Reflections Flern-5 part 2 of 3

Pinn and the others decided to stay with Arania in the big tent, and Trell also stayed with the travelers, under Karenski’s watchful eye, but he wanted it that way.

“No offense to the village,” Pinn told Vincas and her father. “But I feel some of us need to stay with the travelers.” Venislav said he understood, but Flern thought that someone needed to stay to be sure they kept a good watch for the Jaccar. It would not do if the Jaccar came and surprised them.

After the boys settled in, and the girls did what they could to help prepare the feast, mostly under Vinnu’s urging—Thrud taking every opportunity to get lost and hide—everyone returned to the common house for the feast, and a number of travelers came as well. It was as the young people expected, the food tasted great and proved plentiful. Vilder got to tell the story once again of the fall of their village and their escape to the south. This time, though, he managed it without as much finger pointing at Flern, for which she felt grateful. Flern imagined Pinn got to the boy, and she appreciated having such a good friend in high places. Karenski told of their encounter with the Jaccar, the time he lost his wife and Arania’s mother, and the villagers appeared deeply touched by his words. After that, the room broke down into smaller conversations. The men discussed what they could do to fend off the Jaccar, and the women talked some about the men and some about domestic matters, some villagers and travelers even exchanged the equivalent of recipes.

“So, you like him?” Thrud asked and Arania’s face reddened, just a little. “Can’t be that much. You’re not nearly as red as Flern when we talk about Kined.”

Flern nudged her friend in the arm. “Not a fair comparison. My red hair just makes me look redder.”

“No, it’s fair.” Pinn teased from across the table and as if in response, Flern’s face flushed.

“But I do like him. Trell and I share so much in common, and we share so many ideas, the same.”

“I never knew he had any ideas,” Thrud said.

“Thrud!” This time both Flern and Vinnu scolded her.

“Okay, okay. Sorry.”

“Don’t pay attention to Thrud,” Pinn said. “You go ahead and like whoever you want.”

“You don’t mind?” Arania looked at Flern and asked straight out. Flern felt surprised at first, but soon felt the need to encourage the girl.

“Be my guest,” she said. “By all means. He is all yours.”

“Oh, good,” Arania said, sweetly. “Because I think I am going to have him ask me to marry him.”

The others paused.

“A bit quick, do you think?” Vinnu suggested, but Arania just smiled and bit her lower lip a little and shook her head like it was already a done deal.

“So that leaves just Fritt and Tird,” Flern said softly.

“So you can concentrate on Kined.” Thrud looked for the red face, and Flern obliged.

“Vinnu has Gunder, and Pinn has Vilder. Why don’t you pick on them?” Flern responded.

“Because we are not going to have to pry them apart with a big stick,” Thrud said. Flern’s jaw just dropped.

“Maybe Pinn and Vilder,” Vinnu said, and they were all more shocked by the fact that Vinnu said anything like that at all, than they were by what she said. Even Pinn put her hand to her mouth, while it became Vinnu’s turn to blush. Vinnu could not believe the words came out of her own mouth.

The rain stopped for a time after the sun went down, though it rained on and off all night. During a lull in the storm, the girls repaired to the Traveler camp. Their conversation did not change, but Flern wanted to be sure the travelers had watchers out as Karenski promised, and she easily enlisted Pinn to help her check.

“I think they will be there, since it to their benefit to be forewarned if the Jaccar show up,” Pinn said.

“Agreed,” Flern responded. “But not everyone takes threats the same, and this is just a possible threat. Karenski only promised to put men out for three nights because he said if the Jaccar had not arrived by then, they were not coming. If these watchers believe the Jaccar are not coming, they might not really be watching.”

“I understand,” Pinn said. “And you know, you have gotten smarter about things like this lately. Vilder and I discussed the situation, but we never thought to check on the watchers, obvious as that is.”

“I’ve never fought anyone,” Flern responded in all seriousness. “But the Princess, Diogenes and Doctor Mishka have all been in war. Trust me, I am not getting smarter, I am just leaning on other people’s information.”

“Other versions of you,” Pinn said. Flern did not deny it; she just pointed to the left while she went to the right.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” Flern mumbled to herself. It would be hard to see much with all the cloud cover. Even if the moon came up almost full, as it did for Wlvn, it would do them no good in watching for Jaccar. She found one man, Borsiloff by name, who seemed to be vigilant in his watch. She talked to him for a bit and found out that he lost loved ones in the last Jaccar attack. She assumed most of the travelers had.

“You will have to keep your ears open,” Flern told him. “And don’t be afraid to shout for others even if you are not sure what is making that sound. Don’t wait until it is too late.”

Borsiloff nodded and went back to his late supper while Flern crawled out from beneath the wagon and started down the row. She felt good about this watch and just hoped every man stayed as alert as Borsiloff, though she suspected they would not, when hands came out of the dark and grabbed her from behind. One hand clamped firmly across her mouth, and Flern could hardly breathe. The other hand grabbed Flern by the arm near the shoulder and squeezed her muscles until they hurt, as the man shoved her toward a nearby tent where a single blanket laid out. Flern’s eyes went wide. She felt the sweat break out in salty little beads on her forehead. It matched the sweat on the man’s hand. Flern had not yet struggled, being surprised, and since it all happened so fast. It happened much too fast, and yet, at the same time, it happened in a kind of slow motion as one might see in a movie. With that, Flern felt a kind of detachment from the whole event, like she was merely watching it happen on a big screen. Flern got shoved on to the blanket, and the man slipped around to land on top of her. He pushed the air from her lungs as she fell and forced it out her nose along with whatever else might have been in her nose. Not a pretty thought. It covered the man’s hand while still attached to her nostrils. It got hard to breathe with the weight on top of her. She could hardly move, but then she caught sight of her assailant. Bunder, on top of her, kept one slimy hand across her mouth while he pawed at her breasts with his other hand.

“No!” Flern screamed a muffled scream that would be hard to hear from outside the tent. The screaming in her head sounded much louder, almost deafening. She tried to bite Bunder’s hand, but Bunder seemed too excited or too drugged up by something to feel it. He reached down to pull up her dress and at the same time, with his one free hand, he tried to pull down his pants. He tore at his rope belt and tore the front of her dress to expose her breasts.

“No! No!” Flern bit and screamed and felt something well up inside of her. “No!” She said that last to herself. For all of her fear and pain, she did not want to be guilty of frying Bunder with the gift of Odin. Something else bubbled up, though, and just as her dress became shredded, and it looked like Bunder’s rope belt might finally come loose, Flern found her hands against Bunder’s chest and her small reflection of the strength of Thor rose up. She shoved with all of her strength. Bunder flew straight up, pulled the tent with him into the air, arched over the nearest wagon and fell outside the line of wagons altogether, probably terribly hurt. Flern could not think of that right then. She got too busy screaming, crying, and trying to breathe, and she did not know what really happened until she felt Pinn’s hand take a cloth to wipe her nose. She felt humiliated and tried to cover herself as well as she could without having to look at anyone at all. She wanted to die in that moment.

By the time the men arrived, Flern had calmed down a bit. The watchers on the wall of wagons said they found where the boy landed, but he must have run off. The men started a search through the village and the traveler’s encampment—no one condoned rapists in those days—but as Flern and many suspected, they turned up nothing. “He won’t get far on foot.” Several of the men assured her. “We will surely get him in the morning.” Then Kined came in, but he hesitated. He did not know how to react or what to do. He could not hide his rage, but for the rest of it, he looked afraid to so much as touch Flern. Flern solved his dilemma by grabbing him and holding him as close as she could. She cried into his shirt, chest, and shoulder. She may have cried for an hour without stopping, and Kined stayed wonderfully patient that whole time.

When Flern let go, she let go all the way and backed up to wipe her eyes and nose. She turned her back on Kined, felt self-conscious, and wondered if he would think badly of her. She felt ruined by the whole event and wondered if they might all think terrible thoughts about her. Could she have done something to avoid this? Did she somehow ask for this? She felt so powerless, so hopelessly overwhelmed, and in a way, so dirty. It seemed very hard to explain just what she felt, but through it all, she knew one thing. Maybe she did not feel this way at the moment, but she felt certain the feeling would return in time, so she voiced her one certainty.

“Kined. Don’t ever leave me.”

“I won’t,” Kined said. “I will always be here for you, Flern.” And Flern felt that then and there he wanted to tell her that he loved her, but something in him said it was not the right time, and she probably could not have heard it right then. Poor Kined. He got stuck, back between the place where he wanted to hold her and comfort her and tell her that everything would be all right, and at the same time, not touch her for fear that she might break altogether. “I must go,” he said at last, and quickly left the tent. With that, Flern cried some more. She ached for Kined, but she dared not touch him as well. She felt afraid to touch any man and felt withdrawn into her secret self where no one could ever find her. So, she just cried some more, and all of the girls cried with her as well.

Reflections Wlvn-14 part 1 of 3

Wlvn hugged Raini goodbye while a few golden teardrops fell from Mother Vrya’s eyes to glisten in the sunlight at her feet. Raini stepped back then, because she knew it had past time for her visitors to go. Vrya nodded and tried to smile. She clapped her hands, twice, and Wlvn and all his companions along with their horses vanished from that hillside village and reappeared hundreds of miles to the east, on the edge of a broad meadow. A big fire, a virtual bonfire roared on the other side of a small stream that meandered gently through the grasses. People could be seen in the distance. They sat around the fire and talked quietly, like they were ready to hold a meeting, and only waiting for the presentation to arrive.

“Stay here,” Vrya spoke to the group as she took hold of Wlvn’s hand. The others could not exactly see the people by the fire, but they had to feel something. No one argued. Even the horses kept to their side of the stream.

Vrya brought Wlvn over the running water and to the fire where Wlvn got a good look at who sat waiting and had a good guess on who they were waiting for. He watched Vrya as she went to sit beside her brother Vry and her father Njord. Baldur and Nana were seated on a log to Wlvn’s right. The other four were across the fire. It was Frigga and Odin, with Thor and Tyr beside their parents. Wlvn stared at Odin, the god who would one day be his grandfather. It took a moment to figure out what was wrong. Odin still had two perfectly good eyes, and no eye patch. It looked like Odin got ready to speak, but Wlvn spoke first.

“How did this abomination happen?” Wlvn went to one knee and traded places through time to let the Nameless god kneel in his place. Nameless added one word to his question. “Grandfather?” Then he looked down at the ground to humbly await an answer. Nameless knew that Wlvn would hear whatever he heard, and maybe the assembled gods knew it as well, but it felt important to appear as one of the gods. No strictly human ears should hear how badly the gods screwed up.

Odin examined Nameless with inscrutable eyes before he opened his mouth. “I promised.” He stood and confessed. “He is Ymir, the grandson of Ymir and the last of the blood. In the first days, we drove the giants back to their place and the slaughter was terrible. All of the family of Ymir was destroyed but this one. He feared for his life, but as a sign of grace and peace, I promised. No god would take his life, or disable him, or cause him injury, or stand against him in the way he chose to live until the end of days. Now, he has built this desolate world and enslaved the humans that we were made to test and try and protect.”

“The gods don’t make promises, and for this very good reason,” Nameless said.

Odin put a hand to his beard, a rich brown colored beard, and not at all white. “Yes. So it has been told that you have said this. Where did you hear this bit of wisdom?”

“From you, Grandfather.” Nameless looked up. “Or I will hear it from you after many centuries in the future, after you seek and find great wisdom. In that day, you will see all things in a different way. I can say no more.” Nameless swallowed. The gods sometimes shared insights with certain mortals, but no one but the Kairos shared such insights with the gods.

Frigga reached up to help Odin back to his seat. “But will you do the thing you have promised?” she asked.

Nameless went away again so Wlvn could return to his own time and place. “I did not promise,” he said. “But it is my intention and I pledge to give it my best try. I may fail. I may die.”

“That is why I gave you strength enough to stand up to that monster,” Thor spoke first.

“Indeed.” Wlvn looked around the assembly. “I am grateful for all of the gifts that all of you have given me, but I don’t see how I can use them against the Titan. You promised the power of the gods would not be turned against Ymir to do him harm, and are these gifts not the power of the gods? Besides, I have been counted among the gods even though I am mostly just a normal, mortal human. No one knows exactly what that means, to be counted among the gods, but maybe it means I cannot harm the Titan any more than you can.”

“But you will try.” Baldur spoke up and took Nana’s hand. Clearly, they had Eir on their mind.

Wlvn nodded. “I will try.” Wlvn got to his feet and glanced back at his group. “But before I can try, you must answer three questions.” He needed clarification. “First, I have three companions that do not qualify—five if we include the mermaid and my own swan wife. Wlkn is young as the result of Ydunna’s carelessness. He tasted the golden apples of the gods. Boritz retains some of the blood of Perun, and his mate, Andrea is Greek, not native to this world. Those that remain are my little ones. You did not promise that my little ones or any weapon forged by their great skill would not harm the Titan, did you?”

“No such promise was made,” Tyr answered with a look at his father, who made no correction.

“Second,” Wlvn went straight on. “You need to keep Loki out of the fight.” He paused, because he expected a response. Apparently, everyone thought to pause until Odin spoke.

“Now, he is really not such a bad fellow.”

“I’ll stop him. I’ll keep him out. I’ll do it.” Thor, Tyr and Vry all spoke together.

“It will be my pleasure,” Baldur said with a determination in his voice that quieted the others. Wlvn looked at the father of Eir and knew this was the beginning of bad blood between the two. Loki stealing the baby, holding the young girl’s childhood hostage was unforgiveable. Wlvn knew that Loki would one day trick Baldur into losing his life, but he dared not say anything. His job was to keep history on track, not change it, no matter how much he might want to see it turn out different.

“What is the third thing?” Nana changed the subject in the face of her husband’s understated fury.

“I need my family back.” He turned to face Mother Vrya. “We are going home. We need to all go home together and face the future as a family.” He glanced back at his motley followers. “I suppose a few more horses would not hurt, if there is some way to sneak a few out of enemy controlled territory.”

“And the question?”

Wlvn nodded. “I ask, if I die, but my family survives, please take them and my friends to freedom and do not leave them in the land of hopelessness.”

“How is this not a promise?” Odin asked. He had clearly been thinking about it.

“Because it is a one-time thing. A promise is forever. Call it a pledge if you will. If all that you promised Ymir was a pledge for as long as the season of grace and peace lasted, that season could have come to an end years ago.” Wlvn did not wait for an answer to his third question. He turned to walk off, but Thor interrupted.

“What about the women? Have you selected one to wife, or would you like them all?”

“I believe the women have all paired off with other men, and I already have a wonderful wife. Trust me, one wife is about all an ordinary man can handle.” The men grinned, except Thor who didn’t get it. To be sure, Baldur and Odin tried not to grin too hard. The women looked like they were trying to decide if they were complimented or insulted.

Mother Vrya walked with Wlvn. “An interesting thing to say.”

“Flern just married Kined in my memory of the future,” Wlvn said. “She better be his one and only wife.”

Vrya slowly smiled. “You are my son even when you are not my son,” she said.

Badl and Moriah had a fire going and something cooking. Wlkn smiled. Andrea shook her head while Brmr and Elleya appeared to be in a talking contest. Strn and Gndr sat on a log, a bit off to the side, and kept one eye on Boritz. They looked excited on seeing Wlvn, but quickly put their hands in their laps when they caught sight of Vrya.

“I better ride with Brmr,” Vrya said. “She is not the best horsewoman, and neither am I, but I can keep us up on the horse’s back.”

Wlvn nodded and went to hug his wife who stayed out of the way. Brmr saw and shouted. “Wlvn!” She got between them. “My baby brother is going to be a big one,” she said and laid a gentle hand on Shana’s tummy.

“Not brother. Nephew, or maybe niece.” Wlvn looked at Vrya. She raised one eyebrow but said nothing.

Reflections Wlvn-6 part 2 of 3

Wlvn thought he could see where the river they were following joined to a much larger river in the distance, but he could not be sure. “It’s easier to see from the cliffs.” Badl took a deep breath and stood up straight. “The Desna runs right into the Dnapr which goes all the way to the sea.”

“To the sea?” Elleya asked, looked excited, and grabbed Wlkn’s hand. She very much wanted him to share her excitement, but Wlvn shook his head.

“Njord asked me to take her to the Danube. We can’t just dump her.” Badl looked disappointed.

“Well, there’s a human village not too far down the Dnapr. We should get there by sundown.”

“But what about the night creatures?” Wlkn asked. “Wouldn’t it help to put the big river between us?”

“Yes.” Badl hedged. “But after the rain and the flood, I don’t imagine they will be on our trail all that soon, and Thor did promise to slow them down. We should be good for the night. Besides, they got real food there, bread and eggs and pork and bacon. Lords! I could really go for some bacon right now.”

“I don’t suppose the flash flood might have caught the night creatures and drowned them all,” Wlkn wondered.

“I doubt it,” Wlvn and Badl spoke together as they went to gather the horses.

Sure enough, they reached the village just before sunset, and Wlvn recognized the small, wooded hill that sat up against the river, not too far downstream. “Flern,” he mumbled. “We’re home.”

“Dwarfs trade here sometimes.” Badl explained to the others over supper. “We got craftsmen in wood, stone and bone, and got some that can work in metals like silver and gold.”

“Copper mostly,” Wlvn interjected.

“And precious stones,” Badl said, a bit defensively. “Anyway, these people got beer and all this food and grain and stuff that we don’t always have in stock. We need our bread, too, you know, and our goddess said trading would be much better than stealing. She doesn’t like stealing, you know.”

“And don’t you forget it.” Wlvn felt obliged to put that in.

“Anyway, sometimes the elves trade here too, so I suppose that is why no one was surprised to see me.

“Like the young elf maid that lives with this old woman.” Wlkn pointed to the girl who fiddled with some dishes in the corner. He spoke softly and meant it kindly, but elf ears miss very little.

“My name is Moriah,” she said, as she brought more pork loin to Badl. “It’s not young elf maid. Here you go, glutton.” She planted the plate firmly in front of Badl’s face. “It’s a wonder these others get anything to eat at all with you around.”

Badl just smiled. “Right good cook would be a good name,” he suggested. She snubbed him and turned to the others. No one missed what that meant.

“Anyway, I’m only a half and half.” Wlvn looked closely. She had the elf ears and elf sharpness to her features, and while she appeared skinny enough, she had a good shape and looked well conditioned overall, like an athlete. She did not look terminally skinny the way some elves can look. Her hair fell to her waist, elf black, but her eyes were deep brown, a color hardly found among the elves apart from some deep in the woodlands. Then again, she had some freckles and that was not at all an elf thing. Wlvn guessed that her elf side came from some distance away or she would be with her father, but as soon as he considered that, the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He had a thought he did not want to think.

“I’m sorry,” Wlkn apologized. “I did not mean to offend.”

“Forget it,” Moriah said sweetly as she fetched another pork chop for her glutton. “But my mother died last summer, and my father’s people don’t live around here.”

“I miss my people, too.” Elleya had to say something. Being a talker, she started feeling left out.

“Oh, I have never seen my father’s people. I can’t imagine but it would be a strange thing for me.”

“Moriah.” The old woman called from a back room, and Moriah excused herself and went immediately.

“I understand the old woman was kind enough to take her in.” Badl stared at the girl as she went. “She is not better than a servant in this house, though.”

Wlvn nodded. He understood the arrangement. The old woman had three sons and two daughters who lived in the village, and they were more than well suited to take care of her, but she loved the praise for taking in the poor orphan girl, even if that girl became no better than a slave.

“I say.” Wlkn had an idea. “Maybe her father’s people are on our way. Maybe we could drop her off.”

Wlvn sighed. That was what he was afraid of.

He was not at all surprised later when he woke up in the middle of the night and felt drawn to take a walk outside. Thor asked him to take the half and half, and that did surprise him a little. “Didn’t you just try to drown us?”

“Eh?” Thor had to think about it. “No. You saw Njord first, didn’t you?” He spoke affably enough. “That was to show you the mermaid. You get a choice, see? Personally, I thought you might prefer Moriah, I mean her being half one of your own and all.”

“So, don’t tell me, her father’s people live by the Danube.”

“Oh, not so far. Just on the side of the mountains.” That felt like almost to the Danube, and Wlvn frowned, but Thor kept smiling. He caught Wlvn with his hands, but only because Wlvn had not gotten fully awake. “Now you can have the strength to bust the rocks and trees that get in your way. Why should I have all the fun?” He said this and vanished. Wlvn just groaned and staggered back to bed.

“Badl, you’ve been promoted,” Wlvn said in the morning. “You get to ride Number Two so Moriah can ride Strn’s horse.”

Badl nodded. “I was figuring on that,” he said. “Fortunately, Number Two and I have come to an understanding, and Strn’s horse is a good animal for the girl. I wouldn’t want to see her hurt by a rough one.” He leaned in close and whispered in Wlvn’s ear. “You know; she is not bad looking for a pointy puss.” Wlvn looked up quickly at that unkind description of Elves and he saw Moriah turn a little red around her freckles, so he knew she heard. He guessed she was pleased to be thought of as not bad looking and willingly overlooked the slight against her father’s people, something easy enough for her, Wlvn thought. Moriah did not know her father’s people.

Reflections Wlvn-6 part 1 of 3

“Did you like the pyrotechnic display?” the man asked.

No one responded, except Elleya who asked. “The what?”

“The lightning,” Wlvn explained.

“Oh!” Elleya squealed in delight, jumped a little and clapped her hands.

“’S all right,” Badl said at last. Wlkn shook his head. He did not like violent storms.

“One for, one against and one in the middle. How about you?” The man asked, looking at Wlvn.

“You are not allowed to lay hands on my head,” Wlvn said.

The blond giant took a half-step back and Wlvn could almost see the denial going through the god’s mind as the gears in there did not turn too swiftly. “Actually, I just came to say that we are aware of the creatures following you. I am not authorized to remove them, mind you, but I may slow them down a little. I figured you wouldn’t mind. It is sort of a compromise. The whole last week has been exceptionally dry, if you haven’t noticed. Actually, there should be a first snow by now in these climes.”

“Thank you, Thor,” Wlvn figured out who this god was. “Tell Sif hi when you see her.”

“Why should I tell her hi?” Thor asked. “Sif?” But by then, Wlvn moved on, and Badl came right with him. Wlkn and Elleya were a little slower to catch on.

“I thought I handled that rather well,” Wlvn bragged to Badl.

“Slick as an elf, sir.” Badl agreed, “But…”

“But what?”

“Well, it’s just that, you see, Thor is rather easy.”

“Hmm.” Wlvn frowned and began to look around. That little cliff under which they had sheltered grew in height, and what is more, a second cliff rose up on the other side of the river. “We must be going through a little gorge. I am sure it will let us out on the plains again, soon, do you think?”

“This goes on for a bit if I remember rightly,” Badl said. “But I was wondering something.” Badl paused. Wlvn did not say anything, but he looked over, so Badl continued. “Do you think the mist and drizzle we had all morning was just the leading edge of that cloud buster that fell on us at lunch? I was wondering if it rained as hard as that in the uplands, you know, above the swamps, and then in the swamps before it got to us.”

Wlvn still said nothing, but he kicked his horse to a gallop. Badly shouted, “Hey!” and tried to catch up. Wlkn shouted something more substantial.

“Why the rush?”

Hardly a minute later, the horses ran through ankle deep water. The river overflowed its banks. Another minute and it got up to the horses’ knees, and a minute more, and they started swimming in it, or rather being carried along by a greatly increased current. It felt like riding a rubber boat through the rapids, except they were trying to hang on to a horse’s mane. Just when it got up to their necks, Wlvn caught Badl out of the corner of his eye. He saw the dwarf had nudged Strn’s horse up to the cliff side and he grabbed on to something and hauled himself up above the rushing water. Wlvn felt glad to know at least one of them would make it, but then he came around a bend and found Thred ripped from his hands. The water drove him down under, and he gulped a great deal of water. He expected to drown, but the water did not bother him at all. In fact, he found he could breathe under water, and see perfectly well, and that was good because he needed both arms and legs to keep from smashing into rocks and trees in his path. He knew Njord, God of the Sea, had to be responsible for this, and as grateful as he felt for his own sake, he got concerned about Wlkn and Elleya. Drowning was something he did not wish on anyone, even if it was something that now he would never experience.

Wlvn bobbed his head up and saw no sign of the others, but he did see his swan circling overhead, apparently in a panic. He shouted up. “I’m all right. Find Badl.” Then he got pulled under again.

The current stayed very swift through the gully. It pushed him farther and faster than they could have ridden on their own. He wondered briefly if it might obliterate their trail for the night creatures. He decided probably not, but it might slow them down a bit. After another minute, the cliffs fell away, and as he had surmised, he came out on to a broad plain where the water spread out and quickly became merely ankle deep.

“Over here.” Wlvn heard a woman’s voice and he walked back up to the edge of the gully, and up the side of the cliff a short way where he could watch the water come gushing out. He thought it might already be decreasing, but it felt hard to tell. “Here.” The woman handed him a towel and Wlvn gratefully dried himself. “And I thought you might need these,” she said, and she pointed to where all five horses were quiet and contentedly grazing.

“Thank you, um.” Wlvn said, because he did not know who he was thanking.

“Frigga,” she said. There seemed to be a scowl on her lips, but it appeared to be directed toward the gushing water, not toward Wlvn, and he felt grateful for that, too. This looked like one woman that he did not want to cross.

“Majesty,” he called her. Frigga was the queen of the gods. “Haven’t we met before?”

Frigga seemed fine with that question. “You were a woman,” she said. “Now that was a real adventure, not like the foolish and unnecessary game these boys are playing.”

“Game? I’m sorry, I don’t—”

“You are going to kill the Titan, aren’t you?” Frigga asked outright, and Wlvn nodded his assent. At least he would try.

“Foolish and unnecessary.” Frigga frowned again. “But here.” She had her hands on his head before he could blink. “Something useful, I hope.” And she vanished.

“Lord!” Badl clambered down the rocks toward him, but Wlvn got distracted. Wlkn had washed up down below, and he seemed in one piece, except for his holding hands with a mermaid, fish tail and all.

When he reached them, Elleya looked up at him. “That was fun,” she said as he handed her the towel. As she dried herself, the fish tail vanished, and her legs came back.

“Fun for you, maybe.” Wlkn looked spent. “I had to keep her from crashing into every rock, stump and tree in the gully. She wanted to stop and examine it all. Said it was lovely underwater.

Elleya nodded. “But you should see my underwater forest.” She smiled broadly before a look of apprehension quickly covered her face. She looked up at Wlvn. “My Lord, I am sorry. I could only save one. I saved my Wilken. I should have saved you.” She looked down with a look that expressed deep regret and failure.

“But I am fine.” Wlvn said, having recovered some by then.

Elleya looked up again and the smile returned. “And you are, so everything worked out.” She bent over Wlkn who lay on his back, and she stroked his cheek tenderly. “And I saved my Wilken.”

“Lord!” Badl caught up.

“Excuse me, Skinny Wilken.” Wlvn smiled.

Wlkn pushed Elleya’s hand back. “Not now, woman,” he said sternly and stood. She got right up beside him.

“Lord.” Badl caught his breath, his hands were on his knees. “We’ve reached the Dnapr.” He pointed and Wlvn had to turn around and shade his eyes against the sun which appeared to be dropping rapidly.