R6 Greta: Downriver, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your dolphins?” Alesander asked.

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

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

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

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

“I felt something,” Mavis admitted.

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

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

“Howdy Folks.”

“He says hello,” Mavis translated the English.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

“Boat’s too big?” Briana guessed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lady calls,” one cloud spoke.

“Calls to us,” the other cloud agreed.

“We are here,” the first said.

“Here we are,” the second agreed.

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

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

“We want to help,” the other echoed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 3 of 3

Up close, it became clear the gate had been broken down, and burned from the look of it.  That much seemed obvious, even in the dark.  What Greta could not figure out was, how?  Explosives would have splintered the door.  A bulldozer might have done it, but no way this got done by a bunch of men with a battering ram.  It almost looked like it was pulled off the hinges from the inside, and that made Greta wonder if the enemy broke in or the towns people were trying to get out.

There were bodies and pieces of bodies everywhere inside the gate.  Men, women and children looked torn, shredded and partially eaten with an arm here and a leg there.  Vedix thanked the gods it was dark enough to disguise the full impact of the horror. Hermes held a cloth over his mouth and tried not to look too closely.  Even so, Hermes threw up when he tripped over a torso with the head still attached and one dead eye staring up at him; and Mavis almost joined him. Alesander and Briana could hardly force their eyes to look away, like rubberneckers on the highway.  By contrast, Nudd kept his eyes shut tight, and for once, Greta did not blame him.

Lord Crag lead them quickly to the drain grate. “The main lines are tall enough for a man to stand upright,” he told them, while a troll ripped off the cover. They heard a howl echo through the city streets and Lord Crag added a word.

“Hurry.”

Greta found the underground as dank and dark as advertised.  The goblins and trolls did not mind too much, being used to living in the swamp, but they turned up their noses against the smell.  Mavis did throw up a little then, and Hermes gave her his cloth to cover her mouth.  Bogus and Pincushion remained stoic the whole time, but walked like statues with their mouths open and their eyes bulging.  Greta knew dwarf eyes saw better in the dark than human eyes, and she figured Bogus and Pincushion saw plenty up above.

“There are lots of caverns that drip limestone and create pillars out of stalactites and stalagmites,” Bogus said.  “But the smell can get hard to handle.  We should be fine if this trip doesn’t take too long. Trust me, you would not want to see my vomit.  It would not be sweet and dainty like your handmaid.”

“I could vomit,” Ulladon volunteered.

“Never mind,” Briana said.  “How about some light.”

Lord Crag had several goblins light torches which were specially prepared to be smokeless.  He spaced his men between members of the group to give light for the journey.  Ulladon made a fairy light and floated it out front.  It had a slight green tint to it which did not help the queasy stomachs in the group.  Mavis also made a fairy light, but it appeared bright and warm like the sun.  That helped everyone’s disposition, except maybe the trolls.  Mavis let her light follow the group, but kept it in front of the ogre and the trolls who brought up the rear.  Bonebreaker did not mind the light, and fortunately he blocked enough of it to keep the trolls from protesting too loudly.  But then poor Bonebreaker had to bend over almost the whole way underground, and twice he had to squeeze through places where the tunnels had partially collapsed.

The group moved as fast as they could, and quickly came to one of those underground chambers.  When the two fairy lights raised toward the ceiling, they could see the drip, drip of the water they felt as they walked.  By the time they reached the far side of the cavern, they heard the howls behind them.  Lord Crag tried to hurry them up, but the group could hardly move fast by torchlight when their footing crossed wet and slippery rocks and broken bits of tunnel ceiling.  They were inclined to stumble.

“We should reach the next cavern soon, just before the river,” Rotwood said, though no one really listened as their ears all focused behind to hear sounds of what followed them.  The tunnel emptied out into a small cavern with a high ceiling that had the feel of a grotto by the sea.  They saw boulders all around on ground level which kept large sections of the cavern in the dark and made spooky, flickering shadows in the torchlight.

“The river is straight ahead,” Rotwood said. “We need to climb up here to get out of the drain by the docks.”  Lord Crag sent a half-dozen goblins up the walls to the drain to open it, check out the area, and see if there might be a ladder or something to help the humans.  Everyone else paced and looked back the way they came, expecting the Wolv any minute.

It honestly was not long, even if it seemed forever, before a long ladder came down from the drain opening along with a long rope.  Two more goblins went up first, one on the ladder and the other by way of the rope. With the all clear, the group began to climb.

Greta sent Lucius, Alesander and Briana up first saying, “Like in the wilderness, you take the point.  Find cover and guard the exit for the others.”  Vedix, Bogus and Pincushion followed with instructions to head for the docks and find a boat.  Hermes got prepared to start up the ladder with Nudd following, and Ulladon got half-way up the rope when Mavis balked.  She refused to go up before her mistress.  She said she would climb the rope when Greta climbed the ladder. Greta insisted she would be fine and right behind her, and anyway, she had Bonebreaker between her and the tunnel, but Mavis looked unmoving.  Then the Wolv arrived.

One Wolv came out of the tunnel and let out a yip-yip before it got tackled by the three trolls.  Greta could not watch, but she knew despite the shielding and laser-like weapon, the Wolv would not survive that encounter.

A second Wolv came from the tunnel and had time to look at Greta and drool.  Nudd, who had his eyes open to climb the ladder, pulled his sword and this time he charged before anyone managed to glue his feet to the ladder.  The Wolv appeared to laugh, but it got hit in the back by a steady stream of rocks that shot out from the dark behind a boulder.  The Wolv shield protected him from the impact, but the push from the rocks combined with the slippery rocks at its feet caused the Wolv to fall over.  Nudd raced passed the Wolv and headed for the dark, like he saw something the others could not see.  When the Wolv regained its feet, it roared and seemed to forget all about Greta as it bounded after the boy.

“Nudd!”  Greta and Mavis both yelled, but Lord Crag and the last goblin underground urged Greta to climb.

As a third Wolv stuck its head from the tunnel, Bonebreaker finally caught up with what was going on and had a thought, always a dangerous thing for an ogre, and he yelled, “I’ll save you.”  He charged, shoved the Wolv back into the tunnel, and roared a much deeper and more frightening roar than the Wolv could produce.

“Bonebreaker, no,” Greta said, but not too loud as Lord Crag and the goblin grabbed her and all but carried her to the surface. Mavis scurried up the rope and met her there, and they all hurried to get down behind the boxes and barrels that lined the dock and now would never go downriver.

There were a half-dozen Wolv in and around the warehouse buildings that sat back from the docks and provided the Wolv with cover. The Wolv were firing their weapons, but they were receiving return fire from Alesander, Briana, Vedix and Hermes. Lucius, Bogus and Pincushion were missing, but Greta could not worry about that just then.  The goblins, having recognized that their arrows were ineffective, were preparing to send some flaming arrows and set the warehouses on fire.  Two goblins had the magic to fire explosive arrows, which at least kept the Wolv back and wary.

It began to look like a Mexican standoff, and Greta wondered whose old and used up weapons would run out of power first, when a bolt of lightning crashed the front of two barrels. They exploded and sent splinters everywhere.  Greta heard a laugh, saw the man, lion head and all, just as she had seen him in her vision.  He was the Jupiter, the judge, and he was clearly not in the mood for play.

A second bolt of lightning struck the dock and made a gaping hole in the wood, and Greta stood, only it was not Greta.  Junior stepped into the fray and he threw a brick calculated to graze the lion’s head.  While the lion looked up to blast the brick, the brick turned into a dove and flapped in the lion face before it flew off.  That mesmerized the man-beast just long enough for Junior to arrive in the lion’s face.  One swing with Wyrd and the lion head bounced to the cobblestones.

An arrow just missed Junior’s shoulder and hit the serpent head, spoiling the serpent’s aim.  Junior forgot about the serpent that curled around the lion-man’s feet. It struck even as Junior struck, but Mavis fired at the same time, and before the serpent could gather itself for a second strike, Junior cut its head off, too.

The snake body became pinned by a dozen goblin arrows, and the goblins followed to chop the body to pieces while Junior went to work on the lion-man.  He first cut the man body in half at the waist and then chopped at the lion head. Mavis, Ulladon and Briana came up with the goblins and started slicing up the serpent head when Junior stepped back to look.  The Wolv all staggered and held their heads, like men suddenly loosed from a great enchantment.

Junior backed off completely.  The lion-man began to dissolve, like ice under a hot sun, and the serpent pieces began to melt making one big melted whole.  A spark of light broke free of the melted mass and rose above their heads.  As the melted mass vanished, or perhaps seeped beneath the cobblestones, the spark raced off to the north to disappear in the dark.

“Boat.  Hurry.” Bogus yelled from the dock. Alesander and Hermes raced to collect Briana and Mavis while Junior vanished so Greta could return to her own place.  Greta and Briana both paused to give Ulladon a thank you kiss on the cheek.  Mavis chose simply to smile and Ulladon returned a knowing smile that said they were friends but there were limits on how close a dark elf and light elf could get.

Vedix and Lucius held the boat with poles while everyone piled in.  When they shoved off, Greta said good-bye and waved to the goblins, knowing they would see in the dark.  The current took them quickly, but not before they heard the howls of frustration from Samarvant.  The Wolv were disoriented for a moment when Jupiter was ruined, but it did not take them long to pull themselves together.  Greta had no doubt they would follow the group along the shore and be there when they docked.

One down, six to go, Greta thought.

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

MONDAY

They have to make it down the river without being caught by the Wolf, and all the while, Greta wonders what will be the next piece of Mithras she has to face.

Until Monday.  Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 2 of 3

In the impossibly far future, Greta would live two alien lifetimes.  Gallena of Orlan, an exobiologist who could dissect the Wolv and name every part. More importantly, because of Gallena’s understanding of so many alien cultures and alien psychology in all of its rich variety, she might be able to predict Wolv behavior.  Greta imagined that could be useful.

The other impossible life, Martok the Bospori, lived as a mathematical engineer who looked at the weapons and shields of the Wolv like Greta might look at late Neolithic stone-tipped spears.  Martok could easily repair the Wolv craft and send them back out into space, if she could figure out how to get him close enough to do it.  Greta shook her head at the idea of getting close to the Wolv ship and in her thoughts, took a step closer to her own time.

Still in the far future, she remembered the storyteller who kept track of all that went on in this and her many lifetimes, though to be honest, if he did not write down the names and things, he could get as confused as her.  Still, he knew the history of Greta’s day and age, and in a broad way which Greta could not grasp because she sat in the midst of it, and in a sense stayed too close to the subject to see the forest from the trees.  Greta grinned as she thought that, but then apologized to the storyteller because he hated clichés.  Anyway, the storyteller knew what belonged in Greta’s day and what did not; and the Wolv definitely did not belong.  I know that much, Greta thought.

Doctor Mishka came from the century before the storyteller, or at least the lifetime before.  The good doctor taught her many things about healing that even Mother Hulda did not know.  As bad as it felt at times to not be allowed into heaven, to be constantly forced into a new life, to have to live over and over and still not get it right, there were some advantages to having lived so many times.  She reluctantly admitted that in her mind where she often refused to admit it in her heart.

Greta sighed and thought again.  In the near future, there were two more lives that she seemed to be living at the same time as her own, though they quite obviously lived in their own time and place.  Gerraint sadly learned all there was to know about battle, and Greta feared his expertise might be needed in her day before this all finished, and indeed, she had already used him in that capacity.

“I volunteered,” Festuscato spoke directly from the future into Greta’s head.  Greta felt startled, and looked around to see if anyone else heard.  She told herself to be quiet and continued with her not so private thoughts.

Festuscato had some talents at negotiation, especially in negotiating with pig-headed barbarians, if only he could restrain his glib tongue.  At the moment, he still whispered in her head and reminding her that it was his turn next. Like a mom, Greta could only answer, “We’ll see,” and she backed her thoughts into the past.

In the near past, she lived as a Greek princess, gifted to the hunt by Artemis herself and master of more weapons than Greta could name.  The princess did not have the strength and natural talents of an elect, like Briana, but she more than made up for it by her training and the spirit of Artemis that dwelled in her.  The storyteller once put on his best Festuscato accent and quipped that she could track bedroom slippers across a field of linoleum, whatever that meant.

Greta smiled at that image, but turned her thoughts to Diogenes, chief of spies for Alexander the Great, sometimes called Alexander’s Eyes.  Now, he was the consummate warrior and already knew enormous amounts about battle, but he also had a special talent which might be called the talent of a true rogue; rogue being a word which she thought would be nicer than thief.  He could get in and out of a guarded room with whatever he went after, and before anyone noticed.  The storyteller said he could spy out a party of dwarfs without their ever noticing.  It was a bit of an exaggeration, Diogenes being only human and all, but not too far from the truth.

Greta shifted her seat as she remembered the gods she had been as her mind wandered into the deep past.  She remembered that on four separate occasions she lived among the gods.  Sometimes that memory made her more uncomfortable than the aliens, Martok and Gallena.  But setting her personal discomfort aside, there were four gods that stood at the four corners of the earth, and the first she thought of was the nameless god.

Nameless, an earth god, grandson of Odin and a Prince of Aesgard.  They presently traveled through territory that belonged to Nameless before the days of the dissolution of the gods, and that was perhaps why she thought of him first. Greta wondered why she even worried about Gerraint learning about battle, and Diogenes being trained in Macedonian school for war.  Nameless’ father was Tyr, the Aesgard god of war, and his mother was Vrya, goddess of love and again, war.  Nameless knew everything there was to know about war and battle, and maybe even invented some of it.  It ran in his blood, but then Greta decided she did not want to think about that.

Danna, great-great grandmother of Rhiannon, a fire goddess whose father Hephaestus lived and worked in the lava fields of Mount Etna.  She carried the underground fires of the earth in her blood, but she also served as a fertility goddess, thanks to her mother Bast, the cat of Egypt.  In fact, in Egypt, they called her Amonette, the serpent of the Nile, and considered her a goddess of creation, but that was a long story. Suffice to say, Danna gave birth to a whole pantheon of her own, and Rhiannon, her great-great grandchild or whatever, was ticking her off.  Greta frowned and thought again.

Salacia or Amphitrite, the queen of the seven seas, having married Poseidon, the one called Neptune by the Romans.  Her heart desired only to play with the little fishies in her streams and lakes and her lovely dolphins in the deep blue seas, but Greta remembered that Salacia had another side.  Don’t piss her off or upset her, because her anger could easily rise to hurricane proportions.  “But then everything feels so good and clean after the storm has passed.”  Greta heard the words in her head, and shook her head to clear her thoughts.

Then she thought of Junior, a man Greta felt especially close to because of her recent access.  Greta waited, but Junior kindly said nothing.  Junior, a god of the air, and she thought that like Nameless, his mother Ishtar had been a goddess of both love and war, but unlike Nameless, Junior’s father was Amun, the one true ancient god of the Nile, the creator god who became the Ra, the king of the gods of Egypt.  Amun Ra.  This could be good, Greta thought, not the power part, but the creativity.  Greta might need some real creative thinking to deal with the seven broken off pieces of Mithras, and Greta herself was not especially good in panic situations.

Greta shook her head again and put down her food. She stared at the city, and Vedix finally stole her attention when he spoke.

“It will be all right.  We will find them and get them home, safe.”  Vedix referred to Berry, Hans, Fae and Hobknot.  He apparently reacted to the look on her face, but had no idea what she really worried about.

The lives among the gods that she lived in the past were usually unavailable, no matter what lifetime she lived and no matter what terrible thing she faced.  She knew they were not there to step in and fix all her problems any more than she was there to fix all of the problems for her elves, fairies, gnomes and goblins. She knew it strongly related to the idea that she had to fight her own battles and cross her own bridges when she came to them, or burn those bridges, as the storyteller liked to say.  But in this case, Nameless, Danna, Amphitrite and Junior were virtually tripping over themselves to come and help her out. That really worried her more than anything else.  She supposed it was because she was due to start facing the godly, broken off pieces of Mithras, directly.

Mithrasis and the others failed to stop her by more indirect means, by threat, by general Pontius, by Chobar and his Dogs or the Lazyges. They failed with the initial hunters of the Wolv.  They failed with the followers of Helios and the followers of the lion-headed Jupiter. But Greta knew she had no power in her small human self to face such things as gods or demi-gods or whatever the pieces of Mithras were.  She felt grateful to her godly lives, but scared all the same.  She said something out loud, though perhaps no one listened.

“Now it begins in earnest.”

“Lady.”  Mavis got Greta’s attention as soon as they left the shelter of the swamp and headed out across the grass toward the city.

“What are we going to do about Stinky?” Hermes asked. “He might not fit through the tunnels, and even if he does, it is not likely we will find a boat big enough to take him downriver.”

Everyone heard and everyone stopped where they were. Alesander began to unload the mule. He made packages and divided them as evenly as he could between the members of the group so no one person would be overburdened.  They would not let Greta carry any more than her medical pack.  She protested, but got told bluntly that she had a baby to carry.

“I won’t even start showing for another month, at least,” she said, but it made no difference.

When everyone had been loaded down, Alesander’s final act was to remove Stinky’s reigns.  “I can’t imagine he will survive long in this wilderness,” Alesander said.

“We won’t touch him,” Rotwood responded as the goblins, three trolls, and Bonebreaker stood, ready to go.  Greta knew that was right.  Several had received electro-shock burns in the night.

Mavis and Hermes said good-bye to the beast. Greta stepped over to kiss the mule on the nose.  Briana offered one last carrot, and Vedix offered a Celtic word of parting, though he said it in jest.  The group turned for the city.  Stinky followed them most of the way, but stopped short of the gate.  It was like he sensed what was inside.

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 1 of 3

Late in the afternoon on the following day, the group came to the edge of the swamp.  From there, after a short bit of grassland, they saw the stone city wall, two stories high in most places.  Nudd called the city Samarvant, and he pointed off to their right where the road went up to a gate, the road they would have taken if they traveled the normal route, twenty-one days on the high road from the village of the Dragon Clan. Off to the left, they saw the river that Nudd called the Olevant.  The little ones called it the river Heartbreak, but Greta had another name for it.

“The Scythians own the Ukraine, but I hope we are beyond their area now,” she said.  “These great swamps and bogs and woods cover the border area, and they rest on higher ground where a thousand streams join together to form the river. The river on the future map that the Storyteller is looking at is called the Oka, it runs due north for a long way before it detours to the east where it runs straight into the Muskva River, and that is where we are going.”  Everyone looked at the river where it skirted the swampy area they were in and ran north along the edge of the city.  Everyone looked at the water since it was the route they would have to take, but the water was not the only thing they were looking for.

“Over there,” Alesander pointed toward the southeast side of the city where the wooden roof of a tower could just be made out. It looked burned.

“I see the scorch marks on the stones,” Mavis reported.  “But I see no one on the walls or around the gate and I hear nothing to indicate life.”

“Bogus?”  Greta turned to the dwarf.

Bogus shook his head.  “I smell trouble, but I cannot say what kind.  I think Wolv, but…” Bogus shrugged.  “Too much lime smell.”

“No cooking fires,” Pincushion added.  “This time of day I should smell cooking fires.”

“Briana?”  Greta turned again

“I sense danger.”  That seemed all she could say for sure.

“I recommend we wait until dark,” Ulladon said.

“Why wait?” Lucius spoke up. “No reason why we can’t find our way to the docks and grab a boat before they even know we are there.”

“Better after dark.  We can’t protect you until after the sun sets,” Lord Crag interrupted. “Rotwood,” he yelled in a voice that gave Nudd the willies.  “Run back and get the trolls and Bonebreaker, and hurry.”  Rotwood hurried, and Greta sat, so everyone found a spot and sat with her.

Pincushion, Ulladon, Hermes and Mavis set about building a fire to cook some supper.  Briana sat with Alesander and they looked at the city wall once in a while.  Lucius sat near them and stayed quiet except for the comment that he thought they ought to just go, now.  He said they would be all right and let the subject drop, but Greta wondered how he would know one way or the other, and surely caution would be called for.  She considered Lucius on this journey.  He had not betrayed them.  He had not done anything overtly to indicate he might be under the spell of Mithrasis, if she did not count almost being killed by his rockslide on the Rumbling Ridge; but there were subtle signs.  He urged them to return to Roman lands at the Dragon Village.  He went out all day from the elf village and Vedix said he and Lord Horns separated from him for a time, but that did not mean he met with anyone or set up any ambush.  Now, he urged a lack of caution, like he knew something but would not tell. There were probably other things as well, but her mind felt clouded.

“Lady,” Bogus and Vedix interrupted her thoughts with an argument.  “I thought maybe Chobar and the Dog Clan came up before us, and maybe that is the dog smell we are sensing, but Vedix says even if Chobar brought every dog, there would not be enough to attack a city like this.”

“I wish it was something as simple as Chobar and his dogs, but no,” Greta said.  “This is a city of the Bastarne people, as Ulladon said, and that is a Germanic people. I thought one or more of the outlying Scythians types might have attacked the city, like maybe the Capri or Costoboci, but no.”

“Why not?”  Vedix wondered.

Greta pointed.  “That roof is still smoldering, so whatever happened, it happened in the past day or two at most.  And there are no dead bodies or equipment, broken or otherwise, to indicate an assault on the city.”

“Maybe it got taken by stealth and subterfuge,” Bogus suggested.

Greta shook her head, but said, “Maybe.”  She twirled her right-hand pigtail, considered how light her blond hair was, and wondered if she could get away with being ditzy and feigning ignorance about the world.  No way, she thought.  Not if she knew words like feigning.  She sighed and considered their predicament instead.  No one said the city got razed by Wolv, but it was what everyone thought. Greta was probably the only one who knew that it would not take more than a dozen Wolv to kill a thousand men, women and children.  The Wolv had shielding and advanced weapons, and true, the weapons were pretty old and worn out, but even with their claws and fangs, and speed alone, they were pretty unstoppable.

“Lady.”  Nudd interrupted Greta’s thoughts this time.  She looked at him, but still had her mind wandering through La-la land. Poor Nudd.  He had not left her side since just about Movan Mountain, and she could not be sure if he opened his eyes even once in the swamp.  “Lady,” he repeated, which got her to pay better attention.  “I’ve been thinking about Samarvant.  I was very young when I came here, but I remember some.  I remember they built big underground tunnels, drains they called them, to take away rain water and filth from the streets.  I remember because they scared me when I thought about getting lost down there.  I feared wandering around forever and never finding my way back up again.”  Nudd got lost in his own memories, and from the look on his face, they were probably memories of nightmares he had as a child about getting lost in a labyrinth of underground tunnels.  Greta paused while the information sank in.  Then she shouted.

“Alesander.  Bogus. Lord Crag.  There may be a way through the city.”  She softened her tone to speak again to Nudd.  “Do the drains empty out into the river?”

“Yes,” he said and shivered.  “And sometimes they flood the tunnels to clean them out.” He closed his eyes and turned away while the others came to listen.

It took almost no time to figure their route. Lord Crag’s people explored all the tunnels when they were first constructed, including their path through a couple of natural underground caverns.  Crag and his people wanted nothing to do with those caverns since they were so wet and full of stinky limestone, and since the townspeople sent flood waters through every now and then, but his people knew all about the tunnels, and several had maps in their heads and claimed they could take them right to the drain opening next to the docks on the river.

“The only problem is we will have to enter the city by the gate to get to a drain opening,” Lord Crag said.  “The ground beneath the city wall is solid, and you folks can’t walk through solid rock.”

“They will smell us,” Greta pointed out, though no one had yet said Wolv with certainty.

“If we move quick, we should make the drain, unless they are standing on it, and the underground smells only of limestone,” Lord Crag countered.

“Indeed,” Bogus spoke up.  “I can smell it from here.”

With that, they settled in for a good supper while they waited for the sun to go down.  Mavis, Ulladon and Briana made sure Nudd got more than enough to eat. They seemed determined to overstuff the poor boy.  Ulladon even called him the poor and needy son she never had.  Briana smiled at that description.  Mavis let out a true elf grin, and Greta smiled for them, even if she felt a bit left out.

Feeling left out felt like nothing unusual for Greta. She remembered when she turned ten and eleven-years-old and started to seriously study with Mother Hulda, the woman of the ways.  People treated her differently almost from the beginning, though her childhood friends hung on for a time.  She only turned sixteen when Mother Hulda died in a night, and the burden of the people fell on her shoulders.  She felt unprepared for that.  She felt like she hardly knew enough to come in from the rain, but the people had no one else.

Greta looked at Mavis, Ulladon and Briana. They were becoming good friends, but sadly, Briana thought of her as one who spoke to her goddess Rhiannon like Rhiannon was the child in need of instruction.  This did not make Mother Greta appear like a normal woman, like a person one could have as an ordinary friend.  As for Mavis and Ulladon, Greta was their goddess, and no doubt that had seeped into Briana’s thinking as well.  She could never be just friends with any of them. She remained the Kairos.  She had lived too many lifetimes over too many years if she added it up, though it did not honestly add up that way.

Greta paused to think through what it meant to be the Kairos, the goddess of history, though out loud she insisted on being called the Watcher over history.  She claimed only to watch history, but she admitted that sometimes it became a struggle to get it to turn out the way it was written.  It felt curious how that written history extended as much into the future in her mind as into the past.  As an ordinary human, she had no idea what tomorrow would bring.  The next hundred years or so always stayed a mystery. But through whatever future lives she currently remembered, she could understand how things turned out and look back to see what endangered the present.  Things were happening that could throw the whole of history out of whack if she did not act.  A Mithraic pantheon of gods ruling over Rome was not in the books.  Greta sighed and considered the future more closely.

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 3 of 3

Portent looked up and looked worried for a second. “I was going to give you the tour, but I think we best get back to our families and move on.”

“But what is this place?” Hermes asked.

“Movan Mountain,” Portent said, as he picked up the pace and they started moving.  “It was a dwarf home ages ago, but abandoned when the gold and silver and copper finally gave out.  That was about two thousand years ago.”  Briana whistled, but Greta explained.

“That is only a few generations ago for dwarfs. Two thousand years is not that long when you live to be six to eight hundred.”  Greta paused when she heard Hermes whisper to Mavis.

“And how old are you?”

Portent picked up the story.  “About ten years ago, Piebottom got the notion that there has been a lot of earthshaking here in the last thousand years.  He thought maybe the goodies in Movan filled up again. I don’t know.  My great-great grandfather said they left because they struck water and the water got too deep to dig, but Redmold said that now that we know how to pump out the water, maybe there are more goodies, just underneath all that wet.  Then King Diggerclaw said the place where we were, over in the Alps, started running dry, and some already moved into Gaul and some all the way to Britannia, but me and mine figured we would check out old Movan to see what we could find.”

“Redmold?  Diggerclaw? Piebottom?” Briana asked.

“Nicknames, mostly.  But it is hard to translate dwarfish into a human tongue.  Some names are ludicrous, even hilarious to human ears, but the nicknames are easier to remember than Gleffondre, Porledwert and Ableminisco.”  Portent stopped and stared at Greta.  The dwarves stopped with Portent, so the others stopped as well.

“You must be the one,” Portent said.  “I never would have guessed.  You look like ordinary flesh and mud to me.”

“I am ordinary flesh and blood,” Greta responded. “And getting tired of these tunnels.”

“Just coming to that,” Portent said, with a grin, and led them into yet another great chamber, only this one still had some furniture, a stone table and stone chairs, and a big stone ring waiting for a cooking fire.

“How far do these tunnels go on?” Alesander wondered.

“Through the whole mountain.  We are half-way to the northeast door at the foot of the ogre’s pass.”

“You mean a real ogre,” Briana said.  It did not sound like a question.

Portent nodded.  “They used to charge a fee to go through,” he said, while the other dwarves and dwarf women magically found some lumber and started a fire.  No one saw where the food came from, but it soon smelled wonderful.

“It is mostly not magic,” Mavis explained to Hermes. “It is the design and ventilation that draws the smoke away from the chamber and into deep chimneys.”

Bogus explained to Vedix.  “It is pixies and Hobgoblins and such who live near the surface. They play the middle men between the light elves and dark.  Now, light elves prefer to work in simples, like wood and cloth.  Dark elves, what some call goblins dig deep, far below the scratches men put into the earth, and even below what the dwarves normally dig. Hobgobs make a good living keeping light elves and goblins on edge with each other, but dwarves, now they keep to themselves.  They hold on to their homes and mind their own business, mostly.”  He shrugged.  “But the concern is most times dwarves abandon their homes because they dug something up that isn’t so nice.  Goblins deal with that mostly, though they got a sense about it and know when to leave certain places alone.  Dwarves got no sense and sometimes don’t leave enough ceiling to keep it from collapsing.”

Briana took Nudd’s hand and made him let go of Greta’s cloak.  “You can open your eyes now,” she told him.  He blinked a few times, but mostly he did not want to see.

The food got ready at the same time they heard another boom.  It sounded very loud, but the roof of that cavern seemed solid enough.  Then there was another boom, and another, and every eye looked at Greta to explain.

“If they arrived in a troop shuttle or transport, there may be as many as a hundred Wolv, and they would have access to several smaller vehicles, like fighter-bombers.”  They did not understand, so she simplified it as much as she could.  “They can fly in a machine and shoot explosives at the rock and fire bigger and stronger heat rays than these little pistols you carry.  If they don’t break open the door, they could melt it.”

“Melt the rock?” Lucius had to think about that.

“One way or another they will get in, and soon,” Greta said.

“And we must be moving.”  Portent did not sound like he liked that idea.  “Eat up,” he hollered, while his fellow dwarves extinguished the fire.

A good hour, they heard a distant howl in the echo of the caves.  Only Mavis heard anything earlier with her good elf ears.  Portent stopped to sniff the air and announced that the Wolv had indeed gotten in, but they were a long way off.  Everyone wanted to panic, but held tight to their courage, until they heard a roar behind them, between them and the Wolv.  The roar sounded much deeper and more earth-shattering than any Wolv roar.

“Bogie beast, or worse,” Bogus mumbled, as Portent started to run.  Everyone else raced after him.  A couple of runners tried to pass him.

After an hour, they all huffed and puffed, and stopped in a grand hall where two dozen more dwarves were waiting patiently for Portent and his crew.  Mavis shivered, and her feet kept stomping, like she had not finished running, but Hermes stood right there to comfort her.  He turned her to poor Stinky who sweated and stunk up the whole place like only a mule can do.  Mavis hugged the mule in sympathy.

Alesander and Briana had their swords drawn and stared into the dark passage they just exited.  Lucius stood there to back them up, but he only fingered the hilt of his sword, like a man waiting to see the whites of his enemy’s eyes.  Nudd kept clinging to Greta’s cloak, his eyes closed and weeping.  Bogus once again explained to Vedix as the two huffed and puffed for air.

“Of course, after two thousand years or more, other things, dark things that avoid the light, tend to find their way in to abandoned Dwarf homes and set up housekeeping.”

“But what was that?” Vedix asked.  Bogus just shook his head since Portent started yelling.

“Ring around the May pole, make a right, sweet merry-go-round.”

The dwarves made a circle around the room and began a soft chant.  The chant rose in volume until it became a shout and something ghostly, like a wraith moving fast in the night, shot off down the ten corridors that emptied into the room.

“Our scent and signs of our passage will be found down each of these halls and tunnels.  Some go to living quarters, some to mining operations.  Four go to outside doors from this antechamber.  We take the second tunnel, to the northeast door that lets out at the foot of the mountains below the ogre’s pass.”

“But how will we get through the pass?” Hermes wondered.

“We won’t have to,” Greta said.  “We traveled to the other side of the mountain in a day.”

“Quite right,” Portent said.  “And we best move before we hear more roars in the distance.”

It still took an hour or more to the door, and then they had to wait another hour while Portent sent dwarves to the portholes and spy nooks to be sure nothing lurked just outside.  Once they opened the door, a string of wraith-like ghosts sped off in every direction.

“The scent and signs will give out in a mile or so, but at least if your enemies make it to this spot it will make them pause to decide which way you actually went.”

“Thank you, Portent.  Thanks to all of you,” Greta said, and waved and smiled for her dwarves.  They smiled back, but clearly, they had their own path to go.

“I think maybe the Roman side of the Alps.  I hear there are rich veins waiting to be discovered.”

“There is gold in them thar hills,” Greta said, and she took her people into the woods that covered the foothills on the north side of the Carpathian Mountains.  They walked for several miles, until dusk, and then had a cold supper before bed since they were not willing to light a fire.

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

MONDAY

Now on the trail, the next direction is to go through the forest of fire.  See you Monday.

*

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 2 of 3

Hermes grabbed Stinky’s reigns with one hand and Mavis with his other hand and backed them away from that spot.  Nudd awkwardly drew his sword, and no doubt would have foolishly charged the Wolv, but Bogus had the good sense to magically glue the boy’s feet to the ground.  Alesander, Lucius and Briana remembered their shields and drew their guns as the Wolv came bounding out of the trees on all fours.

It paused and sniffed, then it stood on its back legs and pulled its own weapon.  It opened its mouth and began to drool.

“Ready,” Greta said with as calm a voice as she could muster.  “Aim.” She was not especially good in panic situations.  “Fire.”

Briana and Alesander fired together.  Lucius seemed a second slow.  The Wolv returned fire, but one weapon had little effect on the shield wearing humans, while their three weapons together caused the Wolv shield to glow orange, then red, and then with a great crackle, burn out altogether.  The Wolv wrist burned badly, its chest caught fire and one leg looked burned to the bone. With a great howl, the Wolv returned to all fours and bounded back into the woods.

Alesander, Briana, and Vedix, now that he turned around and had others at his back, all started after the Wolv.  They stopped short when Greta screamed, “Stop!  You don’t follow a wounded Wolv into the trees. What, are you crazy?  We need to move on while we can.”  And she started down the side of the ridge into the valley of the winds.  The others followed, but they were not even fully down the hill before they heard great howls, barks, and yip-yips coming from the trees and the wounded Wolv.

“They have our location pinpointed.”  Greta continued to yell, this time against the wind. “They are expecting us to head for the pass.  We are going to have to climb the rumbling ridge and try to get to the ledge.   The only way we will get clear to the north side of the mountains is to go around their traps.”

“I don’t recommend it,” Alesander said.

“It is the only way,” Greta repeated, as she tried to hurry everyone along.

“Oh, I know that.  I just don’t recommend it,” Alesander also repeated himself, as he and Briana stepped to the front to lead the way.

Bogus finished yelling at Nudd.  “You are not supposed to get yourself killed as soon as possible.”  He went out to the wing, in the direction of the pass.  Vedix tended to stay closer to the group and clearly did not like the continuing howls and yips coming from the ridge.

Greta counted it an act of grace and mercy that they reached the boulder-covered ridge on the other side of the valley without incident.  There, they heard a pack of Wolv not far from their heels.

Hermes, Vedix and Mavis all struggled to find footing for the mule and dragged the beast from boulder to boulder.  Briana followed Alesander.  Nudd followed Bogus who kept yelling at him to be careful. Greta found herself behind Lucius, and did her best not to panic when the Wolv reached the spot beneath them.

The climb proved slow and laborious, but fortunately, the Wolv were even more poorly designed to make the climb, and had to move more slowly.  Stones regularly came loose in their hands and by their feet.  The ones above tried not to crush the ones following them, though everyone hoped they might knock a Wolv, even if by accident.

By luck, a little elf magic, and because Stinky decided to be afraid of the Wolv; Hermes, Vedix, Mavis and the mule got to the ledge first.  Alesander and Briana were not far behind.  Bogus and Nudd were slower, even with Bogus helping Nudd in ways Nudd was not aware.  Lucius topped the ridge, but his foot slipped, either by accident or on purpose, and that whole section of the ridge began to avalanche.  Greta screamed, but Nudd reached out and grabbed her hand. He pulled her to the side, to safety, as she watched the avalanche strike the Wolv.  She had not counted them, but she determined at least two had to be as good as dead.

“They are on the ledge, coming from the pass,” Alesander yelled as Greta hauled herself to safety.

“Damn.”  Greta could hear them roaring and coming on fast.  She looked at the others and saw a strange little man gleefully watching the collapse of that portion of the ridge.  She did not hesitate to take advantage of the situation. “Portent.  We need to escape the Wolv.  Quickly, open the way to Movan Mountain.”

The little man gave Greta the strangest look before he offered a bow and waved his hand to the wall of rock.  They found an opening no one noticed before, and the man spoke, “This way.”  The people saw the Wolv climbing again, and heard the others just around a corner on the ledge, so they ran into the dim light of the cave.  One moment they could see well enough to move into the dark, the next minute they heard a slam, like a big, stone door closing, and they stood in absolute darkness.

###

“Not funny Portent,” Greta said, softly.  “We need some light.”

“Just getting to that,” the word came back, and three torches flared at once.

They found themselves in a big cavern with a vaulted ceiling that rose into the dark, beyond the torchlight.  There were six dwarfs present besides Portent which added up to three males, two females, though the humans could hardly tell the difference, and two children.  Mavis made a fairy light, a floating globe of light which she let rise up above the group to give more general light.  To be fair, only Nudd screamed, and only once, even if a few others clearly looked uncomfortable.

“I was told to fetch you, that you would need our help,” Portent said.  “Though I must say, I have never been asked to help human flesh and mud before.  I suppose the light elf and the other, breed though he be, but mortal humans seems strange.”

“What about the Wolv?” Alesander asked, but Greta hushed him.

“Who told you to help us?” she asked.

“Mithras.  Didn’t you know?”

“Mithrasis?”

“No.”  Portent shook his head.  “Not that woman.  She doesn’t ask.  She has a bad attitude.  No, Mithras himself, stuck as he is in the place of the unknown.”

Greta breathed and Alesander tried again. “What about the Wolv?”

A dwarf woman whispered in Portent’s ear and his eyes got big for a moment as he turned to Briana.  “Well, well. An elect.  I haven’t seen one of your kind since, well, since I’ve never seen an elect before. You are very rare, you know, one-in-a-million.  Some say there are not more than a hundred elect in the whole world.”

Briana spoke with Alesander this time.  “What about the Wolv?”

“Oh, they won’t get in here.  Nasty brutes, those.  Still, I suppose we better get moving on.”  Portent and all the dwarfs with him turned and began to walk away. The others followed, but Nudd had some questions, now that he got reminded of the Wolv, and now that he settled in his mind that these were just little people and not dwarves at all.

“Lady, I don’t understand.  How could animals be smart enough to set traps.”  He evidently heard what she said, but his mind could not process it.

“Because the Wolv are not animals.  They are not wolves like we have in the mountains and the forest.  They are Wolv, a people who just look something like wolves, and they are smart and talk in their own language and they are clever, very clever, and hungry all the time as far as I can tell.”

“Are they like man-wolves?  I heard tell that back in the days when we were hidden from the Dacians and Romans they had a man-wolf near the Bear Clan.  I heard he was a person most of the time, but he became a wolf under the full moon.”

“No, Nudd,” Greta said gently, as they paused to get Stinky through a rough spot in the path.  “Liam was a good man before he caught the wolf disease.  It drove him mad, so he could not help the terrible things he did, but he stayed mostly a man and as you say, he only became the werewolf under the full moon.  These Wolv are Wolv all the time, and they are smart and clever and very capable warriors. This is not a good time for them if they should invade.  I believe the Roman legions and the armies of the Han would give them a good fight. But these are not invaders.  I think these came here by accident and have fallen under the sway of Mithrasis.  Our only real hope is for them to lose the scent.”

Everyone paused as they heard a great boom in the distance.  “Explosives,” Greta said.  “They are trying to blow a hole in your door.”  The sound echoed through the halls, caverns, and tunnels underground. Dust and pebbles fell from overhead.

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 1 of 3

Mavis came in from the cold fall night and woke Greta before dawn.  “Lady. Bogus and Vedix have found the back door,” she said.  It took a few minutes to figure out what Mavis was talking about, but by then Briana came awake and got ready and several members of the Dragon Clan were there to escort them.

“The people of the dragon are determined to keep the notion that they have a back-door secret,” Bogus explained.  “But Chobar and the men of the Dog Clan are reported to be in the territory, only half a day away, and they are willing to make an exception for you in order to insure your safety.”

“This way,” The dragon elder led the way into a barn that butted up to the cliff face.  Greta smelled the animal droppings in the hay, which said the barn actually got used as a barn, and she tried not to step in anything as they made for the back wall.  Several men stood there to remove a well disguised bit of wooden planks and reveal a cave opening in the cliff.  The dragon elder continued to lead as the men brought torches to light the way up a broad path that wove through the inside of the rock cliff.

“Where are Alesander, Lucius and Hermes?” Greta asked quietly.  Her words echoed softly in the tunnel.

“Gone ahead to scout out the terrain above,” Bogus answered, and directed his voice to Greta’s ears so he would not disturb the underground.  Greta considered that ability.  Bogus the Skin wore the glamour of an old man, a ragged looking prospector, but Greta and Mavis, probably Vedix, and likely the rest of them knew he was in reality some sort of dwarf.  In fact, Greta knew Bogus’ father had been an imp and his mother a fairy, an odd combination to be sure.  Bogus had wings after a fashion, but he showed no indication his wings worked, or could work well enough to lift his imp sized body.  Certainly everyone, except maybe Vedix, knew Mavis as an elf, though presently they preferred the glamour that made her appear human rather than be confronted with that reality.  With that in mind, Greta decided that the ragged looking prospector look was not a bad choice for the imp.

“I can smell the outdoors,” Mavis whispered, like a person who had some trouble breathing.

Greta nodded.  She smelled it too, and she felt glad that Mavis was not like some elves of the light who were naturally claustrophobic and absolutely no good underground.

Up top, Hermes and two men of the Dragon Clan sat around the fire cooking eggs and burning toast.  After a short while, Lucius came in from the southeast with another man of the Dragon Clan.  He reported the road back to Porolissum and Roman lands looked open.  He urged them to take that route before he sat quietly and burned some of his own toast.  When Alesander came back from the north, he reported the way looked difficult, rough but passable.  Greta had something else to say.

“Nudd.  Why are you here?”

Nudd looked at his cousin Briana and shuffled his feet.  “I can help. I’ve been up this way before, all the way to the city of Samarvant on the River Olevant.  Father used to trade with the Dacians there.  I can help.”

“Samarvant on the River Heartbreak,” Mavis whispered.

“We go north.”  Greta wanted to say more to Nudd, but she thought she better get in that word before the others started expressing opinions and maybe tried to talk her out of it.  They took a moment to say good-bye and thank you to the men of the Dragon Clan.  Greta watched them expertly cover the hole to the underground so no one would stumble upon it by accident; then they sat alone with the sun just below the horizon and the eggs ready.  Greta nibbled with one eye on Stinky the mule that Hermes had struggled to bring up from down below.

“He can carry hard bread and bacon for a while,” Hermes said.  “I figure his natural smell will keep the predators away.”  A few laughed softly, but they seemed to be waiting for what Greta had to say.

“Nudd, why are you here?”

“Mother said to stay with you.  I can help,” Nudd repeated.

“Nudd,” Briana took up the cause.  “You will just get yourself killed.”

“So will you,” Nudd protested with some steam in his voice.  “Maybe I can get killed in place of you.”

“That isn’t helping,” Alesander pointed out.

“We go north,” Greta slipped that in again while Briana argued with her cousin, and since no one objected to going north, she thought she might try a piece of burnt toast.

Alesander and Briana took the point as before. Lucius and Hermes walked in back, behind Greta, Mavis and Nudd, with Hermes dragging stinky in the rear. Bogus the Skin and Vedix the hunter took the wings and kept their instincts open to warn against any predators, and especially to watch for Wolv.

“We ran into a Wolv on our way up to the village of the Dragon Clan,” Vedix said.

“You might say we saw eye to eye,” Bogus explained. “I can’t say what sort of senses they have, but it sniffed us much like a dog sniffing our identity.”

“Sharp.  All their sense are extra sharp, but the nose especially,” Greta said.  “Go on.”

“Well, after a good sniff, it didn’t seem interested in us and moved on.”

“Bogus put the whammy on it,” Vedix said, with a little laugh.

“Didn’t get a chance to,” Bogus said.  “But now I know what to look for.”

“Me too,” Vedix said, more seriously.  Greta put Bogus and Vedix on the wings, though she had serious doubts they would get much warning if any Wolv suddenly showed up.

All that day, they made a path and cut their way through forest and thorn covered meadows.  They stopped now and then to catch their breath at that high elevation, but the real mountain peaks stayed always to their right hand.  They found a small clearing before a ridge lead down into a deep valley, and camped before the sun set.  Hermes thought they made good progress, but Greta knew this would be a long journey.

In the morning, Greta got her bag and handed a watch-like shield control and a Humanoid pistol to Alesander, Briana, Lucius, Hermes and Vedix.  That was all she had.  Bogus and Mavis had other ways of protecting themselves, ways the humans did not have. Greta let go of her dress and red cloak and called to her armor.  It stayed shielded by the magic of the little ones who helped make it and by the power of the god Hephaestus, himself.  Likewise, the cloak, which she turned the sliver side to a green camouflage with a mere thought, had been made by Athena and proved many things proof, as the goddess declared.  She hoped it might be proof against the energy blast of a humanoid weapon.  She apologized to Nudd and told him whatever happened, he should to stay beside her until she could secure another wristband and weapon.

Greta made sure everyone knew how the equipment worked, and then got them to turn the equipment off unless and until needed. She could not be sure what kind of battery life the equipment had and wanted to preserve it, she thought, until needed.  She understood the need would be inevitable.

The group got out of the trees and came to a grassy ridge top, well before the descent to the valley.  When they stepped closer to the edge, they felt the wind in their faces.

“The way of the winds,” Mavis spoke softly.

Greta pointed as everyone stopped to look.  “My guess is the north wind funnels through a gap in the mountains over that way.  I assume that will be the pass of the ogre’s jaw.”

“And straight ahead?” Alesander asked.

“The rumbling ridge.  It covers the whole far side of the valley.  The instructions said the pass would be the only way through.”

Lucius spoke.  “Looks like there is a ledge half-way up the far side.”

Alesander continued.  “The ledge probably goes to the pass, but I would not want to try for it and climb up all those rocks.  They look unstable.”

“Rockslide, do you think?” Lucius said, before he got interrupted by Nudd.

“I remember this place from when I was young. There is a way to that ledge, but it is many days that way.”  He pointed at Vedix who just then came running in from the forest.  He only had to shout one word.

“Wolv!”

R6 Greta: The Wolf and the Wolv, part 3 of 3

Stinky and the horses were taken by men who promised to tend them well while Greta looked around and asked if anyone else had wandered into the village in the last several days.  She felt determined to find the ones who were supposed to travel with her, but if they were not there, she thought she might have to leave without them.  She pulled her cloak tight against the rain and stepped up to join the argument.

Greta and her friends ended up by the wall and the front gate where the bonfire got built for the feast, if the rain should ever stop.  Dunova, Alesander and Briana tried to make the elders of the Dragon Clan understand the danger, which was difficult since they had only seen and heard the Wolv from a distance.  Hermes and Lucius both got up on the wall in different places and tried to make the same argument.  Sadly, the elders insisted that they had a good, solid wall and they did not grasp the urgency until a wolf topped the wall and shredded the watcher in that spot. It dropped to the ground by the gate, looking like a wet dog with matted fur, but it had death in its eyes.  One great whiff of air and its nostrils flared, and its teeth showed in a primeval growl.  It looked straight at Greta, but got distracted by Alesander, Dunova and an elder of the Dragon Clan.

All three men drew their swords, and Dunova and the elder charged what they saw as a beast.  The Wolv laughed a recognizable laugh.  It stayed covered with a personal energy shield.  Alesander paused on the laugh while Dunova and the elder’s swords received a strong enough electric shock to make the men stagger.

“My turn,” Festuscato spoke loud and clear in Greta’s head.  “The least I can do for your kindness to the wounded men who fought in Cornwall, and to Cador.”

“Be my guest,” Greta heard from Gerraint and she thought Gerraint’s imposing size would not impress the Wolv in any case.

The Wolv smiled a very doggy, toothy smile and pulled out its own weapon.  Everyone saw two red flashes of light and Dunova and the elder burst into flame with great holes in their middles.

“Go for the weapon,” Greta yelled, as she vanished from that place and Festuscato arrived in his armor and his own weapons in hand.  Alesander somehow understood the message, and he struck at the claw that held the fire pistol.  He got blown back by the electrical discharge from the personal shield, but the pistol cracked and fell with Alesander’s sword to the dirt.

The Wolv howled and looked again for Greta, but she was no longer there.  Festuscato and Briana managed to get close thanks to Alesander’s distraction. Festuscato struck first at the other claw where he saw the watch-like wristband that controlled the Wolv shielding. He cracked the watch, his sword being insulated against electro-magnetic discharges.  Festuscato struck just before Briana’s sword came against the Wolv neck.  Her sword half-severed the head, but still the Wolv managed a claw across Briana’s middle. Briana got cut, but not badly as her leather armor proved strong and her one in a million reflexes made her jump back.

Festuscato followed his first blow with a second that chopped off the main part of the Wolv arm, and Mavis sank an arrow into the Wolv chest where the heart ought to be.  Still, the Wolv refused to go down until Mavis sank a second arrow and Festuscato made a swing for the Wolv leg.  Then three men of the Dragon clan ran up and their two swords and an ax finally finished the job.

Alesander got up, groggy.  Briana held him and tried not to bleed on him.  Lucius shouted from the wall and Hermes jumped to the ground.  Three more Wolv came over the top, and Festuscato swallowed hard for everyone present. Three men died and it took four of them to defeat one Wolv.  Three Wolv seemed insurmountable, and worse, the Wolv knew it.  They were content to take their time and look for Greta; and Festuscato had no doubt who they were after.  The Wolv even talked among themselves in a language no one knew and with a tongue no human tongue could imitate.  They pulled out their weapons when the men of the Dragon Clan mustered the courage to attack.  But no shots were fired and the two sides never met as all three Wolv vanished. Rhiannon appeared next to Festuscato, and the first thing she did was make the clouds move off and the rain stop.

“Mother,” she started right in sounding defensive. “I know your rule about not killing alien people, but Wolv are hardly people.”

“If I had a copper for every time someone used that excuse.  Tsk, tsk,” Festuscato said and went away to let Greta return.  “They are near enough to being people, certainly smarter than dragons.”

“But Mother.”

“Hush.  And the technology?”

“Here.”  Rhiannon held out a leather bag.  It contained five pistols and five wrist bands for personal shields.  “There were six on Celtic land.  This was all they had.  I don’t know what you want to do with the broken ones.”

“It was all they would need for a hunt,” Greta said and accepted the bag.  “You can send the broken ones to Avalon.”  Greta stepped up and kissed Rhiannon on the cheek.  “I don’t blame you.  I thank you for saving many lives.”

“But Mother.  I won’t be able to help you once you leave these lands.  Mithrasis has twisted the minds of the Wolv and they won’t rest until they eat you.”

“Hush,” Greta said a second time.  “I have already told you.  The day for Celtic lands in this part of the world is long gone.  You need to unravel these lands and go over to the other side.  You say you still have work to do, and I won’t argue about it, only you need to stay in the Celtic homeland, in Gaul or Amorica or even Ireland if you have a mind.”

“I will,” Rhiannon said with conviction, but Greta knew it would be done when Rhiannon got good and ready.  “For Mother,” Rhiannon said and returned the kiss to Greta’s cheek, and she vanished along with the cracked pistol and broken wrist watch.

Greta watched Lucius and Hermes run up.  Mavis stood by her side as always.  Alesander and Briana stood in awe of the way Greta and the goddess were so familiar, and they kept silent and waited to hear what Greta had to say.

“We can sleep safely tonight.  Enjoy it while you can.  We leave at dawn, no horses.”

“Mother Greta.”  Someone called from a distance.  Greta turned and nodded, like it was about who she expected.  One tall and one short man came up.  The tall one was Vedix, the hunter from the Bear Clan who once kicked Greta before Danna herself put the fear of the gods in him. The short one wore a glamour that could never fool Greta.  He was Bogus the Skin, a full blood little one who lived up to his stereotype, which was an imp.  But he was also Fae and Berry’s grandfather, so his presence came as no surprise.

“Introduce yourselves to the rest of the crew and then get a good night’s sleep.  We leave when the sun breaks.”  Greta took Mavis and Briana with her to the place set aside for her.  Briana’s scratches needed tending and then Greta planned to follow her own advice and sleep while she could.

Briana remained quiet while Greta applied the bandages.  The scratches were not deep, but they had to guard against infection.  Normally, an elect would heal quickly from such a wound, but no telling what alien microbes might be lurking beneath the surface.

When Greta curled up beneath her blanket, she wondered if Festuscato ever got Patrick to Ireland, or if he found some new pirates to fend off first.  She imagined Mousden screaming about pirates and smiled.  She wondered how Gerraint’s marriage might be working out.  She thought with luck she might dream about them in the night and for one night escape her own troubles.  No telling what she thought about next because she put her hand to her belly and fell asleep.

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

MONDAY

The crew finds the only path safe from the Wolv, not over or around, but through Movan Mountain.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: The Wolf and the Wolv, part 2 of 3

In the morning, Greta found herself in the bed while Mavis, Briana and Eofach had apparently pulled up spots on the floor. Receiving special treatment happened now and then in a number of her lifetimes, but it felt like something Greta would never get used to.  Greta decided the least she could do for the use of the bed was help fix breakfast, bad a cook as she was.

Greta, as a young mom, had long since given up the idea of sleeping in.  Eofach was an older woman who likely did not need the sleep of the young, so she was awake. Mavis came instantly awake as soon as Greta sat up in bed.  Only Briana looked comfortable, but Greta judged from the look on Briana’s face that she either snuck off to visit Alesander at some point after Greta fell asleep, or she was having wonderful dreams, or both.

“We have to move on today.”  Greta spoke over her warm day-old bread and water, that is, once her eyes opened and her brain started to function.

“Why the rush?” Briana asked

“You only just arrived,” Eofach added.

“Rhiannon’s warning.  Chobar of the Dog Clan has given himself to Mithrasis, and he is coming with a large group of armed men to stop us from continuing on our quest.  I assume they plan to kill us if necessary.”

“But the Dog Clan is many days from here,” Eofach said.

“Rhiannon said they were two days behind us.  And she said there are friends planning to meet us in the village of the Dragon Clan for the next leg of the journey.  We need to be there so we can move on as soon as they arrive.”

“I’ll get the men up and ready,” Briana volunteered.

“I’ll get the horses and Stinky,” Mavis said, and they both looked at Greta who yawned before speaking.

“I have to tell the elders of the Raven Clan not to resist Chobar and his men.  There is no need for bloodshed.”

“What can I do?” Eofach wondered.

“You can come with me,” Greta said.  “I may need your help to convince a bunch of stubborn old men not to make a fuss.  You and Gwydden don’t need practice bandaging bloody arms and legs.”

“Oh, I understand that,” Eofach said with conviction. The woman could just imagine.

###

The travelers left before noon, about as well as could be expected, but now Dunova and his men from the Wolf Clan became doubly determined to see they reached their destination safely.  Greta tried to ignore them all, but as a result, she ended up riding beside Lucius so Mavis could ride beside Hermes and Briana could ride beside Alesander.  Lucius made Greta uncomfortable, but she figured that maybe he was just a soldier with a sour disposition after all.  She tried hard over four days to convince herself it was just a personality thing.

On the very first evening, Greta took Mavis and Briana apart, and she quizzed Briana on all that Rhiannon taught her.  Briana was skilled in many forms of combat, but after only a short while, Greta realized one thing was missing.

“Let go of your thoughts,” Greta said.  “Let your feelings settle down and let your mind wander back along the trail we just took.  Let it go back step by step to the village of the Raven Clan.  Tell me what you feel, more than what you see.  Tell me what you sense. As an elect, you should be able to sense an enemy on the horizon if you know what to look for.”

Greta quieted, and Briana closed her eyes, but after only a moment, she shook her head.  “I’m not sensing anything.  Maybe I’m not doing it right.”

“I am sure you are doing it just fine.  Every woman is to some degree intuitive, but the senses of an elect are directed and focused on potential threats and danger. Trust your intuition.  I imagine Chobar and the Dog Clan are not yet in range. We will try again tomorrow night.

The party moved as quick as they could through the foothills, but it did not seem very fast.  Dunova had the idea that the women needed regular stops and plenty of time to rest.  Greta wanted to hit the man for being a sexist moron, but she held her tongue and simply tried to move things along as well as she could.  Greta knew Briana, with the constitution of an elect, could travel three days to the Dragon village without stopping, and Mavis, being an elf, would be right there with her.  Only Greta had to stop now and then, though not nearly as often as Dunova supposed.

They found no more Lazyges on the path, but that did not mean they were not being watched.  The farms and little hamlets they passed by looked the same as before, but on the third day they began to move up into the mountains, and that slowed them considerably.

On the third night, as the clouds moved in and it began to drizzle, Briana caught the sense that they were being followed.  She got excited before she felt sure she was doing it wrong.

“Trust your intuition,” Greta said as she estimated that the Dog men were a full day or more behind.  That was acceptable since they would make it to the Dragon Clan village by late afternoon.  Greta just hoped that whoever might be coming to join them would already be there waiting. She wanted to get out at dawn and be gone before Chobar arrived.

Mavis woke Greta in the dark of the night before dawn.  The rain had finished for the time being and though it felt cold, people were able to wrap up and sleep.  Briana got up, having suffered a nightmare.  Alesander was there to comfort her, and Lucius and Hermes were sleepy but curious. Only Dunova and the men of the Wolf Clan remained asleep.

“It was awful.”  Briana recounted her nightmare and wept a little.  “It felt like the Were people you were telling me about, and how they always took the form of the wolf to hunt under the full moon.  I got so frightened.”

“Hush,” Alesander prompted.  “Greta has assured us the Were people died out long ago.”

“She mentioned werewolves,” Lucius said, not being at all helpful, but Hermes countered him quickly.

“Not a full moon.”  He pointed to the sky even if the moon stayed hidden by the clouds.

“But it is worse now that I am awake.  I can still sense them, more than ever.” Briana raised her eyes to look at the clouds and shivered.  Alesander held her but quickly let go when Greta appeared at the tent door, like he was a teenager caught by Mother Greta.

“Mavis,” Greta said, as she stepped out beside the fire, Mavis on her heels.  Mavis knew what she wanted and spoke right up.

“Yes, Lady.  I sense a great evil, but it is strange, like nothing I have sensed before.”

“That is because they are not of this world.” Greta got that much out before they heard a great howl echo through the hills.  Lucius and Hermes both looked up and all around, their eyes open at last. Briana and Alesander grabbed hands. Several of the men of the Wolf Clan shifted in their sleep.  “I also had a vision, or a dream.  I saw a streak through the sky in my mind’s eye.  It struck the earth hard and the grass and trees were set aflame.  Let us hope it is an escape pod with no more than six, or at worst a scout ship of ten or twelve.  God help us all if it is a transport of fifty or more.”

The howl came again and seemed closer than before. The men of the Wolf Clan began to stir. “But what is it?” Alesander asked.

“On this world, they have been called Wolv.” Greta looked as frightened as the rest and that did not help the others one bit.   “They were the front-line troops of what I called the Humanoid Empire, an empire in space ruled by people who look much like us.  Let me say the Lords of the Hachari rarely had to send in the second line.  But the Wolv rebelled more than a century ago.  They stole many ships to fly between the stars, and since that time they have eaten and torn their way across many worlds, shredding civilizations, even hunting some people to extinction.  They are not intelligent to repair the technology when it brakes, or in this case crashes to earth, but they are clever enough to use the technology, and to be disciplined, and to eat.  Pray they have not come here in force.”

Greta quieted while the howl came again, this time from a different direction.  She began to rouse the men of the Wolf Clan, and the others helped without asking any more questions.  They had to ride fast and hard to get behind the walls of the Dragon village before they were cut off or pulled down from behind.  Greta prayed for the rain to return, believing it would help disguise their scent and signs of passage.  The rain waited, but the skies opened up when they got near the village.

The village of the Dragon Clan rested in the middle of a cliff with the majority of the village built inside a great cavern carved out of the cliff side.   Eyes on the wall looked out from under the overhang of rock that continued to rise straight up above the stockade wall.  They saw a narrow path that zig-zagged up the side of the cliff.  They reached the base of that path and felt safe before they saw their first Wolv.  It stood on its hind legs at the edge of the forest, beyond a harvested field, on a hill at a distance where it could just be made out in the rain against the trees. It watched them in return.  Hermes could not quite see it, but he had no doubt it was there when the thing reared its head back and let out a chilling howl that echoed up to the gate.  That got followed by several bark-like sounds and something of a roar.

The travelers and their escort scurried up to the village as fast as was safe on the slippery path.  They got the gate shut tight, but then had to convince the Dragon Clan that they were in danger of immanent attack.