M4 Margueritte: Battle, part 1 of 2

Ragenfrid showed up on the seventeenth of May and parked a great tent camp across the long field.  The students and soldiers of the county army pulled their encampment up the hill, to the edge of the village and castle where they could look down on their enemies.  The enemy camp looked huge compared to the defenders.  Then came the unhappy surprise as what looked like a second army camped in the north farm fields, half a mile off.  The north fields were still the main fields for the castle and village, since the south fields, being newly cleared, still had stumps and clumps of forest in many places.  Stump-land was territory the little ones could defend, as compared to the flat openness in the north.

“The Count of LeMans has taken the north with about three thousand men.  Looks can be deceiving.” Larchmont reported to Margueritte and her captains.  “The main camp on the other side of the long field looks about the same size but actually holds closer to eight thousand men, more than twice LeMans’ numbers.  Ragenfrid kept five thousand with him and sent the Viscount of Angers, with three thousand of those men to try and circle the town and castle, but we rebuffed them in the evening before the dark elves could have a turn.”

“So Manskin is mad at not getting a turn??” Margueritte asked.  Larchmont smiled, which became visible even on his little face.

“He got a turn in the north when the Count of LeMans tried to send men into the forest under cover of darkness.”

“They didn’t eat any of the men,” Margueritte said quickly, slightly worried

“No but they filed up on horse meat,” Larchmont responded.  The men laughed, even if it had a nervous sound to it, when soldiers from the Breton gate came in escorting Michael, Count of Nantes, Bogart, King of Brittany, and a distinguished looking older man with gray hair and a full beard.

“Welcome cousin,” Margueritte gave King Bogart, alias David, a familial kiss before she turned on Michael.  “Get any more young men stinking drunk lately?” she smiled.

Michael looked embarrassed.  “You remembered that?  Lord!  But I hear Tomberlain recovered, did he not?”

“After father had at him.”

“You should have seen what my father did to me.”

Margueritte gave him a welcoming kiss and invited them to the table where they had various things set up to represent the various pieces in the coming battle.  Elsbeth and Calista came quietly in the back door and said nothing at first.  Elsbeth had two-year-old Bogart on her hip and sat at the table where she held him in her lap.  Calista stood beside Margueritte, and she was dressed this time, not like a house maid, but like an elf warrior.  She retained the glamour of being human, but a woman in armor was not expected.

“And who is our friend?” Margueritte asked, before the mouths closed on seeing Calista.

David did the honors.  “May I present Sir Bedwin of Corveau.  A trusted advisor, as he was for my father.”

“I see,” Margueritte said with a glance at Elsbeth.

“Your majesty, King David,” Peppin and Childemund knew better than to interrupt Margueritte when she was probing, and Walaric had learned to trust Margueritte implicitly, but duBois was new, less than ten years on the northern march, and he felt he should say something.  “We are grateful that you are willing to extend yourself and your people in this time of trouble.  It is a most gracious act for the sake of peace between our two peoples.”

Margueritte smiled.  “You forget, I am half Breton.  David is my cousin.  I wrote to him and Chief Brian, who is getting to look like he will live forever in Vergenville.”

“Brian is here, with a small group of fighters,” David said.  “And also, an old friend of yours, Sir Thomas of Evandell.”

“Thomas?” Elsbeth spoke up.

“Sir Thomas,” Margueritte corrected.  “The king’s bard, and I like to think of him as my bard, too.  It is only fair considering the material I provided for him to make his living.”

“Sir Thomas,” David confirmed.  “He showed great bravery in the face of Curdwallah the hag, and his acts of true Christian charity and piety have been countless.  My mother said you told her those were the two marks for knighthood in King Arthur’s court.  As a professed Christian, he might have joined the round table.”

“He might have,” Margueritte said, but she turned to Sir Bedwin.  “But what brings you here?” she asked.  “I seem to recall when my husband Roland brought letters urging David’s father to keep a serious watch on the coast for Muslim activities, you thought it a great joke.”

“I was summoned,” Sir Bedwin said gruffly.  He was not going to respond to her prodding.

“Oh?” she looked at David, but Elsbeth spoke up.

“I wrote to him.  Owien never would, but when we married, I thought about it.  But now with Owien away with Charles and this trouble come upon us, I thought every letter would help, and this way, I could meet him, and he could see his grandson, if he wanted, and without having to face Owien, son of Bedwin.”

They all looked, but the old man tried not to cry.  “The boy’s mother?” he managed to ask.  Elsbeth appeared confused.  She was the boy’s mother, but Margueritte understood.

“She passed away about six years ago.  I understand pneumonia.  I would not know.  I was not here.  At that time, I was a hostage in the hands of Ragenfrid and forced to suffer through the siege of Cologne.”

“So now he has come up to lay siege here,” Peppin deftly guided the conversation back to topic.

“Yes,” Margueritte said.  “But he will not be able to cut us off here, and that is an order of business you need to know about.  This is why we own the woods,” Margueritte said, with a look at the men who knew, so they could hold Michael, David, or Sir Bedwin as necessary.  When the men nodded to her, she lifted her hand and the glamour that made Calista appear human fell away and she stood there in all her elfish glory.  Michael laughed, and after a moment, David joined him, and said he always suspected.  Sir Bedwin stared, even after Margueritte lowered her hand and the glamour returned, and he had something to say.

“I thought that whole story about the ogres had a ring of reality to it.  You are the witch they said.”

“I am not a witch,” Margueritte yelled.  “Why does everything have to be witchery?  Larchmont, will you come down here and tell these men I am not a witch.”

Larchmont fluttered down much like the last time, but this time he missed the table and took on his big size, which made him look altogether human, dressed in the green garb of a hunter.  “She is not a witch,” he said, and a voice from the back of the room echoed him.

“It is true,” the voice said.  “She has not a shred of magic in her.  Blessed as her reflection was by the gods of old, she hardly needs any ordinary magic.”

“Lord Pomadoro,” Margueritte identified the elf, who appeared, obviously, an elf, and in fact looked like a veritable elf king given the way he dressed and carried himself.  He stood there with what looked like a dozen monks, but they were a dozen more elves dressed in monk’s robes.  They were monks after a fashion, Margueritte imagined, but they assisted the elf wizard who attended the knights of the lance.  Pomadoro took the position when Lord Sunstone finally passed away.”

“My lady,” Pomadoro bowed, regally.

“You better have news about the battle formations, because if you have come about that other thing, I’m not going to talk about that.  I am not doing that.”

“I have only half come about that other thing, For the other half, I have come about the sorcerer in Ragenfrid’s camp.”

“Abd al-Makti is here?”

“Even so.”

“Sit,” Margueritte commanded them.  “All of you sit and wait.  We need to set the battle order.”  She turned to Michael and David.  “Your men are all camped in the woods of the Vergen and have been careful not to reveal yourselves.”

“Yes.  Certainly.” Count Michael and King David assured her.

“Good,” she spoke to Pomadoro.  “As soon as we set the battle order, these men will be going to get their men ready and then will be back here for supper where they can argue about it over a good meal.  After they have gone, you and I need to have an argument.”  Margueritte went straight into the plan that Gerraint, Festuscato, and Diogenes agreed on.  Then she paused only long enough to see if someone pointed out an obvious flaw.  Peppin and Walaric both said the young men were too raw and not trained nearly well enough, but that objection she expected.

Once the men left, and Elsbeth left with Bedwin holding little Bogart’s hand, Margueritte said “No.”  She explained.  “Greta used the knights of the lance in Dacia, and I still feel guilty about that.  Then they seemed to come out of nowhere when I, I mean, Festuscato was trying to help Patrick get started.  I think I got blindsided.  Then again, they helped Gerraint against Claudus, and I was very grateful for their help, but please, it is enough.  They are not of this world, and for a good reason.  They have their place, to defend Avalon from demons.  Their place is not here, fighting in a transient human event.”

“Just a few in front to help guide your young and inexperienced men—the raw ones.”  Pomadoro smiled at remembering the term.

“No, no, no.” Margueritte paused.  “I’ll think about it.  Tell me the rest of it.”

“The sorcerer.”

“I do not want him dead, yet.  I need to know who is behind him, the source of his power.”

“I understand.  But he is able to interfere with whatever battle plans you follow.  With these monks, we will generate more than sufficient power to block him.  I propose only to prevent his interference, but you must fight your own battles.”

“You sound like Gerraint.”

“I accept the compliment, but understand this, the sorcerer’s source, and we believe it is a god who has not made the journey to the other side, if he or she should grant the sorcerer a temporary surge of power, we may not be able to stop him.”

“I do understand, and while I never want to put you in danger, I almost wish he tries that because that would be something I could trace.”

Lord Pomadoro bowed and Margueritte stepped out of the great hall, Calista on her heels.  “What do you think?” Margueritte asked her house elf.

“I think you will let some of the knights guide your young men,” she said.  “Even like an arrowhead, as they did in Dacia, and again with Lord Gerraint on this very field.”

“How old are you again?”

“Two hundred and eighteen.  I am not that old, but we elves have a long memory, as you very well know.”

Margueritte nodded.  She did know that, and in fact she knew just how much danger her elves would be in if Abd al-Makti received a surge of power to break through their shield.  She did not want to think about that.

M3 Margueritte: Rapunzel Set Free, part 3 of 3

Curdwallah chose that moment to come around the side of the tower.  “No!”  She raged when she saw Margueritte free of her prison.  Roland pulled his sword, ready for battle, but Margueritte, with her head in her hand, blinking her eyes from the strain of everything rushing back at her at once, shouted.

“Wait.  No, wait.”  She shook her head.

Thomas tried to sit up and Margueritte scooted back on her knees a little to oblige.

“But why?”  Thomas asked in a small voice, his wind still coming in gasps.

Curdwallah paused.  “My true god, Abraxas, would not let me kill her.  He said she would just be reborn and come back to haunt us.  In the tower, she might live her whole life and we could invoke the plan without interference.

“But now your plan is done,” Roland said.

“I think not.”  Curdwallah eyed him and his sword closely.  With that, Curdwallah began to grow.  In no time, she became ogre sized and her face, hands and legs appeared covered with fur, while her tent-like clothes became too tight.  “I think not,” she said again in a voice a whole octave lower.

Roland slashed out with his sword, but the Curdwallah beast moved supernaturally fast.  She avoided the sword and struck Roland before he could recover.  She hit him hard in the chest.  Roland flew back and slammed against the wall of the tower where he slumped down, dazed.

Catspaw had her hands full calming the terrified horses.  Thomas still could not get to his feet.  Margueritte shrieked, but she grabbed on to the one thought that haunted her while the drooling beast started toward Roland, her prey.

“You are not my mother,” she said, and she pointed accusingly.  Without her knowing why, something like blue lightening, like electricity poured out of her hand.  It was the power given to Bodanagus, her genetic reflection, and it echoed in her.  It struck Curdwallah who arched her back and howled, and it kept coming while the beast began to shake and dance like a person being electrocuted.  Slowly, the beast shrank again until she collapsed, like a criminal struck with a massive Taser.  She still wiggled from the shock when a recovered Roland drove his sword into her heart.  Then he rushed to Margueritte who cried in his arms for what seemed like the longest time.

“I love you,” Roland said, but Margueritte did not really hear as she passed in and out of consciousness.

Boom!

Thomas kicked open the door to the first floor of the tower.  “Aeugh!”  He sounded repulsed and turned quickly away from the sight.  Someone invisible handed him a torch.  He threw it in without looking again, and they all waited until the tower was well in flames.

“Come on,” Roland said.  He mounted his horse, the half-conscious Margueritte cradled gently in his arms.

“The children,” Thomas said.

“I guessed as much,” Roland responded, and he started to walk his horse away from there.

“So did I.”  Grimly said.  Grimly handed Thomas the torch.

“No, you never guessed,” Catspaw objected.

“Did too,” Grimly said.

Thomas whistled for their attention before they started a good row.  “Where’s Lord Barth?”

“Had to fetch him and Squire Tomberlain from Vergenville.  Sorry we were late, but we should find them on the road in about an hour or so.”

“On the road?”  Catspaw questioned.

“I came on ahead,” Grimly admitted.  “I got worried.  I love my Lady.”

“So do I.” Catspaw nodded.

“So do I,” Roland said, quietly.

It took all day to get Margueritte home and into her own bed.  She stayed delirious most of the time, and at times she passed out altogether; but sometimes she seemed lucid enough to give everyone hope.  Jennifer suggested Doctor Pincher and Brianna tried to call him as Margueritte had done, but she got no response.  Finally, she held her daughter’s hand, stomped her foot, lifted her eyes toward heaven, and shouted for the Doctor.

“Here.  Here.”  Doctor Pincher appeared and gave the impression that he had some ringing in his ears.  Lady Brianna quickly explained, and she felt a little surprised the Doctor did not already know all about it.  To this, the Doctor explained something in return.

“You must understand, the Kairos dies.  She is reborn, to be sure, but who is to say how long or short a given life may be.  It is not our place to interfere with that process, even for those of us who may be devoted to her.  She is only human, after all, and in ages past that was one of the main reasons we agreed to have her as a goddess over us all.” Brianna felt astonished by what she heard, but the Doctor consoled her.  “Then again, there is no reason why she should not have first-rate medical treatment, just like any other human might have.  Let me examine the patient.”  He said this as he threw everyone else out of the room and only let her mother stay.

After a while he gave his prognosis.  “There is nothing I can really do.  She is healthy enough, though undernourished.  Her trouble appears to be raging in her mind.  All the same, I see no reason why she should not make a full recovery.  Rest is what she needs, and time.  The Kairos has resources in time which can help far better than I can, even if they may be the partial cause of her present distress.  Rest is the best.  Give her some time, and some chicken soup to see that she is properly nourished.”

“Thank you.  I will.”  Lady Brianna smiled.  “But, oh!”  She interrupted her smile.  “I don’t know how to send you home.”

“Quite all right.”  Doctor Pincher stood while she remained seated.  That put them about eye to eye.  “I am way overdue for a good vacation.  I think I may look around, and perhaps come by here in a week or so to see how my patient is doing.”

“You are so kind.”  Lady Brianna stood as they went out to tell the news to the others.

“I know,” Doctor Pincher said.  “She ruined me when she was Gerraint, or rather, the Lady Greta.  I’ve had no desire for anything but to help people ever since.”  He shrugged and Brianna looked at him once more.  She would never have guessed he was that old.

The next morning, Doctor Pincher walked down the road toward Paris in the company of Roland and Tomberlain, who had been given over to be Roland’s squire.  Lord Barth had taken on Owien since Sir Gilles got too old for such a thing and his dragon busted arm never quite healed right.  They had all waited that morning to be sure Margueritte passed a quiet night, and indeed, she slept well and woke up hungry.  Now, Brianna and Bartholomew stood in the manor door and watched them ride away.

“Lord!”  Barth spoke.  “I bet there will be a real blow in Belgium.  I’ll be sorry to miss it.”

Brianna gave him a love tap on his chest to chide his remark and get his attention.  “I’ll be worried day and night as it is about Tomberlain,” she said.  “I’ll not let you go to get yourself killed at our age.  Whatever would I do?”

Barth smiled.  “Yes, well I still have the girls to watch over.  By the way, where is Elsbeth?”

“I believe she and Owien chose to take an early morning ride,” Brianna said.

“Oh, they did?”  Barth looked up at the barn and stepped down from the front stoop.  “I think I may have a talk with that boy.”

Brianna was about to say something else when they heard the bell ringing from Margueritte’s room.  “I’ll get it,” was what she ended up saying.

Barth started toward the barn and mumbled.  “Yes, I believe it is time that boy and I had a little talk.”

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

MONDAY

One happy ending, but…  Well, the dragon is still out there, if you recall.  Until Monday.

Happy Reading

*

M3 Margueritte: Rapunzel Set Free, part 2 of 3

Thomas was considering breakfast when he heard a horse and rider.  He thought it better to hide, though he could not remember ever having seen Curdwallah on horseback.  Indeed, that image put a hold on the idea of breakfast.

The bushes rustled and a cat jumped out.  She immediately began to lick herself, as if trying to remove some unpleasant stain.  The horseman followed.

“Why have we stopped?”  The horseman asked.

“Roland.”  Thomas came out from the bushes.

“Thomas!”  Roland got down.  “You found her.  But what are you doing so near the gypsy camp?”

“But, no,” Thomas said.  “We’re just a few miles from DuLac.  So close that I was almost afraid to sleep last night.”

“What?”  Roland looked confused.

“You slept?”  Catspaw looked surprised as she reverted to her elfish form.  “I would not have guessed.”

“Well, I might not have if Grimly had not pointed out the safety of this fairy circle,” Thomas admitted.

“What fairy circle?”  Catspaw asked.  “All I see is a few rocks thrown around.”

Thomas swallowed as Roland interrupted.

“Hold on.  How can we be a few miles from DuLac?  We just left the gypsy camp a couple of hours ago.”

“Would have been sooner if you had listened sooner,” Catspaw said.  She had collected some of the rocks with some sticks and got ready to light a fire.

“I am sorry,” Roland said.  “I don’t understand cat talk.”

“There’s the pity,” Catspaw said, as Thomas quickly fetched a larger bit of wood and a small log.  “I suppose you’ll be wanting breakfast.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Thomas said.  He sat by the fire.

“No.”  Roland seemed to want to pace.  “We have to get her out of that place.”

“Come, Roland.  Have a biscuit,” Thomas said, and he offered some to Catspaw.

“Faugh.”  She turned it down, produced a frying pan from a secret pocket, a half-dozen eggs and a good bit of bacon to grease the pan.  “You need to keep up your strength,” she said.  “You’ve ridden all night, know it or not.  At least let your horse have a breather.”

“But the gypsy camp has to be three- or four-days ride from DuLac.”  Roland groused as he sat.  “How can we be so close?”

“There’s ways,” Catspaw said, and handed Roland a wooden bowl already filled with scrambled eggs and bacon.

“That was amazing,” Thomas said, having watched the cooking process.  “Can I watch that again some time?”

“Maybe,” Catspaw sounded non-committal.

“But wait,” Thomas had a thought.  “I imagined all of you brownies were vegetarians.”

“Cats are carnivorous,” Catspaw said, the only explanation she was going to give.

Thomas sighed.  “Eat,” he said, and turned to Roland to make it as much of a command as he could, though he was not very good at such things.  “She’s been enchanted for nearly a year.  Another morning won’t hurt her, but you might not be able to help her if you don’t get some sustenance.”  Roland picked at his food.

When they finished, and cleaned up, Catspaw grinned like a cat.  “Now, you’ve eaten fairy food.  You know you are both my prisoners forever.”

“No offense, but there is only one lady who owns my heart,” Roland said, gently petting his horse.

Catspaw screwed up her face.  “It’s gone that far already, huh?  I guess you’re right.   Fairy food isn’t going to affect you.”

“But I’m your prisoner,” Thomas said, as he brought his horse carefully to the road.

“Naw, have your freedom.”  Catspaw waved her hand.  “I wouldn’t mind a tune or two along the way, though.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Thomas said, and fetched his mandola.

Catspaw paused, and it made Roland turn to look in the same direction.

“I thought the others, or at least Grimly would be back by now to join us,” she said, and Roland nodded, better understanding the delay for breakfast.

“We will just have to do,” he said, and Thomas began to sing.

They had a hard time keeping Roland from rushing on ahead, but at last they came to the spot that strange party of gnomes and lone minstrel had reached the day before.  The tower could be seen, and the manor house sat directly ahead.  Thomas put his hand out to keep Roland from rushing headlong into the unknown.

“We stop at the house first to see if the witch is home,” he said.

Roland nodded.  He understood but appeared terribly impatient.

“I’ll be near if you need me,” Catspaw said, as she faded from sight.

This time, Thomas did not bother with a polite knock.  He pounded on the decrepit door until he heard the shuffling feet.  The door creaked open.

“Her Ladyship is not here.  Go away,” the man said.

“Still not here?  How unfortunate.  Good to see you again, though.”  Thomas smiled.

“Her Ladyship is not here.  Go away.”  The man gave his speech, and they turned their horses toward the tower.

“What’s wrong with him?”  Roland whispered.

“No idea,” Thomas said, as they heard the door close.  “But he’s an interesting fellow.  I was haunted all night with a strange tune to set to those words.  Her Ladyship is not here, go away,” Thomas sang.  “Her ladyship is not here, go away.”

“My minstrel.”  Margueritte shouted from the tower window.  “How glad I am to see you.”

“Margueritte, my friend,” Thomas shouted back and waved.

“And who is this fine-looking knight who rides beside you?”  Margueritte asked, with just a touch of shy in her voice.

“Roland is the most noble and upright sword in the whole land.”  Thomas said with a bit of surprise in his voice.  “I am surprised your mother has not told you.”

“Mother Curdwallah is a woman of few words,” Margueritte said.  “But I am pleased to make the acquaintance of such a noble knight.  What say you?”

“You are every bit as lovely as the good bard has said.”  Roland spoke graciously, going straight to the plan.  “And your mother of few words has often praised you.”

“Kind sir, you know my mother Curdwallah?”

“We are friends for some time, and I am pleased, now, that she has given permission for the master storyteller and I to entertain you in your room so that your days may not be so long and tiresome.”

Margueritte hesitated.  “She spoke nothing of this to me,” she said.

“It was in passing just now,” Thomas said, and he pointed toward the road as if the event had just occurred.  Meanwhile, Roland dismounted and came to the base of the tower.

“But I don’t know.”  Margueritte sounded wary.

“Fine Lady, I understand your hesitation because of all the ills you have suffered, but to show you we have permission, let me say the magic words.”  Roland cleared his throat.  “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”

Margueritte hesitated no longer.  She had spent nearly a year bored out of her wits and it did not take that much convincing.  Her hair dropped quickly.

“Get ready.”  Roland whispered as he climbed to the window.

Thomas dismounted and the invisible Catspaw took the reins of both horses.  “Not bad lying for a couple of amateurs,” she whispered.  Thomas kept quiet, though they could hear nothing of what transpired in the tower.  All was still until they heard a clang!  This got followed by Margueritte, her hair cut to waist length, flying out of the window. Thomas broke her fall, but he ended up on his back with the wind knocked out of him.  Margueritte, on top of him, at least appeared unhurt.  Roland jumped from the window, but it proved high enough from the ground to twist his ankle a little when he landed.

M3 Margueritte: Rapunzel Set Free, part 1 of 3

Thomas rode slowly to the manor house.  He dismounted.  He knocked.  He waited and knocked again.  He waited some more until at last, he heard some shuffling from inside.  The door creaked open.  It appeared badly in need of repair as was the whole manor.  A man stood there squinting in the sun, with his eyes glazed over like a man of few thoughts.

“Her Ladyship is not here.  Go away,” the man said.

“I am Thomas of Evandell, come to pay my respects,” Thomas started.

“Her Ladyship is not here.”

“Might I come in and wait?” Thomas finished.

“Go away,” the man finished as well.

Both stood in silence for a minute, Thomas looked more closely at the man, and the man stared into the distance like one who could not quite focus on what he was seeing.

The man began again.  “Her Ladyship.”

“Yes, I know,” Thomas interrupted, though the man continued to say the whole speech.  “Not here.  Go away.”  Thomas finished ahead of the man.

“Go away,” the man finished.

“Well then.”  Thomas backed up to his horse.  “Tell her I came by and it was nice speaking with you.”  This set the man going again even as Thomas mounted his horse.  He turned rather lazily toward the tower and did not hear the manor door close until after the man said, “Go away.”  Though there was no one there to be talking to.

Thomas had a thought.  He pulled out his mandola and began the tune of the girls, the unicorn and the ogres.  Sure enough, a face came to the first-floor window of the tower.  It was Margueritte’s face.  She said nothing but listened intently to the story and even cried a little for joy as he sang of their heroic escape and safe return to the arms of their loving family.

“Oh, master storyteller,” Margueritte spoke at last when the song finished, and Thomas dismounted.  “That was the loveliest story.  Please tell me it was not make-believe.”

“True as rain, my lady,” Thomas said.  He was wary, not sure how deep the enchantment ran in Margueritte’s mind.  “And there are many more, wonderful, exciting, romantic stories I would be honored to share with you.”

“Oh, yes, please,” Margueritte said, excited.  “You have no idea how bored and lonely I am to be in this tower day and night without so much as one to talk to.”

“Why don’t you come down and join me for a bite to eat around a cozy fire.  I could tell you many tales,” Thomas suggested.

“Oh, I mustn’t,” Margueritte said.  “Mother Curdwallah says if I leave the tower, I will lose my mind again and have to start over, not even knowing my own name.”

“Mother Curdwallah?”  Thomas had to ask.

“Oh, yes,” Margueritte responded.  “But I hardly think so sometimes.  She can be very stern and so easily gets cross.”  Margueritte held her head up proudly but clearly had to fight back tears.

“Dear Margueritte,” Thomas said.  “Curdwallah is not your mother.  I know your real mother, and she misses you, terribly.”

Margueritte was about to say one thing, but she changed her mind with a second thought.  “You know my name?  You do not serve the evil one, do you?”

Thomas was taken aback for a moment.  “Hardly,” he said at last.  “Though it pains me to speak so of any Lady, the only evil one I know is Curdwallah herself.”

That struck a note in Margueritte’s heart.  Thomas could see the wheels turning, and he was about to say more when he heard a whisper in his ear.

“The witch is coming.”

“Alas, I must go for now,” Thomas said, quickly.

“Must you?”

“Yes, but grant me a boon sweet lady.  Keep my visit a secret and I will come again with special stories to lighten your days.”

“I shall,” Margueritte promised.

“Hurry.”  Grimly whispered.

Thomas led his horse back into the few trees and bushes out beyond the tower and suddenly found the brownies circled around him.  “No time to run.”  Grimly explained, and after a moment Grimly, Catspaw and Pipes became visible again.

“But won’t she see us?” Thomas asked.

“Hope not,” Pipes said.

“No.  You’re invisible now, like us,” Catspaw explained.

“Oh.”  Thomas understood, but suddenly started.  “But my horse.”

“Deer dew!”  Grimly swore and they all tried hard, but the tail simply would not go away.

“Gots to do,” Grimly said.

“Shhh.”  Thomas hushed him.  Curdwallah had arrived and he was intent on eavesdropping.

Curdwallah stopped beneath Margueritte’s window and took one long look around, to be sure no one was watching or listening in.  She paused and rested her eyes on the bushes where Thomas and the little ones hid.

“Damn.”  Thomas breathed to himself.  He scooted down deeper beneath the brush as Curdwallah came close.  Grimly and the others got as small as they could.

“And what’s this?”  Curdwallah said out loud as she reached out with uncanny speed and grabbed the horse’s reigns, having judged their location based on the sight of the still visible tail.  “An invisible horse.”  She said and checked the saddle area.  “Abandoned by the rider, I see.”  She raised her voice in a shout and stood nearly on top of Thomas.  “And it better stay abandoned if you know what is good for you!”  With that she brought the horse to the back side of the tower where Thomas assumed she had some place to tie off the horse.

After a moment, Curdwallah returned to the tower window and after one more look around, she shouted up.  “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”  Thomas watched as Margueritte let her hair down.  It fell within two or three feet of the ground.

Curdwallah, though she looked like an old and frail woman, grabbed hold of the hair and scaled the tower wall as easily as a monkey climbing a tree.  “Where did you ever come up with Rapunzel?”  Curdwallah asked.

“I don’t know,” Margueritte answered.  “But you said I had to pick a name other than my own.”

That was the last they heard as Curdwallah and Margueritte got lost in the tower.

“Strong woman,” Grimly whispered.

“Supernaturally strong,” Thomas agreed.

“Super-duper natural,” Pipes added.

“Better get your things while you can,” Catspaw said, and Thomas was glad at least one of them was being sensible.

It did not take long to get several miles away.  Then plans had to be made, but immediately Grimly and Pipes began to argue.  Catspaw finally settled the matter.

“I’ll go and fetch Roland from the gypsy camp,” she said.  “You boys are too slow, anyway.”

“There is that,” Grimly nodded.

“She is the fast one,” Pipes agreed while Catspaw rolled her eyes for Thomas’ sake.  He was not sure he followed it all, but he did get the distinct impression the little ones had no love for gypsies.

“I guess I better go back to the triangle, since the family knows me, you know,” Grimly said.  “Pipes, that leaves you with Little White Flower down on the Atlantique.”

“Even by secret ways that’s a two-day trip,” Pipes complained.

“You could have the gypsies,” Catspaw offered.

“Forget it,” Pipes said and rubbed his feet to get ready.

“Wait, wait.”  Thomas interrupted.  “Baron Bernard’s home is at least six or seven days from here, if not more.  How do you figure two days?”

“There’s ways,” Grimly said, softly.  The others said nothing until Catspaw transformed suddenly into something akin to a bobcat.

“Better be off,” she meowed and bounded into the brush.

“And what should I do?”  Thomas asked.

“Stay here,” Pipes said, and he started out, whistling as he went.

“But.”

“Fairy circle.”  Grimly pointed out the stones.  “Might help some if the witch comes by, but only because I like you.”  And he was gone, too.

Avalon 6.11 Shipwreck, part 6 of 6

The ground trembled under the Greek soldiers, and those who were not knocked down by the lightning stroke, fell from the earthquake.  It seemed a curious earthquake, because the travelers did not feel it at all.  All that happened was the Greeks lost their footing, and a hole opened up in the side of a very small ridge.

Everyone stared at the figure in the field.  The helmeted figure of a woman looked like the avenging angel of Almighty God.  The sword she held looked impossibly big and unquestionably sharp.  It seemed the very scythe of the angel of death, the reaper come to harvest souls. The Greeks wailed and tried to hide themselves in the ground they felt surely they would be buried in.

“Athena,” Galatea said, and clapped.  “I mean, Minerva.”

The Eporites did not hear, being too busy prostrating themselves.  The travelers vaguely heard, as the struggled to shut their mouths.  Minerva roared.

“Tramp!”  Nanette appeared in front of the goddess, and trembled.    “I don’t need Apollo to laugh and point at me.  And I don’t need the Kairos to tell me this is not how it is supposed to go.  I made you, and this is what you have done with your life?”

“It’s not fair,” the witch complained. “Why are the gods on their side? They have the weapons and the power. They have everything.  It isn’t fair.  I should have it.  I should have it all.  I want it now.  Give it to me.”  The witch may have put every ounce of compulsion and magic into that demand, but in the face of a goddess, that would have been like a drop of water trying to put out the sun.  Not only is that nonsensical in terms of size and strength, but the sun is not even the kind of fire that water can affect.

“Your other half does not feel this way,” Minerva said, silencing the girl to interrupt her.  “Don’t ask me how I know, but clearly you were corrupt from the beginning.  I will find the source of that corruption.”

“No.” Nanette shrieked.  “We serve that one.  She is my source.”

“Of whom do you speak?  Who is your source?”

“No,” Nanette, the witch screamed and instantly caught fire.  She continued to scream for a few seconds before she entirely burned up, leaving only a small pile of ashes on the dirt.

Minerva reached out to put her hand over the ashes before they blew away on the wind.  The ashes came up to Minerva’s hand, and they saw a small clay jar in that hand.  Somehow, the ashes squeezed into the jar so not one escaped, and Minerva put a stopper in the top of the jar.  “And there they will stay until the opportune time.”

“Is that it?” Lockhart whispered.

“I don’t honestly know,” Katie answered in the same soft voice as Minerva looked at the travelers.

“Go home,” Minerva said, not only did the cavalry troop vanish, and the soldiers on the ground, but Petracles and the Eporites, and all of their horses vanished as well.   Only the travelers remained, and Galatea, who suddenly looked miffed.  Minerva ignored the girl as she talked to the travelers.

“I did not look close at this one. She is no more. She will neither bother you nor hinder you any longer.”  Minerva waved, and Katie vanished to reappear beside Minerva, well out of ear shot.  “I went and saw her.  My daughter.  She is beautiful.”  She began to cry.  “She is so smart.  She reminds me of him.  I love her so much.”  She began to weep, and Katie held her and offered what comfort she had.  Minerva did not have it in her to cry for long, and shortly, she pulled back.  “Don’t tell. Please.  Keep this our secret.”

“Your secret is safe.  You just love that beautiful girl.”

Minerva nodded and nearly smiled. “And you and Lockhart should have a girl.”

Katie looked in the direction where the others stood.  “I hope. Someday.”

Minerva nodded again, and disappeared.

As Katie slipped back down the little ridge, she found the others excitedly talking to someone.  She could not see him until she practically stood on top of him.  “Bogramus,” she said.  It was the dwarf from the last time zone, and after sixty years, he only had a touch of gray.

“Well you see, Miss Boston, it was like this,” Bogramus spoke like a grown man to a young child.  “Hephaestus, er, Vulcan said he wanted some minerals dug out of the Nebrodes Mountains, and since I had a whole crew of bored fellas, we said we could do that.  We are dwarves, you know.  Digging for gold is our specialty, but we take work where we can.”

“So, we go this way?” Lincoln asked, and pointed into the cave.

“Yep.”

“But wait,” Katie said, trying to catch up in the conversation.  “Where is the time gate?”

“This way,” Lincoln said, pointing again.

“But it would not be right to come all this way and not say hello to Vulcan,” Millie added.  “You said he invited us.”

Katie agreed before she said, “Wait. Where is Wallace?”

No one wanted to say it.  Alexis stepped up.  “He didn’t make it.  He waded into the soldiers and Nanette screamed and pointed right at him, so they killed him first.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Katie said, especially to Millie and Evan. Evan nodded and Millie sniffed and nodded with him.

Katie returned the nod and started toward Lockhart and the entrance to the cave, but this time Galatea said, “Wait.” She hugged all the women and shook hands with all the men, including Bogramus. “I don’t do underground stuff. Well, I do grottos and sea caves, but with water and high tide.  Smokey, hot underground? No, no.”  Galatea waved and vanished with the words, “See you next time.”

Then they began to walk into the cave and found it well-lit with torches.  “So how many dwarves are working here?”

“Seven,” Bogramus said with a straight face.  “And all bachelors.  Ah, this is the life.  No females to make us miserable, and no children running around getting in the way. Ah.  Mind you, I wouldn’t mind if you knew where some unattached females were hanging around, bored, maybe.”

“Do you whistle while you work?” Lockhart had to ask.

“No, not especially.  Ragtide likes to sing, but we gag him as quick as we can. He is what they call stone deaf.”

“Tone deaf,”

“That too.”

Within an hour, they came to a big open cave, well ventilated, but full of iron works and coal fed boilers and furnaces.  It got hot in there, but Vulcan stood by a forge, waiting patiently.

“Elder Stow,” he called, and the Elder went to the god, meekly, wondering.  “Put your equipment on the table here.  Put it all down, and don’t leave anything out.”

Elder Stow looked briefly at Lockhart and Katie, who both nodded and encouraged him.  He had misgivings, but did as instructed, and stepped back with a word.  “It would probably be best if even you did not get a good look at the inner workings of some of my equipment.”

Vulcan laughed.  “Your secrets are safe.  It is your power source I am concerned about.  Apollo says the time of disillusion is drawing near, and I am thinking the gods might not be around to charge up your equipment next time you need it. There.  Everything is charged except your scanner.  Now here.  This is a new piece for you to carry.  It is a charger.  It should build up a full charge in a few minutes under a light source.  Let us say there are a few things you don’t need to know, either.  Then you touch it to the power source point and it should charge whatever piece of equipment you have in seconds.”

Elder Stow took it and tried it on the scanner.  “Thank you.” It worked perfectly, and did not overcharge the scanner.

“Sure, sure.  You can have your people take it apart to see how it works if you haven’t already come up with something similar by the time you get home. Meanwhile, I might copy that material, your substitute metal there, for a couple of swords I have in mind.  Probably my last gifts to the Kairos before I go away.”

“Hey Boss,” Boston shouted.  The time gate is right in front of us.”

“Yes,” Vulcan laughed.  “Didn’t you wonder why it was only two days’ distance? I thought it would be better to keep it on shore.  Otherwise, the time gate would have been across the sea, half-way to Epirus.”

“It is noon,” Katie said.  “We could go now.”

“You are welcome to stay here and leave in the morning.”  Vulcan said, and smiled, knowing how hot it was for the humans.

They all said thank you and hurried before they melted.

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

MONDAY

Avalon 6.12 The Road Ahead is the final chapter in Avalon, season six.  The travelers from Avalon confront the three outlaw-cowboys who are giving the First Emperor of China some unnatural help. Don’t miss it.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.11 Shipwreck, part 5 of 6

By the morning of the third day, Galatea got right up behind Petracles again, a very contented smile on her face. Apparently, everything went well in the night, though Petracles looked exhausted.  The six soldiers Petracles brought with him to escort the group rode at the back and had the good sense to keep to their own camp in the night and keep their mouths shut.

Boston was not so sensible.  She turned to Sukki, pointed at Galatea snuggling up to Petracles, and said, “See, that is how you do it.”  She said it several times.

“What makes you think I want to do it?” Sukki responded, but turned her face away, and turned red.

They found a narrow wooden bridge across the Simeto River, and felt grateful to be able to cross without incident. It did not seem a very wide or deep river, but the travelers were glad not to have to go out of their way to find a ford.

Katie said, “Hopefully, things like roads and bridges will become more common from here on out.”

“That is Mount Etna?” Lockhart asked about the snow covered peak they headed toward. Katie nodded.

“That would be my guess.”

“I don’t see any smoke,” Lockhart pointed out.

“No,” Katie agreed.  “Lincoln could probably read in the database about every eruption around this time, but all I know is, while the volcano erupts often in history, most of the time it is inactive.  Like maybe a hundred years of quiet between eruptions.  An eruption might last a month, several months, a year or two, but then the mountain gets quiet again for the next twenty years or maybe two hundred years.  Who can say?”

“Like predicting earthquakes,” Lockhart suggested.

“Yes.  Related,” Katie said.  “I had a friend at the Pentagon who worked on that very thing… To predict earthquakes, not to trigger them.”

Lockhart nodded that he understood.

“Wait,” Katie said, and stopped, so the whole train of horses stopped.  “We are being followed.

“Where?”  Lockhart looked back.

“Since the river.  A whole troop of men.  They have cut us off from the bridge.”  Katie looked at Lockhart.  “I’m sorry. I got busy loving you and stopped paying attention.”  Her head snapped toward the front, but then Boston and Sukki were galloping back from the point.  A minute later, Decker and Elder Stow both raced in from the sides.

“There is a whole army out there,” Boston said it first, as Petracles with Galatea came along side.

“Yes,” Galatea said.  “Men from Tauromeni and Catina.  I was wondering when you were going to notice.”

“I smell the witch,” Lockhart said.

“I hear that,” Decker agreed.

“I can put up my screens, but not for long.  Then we will be out of power.”

“They may try a mass attack from all sides.  Our weapons are good, but not against an army.”

“It would be like Custer’s last stand,” Boston suggested.

“We can’t draw the wagons in a circle. We only have the one,” Lockhart joked. “Why don’t we see what they want before we start shooting people.”

They moved forward, slowly in a group, and stopped a hundred yards from the phalanx of men.  Lockhart and Katie then rode out to the fifty-yard line and stopped there, to wait.  Petracles, and thus Galatea followed them, but the rest wisely stayed behind.

“Petracles wanted me to stay back,” Galatea said, with a true smile that made the others smile.  “He wanted to protect me.  Isn’t he the cutest thing.”

Petracles did not think he was cute, but he spoke, and tried to stay serious.  “I represent Pyrrhus here.  These Greeks have no business turning out soldiers against their king.  The king has given you safe passage.  In fact, he insisted.”

They did not have to wait long. Six men rode out from the other side. Galatea whispered, like it was a conspiracy.  “They are under the spell of your witch.  She is hiding.  Shh. Don’t tell that I told you.”

“Hello friend,” Lockhart began, but Petracles interrupted.

“I am here as representative of Pyrrhus the king.  These people have been given safe passage to their destination. How dare you bring an army out against your king.”

“These are not people,” one man spoke in a hypnotic monotone.  “They are demons from beyond time.  They must surrender all of their things.  They must surrender themselves to be burned at the stake.”

“Friend,” Lockhart began again, but this time Katie interrupted.

“Galatea.  Can you set these free from their hypnotic spell?”

“Oh,” Galatea shook her head.  “I don’t know if I am allowed to do that.”

“Please,” Lockhart said.

“Just these six,” Katie explained. “I’m not asking you to set them all free, or anything big like that.  Just a little thing.  Just these few.”

Galatea’s smile returned, like she could not stay serious for very long.  “Okay,” she said, and the six men covered their eyes, shook their heads, and looked confused before one of them spoke.

“What are we doing here?”

“Wait.  I remember,” another said, and looked at Katie and Lockhart with an odd expression on his face.

“You don’t look like demons,” a third said.

“These good people are under the protection of the king,” Petracles spoke up again.  “I am sure you don’t want to make King Pyrrhus mad at you.”

“Dear, no,” one man said.

“How did we get here?”

One figured it out.  “It was the witch,”

The city elders awkwardly turned on their horses to face their own army.  Only a moment later, they saw the witch come out from behind the men. “No,” she yelled.  “That’s not fair.  Attack.  Attack.”

Decker had somehow managed to get the rest of the group to form a defensive circle around their one wagon. He made sure the Eporites had their bows ready, and made Boston and Alexis get out their bows, even if Alexis protested.  Boston gave her Beretta to Sukki, and Decker gave his handgun to Evan.  They did not have a spare for Wallace, but that turned out to be just as well.  On sight of Nanette, Wallace rode his horse as fast as he could across the field, shouting.

“Nanette.  I’m here for you.  Nanette.”

No one could stop him, as the cavalry troop that cut them off from the bridge prepared to attack.  At the same time, the phalanx of Greeks began to march forward.

“Hasty retreat,” Lockhart said. Katie had her rifle ready, but she agreed.  Petracles rode in all seriousness, but Galatea got her grin back, like it was all too exciting.  The six elders did not seem to know what to do.  Two rode with the travelers.  Two rode slowly back to their troops, knowing they could not stop them.  The final two just stayed where they were, like men frozen in indecision.

Katie spoke when Wallace rode past them. “Let him go.  Nothing we can do for him now.”

When the riders got to the wagon, Katie quickly gave Millie her handgun, having shown Millie how to use it whether Millie liked it or not.  She pulled her rifle up to her sight, and Elder Stow let his sonic device squeal as loud as he could set it.  Even the traveler’s horses protested.  The oncoming horses stopped, bucked, stumbled, turned aside, or turned around and rode back the way they came regardless of their riders.

“Fine and well,” Decker said, “But that is not going to work on the foot soldiers.  The men advanced, seven or eight feet of spear poking out of the front of the formation.  “Captain.”

“Ready, sir,” Katie said in her crisp, military voice.  The others stepped up around them with their bows and handguns.  Bullets from handguns might not penetrate the shields with enough force to do damage to the man, but at least they would not bounce off, like arrows.  Katie and Decker had the rifles, and Lockhart had his shotgun.  Not much against five hundred or more men.

“Aim,” Decker said, and one of the Eporites yelled from behind.

“The cavalry have regained control and are preparing a charge from three sides.”

“I’ve got it,” Elder Stow countered. “Stay on the foot soldiers.”

The cavalry began yelling and started to ride.  The foot soldiers got to where Decker prepared to yell fire. when the cavalry froze, horses and all in mid-stride, and a massive stroke of lightning came down in front of the Greek phalanx, knocking the whole front row off their feet, and some of the men following as well.

Avalon 6.10 Alexander’s Eyes, part 6 of 6

Five people climbed the rocks to where Lysimachus slept.  From there, they had the best view of the fortification that blocked the pass, and the field that sat between the rocks and the fort.  Katie and Decker carried their rifles and had their military-issue night goggles.  Elder Stow had no doubt much more sophisticated goggles of a sort for night vision.  Bogramus, of course, could see perfectly fine in the dark as might be expected for dwarfs. Lockhart was the only one who couldn’t see anything but dark, and Lysimachus the same when he awoke.  Katie had to describe the scene.

“A group of men are kneeling by some bushes off to your left, there.  Three have come up to Elder Stow’s screen and look puzzled.  They appear to be trying to find the edge of the obstruction, or find a way through.  That must be frustrating.”

“Can they get through?” Lysimachus asked.

“No,” Katie said, and handed the night goggles to Lysimachus to take a look.

“The screens are like a globe or a ball completely around us,” Lockhart explained.

“They even project under the earth,” Elder Stow added, just before an arrow struck where the three Thebans stood outside the screens.  The arrow did not penetrate from inside the screens, so it bounced back to the rocks.

“Hold your arrows,” Lysimachus shouted.

“Not single-sided?” Decker asked.

Elder Stow grunted.  “Bullets can go through.  Arrows are too slow moving and do not have enough force driving them.”

“Don’t get any ideas,” Lockhart said, when Decker raised his rifle to look through his scope.

“My mother and father,” Elder Stow said. “Shall I send out a blast of light?”

Decker immediately pushed his night goggles up on his forehead.  Katie got hers back and held them with a look at Lockhart.  “Go ahead,” Lockhart said, and closed his eyes.  “Maybe it will scare them off without having to kill them.”

Elder Stow nodded and took two sticks from an inner pocket of his shirt.  One was his sonic device with which the travelers were all familiar.  The other stick looked like an enlarged toothpick. He appeared to squeeze the toothpick, and a stream of light shot into the sky where it formed a small globe like a miniature sun.  It would only last a few minutes, but in that time, the whole area became bathed in light.

The Theban soldiers became easily visible, no matter how hard they tried to hide in the bushes.  The enemy officer recognized they were caught, and quickly hurried his men back to the fortification.

An orange light snaked out from the fortification and touched Elder Stow’s blast of light.  The light flared and went out.  The travelers and Lysimachus blinked.  Bogramus spoke.

“Powerful witch, that one.”

“I feel like we’ve fallen into a sword and sorcery novel,” Katie said.

“More like science and sorcery,” Lockhart countered.

“Equipment and enchantment.  Maybe machines and magic,” Decker suggested.

“Maybe we should get some sleep,” Katie said, and took Lockhart by the arm.

“Knowledge and necromancy?” Bogramus spoke up.

“No,” Decker shook his head as they prepared to follow Katie and Lockhart back down the rocks. “It has to start with the same letter.”

“I will stay here for a while to keep watch,” Elder Stow volunteered.  Lysimachus nodded, and went back to lie down.

When Boston came to the lookout at four, to relieve Elder Stow, she suggested, “Elves and engineers.” Lysimachus had gone back to sleep, but Harpalus sat there keeping Elder Stow company.  He asked what she was talking about.

“I have no idea,” Elder Stow admitted. “Is Decker still on with that?”

Boston nodded.  “Bogramus likes dwarves and devices, but Decker says it should be technology and something magical that begins with a “T”.  He says he will have to wait for Lincoln to get up and search the thesaurus in the database.”

“What are elves?” Harpalus asked.

“I am,” Boston said, before she could stop her mouth.  Of course, then she felt she had to show the man.  She lifted her glamour of humanity, but only briefly before she put it right back on again.  Harpalus smiled and almost applauded.  He turned to Elder Stow.

“And are you an elf?”

“Certainly not.  I am a Gott-Druk, and my people used to own all this land before you humans came here.  We lived in peace for a-hundred-thousand years before the stupid Agdaline ruined everything.”

“Gott-Druk?” Harpalus asked.

Elder Stow lifted his own glamour for a second before he restored it. Harpalus looked shocked by Elder Stow’s appearance.

“Are you human?”

“Genus homo, yes.  I am human enough, only not sapiens like yourself. Homo-neaderthalensis.”

Harpalus did not understand.

“Where is Sukki?” Elder Stow asked. “We have father-daughter things to do.”

“I’ll get her,” Boston said.

An hour later, Lysimachus was up and ready to lead the Macedonian cavalry against the gate.  Erigyius agreed to lead the men on foot, provided he did not have to have contact with the dwarves or fairies.  That would not be a problem.  Bogramus already took his dwarves around to the other side of the fortification where they could fall on the enemy in the rear.  He left the camp saying, “Dwarves do damage.”

Katie, Lincoln, and Evan with Katie’s handgun went with the men on foot.  Katie kept her rifle.  Lockhart lent Lincoln the shotgun in case he got close.  Lockhart, Decker, Sukki with Boston’s handgun, and Boston, wand in hand, rode their own horses with the cavalry.  Boston said she would burn a hole in the fortification wall if necessary. Wallace also insisted on going, to Evan and Millie’s surprise.  He borrowed Elder Stow’s horse.  He got Decker’s handgun at Decker’s insistence.  He said he had no intention of hurting anyone.  He just wanted to be there for Nanette.  He imagined she needed him to come and save her, and no one could tell him otherwise.

A few Macedonians got assigned to hold the rocks and protect Alexis and Millie who stayed with the wounded in the grassy area.  The rocks would be the fallback position in case the assault did not go well.  Elder Stow stayed with Harpalus in the lookout spot. In daylight, they could see most of the fortification that blocked the pass.  Harpalus had Decker’s binoculars, and repeated the notion that the gunpowder with which the Thebans mined the road had to be in the barrels in that makeshift shed.

“To keep it dry and out of the rain,” Elder Stow had agreed.  It should not matter to the sonic device.  He had the correct frequency to set off the black powder.  The question was whether he could project it far enough and direct it on a narrow band with enough strength to reach the powder.  He only had small devices such as a ship’s officer would carry, including his handgun.  They were trinkets, really, and not designed for constant use, much less designed to do so many of the things he made them do.  Their power sources remained limited, and needed to be recharged on a regular basis.

Elder Stow spent his time on watch and Sukki and Boston’s watch time as well, working on the sonic device.  He attached it to whatever power sources remained, and imagined after this, his equipment would be useless.  Once again, he wished young Garron survived the sudden and utterly unexpected trip into the deep past.  Garron knew the equipment—the hardware, and the programing.  Garron might have easily done all those things Elder Stow had to struggle with and figure out for himself.  Garron might have known how to more easily recharge his power sources, or maybe how to use those Reichgo batteries that Katie and Decker still carried around.  Elder Stow felt glad he was able to make the equipment do things they were not designed to do. He felt glad that he had not broken the whole lot of them.  Trinkets, he thought of them and waited.

“Are we ready?” Harpalus asked, with a small touch of excitement in his voice.

“Not yet,” Elder Stow said.  He heard Lockhart’s voice in his communicator. Harpalus jumped at the voice and stared at the communication device.  Katie chimed in a moment later.

“Just need to keep Erigyius back a bit. Don’t want to get too close.  We don’t know how big the explosion may be.”

“Mother.  I appreciate the confidence you have in me,” Elder Stow answered.  “As the father might say, let’s hope this works.”

Elder Stow picked up the sonic device and switched it on.  Elder Stow and Harpalus stood for a good fifteen seconds, before the distant powder exploded, all at once.  It sent up a great plume of smoke and fire.  It loosened the face of the cliff that edged the fortress, and sent boulders crashing into the camp.  The blast shattered the little shack to splinters and sent men flying and broken. It knocked down the nearby palisade, where the Macedonians from one side and dwarves from the other hoped to attack the Thebans on foot, while the cavalry kept the rest busy on the remaining wall.  To be honest, the plan might have worked, once the Macedonians and dwarves closed their mouths and got moving; but instead, they all stopped moving altogether. The travelers did not freeze in their tracks, but they got transported with all of their horses and equipment to the other side of the pass.

“What?”  Lincoln asked, but no one else said anything.

Athena stood before them, sadly shaking her head.  “I see why the stupid Kairos says it is too soon for guns and gunpowder,” she said. “I think for once I agree with him. I know where it is being made, and I will remove it, and the knowledge of it from my jurisdiction.”

“Thank you,” Lockhart said, as he and the other riders got down from their horses.

“Nanette?” Wallace had to ask.

“Your witch and your cowboy rushed to the time gate, and with the twister of the witch, they are even now moving into the next time zone.”

“But she is not our witch,” Alexis spoke quickly before the goddess vanished.  “She is your witch.  You make her in the future.  When Evan and Millie, and Wallace too, decide to explore the past, Nanette, the real Nanette asks for some way to go with them, to help them.  You make a duplicate Nanette, like an identical twin.  As I understand sometimes happens with identicals, the real Nanette is the good one, and this Nanette has become the evil twin. I suppose you will have to make her when the time comes.  This one has made a mark on history that should not be erased, but we would appreciate it if you dealt with this duplicate Nanette before she does any further damage.”

Athena stared, stone faced.  “I noticed my fingerprint and wondered,” she slowly nodded.  “I will think on it.”

“Athena,” Katie stepped up.  “May I talk to you?”  Katie looked back at the others.  “In private.”

Since Athena was prevented from reading Katie’s mind by an act of all the gods, she got curious, a rare treat for the gods.  Katie and Athena disappeared and reappeared up the way, well out of earshot, even for Boston, the elf.

Athena said nothing

“It is about Justitia,” Katie said, and found the courage to add, “She seems a wonderful girl.”

Athena looked genuinely surprised for all of a second before she looked to the side and confessed, without explaining.

“Apollo once privately prophesied that I would have a child wiser than myself.  I denied him.  I was the virgin goddess for a reason.  Then Troy. Almost a thousand years later, and I still love him.  The Kairos, of all people.  I know Aphrodite and I were on opposite sides, but… I don’t know if I will ever forgive her.”  Athena found a tear and Katie dared not interrupt.

“I denied the baby for seven hundred years.  Apollo and Artemis tricked me into delivering the girl.  I tried to blind the girl.” Athena sniffed.  “Artemis hurried her away, and took her to her father, though the present life of the Kairos was that woman in Rome.  I let it go.  I watched, sometimes.  She is a lovely girl.”  Athena sniffed again, and wiped an eye.  “I often stand in for Zeus and Hera, you know, Jupiter and Juno in Rome.”  She smiled slightly.  “It was Cronos who confined his father to the Roman peninsula, but Zeus who gave him the name, Saturn.  He reciprocated by insisting everyone else have different names in his part of the world… Except Apollo.  He liked Apollo for some reason.”

“You know, the girl will never be wiser than her mother unless you love her and teach her,” Katie said, softly.

Athena turned her stone face to Katie. She gave the same look as when she said she would think about dealing with the witch.  She might have nodded a little.  Katie was not sure, but instantly, she found herself back where she stood with the Macedonians, ready to assault the fortification.  It was not much of an assault.  The Thebans and Athenians immediately surrendered. Bogramus said his two-dozen dwarves were very disappointed.

“Maybe next time,” Katie said.

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

MONDAY

Shipwreck.  The travers head for Sicily, but first, they have to navigate a water gate, and that is never easy.  Plus, the witch has not given up, but now the gods are on notice.  Who will get there first, and in one piece?

Until next time, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 6.10 Alexander’s Eyes, part 1 of 6

After 357 BC, Pella. Kairos lifetime 82: Diogenes: Alexander’s chief of spies.

Recording …

“Where are we?” Decker asked. “This place looks familiar.”

“It is,” Lincoln answered.  “We came through a gate near this spot roughly eighty or more years ago, into Ophelia’s world.”

“So, we are back in Greece,” Lockhart concluded.  “Somewhere around Olympia.”

“More like around Messenia, I would guess,” Katie suggested.

“The Kairos must be up around Thermopylae, I think.  Maybe Delphi.” Lincoln agreed with a nod.

“Good,” Decker said, and rode out to the wing.

“Maybe this time we will actually find a Nemean lion,” Lockhart suggested, but softly, and with a smile for Katie.

“Ancient history,” she responded in a whisper, as Evan stepped up and offered a thought.

“When we came through here, going the other direction, we came in somewhere around Thrace, and traveled through Macedonia, where we met Diogenes, who gave us some coins for a boat.  We went through Thessaly and exited somewhere off the coast of Thermopylae.  We landed in Diana’s world in the river, if you remember.”

Millie stepped up, Charles Wallace Dodd beside her.  The man appeared to leech himself to Evan and Millie as the only familiar faces in a sea of strangers.  “Of course, at the time, we had no idea who Diogenes was.  He just seemed like a very nice young man.”

“He is,” Alexis spoke up from behind.

Boston put her amulet away, beneath her shirt, and grabbed everyone’s attention.  “We need to go almost straight north, but there is a sea of water in the way.  We will have to swing around by Corinth and go through Bozotia.”

“Boeotia,” Katie corrected.  “By Thebes,” She added for the others.

“Yeah, that place,” Boston agreed, and nudged her horse ahead.

They paused the conversation to watch Boston and Sukki ride out front.  Katie imagined Sukki would mostly walk with the group and let her horse, Freedom, take a turn hauling the little wagon that carried their extra saddles and things. Diana tried for new horses from the future, but the best she could pull back from the future was the wagon.

“It seems a shame to make your horse haul this wagon,” Katie said.  “He was not made to pull the luggage.”

“It isn’t a very big wagon,” Lockhart said.  “And Dog doesn’t mind.”  He put a hand to pat his horse’s neck, and Dog nodded, like he agreed.

“My mother and father,” Elder Stow interrupted and spoke to the leaders of the group, but he mostly spoke to Katie. “You should have my horse.  The father has his own, and you may need to ride to help, or to check our direction, or to safety.  I can float along as I did at the beginning, and if you fear someone may see, I can do so invisibly.”

Katie shook her head.  “We go with what we have.  I can borrow Dog if I have to ride.  You, on the other hand, have learned well how to ride, and no human would ever risk trying to sneak up on us with you on the wing.  Floating risks being seen, and if you were invisible and needed help, how would we ever find you?  You keep to the horse on the wing.  Besides, I would never ride to safety and abandon my friends.”

Elder Stow stiffened a little, but his words were instructive.  “That is why you are a worthy mother of the group.”  He turned and rode out to the wing opposite Decker.  Lockhart and Katie, with the rest of the group, walked. Lockhart figured it would be a long walk to Bozotia, or whatever.

That evening, they asked Wallace why he decided to abandon Diana and follow them back into the future.  Evan said, “I thought you were going to write a paper on the Empire of the Roman Republic, or whatever you titled it.”

“I was,” Wallace said.  “But I abandoned that idea when I realized I had no way to take the papers with me back into the future.  Then, I figure with you folks, at least I had a reasonable chance of getting back to Professor Fleming.”

“We were really innocent, you might say, ignorant traveling through time the way we did,” Evan admitted.  “We are lucky to still be alive, all things considered.”

Millie patted Wallace’s hand like a mother might pat the hand of her child.  “And here I thought you got a lead on Nanette and wanted to follow her.”

Wallace turned red.  “That’s not it.”  He looked away.  “The Nanette we saw in the warehouse was not the real Nanette, I understand.  She must be terribly confused, upset, and afraid, to act the way she did.”

Millie patted again while the rest of the crew sighed or rolled their eyes.  They explained it all to Wallace, that the Nanette that went with them into the past was a duplicate Nanette, created by Athena.  They explained about the good twin and the evil twin that the spiritual world often produced in identical twins, but he could not seem to grasp the concept.  He had a hard-enough time grasping the idea that there were spiritual creatures at all, like Boston being an elf, and he could see that with his own eyes.  The reality of the gods, or that magic really existed in the world were concepts beyond his comprehension.  For a scholar, he had a remarkably closed mind; but then, he admitted as much.

“Truth is, I am not much of a student,” he said.  “Professor Fleming took me on because my family has lots of money.  Our trip to Rome was financed mostly by my mother.”

People nodded that they understood, but the conversation petered out and they went to bed.  They had a long walk ahead of them.

###

At the end of the week, in the morning, the travelers arrived on a hill overlooking a river.  They had covered about a hundred and fifty miles in that week. The straight line would have been more like a hundred and ten, but they had to circle around through Corinth.

“Besides,” Boston said.  “The Kairos moved twenty or thirty miles down toward us, so that is good.”

The view of the river valley would have been excellent from their height, except there were two armies filling the space, and they seemed to be fighting, or something like fighting.  Long lines of men on foot with big shields and spears appeared to be pushing each other, face to face, and without too many casualties on either side.

“Like American football,” Lockhart said, as he looked through Katie’s binoculars.  Katie got out her scope and attached it to her rifle for a good look. Decker did the same, and handed his binoculars to Lincoln.  Elder Stow had his own goggles which were honestly better than any binoculars. Boston had elf eyes, as good as eagle eyes, but the rest had to make do with whatever they could see at that distance.

“The half near us seems to have pushed back to the left,” Lincoln reported.

“A feint,” Major Decker said.  “See, as soon as the ones retreating got to the higher ground, they turned to fight again.  Meanwhile, the ones on the right now have a big gap in the line.”

“Chaeronea,” Evan shouted.  He figured out what battle they were watching.

“Macedonians on the left,” Katie said. “Athenians pushed forward and Thebans holding their ground on the right.  I see the gap between the Athenian and Theban lines.”

“Here comes the cavalry,” Wallace said, his voice full of excitement.  The others, but for Evan, spoke in calm, measured tones, like people might watch a contest on the television. Major Decker, at least, had been in battle.  Evan and Wallace had no television voices, and neither did Elder Stow.

As the Macedonian cavalry charged along the edge of the hill they were on, and Katie remarked that it had to be Phillip, and the other Macedonian cavalry troop exploited the gap between the Theban and Athenian lines to swing around and strike the Theban flank, Elder Stow shouted.

“The witch.”

Before anyone could say anything or stop him, Elder Stow fired his weapon from the hilltop.  It struck the Athenian line and exploded the ground beneath their feet, sending men and horses in every direction.

Lockhart yelled, and Elder Stow stopped after the first shot, but a moment later, Katie fired her rifle several times.  Decker saw and joined her in shooting several Athenian cavalrymen.  They stopped firing when the Macedonians moved up and reconnected with the small group of Macedonians that had been cut off and surrounded.

Lockhart yelled again.  “What happened to not interfering?  These weapons are supposed to be for defense, only. We defend ourselves when our live are in danger, but otherwise, we are not supposed to interfere with the normal course of events.”

“Sorry,” Decker said, and it almost sounded like an apology.

“But that was Phillip, I am sure of it,” Katie said, in self-defense.  “He isn’t supposed to die yet.”

“Not your decision, Lockhart said.

“Sorry.”  She sounded like she meant it.

“Lincoln spoke into the tension in the air.  “The Athenian line is broken.  Those men are going to be slaughtered.  I can’t look.”

“I didn’t look in the first place,” Alexis said.  She sat with her back to the whole thing.

“The Theban line is curling up,” Decker reported, having moved on from the liberties he took.  “You say that slick move of cavalry through the gap made in the line was Alexander the Great’s idea.”

“I think so,” Evan said.

Katie said, “He isn’t great yet.”

Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 6 of 6

After Diana explained to Justitia the phrase, “hurry up and wait,” for the third time, Katie came over to go over the plan.  “Elder Stow is going to set up a one-sided screen wall.  We can shoot them, but if the witch has taught her minions to use the guns, they won’t be able to shoot us.  Boston has agreed to send some explosive arrows in any openings they make in the way of windows or doors.  Alexis, Boston would appreciate your help with that.”

“Won’t that endanger Evan and Millie?” Alexis protested.

Katie shook her head.  Elder Stow scanned the building, and Boston confirmed by her senses that Evan and Millie are being held in a back room, well away from any up-front action.  She also confessed that her little grenades would not be like the sticks of dynamite Father Mingus made.  Hopefully, it will keep the witch off balance and discourage any sharpshooters.

“Hopefully,” Lincoln said.

“Elder Stow will walk the screen closer and closer to the building.  When he is close enough, he has it set to push rapidly forward to a few feet inside the building.  That should bring the front of the building down.  Then with these short swords and our sabers, we should be able to take her minions and get our weapons back.  Boston and I will run to get Evan and Millie, since we are the fastest.”

“And what about the witch?” Diana asked, bluntly.

“It is a calculated risk.  Thus far, the witch has shown no great signs of courage, but she has shown a great sense of self-preservation.  We are hoping when she sees the weapons doing her no good, she may find the back door and revise her plans.  Maybe get Millie and Evan to steal all of our things next time, but anyway, get out while the getting is good.”

“Bolo!”  Diana raised her voice.  A man came to see her, and the others paid attention.  Bolo had thirty ragged-looking men with him.  “Bolo is with the city guard,” Diana quickly explained, and she told about the fine young couple being kidnapped, and avoided the word, witch.  She said the enemy had very dangerous weapons that can kill from a distance, but her people here have a means of countering that.  Bolo and his men must stay behind her people until the front of the warehouse collapses.  Then they can charge, fast as they can, and capture whatever kidnappers survive the collapse of the building.

Bolo looked at Katie, who stood as tall as him, and glanced at Lockhart and Decker who stood much taller than him, and nodded.  “I have no doubt what you say is true,” he said.

“Hello Bolo,” Justitia said, and smiled for the man.

Bolo tipped his hat, like he forgot Justitia could not see him do that.  “Look at you,” he said, through a smile of his own.  “You are looking more grown up every time I see you.”

“Save it for later,” Diana interrupted.

“Lady,” Bolo nodded and got serious as he turned to shout at his men.  “We are dealing with kidnappers, but they have some special and terrible magical weapons.  So we stay behind these good people until it is time to charge, and I’ll tell you when to charge.”

“Go,” Lockhart said, and Elder Stow started inching forward.

As expected, the door and windows opened and gunfire came from the openings.  Boston and Alexis were ready, with a dozen arrows each.  Every time a head popped up or out, an arrow got sent in return, and the arrow exploded.  Also, as expected, the bullets petered out until they stopped coming altogether. Even enchanted, or perhaps hypnotized, men were not willing to risk being skewered by an arrow, and especially if that arrow exploded.  No doubt several of the men were among the dead and wounded.

When Elder Stow got close enough, the front of the building collapsed as expected; but so did most of the building. Only the back wall and a bit on each side still stood, and they looked shaky.  The travelers charged before the dust cleared.  The city guard came right on their heels.  Then Diana, unexpectedly, ran out in her excitement and worry. Justitia and Lincoln had all they could do to keep up with her.

Diana ignored the city guard who gathered the survivors from the exploding arrows and collapsing lumber. She clambered over the rubble and ignored the travelers who were searching for their weapons.  She got to the back and stopped beside Katie and Boston, who looked stymied.  The witch had Millie by the neck and a knife at Millie’s throat.  Two of her minions had Evan pinned by his arms.

“Let us go,” Nanette screeched. “Or I swear, I will slit her throat. And you know, I will be happy to do it.”

Justitia came up and hardly breathed before she shouted, “No.”  It was a word heard all around the neighborhood.

“No, Nanette,” Charles Wallace Dodd ran up, flanked by Felix and Bolo.

“Hold him,” Diana said, and Bolo and Felix each grabbed one of Wallace’s arms so he could not run to the witch. He also did not seem to have anything else to say.

Justitia pushed in front and raised her hand.  “You go too far.”  Diana felt the sword slip from the sheath at her back and saw it fly to Justitia’s hand. She decided to close her eyes. She desperately wanted to interfere, but she did not.  “I will dispense justice by my own hand if I must.”  Justitia waved the sword.  “And my justice will be swift and final.”

“The blind girl?” Nanette couldn’t believe it.  “You have no power here.”

“But your heart betrays you,” Justitia said, and held up her other hand.  The scales from the kitchen appeared in her hand.  “The good you have done is a thimble, and mostly it was done by accident.”  One side of the scales weighed down a little.  “But your crimes, since Mother made you, have been countless.”  She began when this second Nanette got made and through all the time zones, declared every wicked and evil thing the witch did.  The witch just stood there, like one unable to move.  The other side of the scale bent so low, the scale looked in danger of breaking.  “You have been found guilty.  Your sentence will be swift.”

“No,” Nanette screamed, an ear-piercing sound.  She dropped Millie and caused a whirlwind to surround her and lift her from the ground. She flew through the hole in the roof and disappeared in the distance.

Justitia turned with a smile as the two men holding Evan collapsed into unconsciousness.  The scales had vanished, but Justitia still held the sword, and Diana stepped up, and yelled.  “Justitia.” It was not a pleasant sound. “That is not your job.  You may be judge.  You may be jury.  God willing, you will never have to executioner.  But you are not allowed to be all three.  I’ll have no vigilante daughter.”  Poor Justitia wilted under the scolding.  But with each word, Diana took a step closer, until she wrapped Justitia in a great hug and added, “I was so scared for you.”

“Oh, Mama.”  Justitia found some tears.  “I was scared, too.”

###

They found two men waiting when they arrived at Diana’s home.  Her husband, Publius, wrapped Diana in a hug and included Justitia.  “Where were you?  I got no answer from the servants, and we were getting worried.”

Diana’s father, seated, old man that he was, had a different opinion.  “I came to visit and found my grandson tied to the gate.  No servant will confess to the deed, and Gaius believes it would be shameful to tell.  Then I found Publia and her friends tearing up the house with a wild party.  I know she is not yet sixteen, but I had to threaten to find her a husband to get her to stop.”

“I had an errand—”

“What kind of errand could take you from your duties as a wife and mother?  Marcia, you are my good child…”  The old man sighed.

“This fine young couple got kidnapped by a witch…”

The old man waved his hand.  He heard one thing.  “You got kidnapped?”

“That’s right,” Bolo said.  Both he and Felix were there to confirm everything.

“Oh my dear,” the old man said to Millie. He got up.  “Please come sit here.  Both of you.  That must have been a terrible ordeal.”

“The kidnapper had a knife to her throat and threatened to kill the woman,” Felix said.  The travelers kept back, knowing it would generally best in such circumstances to let the Kairos explain whatever the Kairos was willing to explain.  In this case, the old man gave Felix such a stare, he straightened up and said, “Lucius Falerna Felix,” and he added, “Sir,” just to be safe.

The old man took Millie’s hand and patted it gently, just like you would expect from a doting grandfather, but his words remained sharp.  “And why would you take sweet Justitia on such an errand?”

“She followed.  The servants were instructed to not let Gaius follow. Publia was not here when we had to run,” Diana said, quickly.

“Good thing Justitia was there,” Bolo said, getting set to praise her.

“The witch got frightened by so many of us,” Diana interrupted.  “She flew away, as witches do.  I am sure we will not be bothered by her again.”

“I see,” the old man said.  “And who are all these others?”

“They are friends,” Diana said.  “They may be a bit harder to explain.  Their home is in the far future.”

At least her husband laughed.

“They are from the future?” the old man said.  “Really? So, tell me something about the future.”

“That would not be wise,” Lockhart said.

Katie stepped up.  “Even Delphi couches their words in vague symbols and disconnected words, and for a reason.  Knowledge of the future is not to be trifled with.  But I will say this.  I have a feeling when the Gauls come again, you will defeat them handily, and may even find the Etruscans willing to bow to your victory, that is, if you arm and protect your soldiers with the equipment Diana has created.”

The old man smiled.  “Just what I wanted to hear.  I, too, believe I will defeat them the second time, and Marcia is my good luck charm, you know.”

Diana did not look happy, but in the end, she nodded.  “I’ll give you that one.”

###

After two weeks, the travelers said good-bye to Centurion Felix.  The old man said he could use good men.  They also said good-bye to chicken-head and snake-head, and the whole troop of Roman-looking soldiers.

The minute they stepped through the time gate, Lockhart pulled Katie aside and said, “Explain.  Justitia said her mother created Nanette.”

Katie nodded.  “Minerva, that is, Athena is her mother.  Diomedes is her father.  Apollo let it slip that if Athena ever had a child, the child would be wiser than her mother.  Athena Kept Justitia from being born for over seven hundred years, and then blinded her when she was born.  But Artemis and Apollo intervened and brought her to Diana to raise, which kind of makes sense, seeing as the Kairos Diomedes was her father.  Diana says there is no doubt Justitia is wiser than herself, so Athena should not have a problem with that.”  Katie shrugged.

Lockhart gave her a kiss.  “I cannot imagine our daughter will be wiser than her mother,” he said.  She smiled and looked down, shyly, thinking of having a child.  “Or stronger, or faster, oof.” Katie elbowed him in the stomach.

“Don’t push your luck,” Katie said.

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

MONDAY

Episode 10 of season 6 begins, where we meet an old friend who has shown up in several episodes, the Kairos, Diogenes of Pella, first cousin to Alexander the Great.  Of course, the witch, the outlaw cowboys and some gunpowder don’t make it easy.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

 

Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 3 of 6

Nanette picked up Lincoln’s revolver, the only weapon she felt some familiarity with.  She pointed it at Evan and Millie and pulled on the trigger, but nothing happened.  It took a minute to figure out how to take off the safety.  Then she pointed it again, but at the last second, turned it on one of her flunkies.  The bang was loud.  The man yelled his surprise and collapsed, his hand across his stomach where he started bleeding out.  Nanette’s arm shot straight up.  She almost hit herself in the face with the weapon, but looked at it with approval as she put the safety back on and handed it to one of the other men.

“Gather these weapons and put them in the wagon,” she ordered.  “Take the couple.  Gag and tie them to the wagon.  I may have further use for them.”  As she followed everyone out the door, she turned her head with one last thought. “All right, Meg.  You can have the wounded one.”

Everyone heard the screams of absolute terror.  Millie threw her hands to her ears.  Evan looked back and dropped his jaw.  Nanette came out grinning.  She said, “They eat fear.  They feast when they scare someone to death.”

###

Boston gave her bow and arrows to Katie, and her Beretta to Lockhart while she held on to her wand.  Alexis pulled her wand and gave her bow and arrows to Lincoln, though she said he could not hit the broad side of a barn. Sukki pulled out her knife, military issue from the future, made from a steel far better than she ever imagined. Elder Stow had his gadgets. Decker broke off a table leg he could use as a club.

“A spear would be nice,” he said.

Lincoln nodded.  “Keep them at arm’s length.”

When Lockhart, Katie, Decker, and Elder Stow came out of their rooms and on to the upstairs balcony, their heads cleared a bit.  Good thing, because three giant spiders came clicking down the hall in their direction. Katie sent an arrow through one while Lockhart fiddled with the safety on Boston’s handgun.  Boston waved her wand and set the other two on fire. Alexis called up a wind that blew them on to the courtyard below where they would turn to charcoal without setting the whole house ablaze.

“No point in setting the house on fire,” she said out loud, and Boston smiled sheepishly, like she had not thought of that.

Everyone paused when they heard a distant, Bang!

“Millie and Evan?” Katie asked.

“They are gone,” Boston reported.

“Along with the weapons,” Decker said. He and Elder Stow faced the other way on the balcony, but no spiders came from the direction of the kitchens.

“We need to help the family,” Alexis said.

Lockhart shook his head.  “They seem to be coming from that direction.” He shot another one that might have come from the upstairs storage room.

“The horses,” Sukki suddenly spouted.

“The sabers,” Decker and Lincoln thought of them at the same time.  Lincoln, Decker, Lockhart and Katie had Patton Sabers wrapped up in their things, kept in the stables with their horses.

Decker started in the direction of the stairs without waiting.  The others followed.

Elder Stow shot one on the stairs. Decker got to use that club when a giant spider surprised them in the courtyard.  They picked up their pace and burst out the back door, heading toward where the barn and stables were located.  Decker and Katie sensed the trouble, and Boston heard the click-clickof spider legs on the wooden walls inside the stables.

“Hurry,” she yelled.

Alexis waved her wand at the door, and the doors blew open.  The horses in their stalls were panicking.  They saw dozens of giant spiders around the place.

Decker and Lincoln ran for the sabers. Alexis took her bow back so she could shoot the beasts and conserve her magical strength for her healing magic, if needed.  Katie, being an elect, quickly mastered her bow and arrows.  Lockhart fired the Beretta two handed, as he had been taught all those years ago at the police academy.

Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device, and the spiders protested.  The humans shouted their complaints and rattled a bit as well.  Elder Stow refined the sound, and all the spiders fell off the walls.  He did minimal damage to the creatures, but he paraphrased Alexis’ words.  “I don’t want to burn down the place.”

By then, everyone had their sabers, and they waded into the spiders.  Sukki liked her knife, but found it as easy to punch one and cave in its head. Despite her glamour of humanity, in reality, she was a bit of a linebacker in her build, and very strong.

Boston took back her bow and arrows from Katie, and thought she better practice.  Elf maids were known for their excellent archery, and she knew a fire in the stables would only make matters worse.  It did not take long to slice the remaining giant siders in the building, but the walls and the people got covered in blood and guts.

“We need to see about the family, and the other people in the inn,” Alexis said, again.

Sukki stepped up, holding her side. “I got stung,” she confessed.

Alexis and Boston got her to lie down, and Alexis went to work immediately drawing out whatever poison might have been in the bite, and then healing the wound, which looked like quite a gash.

“We will check on the family,” Katie said, meaning her and Lockhart.

“I’ll stay here with the girls,” Lincoln said, and for once, Lockhart agreed.  Lincoln got all too quick to keep back where it was safe, but in this case, these spiders could be anywhere.

“Just give me a second to adjust this screen device…” He turned it on, and handed little discs to Katie and Lockhart, and one for Decker who had his hand out.  They were tuned to let the people pass through the screens.  “If there are any inside the area, you will have to deal with them, but at least no more should be able to get at you from the outside, or at the horses.”

“Ready?”  Decker seemed anxious.

“I’ll have to check the horses next,” Alexis said, off handedly.

Lockhart simply nodded and led his group back toward the house.

“Alexis.”  Boston called from the stalls.  Alexis’ horse, Misty Gray, was not only dead, it appeared partially eaten. Katie’s Black Beauty was down and breathing heavily from the poison.  Elder Stow’s horse was also down, with multiple bites.  Lockhart’s horse, Dog, still stood, but he looked bitten several times.  Decker’s horse, Weber, looked bitten at least once.  The poison oozed out of a gash on his side.  Boston’s Honey and Sukki’s Freedom looked untouched, and that felt like a small miracle.

“Alexis,” Boston called again, but she sounded weepy.  She saw two spiders on the wall, ready to swing down on Black Beauty.  Boston carefully fried them with the hope that they would not fall and set the hay and the whole stables on fire.  Alexis, and Sukki, back on her feet, helped contain the fire.  Lincoln got the last one with his saber as it made a dash for the door.

Boston wept, but Alexis grabbed her hand to add her magic to the healing process.  Sukki and Lincoln kept watch, just in case.  Alexis made an executive decision.  She pulled the poison from Weber, Dog, and Elder Stow’s horse, which as far as anyone knew, he never called anything other than horse.  Black Beauty seemed too far gone, and by the time Alexis and Boston arrived there, exhausted, the horse had died.

Boston wept some more, and Alexis joined her.

###

Lockhart, Katie, and Decker burst back into the downstairs courtyard area, sabers ready, Lockhart still holding tight to Boston’s Beretta.  Elder Stow came a step behind, juggling his weapon and sonic device.  He considered activating his floatation device and flying up to the balcony above.  He also considered going invisible, but he imagined these giant spiders had to be the result of some magic, and that magic might see through his invisibility screen. His plan went on hold when they got met by some fifteen or twenty spiders in the courtyard.

The travelers almost backed out of the house in the face of such odds, but a dozen men burst in the front gate to add their spears, swords, and shields to the fight.  More spiders came from the family side of the house, or dropped down from the balcony or the roof, but altogether, the fight did not last long.  The spiders were disgusting when stabbed or sliced in half, but they were not smart and only knew one way to attack.

At the end, one man lost his spear and screamed when a spider got ready to bite him.  Lockhart’s bullet arrived at the same time as an arrow.  The arrow got shot with enough force to drive the spider back against the wall.  A woman stood in their midst, and smiled.

“That was fun,” she said.

“Artemis,” Katie recognized the woman.

The woman sighed.  “In this place, it is Diana.  Saturn renamed everyone in his corner of the world.  Before he went over to the other side, he even gave Hera the name Juno.  That took courage.”

“I imagine Hera is not one to trifle with,” Katie said, as she and the goddess hugged.

“I should say,” Diana agreed, as she backed up and put one hand to her cheek as if remembering something from long ago.  Katie thought it might have been Troy.

“So, Lockhart.  Are you taking care of my elect?” Diana asked, referring to Katie.

“More like she is taking care of me,” he answered, and Diana smiled again.

“Decker,” she turned to the man. “Venus and I were talking just the other day, and your name came up.  You are still on her list, you know.”

“No.  Please,” Decker said, and Diana laughed, which made every face in the courtyard smile.

“Elder Stow,” Diana moved on.  “How is that adopted daughter of yours?”

“Well, I hope,” he said.

“She is well,” Diana assured him, as she turned at last to the soldiers in the courtyard.

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MONDAY

The chase begins, to save Millie and Evan, not to mention get back the weapons which do not belong in the hands of the with, much less in the days of the Roman Republic.  Until Monday

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