M3 Festuscato: Saved, part 2 of 3

“The Kairos is sometimes female, except then he is our goddess,” Mousden said, confusing poor Hrugen further who shook his head in bewilderment.

Gregor asked a serious question.  “I thought, didn’t you say there was only one God, or three?  Unless you count that devil, too.”

“The jury is still out, as Festuscato would say, on who in fact Lord Agitus serves.” Seamus looked serious.

“The almighty, surely.”  Bran needed no convincing.

“Judging from these little ones, I would guess mostly himself.”  Gregor stirred the pot.

“Well, where is he?  I must apologize.  It would have been a black mark on my family for generations to drown my own god.” Vingevourt ignored the Saxon and sneered at Luckless.

Hrugen mumbled. “How can you drown a god?  It doesn’t make sense.”

“He’s not here.” Mousden said, right before Luckless shouted.

“My tools!” Luckless danced.  “Blessings, Master Sprite.  Please let me beg your pardon for misjudging your character and motives.  If there is anything you want, do tell.  I would gladly make goblets of gold for your banquet table, if I had any gold.”

“No need.” Vingevourt became gracious in return. “The only thing metal is good for in the sea is rust.  So which one is he?  What do you mean, not here?”

“I fear he may yet be dead,” Bran said.  “And I will have failed in my mission.”

“Not dead, master swordsman.  Do not be dismayed,” Mirowen told him.

“Not dead, I know it,” Mousden said, as he flew around in several circles and tasted the air. Everyone looked at Luckless as he contained his joy for a moment.  Dwarfs have an unerring sense of direction from living most of their lives in an underground warren of caves and mines more complicated than any labyrinth ever conceived by men.  They can also find any other given dwarf in that place with a sniff of the air and a sense that humans don’t have.  Luckless sniffed, closed his eyes, turned three times in a broad circle and finally pointed up the coast and slightly inland.

“And that’s not easy out in the open air,” he said in search of a bit of praise, if not sympathy.

“Easy or not, we should move,” Bran said.  “If the Lord has moved off the coast, he may be a prisoner in this strange land, or in other danger and in need of our help.”  Bran immediately rose and began to remove the ropes from his improvised raft. He would need them to tie their things to the backs of their horses and pony.  Gregor and Hrugen helped by saddling the beasts.

They were off soon enough, Luckless on the pony, leading the way.  Mirowen rode behind Seamus the Cleric while Gregor, Bran and Hrugen rode the other three horses.  Mousden flew most of the way, but landed occasionally on one horse or another.  Gregor, good heartedly invited the water sprite to ride in front of him.  His horse bucked once when Gregor mounted.

“Settle down, supper,” he said to the horse.  He called all horses supper.  “You stood around half the morning getting fat on scrub grass.  Now it’s time to work.”

The water sprite seemed reluctant to ride at that point, but Gregor stared him down with his one eye.  “It will be fine,” he said.  “It’s a horse, not a plow mule.”  When Vingevourt got up, Gregor added, “Won’t likely buck more than a dozen more times.” He laughed, and then regretted his invitation.  “Master Sprite, you’re leaking.”

“It’s perpetual,” Vingevourt said, having turned his words to the British spoken by the rest of the party.  He was a well-traveled sprite.

Gregor thought about that, but he did not really understand the word.  “Aren’t you afraid you’ll leak out eventually and disappear?”

“No.  It’s perpetual.”  The water sprite repeated with some annoyance.

“Magic.” Mirowen turned her head back to explain in terms Gregor could understand.  “No matter how much water appears, Vingevourt will not get any smaller.”

“Oh,” Gregor said, and he asked the sprite to please perpetual on the horse as much as possible.

“Easy for you. You’re nothing but mud.  A little water might clean you up if it doesn’t melt you,” Vingevourt said.  “More than likely I’ll be the one who will get filthy.”

“Huh!” Gregor huffed, but he said no more.

The trail seemed easy enough as they came quickly out of the rocks and to a sandy shore. There were three ships there, well up on the beach, all in various stages of building.  One appeared just a skeleton.  One looked nearly finished.  The third, somewhere in between.  There were two other ships as well, like ships in dry dock, being in various stages of repair.

“Easy,” Bran whispered loud enough for them all to hear.  He nudged a quick finger toward one ship in dock.  There were a dozen men, some standing around, but most examining the ships in the morning light for signs of damage from the storm.  The men watched the strange procession, but they neither said a word nor did anything to stop their progress.  The danger soon passed, and Hrugen spoke as soon as they were clear

“Ingut, the shipwright,” he said.  “I would bet this is his place, unless he died in the last twelve years, then it would be his descendant’s place, or another like him.”

“Ingut,” Vingevourt nodded.  “I know him well and his silly splinters of wood he floats across the surface of my realm.”

“This tells us nothing,” Gregor said.

“He is a Jute, but he owes allegiance to no one in particular,” Hrugen explained.  “He will build for any king or lord who will meet his price.  Jute, Thane, Dane, Swede, Norwegian, Geat, Frisian.  It doesn’t matter.”

“So, Lord Cato might be safe, or in trouble?” Bran asked for clarification.

“Safe, I would imagine,” Hrugen said.  “His clothes speak of money, and his shipwrecked condition speaks of needing a ship.”

“Sharp thinking.” Gregor complimented Hrugen.

“Let’s hope Ingut thought of it.”  Luckless shouted back from the front.  Dwarves had good ears as well as noses.

M3 Festuscato: Saved, part 1 of 3

It did not take long for Mousden to have the driest wood he could find stacked in a neat pile. Unfortunately, no one could get it started until Luckless came along from the opposite direction.  Dwarfs can nearly always get a fire started.

“Unless I’ve lost my tinder, too,” Luckless grumbled.  He had not, and in a moment, the flames rose with the sun.  The rain was over.  “I see you saved your books,” he added, with a nod to Seamus.

“It was Bran,” Seamus explained.  “We were able to stay aboard ship until there was nearly enough light to see.  The pounding of the waves made the ship lean more and more terribly to the weak side, where the hole was.”

“List,” Hrugen interrupted.  “Ships list, they don’t lean.  I don’t know why.”

“Yes, well, all that time, Bran kept tearing up boards and lashing them together with what rope he could find.  In the end, he said we were in danger of turning over altogether and he dropped the raft on the side closest to the water.  I got down with the books and Bran dove in and hauled the raft free of the ship, which by the way did turn over shortly after we escaped.  We came to shore, and it was a miracle the books are not more soaked.”

“Common sense.” That was all Bran called it.

“I don’t suppose you saw my tools?” Luckless asked.  The poor dwarf was still wringing buckets of water from his clothing. Dwarfs were not good swimmers in calm water.  Their legs and arms were too short.  They had a tendency to sink like stones.  The others all shook their heads, but Seamus turned and pointed to the sea.

“You’re welcome to take a look,” he said.  “The ship is not very far out.”  He pointed, and sure enough they could see the hull just above the water line in the distance.  It could not entirely sink, being grounded there on the rocks, but in time it would be broken to pieces by the relentless sea and become driftwood for someone else’s fire.

Luckless warmed his hands.  “What’s the point?” he asked.  “All is lost and it is all my fault.  If I hadn’t come along, you would have had clear sailing to the Danish coast where the Lord wanted to land.  I’m such a jinx.”

“No.” Everyone spoke together, but Luckless felt convinced.  The only reason they hit that storm had to be because he was a jinx, and he lost his precious tools as well, the last gift of his father, and now he would just sink into the rock until he was no more.  He felt miserable and he would not be talked out of it.

A couple of hours later, they caught sight of Mirowen.  They were hungry and just about to give up waiting and go in search of food, when she appeared, meandering sweetly down the coast.  She looked perfectly dry, her long black hair flowed in the light breeze, every hair in place, and her dress looked like it had just been cleaned and pressed.  By contrast, the men looked disheveled in their muddy, damp and wrinkled clothes. Hrugen’s blond head looked brown from the mud.

Gregor one eye was the first to notice that she was talking while she walked.  “I can’t hardly make out what it is, though, she is talking to,” he said.

Luckless squinted. His eyes in the day were barely better than Mousden’s.  “Water sprite.  I think.” He did not sound sure.

“Be back.” Mousden announced and flew off to greet the Lady.

Mirowen arrived with not one, but a whole train of water sprites in her trail.  They were true little ones, from eight to twelve inches tall and looked like a gelatinous mass roughly in the shape of a person, with a shimmer along the edge, which made a casing, like a nearly transparent exoskeleton that held them together.  The chief walked beside the elf and had a voice high pitched like a mouse, but sounded sweet as a baby.  The others, what Festuscato might have called liquid gingerbread men, carried all of the boxes and personal things that could be salvaged from the ship.  They also brought two more horses and a pony.

“Gentlemen.” Mirowen spoke when she got close enough. “May I present Lord Vingevourt, king of the water sprites and ruler of the Baltic.”

“The whole sea?” Hrugen asked, and looked ever so uncomfortable.

“No,” Vingevourt squeaked in Danish.  Mirowen had to translate.  “I’ve got a nephew in the North Sea, and a third cousin in the Channel.  I don’t know about the Arctic, what ice blob has that at present.”  Luckless and Mousden, of course, understood every word.  The little ones had the uncanny ability to understand each other regardless of the language, but even as Mirowen translated, the rest of the crew looked at Hrugen who shook his head.

“Not proper Danish,” Hrugen said.  “Jutland dialect which is difficult and has some strange soundings.”

“Odd pronunciations.”  Seamus returned the favor.  “Words are pronounced, not sounded,” he said.  “I don’t know why.”

Vingevourt continued while his train set down the cargo and dove back into the sea to disappear. “Imagine my horror when I came to discover through this fine Lady that I nearly drowned my own god in that storm.”

“Your god?” Hrugen asked.  He was the new member of the group and didn’t know the full story of Festuscato.

“Sure,” Gregor said with a sly grin.  “Didn’t you know your captain was one of the gods?”

“God only for the sprites of the earth,” Luckless said.

“God for us, too,” Vingevourt responded.  “Many sprites of the waters, the air, and the fires under the earth belong to him as well.”

“Mostly, you might think of him as the Watcher or a Traveler.”  Mirowen explained before the argument hardly started.  “But he is just an ordinary human to you.  That is inevitably how he or she is born.”

“She?” Hrugen raised an eyebrow.

“Of course.” Mirowen nodded.  “You don’t suppose he should always be born a male, do you?”