. You fly, you are as strong as I am, you are faster than anyone, you carry weapons the like of which have never been imagined, and these little ones, as you call them, jump at the chance to do what you ask. Why, you just navigated the Were plateau safely. Hella’s lair, you got the Were to do your will besides. And that doesn’t even count the people you have stored up inside. I would think we have not seen the half of it.”

It was a big speech, but Andrea had to quiet the man as she saw it started having an effect on Flern the opposite of what was intended.

Flern’s face turned red, and her eyes began to glare. The anger did not take long to come out. “I failed,” she shrieked and threw her hands up. “I lead the ghouls straight to that innocent village and many good people died and many more were injured for me. Heck, I was not content with just getting people killed. I had to fetch a bunch of dwarfs to get killed, too. And all because I was afraid and wanted to be safe and protected. Then what? I lead us up the mountain and would have made things worse for you all if Carpasis had not interfered. All I did was make the giants angry. Then I did not dig the pit wide enough, and I wasn’t smart enough to think the night creatures might be burrowers. I would have got us all killed, again, if Father Vry had not shown up.”

“You helped the unicorn,” Moriah reminded her.

“Whoop-de-doo.” Flern rolled her eyes.

Flern spouted. “I honestly don’t even know why you are all still here. If it was me following someone who clearly does not want to lead and has no idea how to lead anyone except from one disaster to another, I would run for my life.”

“Now hold on,” Skinny Wlkn stepped up and Flern shut up for the moment. “I knew Wlvn since he was a little thing, and I came along to share my older head with him, but since I got young again, I learned two things. First, that Wlvn and I are now friends, and second, that Wlvn has a wisdom in him that I cannot hope to fathom; the same as I see in you. It helps me see that you two really are the same person after all. But then we found Badl and Moriah, and I feel they are here of their own free will, and to be sure, I don’t think you will be able to find one without the other after this journey.” Moriah looked at Badl and he puffed out his chest while she looked away and her elf ears turned scarlet. “She is his Moriah after all. But then we found Elleya, and I thought she might be happier with her own people, but I see that she is like the rest. She is here by her own free will.”

Elleya sat and she raised both hands and both feet. “See, I am voting to stay with my Wilken,” she said. “I make four votes because I have feet. I never had feet before, but I don’t mind as long as I am with my Wilken—”  Wlkn looked at her and she took a breath before she continued. “You see? I am learning. When my Wilken is saying something important, I have to be quiet and listen.” Wlkn put a gentle hand across her mouth, and she looked up at him and nodded before he removed it.

Flern let out a little giggle because the Storyteller kept quoting Bugs Bunny in her head. “Shad-up shadding-up.”

Wlkn continued. “Then we found Andrea and Boritz, and I think they found each other. And just so you know, no one would think less of them if they decided to go up to the village.”

“No,” Andrea spoke with only a glance at Boritz. “I think we will stay with the group and finish this adventure.”

Wlkn nodded. “And that leaves young Laurel.” He quickly waved off contrary comments. “Believe it or not, she is younger than me. But I think she has attached herself to Flern.”

“Attached like a remora to a shark,” Elleya interrupted. Not the best image, but Flern knew what she meant.

Wlkn nodded and had one more thing to say. “The only thing left is to tell you, Flern. We all care about Wlvn and are concerned about him. He has our devotion, though Boritz has not met him. But since you have been here, we have all come to love you dearly and I think we would do whatever we can to see you succeed at this quest. And Wlvn, just to be straight, you make a very fine-looking young woman.”

Flern felt the tears come up into her eyes and thought it best to turn toward the cliff. A moment later she spoke softly. “I love you all, too,” and she headed into the cave.

Flern did not walk very far before she heard a sound that made her stop still. It sounded like a girl, a young woman crying, and after a few quiet steps, Flern saw the girl around the corner, sitting on a rock. She seemed lovely. She looked beautiful despite the tears and maybe more so because of them. What Flern felt for this girl seemed very strange to her, but the only word she could use to describe the feeling was love.

Flern loved her friends, both here and back home, but that would not exactly describe how she felt at the moment. It was not friendship she felt. It felt like more. She loved Kined, when she got honest with herself, and had loved him for years. She would marry Kined, but that was not the kind of love she felt here, either. She honestly did not go that way, to quote Ydunna. She loved her family. That felt closer to the truth, but not exactly right. She loved her little ones, even the mean ones and the knuckleheads, and she loved her horse, and Wlvn’s horse Thred had been great, but nothing she could think of fit the parameters. Still, she knew she loved this girl dearly, even though this was the first she saw her, and what is more, that love brought a name to mind.

“Shana. Why are you crying?”

Shana stopped crying in an instant and stood up, startled. Flern saw that the girl was very pregnant. Shana took one look at Flern, and the wailing returned.

Flern stepped forward. ”But Shana, you are going to have a baby. You should be happy,” and she reached out to hug the girl, but Shana pulled back.

“No, Flern. Not you.”

“But where is your husband?” Flern asked, and Shana just wailed all the louder and flew into Flern’s arms. Flern did her best to bend around the baby and comfort the girl as words came slowly.

“He is gone. Maybe forever. The goddess brought me here. She said things are complicated. No Doctor. Apollo might help. My son.” On that last word, Shana stopped crying, grabbed Flern’s hand and put it to her belly. “Look,” she said. “Look, he is kicking.”

“I feel him,” Flern got caught up in the excitement. “Such a strong baby. Oh, good for you, I am so happy for you.”

“Uh-huh. His father is very strong, and wonderful.” Shana stopped and looked ready to fall back into tears. “But maybe I will never see him again.”

Flern found her own tears as she spoke. “It can’t be that bad. At least you will have a son to remember him. I have nothing. Kined and I never—and now I might never see him again. I want a baby.” Flern got ready to cry but stopped when she saw Shana with big eyes.

“You have a husband?” It sounded like something Shana never considered.

“I don’t know. He has not asked me yet. Now he might never get the chance to ask.”

“Oh, but that is wonderful.” Flern looked at Shana, like the girl might be slightly mad. How could her and Kined be wonderful if she might never see him again? “I never thought that you might have a man. All this time I thought you were a man that got changed into a woman.”

“No.” Flern smiled at the thought. “I was born a girl, or I will be about six hundred years from now. Wlvn is the man.” Flern stopped and stared as Shana started to grin. Flern pointed to the baby in Shana’s belly. “Wlvn?”


“Wlvn is your husband?”

“Uh-huh.” And suddenly everything became clear in Flern’s mind. She loved Shana in a way that perhaps no other human being in all of time might understand. Not the love for a friend or a spouse or family, though family might come closest to the mark.

“And you are the swan.” Flern got on a roll.


Flern rolled her eyes. “Leave it to Wlvn to turn down the mermaid, the lovely half-elf and the beauty of Greece for a Swan Princess.”

“Swan Princess?”

“Your father is the chief?”

“Oh, yes, though not exactly in the way you understand the word.”

“Uh-huh,” Flern imitated Shana. “Now I really have to go home so Wlvn can come back here. I would make a lousy husband. Besides, I want a baby of my own.”

“I don’t blame you. Mine is wonderful.”

“Mother Vrya!” Flern called.

“Goddess?” Shana sounded more tentative, but they walked deeper into the cave, hand in hand, like the best sisters ever.

“And there you are,” Vrya said. “Come Flern. Lie down.” They had a bed in the cave fitted between the stalactites and stalagmites and Flern found that a bit strange. She did as requested but immediately sat up.

“Shana said you said there are complications. Shouldn’t Doctor Mishka be here?”

“There is more than a month. It’s not time yet. Lie down.”

Flern sat up again. “But what are you doing.”

Vrya pushed her shoulders to get her down this time. “The same thing I will do six hundred years from now with Wlvn. Now, be good. This is not just an accidental double trade with two of your lifetimes. This is a trade of reflections and that seriously complicates things. Exponentially, as Martok might say.”


“Hush. Sleep.” And Flern did.



Wlvn returns to find he will not get the help he needs and it is time to face the Titan, ready or not.  Until Monday, Happy Reading


Reflections W-4 part 1 of 3

“I tell you, there’s good eating on these beasts.” Badl raised his voice.

“And I tell you these horses are not for eating.” Wlkn sounded just as determined and he looked up when Wlvn rejoined them. “Lord, you have to straighten out this little person.”

“Little person? I am not a short human, I’m a dwarf, a gnome if you want to get technical, and anyway, I am sure you have never tasted horse bacon and sausage the way I can make them.”

“Badl.” Wlvn spoke the dwarf’s name and Badl thought about things again and whipped off his hat.


“And Wlkn. You said Lord.”

“Well, I was listening to this gnome person,” he pointed. “Anyway, maybe that’s a fair word for the god of the horses, or anyway, someone who seems to be friends with the real gods.”

“Loki is not my friend,” Wlvn mumbled.

“The god with the Lord of All.” Wlkn smiled. “I figured that one out all by myself.”

“God of horses? I never heard anything so lame in my life. He’s my god, god of all the elves, light and dark, and the dwarfs in between, too. The gods decided that some fifty years ago, in the days of Kartesh.” Badl built up a good head of steam before he remembered himself once again. He turned back to face Wlvn. “Counted among the gods, he is, even when he is no more than a grubby boy. That’s a fact.”

“See? That hardly makes you a normal, human mortal, does it?”

“Counted among the gods, he is.” Badl nodded.

“Stuff it,” Wlvn responded. “We have to decide what we are going to do here.” They paused as the wailing in the distance came again and this time it abruptly turned into a scream, like the scream of a mountain lion.

“They’ve got the scent.” Badl looked worried. “Let’s hope it is the horses they are after because they never give up, and they never quit until they are dead, or they got what they are hunting.”

“What can we do?” Wlkn looked as worried as the dwarf, but it seemed hard to tell because worried was Wlkn’s natural expression. Wlvn heard a different sound, looked up, and saw that beautiful bird. For some reason, the bird had come back and circled over their heads. Even as Wlvn looked up, it took off across the river. Wlvn had to run to the hole he made in the back of the shack to see, and the others followed. The bird landed in the water again, just like before, and it climbed the bank and took off again to the southwest, paralleling the river on the far side.

“Maybe she wants us to follow her,” Badl suggested.

“She?” Wlvn wondered.

“What is it?” Wlkn asked and stared off in the distance, though the bird flew out of sight.

“Called a swan, she is. Isn’t she beautiful?”

“Yes.” Wlvn and Wlkn spoke together as they heard the screaming again, but not quite as far away, and with perhaps a bit of a roar mixed in.

“It’s got the scent,” Badl said once again, and worried his hat almost to the point of tearing it.

“We cross the river.” Wlvn made the decision. He knew that horses were good swimmers, and while the river appeared fairly wide and deep at that point, the current looked gentle enough. “The trick is going to be getting Badl up on a horse.” He laughed, but it turned out not a difficult thing to do. Wlvn had to order the dwarf to get up on Strn’s mount, and even then Badl only felt prompted by the fact that the night creatures were clearly getting closer. He sat well despite the short legs, and the horse looked very comfortable with the gnome on his back.

Wlvn guided Thred slowly into the water. It felt very cold, and he remembered that it was November, but the horses went without argument. Even Badl’s horse followed the crowd, though to be sure, Badl looked more like Brmr’s size on the beast’s back and hardly looked in a position to guide, much less control the horse. Then again, the gnome, like all true gnomes, had a natural affinity for animals beyond anything a normal, human mortal might imagine. If Badl could not exactly speak to the horse, he could make himself understood, and now that the horse knew that it would not be eaten, it responded willingly to Badl’s verbal directions.

As the horses got to the depths and began to swim, Wlvn lost Number Two’s reigns. He looked back to make sure the horse still followed and saw in the last of the sunset, three beasts looking like gray terrors, standing in the shadows on the bank of the river, smack in the hole in the shack—the very place they just vacated. One of the creatures lifted its head and let out a wail such as they had not heard before. It sounded like a lost soul in torment. The other two beasts growled and roared at them like something between a bear and a lion’s roar, frightening to hear. The horses picked up their pace, and Wlvn saw one of the beasts enter the water to follow. The other two waited on the shore and watched. Wlvn raised an eyebrow at that behavior and wondered how intelligent these creatures might be. At first, the beast in the water did fine since it started in the shallows and it could wade without problem, but once it hit the deep water, where the footing fell away, it stopped, and it might have stood there for a time if a wave had not come and pushed the beast into the deep.

“Incoming,” Wlvn said. He expected the night creature to begin to swim after them, but instead he heard the beast whelp and squeal in despair as it sank into the deep to drown. “Halleluiah!” Wlvn changed his tune. “They can’t swim. We should be safe as long as we can keep the river between us.”

Wlkn looked up as if thanking the Alfader himself. Badl stayed too busy trying to hang on to the horse’s mane to do much more than make a simple comment. “Water sprites,” he said, and Wlvn heard and swallowed hard. The water sprites were his, too, just like the earth sprites—the elves and the dwarfs—and the fire sprites, and sprites of the air, too. It was too much, he thought, as Thred found his footing again and came up out of the water. Fortunately, at that moment, he hardly had time to contemplate it all.

“Lord.” Badl spoke as soon as he could speak again. “They will find a place to ford the river and be on us again before you know it, but I know some spirit paths that can take us out of range in short order.”

“Dwarf paths, where you can cover many miles in a few short hours?” Wlvn asked.

“I guess,” Badl said, not knowing what a mile or an hour was.

“You can find these ways in the dark?” Wlkn asked, aware of the conversation while his eyes still looked back. He lost his mattress in the water, but that was not what he looked at.

“This way.” Badl did not answer directly.

“Wait.” Wlvn got off of Thred’s back and mounted Number Two. Thred puffed, badly from all the exercise he had that day. Then again, he was not going to be pulled along like just any horse, so about all Wlvn could do was shake his finger in Thred’s face and tell the horse to keep up. With that, Badl started out and the others followed, though Wlkn at least wondered how the dwarf could see anything in the dark. He did not know the virtue of the dwarf nose or the fact that dwarfs in general were underground creatures and well suited to dim light.

It took only a couple of hours before Badl said they would be safe. The river still sat on their left, and indeed, having abandoned it almost at the start, they came upon it suddenly again just before stopping. Apart from a few small clumps of trees, neither Wlvn nor Wlkn saw anything but grassland that whole time. How a dwarf could find a short-cut through that was beyond them, but Wlvn at least remembered one old adage and decided not to look this gift horse in the mouth.

“Even if they find a way across right away, they won’t get here before morning, fast as they are,” Badl said. “Of course, in the morning they will have to find shelter from the sun where they can lay low for the day. You say night creatures can’t swim and that may be, but I know for certain that sunlight is like a bane to them, and they can’t move in it at all.”

Wlvn nodded, but he kept watching Wlkn make a fire. “I wish we had something to eat,” he said.

Wlkn looked up briefly and went back to work. “I wish I had that mattress,” he said. “Lord, that was comfortable.” And with that, and the fire burning, the three travelers lay down in the grass by the river and slept, not altogether successfully.