Reflections Flern-7 part 1 of 3

When the Jaccar reached the wall of wagons, the bowmen had put down their bows and picked up their spears, clubs and long, hunting knives. Some had farm hoes and whatever other sharp instrument they possessed that might be turned to a weapon. They bunched up in the gaps between the wagons and got up on the wagons to strike down on their enemy. They were determined to keep the enemy outside the wagon wall, but the Jaccar were just as determined to break in. This became the worst of it for Flern. She got off the wagon top and stepped away from the action to watch, but in reality, she covered her eyes because she could not watch.

One of the Jaccar who tried to push his way through a gap between two wagons, spotted her, and shouts went up and down the Jaccar line. The Jaccar doubled their efforts, and before Flern could do anything at all, a half-dozen Jaccar pushed through in two places. Those gaps in the line quickly closed, but now there were six Jaccar inside the wall of wagons, and that might have been dangerous if this had been a real battle. Fortunately, the Jaccar were only interested in one thing, killing the young, red-haired girl, and that became a problem for them because she was not there anymore. Diogenes had taken her place and drawn both his sword and long knife, and he got angry at the thought that good men probably got killed or hurt when the Jaccar pushed through.

These Jaccar were not really soldiers, though they were perhaps fighters after a fashion, with some experience against hapless opponents. They had never faced anything like Diogenes, to be sure, one trained in the finest military school in Pella, Macedonia, raised to lead men in battle, born to take every ounce of his aggression out on the Persian army, and he did so massively on more than one occasion. Diogenes once killed an elephant with his bare hands when that elephant was bearing down on Alexander. Surely even six Jaccar would be no problem. To be honest, it did take a minute to kill them all, but then it took no longer than a minute. A village man and a traveler came up when they realized that it would not be a good thing to have the enemy at their backs, but they just watched in stunned silence.

Elluin, Thrud and Vinnu each shot their arrow at the beginning, but then they escaped to hide under the tarp, and Vinnu at least had her hands over her ears the whole time as well. They saw it all, and also the look on Diogenes’ face that suggested he really wanted to wade out into the thick of the fighting, and only reluctantly got distracted by the noise downriver where they expected the Jaccar cavalry. Diogenes walked in that direction, surprised to hear cheering.

The scene was simple, and Diogenes understood something the men in that place did not understand. Miroven and his band of thirty were devastating the Jaccar. Their cavalry charge stopped in mid stride, and those Jaccar that were lucky enough to escape the first volley had no escape but to dive into the river. Of course, the river spit them back out, much to their surprise, and then a second arrow from the elves finished the job.

One traveler turned around and quickly nudged the others. Diogenes did not explain a thing. “Get back to the place you were taken from. Go reinforce the main line, now!” The men hurried. Even if they did not recognize the armor, and they likely did, no one argued with a man splattered with blood and who had blood thick and dripping from his weapons. “Miroven.” Diogenes said it out loud, because he had learned the contact got better when he spoke out loud, and now Flern would know that as well since he had done it in her lifetime. “Go and take the Jaccar from the rear. “I don’t want your knives in the battle, but your bows may help if your aim is good.” Diogenes did not play at war. Unlike Flern, he had no qualms about using Miroven’s thirty volunteers for the work for which they volunteered. Miroven understood perfectly well.

“Yes, my Lord,” came the response, and Diogenes turned back toward the main battle. He arrived just after the men he sent, and that force turned everything against the Jaccar. Flern’s men on horseback were in ragged lines on the left and right, and while they were not greatly impacting the battle, they made sure no Jaccar escaped in those directions while they slowly advanced. Some of the sturdier men followed Diogenes out beyond the wall where they could come face to face with their assailants; some because they had spent the last frustrating ten minutes jabbing with their spears at Jaccar who kept ducking, and then ducking in turn as the Jaccar jabbed at them. The blood lust came up in some of them, and the Jaccar sensed something they had never sensed before. They were going to lose. The blood lust came up considerably in Diogenes, and he, alone, might have sent the remaining Jaccar into flight. Sadly, for the Jaccar, there turned out to be nowhere to run. There may have been as many as fifty who tried for the cloud bank, probably figuring if they could make it to the fog, they just might escape. They did not know there were elf bowmen waiting for this very thing. It may have taken two arrows each from the thirty, but elf bowmen rarely miss. None of the Jaccar made it as far as the mist.

Even though there were casualties, some dead and many wounded, the men from the village and the travelers cheered. Diogenes stayed long enough to clean his sword and knife and make sure they were properly sheathed. Then he apologized to Flern, but she apologized to him, because he was the one who had to do the killing. Diogenes went to the tarp where Thrud, Vinnu and Elluin were still in hiding, and he tried to smile for them. When Flern came back, she let go of her armor. She wanted her own dress back. She wanted to be one of the girls again, and she proved it by falling to her knees and weeping. Thrud and Vinnu only hesitated for a second before they fell to each side of her and hugged her and wept with her.

When later came, Flern felt amazed to find that none of her friends from home were dead or even had anything more than scratches and bruises. Borsiloff was dead. Karenski was wounded as well, but not badly. Apparently Arania and Trell dragged the old man to safety before he could be more seriously hurt or killed. Pinn was dirty everywhere, like she might have fallen in the mud several times, and Vilder said he had to pry her fingers apart to get the knife out of her hand. Flern saw the knife and it looked like it had never been used, and she was grateful for that, but after her cry, she became ready to give up this whole foolishness.

“I’m leaving,” she told the girls in a sudden decision. “The Jaccar won’t come here again if I am not here.”

“Flern, you can’t.”

“I am sure the village won’t mind if you stay with Tird. They will probably help you build homes. And I am sure Karenski, Arania and Trell won’t mind if you go with them, only I have to go.”

“Go where?”

“Flern.” Vilder spoke, but Pinn stood right there with him, agreeing with every word.  “We started this together and we need to finish together. We are going for the weapons of bronze and then we find the men to set our village free.”

“I won’t be responsible for more people being killed,” Flern said, with as much determination as she could muster.

“But the Doctor,” Vinnu said. There were many wounded who could use her help, but Flern shook her head again.

“These people need to know the true cost of standing against the Jaccar and softening the blow would not be a good thing.” Doctor Mishka argued with Flern in her mind, but Flern was not going to be swayed.

“Flern.” Kined spoke at last. She had not seen him since the night Bunder tried to rape her. He had kept away, and maybe she had as well. “I believe in you,” he said. “You will figure it out, and I will be here, waiting for your return.”

“Kined!” Tiren and Vilder objected, but Gunder put his big hand out.

“Maybe she needs time,” he said.

“I will miss you,” Fritt added, and with one last look in Kined’s face, Flern turned and walked toward the mist. She went into the cloud and disappeared. A wind came up right away. The cloud dissipated slowly, but no one felt surprised that when it was gone, so was Flern.

Reflections Flern-6 part 3 of 3

“The Jaccar will wait until morning at the very least,” one big man said. Vilder, Tiren, Gunder, Borsiloff and Karenski all looked at Flern, and she did not disappoint them as she shook her head most firmly. She heard from Diogenes and the Princess, her two experts in this sort of thing, and she spoke as well as she could, and with an uncharacteristic decisiveness.

“The Jaccar may wait until morning or until the rain stops, but we cannot count on that. My decision would be to press forward in the bad conditions because I would expect my enemy to become lax and lazy. I say double the watchers in the night and be sure they can keep watch on each other as well. That way, if some sneaky, grass covered Jaccar takes out one watcher, the other can raise the alarm.” Flern looked down at her boots. She felt sure that whether in the night or in the morning, good men were going to die to protect her. The Jaccar seemed only interested in getting to her, after all. “Maybe we can plan a surprise for them in the morning,” Flern said offhandedly. “A good bit of morning fog might help.” She looked up toward the sky, full of rain clouds. She started toward the tent, not wanting to argue with anyone. Vilder called after her to ask where she was going, and she did not mind telling him. “Doctor Mishka needs a nap,” she said. “And so do I.”

Flern woke up before sunrise and sat up to very little light. It took a few seconds of eye adjustment to discern that the other girls were all present and sleeping. The rain had stopped, and the clouds had cleared off, so the light of the nearly full moon helped a lot. What is that knocking at my door, Flern wondered. “Who is there?” She asked out loud, but soft enough to not wake the others.

“Miroven.” The answer came quickly, and a message came with it. “The Jaccar have arrived in force, nearly a hundred, and they are preparing to move.”

Flern jumped up. “Show time!” She shouted, and everyone in the tent began to stir, slowly. Flern called for her weapons and felt surprised to learn that she now knew how to use them. Of course, she understood that head knowledge and hand knowledge were two different things. She felt the other gift, too—the one from Baldur. Wlvn received the gift of speed. She knew, but it probably would not help her fly. “Show time!” Flern shouted again. “Hurry up!” She said, as she left the tent.

Flern listened to Miroven as she walked to what she called the command tarp. “We are presently arrayed behind their position. If they pull back, we will have them.”

“I hope by the time we are done, there will be none left to pull back,” Flern said, and she cut the connection and found that her headache did not feel as bad as before. Perhaps, in time, she thought she might be able to do this without any headache at all. Flern had gotten up when Mishka awoke, and she arranged things before she put herself back to bed. Now she would see, and she let her thoughts drift up to the sky, and the few lazy clouds that remained there.

“Little friends in the sky, come down now. Bring the clouds to make the wall and I will be so grateful.” That was all she thought before she came to Karenski and the lone village elder who presently had the duty. Gunder stood there as well to represent the young people, and they all looked at her for what to do. “Get the men up and moving,” Flern said. “They are coming.”

“Are you sure?” Gunder asked, and Flern frowned. She did not need her own people questioning her. She was not used to this command business, and such a question might make her question herself.

“I am sure.” That seemed all she could say. Fortunately, it was enough. As the men went off to their appointed tasks, Flern floated up to the top of the nearest house wagon. She looked up briefly and said thank you to Nanna, the moon goddess for the flight, and again as she felt the light of the moon rise up inside of her. When she raised her hands, she still did not know if it might work, but sure enough, light came from her hands and then from her eyes, and it looked like several spotlights of moonlight, like moonbeams that she could move back and forth. To be sure, it looked dim, not much better than spotlight flashlights, but it looked strong enough to reflect off the gathering fog bank. The bank looked more like two hundred yards off rather than a hundred yards, but it should still work if the sky sprites made it thick enough. If the Jaccar came on foot, she figured the travelers and villagers would have an advantage, being able to deploy some of their men on horseback. But if the Jaccar came on horseback, she felt they would be in trouble. A cavalry charge would overwhelm the poor defenses of the village. This artificial fog bank created by her sky sprites should make a cavalry charge impossible. The Jaccar would have to slow considerably to get through the fog lest they become disoriented and begin crashing into each other.

Flern turned off her lights when they began to simply reflect back from the fog. She scared herself a little because it took a minute to figure out how to do that. “Entering the fog on this side. They are on foot.” Flern heard from her elf spy while she floated back to the earth. “There are thirty horsemen down the riverbank. I suspect they will charge once the footmen engage your forces.” Flern’s panic must have been palpable as she ran to where Vilder waited, Pinn beside him.

“Vilder. They have horsemen downriver. What are we going to do if they charge our flank?”

Vilder might not have known what a flank was, exactly, but he moved quickly to draw one in five men on the wall of wagons to reinforce that side. The sides of the wall had been virtually deserted to strengthen the center where they all felt sure the Jaccar would strike. Now, the downriver side of the wall got staffed again. “We can’t do more,” Vilder said. “We can only hope that if they charge, these men will be able to hold them until we can send more help.”

All of a sudden, poor Flern became a nervous wreck. She felt sure that this would not work, and good men were going to die needlessly, for her, to protect her. “Pinn?” She looked to her friend, the strong one on whom they always depended.

“There isn’t any more we can do. We are as ready as we are going to be. I only wish it was over,” Pinn said, and walked away to catch up with Vilder. Flern followed more slowly and dragged her feet but started when she heard from Miroven once again.

“They are coming to the edge of the fog bank and should present targets soon.” Flern ran.

“Get ready!” She yelled. “Get ready!” she shouted down the wall and jumped-floated up again to the top of a house wagon. She saw the first, and then more and more, coming on slowly and carefully. There seemed so many of them, Flern had to hold her breath and listen very closely to the words inside her head. She had to bite her lower lip to keep from screaming despite Diogenes repeating his phrases, “Be patient. Not yet. Be patient.” When Diogenes finally said, “Now!” She almost did not hear it. Then she shouted, and while the barrage of arrows turned out to be an intermittent thing, there were enough arrows all at once to pin more than one Jaccar to the ground.

The Jaccar charged as arrows continued to rain on them. Flern’s hunters knew how to shoot a bow and hit their target, even if they were not warriors and did not have the experience at war that the Jaccar had.

“Again!” Flern shouted, and she let her moonbeams fall on those places where the Jaccar were bunched up. Any archer attracted to the light could hardly help hitting someone with an arrow. Then the arrows stopped, not all at once, but in a ragged sort of way as the horsemen from the villagers and travelers pushed out between the wagons and, spears in hand, affected a counter charge. These men were chosen for their ability to hunt with their spears from horseback, and they cut big gaping holes in the Jaccar charge, but there were still plenty of Jaccar coming on, screaming and yelling in a way that would frighten the villagers and travelers, not because the Jaccar were courageous, but because they were giving voice to their own fears. The screams were the sounds of terror and imminent death. Many were going to die.

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

MONDAY

There is a battle and Flern runs away, but then the mixup happens and Flern ends up vanishing.  Wlvn takes her place and there does not seem to be a way back. Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Flern-6 part 1 of 3

The river ford ran by the back of the camp. Flern walked in up to her ankles and stopped. She knelt down to place her hand in the water. The naiad had spoken to Wlvn about the water sprites, and Wlvn went under the impression that they were part of his responsibilities since Kartesh, when the Kairos got made responsible for the little spirits in the Earth. They were sprites, or spirits in the air, the fire, the water, and the earth, but at the moment, she had to try and get in touch with the ones in the water, this water, if there were any. It turned out to be easy, and in almost no time a little gelatinous head popped up from the current.

“My Lady,” the sprite said with deep respect, despite the squeaky little voice. Elluin and Vinnu looked a little frightened at this sight, but Pinn, Thrud Arania and Borsiloff all looked fascinated. Flern had to do everything in her power to keep herself from reaching out and hugging the cute little thing.

“I have a dangerous thing to ask you,” Flern sounded like a mother who might speak to a child. “And I will be just as happy if you say yes or no.”

“Please tell.” The water sprite spoke in a voice as cute as his looks, and he looked anxious to please his Lady.

Flern put on her most serious Disney Princess face and shook her finger. “I mean it now. This is a free choice, and I would not want to see any of my water babies hurt.” She could not help calling them water babies. She thought that the instant she caught sight of that cute little head. “Do you know who the Jaccar are?”

“Dirty muddy creatures,” the sprite answered, with a look meant to say he did not think much of the Jaccar, but which in reality made him look cuter than ever.  “Some swam in our good waters in the night.”

Flern nodded. “Well, if any more try to swim the river, you have my permission to stop them and wash them back to their own shore, and if you cannot stop them, you must come tell me right away, before they reach the village shore.”

“We will!” The sprite smiled and appeared to dance in the water. “Thank you, Lady. We will! You will see.”

“Thank you, Sweetwater.” Flern called the sprite by name. She was not sure how she knew the sprite’s name, but if these water babies were indeed part of her responsibility as it appeared, it would only be natural for her to know them all by name. Flern cut off her thoughts in that direction before she did know them all, and all at once. She felt rather certain that such an influx of information would have incapacitated her mind for some time.

“Now Tird?” Flern looked back at Pinn for guidance.

Pinn smiled very broadly. “Now Tird,” she assured her. They started to cross the ford at that point, but found their feet lifted from the water so that it felt like crossing a bridge, an invisible bridge made of water itself, and Flern heard Karenski in the distance as he now yelled at men to get up on those wagons!

Vinnu looked afraid to cross the river at first, but Flern took her hand and helped her. “They are sweet and will never hurt you,” she assured her friend. Vinnu looked like she was not quite sure.

When they got to Venislav’s house, Flern suggested that all of the wounded be brought to the common house to be tended for their wounds. Any number of people were wounded, not just Tird, and even one Jaccar survived the night raid. No one moved, though, until Pinn insisted on it, and then she insisted that the healthy men get out to the front line with the travelers and the young people.

The village elders that helped bring the wounded to the common house stood there, ready to protest that the Jaccar might swim the river again and they needed to protect their families. Borsiloff and Thrud tried to explain, and Pinn eventually took over explaining how Flern had solved that problem. They looked at Flern, and since she was waiting for that moment, she took advantage of it by instantly trading places with Doctor Mishka. Mishka was even an inch taller that the Princess, and her brown hair, a genuine brown, but the most startling thing, for those who noticed, was seeing Flern’s fawn brown eyes turn suddenly blue. The Princess had blue eyes as well, but no one watched that transformation.

“My friends are on that line.” Mishka spoke right up. “You would not want it said that on that day, the children showed more courage than their elders.” That stung a couple of the elders, and the rest wisely held their tongues. “Go, go. Now, go.” Mishka waved them off like she might dismiss a class. “Borsiloff, I need you here in case I need to send word to Karenski. I am Doctor Mishka, from Saint Petersburg. I had the dubious honor of learning my trade in a world war and practicing more than a lifetime in the Second War as well. Just remember, I am no miracle worker. Sometimes people die despite our best efforts, is it not so?” They all nodded, more or less. “Now let us see who we can help.” Mishka called to that same place her armor came from, and a little black bag appeared in her hand. She knew that with some of the equipment and medicine in that bag she tempted time and there might be a danger of changing the future, but she remained a careful person and her things never went far from her hands. Besides, this far in the past, more than likely they would not even recognize what she was doing, and no way they could duplicate her equipment. “Go, go,” she said. “See who you can help.” Elluin, Vinnu, Arania and Borsiloff went to see what they could do, but Pinn and Thrud shadowed the doctor.

When she came to Tird, she saw the terrible gash down his leg. It had been bandaged after a fashion, and it had stopped bleeding, so he appeared in no immediate danger of bleeding to death. Vincas sat right there with him, holding his hand, letting him squeeze her hand every time the throbbing pain in his leg became unbearable. “He saved my life.” She kept saying it over and over.

Tird said nothing but, “Who?”

“Flern,” Thrud answered.

“Mishka,” Pinn corrected her friend.

“Your healer,” Mishka clarified as she removed the bandage and spread an ointment over the whole area which had the effect of anesthetizing the leg in a few seconds. She pulled out a scalpel, a hemostat and a pair of tweezers and shocked everyone by first opening the leg. “We must make sure there is no stone or metal inside to poison him.” Mishka explained. “You should be around in the days of lead bullets and powder burns.” Seeing that the wound was clean and assuming it bled clean, Mishka got out her needle and self-dissolving thread. “A dermal regenerator would be better, but we use what we have,” she said, and sewed up the leg as neatly as sewing a tear in a dress. “You must stay off it for a week,” she instructed. “If you do, it should be good as new.” Then she polished it off with some antiseptic and a clean bandage and told Vincas how to be sure the bandages were always clean. “Boil them. Boil them.”

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 2 of 3

Hermes paused at the side of the ship, bucket in hand. “I don’t want to accidentally scoop up one of those water babies.”

“It’s all right,” Mavis heard and responded. “It is what they live for, and you would not know if you did.”

“They live for?” Alesander asked, and Briana looked up as well.

Once again, Greta felt the need to explain. “Water sprites live to make a splash. They are the white in the whitewater, the ripples in the pond, the waves in the lakes and at sea.  They are very regimented wave makers.  They bubble up from deep beneath the earth in the springs and wells, and live to throw themselves up on the sandy beaches and against the rocky places which they eventually wear down to sand.  They have a symbiotic relationship with the air sprites who they meet where the steam rises and in the rain that falls.  In fact, falling with the rain has got to be the best water slide, ever.”

“But the rain splats on the ground,” Briana worried.

Greta nodded.  “And the ground takes them in where they nourish and bring life to all the plants and animals, or they evaporate and go up again to fall in a new rain, or they sink down deep to rise up again with the spring waters that find their way back to rivers, like the one we are on, and eventually they once again reach the sea where my lovely dolphins frolic and play.”

“Your dolphins?” Alesander asked.

Greta nodded, but did not explain.  She made sure everyone was present around the cooking fire and said something else.  “The water sprites in the river will take us safely to our destination, but you all must make sure you don’t fall overboard.  I cannot guarantee your safety if you fall into the river.” Everyone looked around and wondered why she had to mention such a thing.  No one had any intention of falling overboard, and Bogus looked like she jinxed everyone to do that very thing the minute she said it, but he did not say anything out loud.

“Now,” she continued.  “It has occurred to me, in case you have not noticed, that the Wolv, and the Scythians for that matter, have all focused on getting to me and have become confused when I borrow a different lifetime.”  Heads nodded.  They had noticed.  Greta also nodded and checked her armor.  It would adjust in size and shape to whatever lifetime she currently inhabited.  Then she finished her thought.  “It is an oversight I am sure Mithrasis will correct soon enough, but in the meanwhile, I will be other people for a while.  You will know it is me from the armor I wear, so do not be afraid.”

With that, Greta stood and went to the back of the boat where she turned her back on everyone, sat, and dangled her feet off the edge.  Mavis came to sit beside her, but Greta did not mind.  At the same time, a fog rolled in from both riverbanks until it swallowed the boat, whole.  It appeared thick enough to make sight difficult more than a few feet away, and it felt very unnatural, but comforting in a way, like someone laid a warm blanket down for the boat to silently sail beneath.

When Greta felt sufficiently covered, she traded places through time with Amphitrite, queen of the waters.  Mavis turned her head away from the goddess out of respect and began to worry her hands in her lap.  Amphitrite smiled for her, but said nothing.  Her mind wandered all the way to the other side of the world, to the savannah lands of the Amazon.  She found the school of fish she was after and insulated them against the cold waters of the River Heartbreak.  With a thought, she transported them to where she was, and tied them to the boat, to follow in their wake and not get lost.

“I felt something,” Mavis admitted.

“Hopefully unseen by bigger fish,” Amphitrite said and stood, so Mavis stood.  As they stepped from the edge, Amphitrite went away and the Storyteller came to fill her shoes.  He paused a moment to take a good look at Mavis, a real, live elf maiden, a privilege he did not have in his lifetime; though that, as they say, is a long story of its own.  “So how do I look?” he asked.

“Lovely,” Mavis said, and the devotion was so genuine, the Storyteller staggered.  He wondered why he could not show such devotion to the King of Kings.  He turned and spoke to the group, most of whom he could just make out in the fog.

“Howdy Folks.”

“He says hello,” Mavis translated the English.

“You kind of missed the impact,” the Storyteller said. “Words.  That is my business, you know.”

Pincushion interrupted.  “Lord, how can I cook in these circumstances?  I can’t hardly see the food.”

“Hush,” the Storyteller said and Pincushions eyes got big and her mouth closed.  “Just do your best.  That is all we can ever do.”  He sat and Mavis sat next to him to translate his words.  “This fog should keep the Wolv from seeing us and hopefully keep them from smelling us.”

“True enough,” Bogus interrupted.  “I can smell the trees along the river, but nothing beyond that.”

“I hope it will also interfere with their instruments. The only thing is, it will deaden the sound, but not stop it.”  The Storyteller whispered.  “We have to be as quiet as we can to avoid detection by Wolv ears.”

“Eats.”  Pincushion spoke up like she called a whole regiment for chow.  Everyone jumped.  Then everyone ate a fine lunch.

Four hours later, the Storyteller traded places with the Princess.  Somewhere in the back of her mind, the storyteller remembered that three or four hours was not enough to throw off the sleep routine.  She imagined if she remembered enough lifetimes, she could probably stay up for a whole week without ill effect as long as she traded places with another life every three or four hours.  So at four hours, he became the Princess.  That happened about four in the afternoon.  At eight o’clock, when people began to get ready for bed, she became Martok the Bospori, an alien life that looked relatively human for a man only five feet tall, if he did not show his eye teeth and kept his yellow cat-like eyes turned away.  At midnight, Gallena of Orlan took over, which was not a person to frighten anyone, despite the pure white hair and lavender eyes.  Those things were hard to tell in the dark and fog; but she did have to keep her six foot, six inch Barbie-doll body seated the whole time.  This was not a problem since, apart from the one on watch, the others were unfortunately snoring.

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 1 of 3

Greta slept in the moving boat while Alesander, Lucius, Hermes, Vedix, Bogus and Briana took turns with the poles and kept as much eye as they had on the dark riverbanks, at least to be sure they did not get too close in the dark.  Pincushion slept in fits, getting up and down through the night.  She fretted about how she could make food that anyone could eat. Her nose was good, and she said she would smell the Wolv if they got close, but that did not help keep them from starving to death.  Mavis got up several times in the night and spent Hermes’ shift with him.  She said her eyes were not made for the dark like Ulladon, but her ears were sharp.  She told them when she heard movement along the banks, but she said she sensed beaver and once a bear, not Wolv.

When Greta woke in the morning, Briana asked if maybe the Wolv lost the trail.  “Not a chance,” Greta answered.  “They have eyes like a fairy, I should say, like an eagle, ears like an elf or a bat, and noses like true dwarfs, like bloodhounds that can smell us miles away.”

“My turn,” Hermes butted up with a question. “I don’t understand why this boat was just sitting there untouched.  If Wolv attacked my city, escape by the river would be an obvious option.”

“Boat’s too big?” Briana guessed.

“Probably single people or maybe a family went for the river, but there were probably smaller boats for the taking,” Alesander added.

“This big freighter was probably more than one or two could handle, especially if the attack came at night.  We only got it because we had the hands.” Briana finished the thought.

“They probably came at night” Greta wanted to explain.  “But you must remember, they are like people, they are smart, they are not animals. They probably moved right away to cut off the river as an avenue of escape.  They maybe even swam the river to close the port first thing.”

“They can swim?”   Hermes looked from bank to bank, but he sounded a bit like Nudd.

“Doggie paddle.”  Greta nodded and she took a moment to sigh for Nudd.  “But wait.”  She had another thought.  “This boat does not exactly have a shallow draft.  You men don’t know this river, the currents or the deep-water channels. How is it we haven’t run aground?” Greta imagined that might be what the Wolv were waiting for, but Mavis knew the answer.

“Water babies,” she said.  “They came early in the night when we set out and promised to keep us in the deep water and away from the banks.”  Mavis let out a mighty grin because water sprites were the cutest things.  That gave Greta an idea.  She stood and called to the sky.

“Sky babies, please come and hear me.  Water babies, listen.”  Then she waited because they were not like ogres who had to be told everything twice.

It only took a moment for the waves around the boat to form into dozens of little gingerbread-like jelly babies.  The one who jumped up on the deck shouted, “Good Lady,” in a sweet baby voice

“Bubbles,” Greta called the sprite by name and offered a small curtsey.  “Thank you for your good care of my person.”

“Think nothing of it.  A pleasure.  A real pleasure,” Bubbles said before people were distracted by two small clouds that looked to be falling from the sky.

“Lady calls,” one cloud spoke.

“Calls to us,” the other cloud agreed.

“We are here,” the first said.

“Here we are,” the second agreed.

“Fluffer and Sprinkles, welcome,” Greta said, as the two clouds took on human-like form to stand on the deck.  They were not much bigger than Bubbles, and even though they had a head, arms, legs and such, they never lost the look of little clouds. The people on deck stared and Briana wondered if the clouds were male and female, though she had no way of telling, and when she asked Mavis, all Mavis could do was shrug.

“How can we help?” One of the cloud people asked.

“We want to help,” the other echoed.

“Now babies, I have a request.”  Greta got down on her knees and whispered.  She did not want Lucius to hear.  It took a little time, but when she finished, she stood and said, “Thank you.”  The cloud people reverted to clouds right away and rose again into the sky.

“We will do everything you ask,” one cloud spoke.

“All you need to do is ask and we will do it,” the other agreed.

Bubbles stood as tall as he could, just over a foot tall.  He appeared to salute as he made his way to the edge of the boat.  “You can count on us,” he said in his sweet voice.  “We will bring you safely to the place I am not talking about.”  He waved from the edge before he dove back into the water and disappeared.

Greta stood with the inevitable grin on her face. “No need to pole,” she said.  “The sweet water sprites will carry us safely.” The others smiled as well until Lucius broke the spell by asking where they were going.  Greta answered, and as the saying goes, she lied like an elf.

“When we join up with the Muskva, we will turn upstream for a few miles and pull in to the north shore at a place where I hope the Wolv won’t find us.”  Greta knew she was no good at telling lies.  Mavis, Bogus and Pincushion all caught the lie, and Mavis gasped, but Bogus spoke right up to provide cover for the words.

“Those water sprites will have a hard job pulling us against the current, but I am sure they are up to it.”

Greta wisely said no more about it, and Pincushion changed the subject.  “Lady. Did you arrange for us to build a fire somewhere?  I can’t hardly cook on thin air.”

“Let’s see what we can find,” Greta said, and she, Pincushion, Hermes and Mavis scrounged through the hold beneath the deck. What they came up with was a bronze shield that might work as long as no one stepped on the edge and tipped it. The fire would have to be small and stay centered, but Pincushion said she could work with that, even if she could not do much.

“We have two buckets,” Hermes said, and lifted them. He found some rope and handed one bucket to Vedix.  Vedix filled his right away while Greta, Mavis and Pincushion found a place amidships where they could lay the shield and prop it with other artifacts to prevent it rolling.