Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 6 of 6

On the edge of town, three Wolv jumped them.  They got blown back by the screens Elder Stow set around the group.  The Wolv did their best with tooth and claw, but that did nothing to impede the steady progress of the group.

When they entered the village square, where the Humanoid ship faced them at the far end of the open space, a dozen Wolv opened fire with their handguns.  It did nothing.  The Wolv soon stopped and backed away.  The patrol-transport ship screamed and produced one burst of its main gun before the gun appeared to shut down.  Patrol ships got outfitted with some of the most powerful Humanoid weaponry.  Those ships tended to be engines, weapons, and some reasonable screen capabilities against intruders.  Crew quarters and work spaces were cramped, and they had minimal navigation, limited life-support, and limited other systems interstellar ships had.  They were not made to leave the solar system.  But they had weapons, and Elder Stow remarked as he considered his readout.

“Impressive.  They have found a new energy source and improved on the old Anazi technology.”  Of course, the shot hardly registered visibly on Elder Stow’s screens.  Elder Stow only had a small, handheld screen device such as a ship’s officer might carry, but such was the technological difference between the younger races, like the Humanoids, and the elder races, like the Gott-Druk.  Elder Stow said no more as the Humanoid commander came out of the ship, followed by three more Humanoids and a dozen Wolv as guards.

As the Humanoids marched to face their visitors, a lovely young woman showed up, and gave Ophelia a big hug. “Galatea,” Ophelia named her.  “I thought I might see you.”

Galatea nodded.  “I had to figure out how to slip inside Elder Stow’s screens. Even though the gods know how to do that, now.  It isn’t easy.  I had to really think about it.  I may get a headache…”

“Good for you, now, hush.” Ophelia smiled for the woman before she turned with a serious face to the approaching Humanoids.

“Your Amph… Salacia husband wants to help,” Galatia whispered.

“Yes.  Hush,” Ophelia said.  “Zeuxides.”

Zeuxides stepped forward with the blanket.  He whispered as he laid it out on the ground, revealing the six heads.  “I don’t know why we didn’t take some Wolv heads.  That might have put a bit of fear in the beasts.”

“First of all, they are people, not beasts,” Ophelia said.  “They walk and talk, and as you have seen, they follow orders.  But second of all, they have no word for fear.  They do not even understand the concept.  The closest they have for the word fear is their word for indigestion.”

“Then, if one wants to eat me, I hope I can give it indigestion,” Zeuxides whispered as he stood.

“What?” the Humanoid Captain yelled the word as he came to face his visitors, though his eyes fastened on the six Humanoid heads.  By the grace of the gods, probably Proteus, because Galatea would not think of it, Ophelia and Zeuxides could understand and communicate with the Humanoids. Ophelia had imagined using Elder Stow as a translator.

“The troops you sent to scout the area are all dead.  We brought you these so you can perform the proper rituals.  Understand.  This is not a sanctuary planet for you or your people.  This is a Genesis planet, and as such is off limits to you and your people.  You have no business being here, and I know it is marked on your charts as a no-go zone.”

“Aaaah!” The Captain shouted and threw his hands in the air in a very human act of frustration and anger. Ophelia looked closely and judged him to be a young lord from a noble Humanoid house.  “I don’t even know what that means…”

One of the Humanoid commanders leaned forward and asked.  “What is a Genesis planet?”

Ophelia only paused briefly before answering.  “It is one of a dozen or so worlds in this whole galaxy where intelligent life spawns or is created.  At some point in the development of the species, the powers of the universe spread the life forms among the stars.  Most of the people you have come into contact with during your age of exploration among the stars had their beginning here, on Earth, or on the Pendratti world, which is now barren.”  She pointed to Elder Stow and his glamour of humanity fell away to reveal his Neanderthal nature.  “The Gott-Druk and the Elenar, both of whom I know you have in your records, began on this world.”  She pointed to Zeuxides.  “This world presently belongs to the Homo Sapiens, who you dare not underestimate, though their technology appears primitive to your eyes.  The very powers of the universe will fight to protect this world, and its residents.  You are being given a chance to leave before you are utterly destroyed.”

“But we have nowhere else to go,” the captain still shouted, only now he sounded desperate.   Ophelia caught a word from one of her lifetimes, far in the future.  She decided to go with that thought.

“Your father threw you out.”  She said it like a statement, not a question. “And how many ships do you have in orbit?”

The captain said nothing.  He just steamed, but the Humanoid commander spoke frankly.  “Seven. Two war ships, three transports carrying several thousand people, no Wolv, and two more patrol boats, one being a patrol-transport.”

The captain interrupted.  “But you heard.  We have nowhere else to go.”  This time, his words were softly spoken and he sounded like one resigned to his fate.

The sky turned dark.  Thunder echoed through the village.  Stroke after stroke of lightning struck the fields near the beach.  A giant rose out of the water and headed straight toward them.  He only needed a few steps to reach the edge of the village, at which point he stood only twenty or so feet tall, as he shrank when he neared. When he came around a barn to reach the main street, only the top of his gray head could be seen.  When he arrived where the group of people stood, he looked human enough, though still bigger than Zeuxides, who stood an imposing six feet tall in his generally smaller world.

“I can help with that,” the man said. “I know a planet in an untouched system that should sustain you.  The world is bigger than earth, but not like double.  There is an atmosphere and animal life there, after a fashion, so an edible food source.  The star gives about half the heat and light of the sun, but the planet is closer.  It goes around in about two hundred and maybe thirty days.  The weather stays cool and dreary, but it is livable, about thirty some of your light years out in the Gott-Druk direction. In fact, I know several systems, if you are willing to travel up to fifty light years.”

“You will take us there?” the Humanoid commander asked, not waiting for his captain to speak up.

The man shook his head.  “I am not my wife to travel all over the sky; but with a kiss from my wife, and maybe if I can borrow Martok, he can put the information in your, er, navigation system.”  He grinned for remembering what the system was called.

Ophelia dropped her jaw.  “Taking liberties, I see.”  She turned to the others.  “Elder Stow, I’ll be back.  Zeuxides, close your eyes.”  She turned again to the man.  “Both parties are agreeable,” she said, speaking of Amphitrite and Martok.  “Especially since the alternative would involve several atomic explosions in the upper atmosphere.”  Ophelia traded places through time with Amphitrite, the goddess, who stepped eagerly into her husband Poseidon’s arms.  After a moment, those two, the Humanoids, the Wolvs, and the patrol ship all vanished.

Proteus and Galatea also vanished, so that left Elder Stow, who restored his glamour so he looked human again, and Zeuxides, who didn’t close his eyes, but wished he had.  He asked, “So where did Ophelia go?”

Elder Stow shrugged as they walked back up the hill.  “Somewhere into the past, or the future, or somewhere in between.”

“Who was that who came and stood in her place?”

“Amphitrite, I believe.”

Zeuxides swallowed.  “So that giant was…”

“Poseidon.”

Zeuxides nodded.  “So, when Ophelia said Proteus and Galatea, she meant Proteus and Galatea.”

“I would say, yes.”

Zeuxides nodded and swallowed again. “And are you human?”

“Certainly,” Elder Stow said with some force in his voice.  “Homo Neanderthal, not Homo Sapiens, but that still qualifies as human.  In fact, we are close enough on the genesis tree, we can even mate with each other, as disgusting as that sounds.”

Zeuxides said nothing the rest of the way up the hill.

“So, where did they go?” Lockhart asked the same question Zeuxides asked.

“They went to visit the ruins of Malvas,” Elder Stow said, with a nod.

“Where’s Malvas?” Lincoln asked.

“There are ruins on Malvas?” Katie asked at the same time.

Elder Stow pointed to the sky as he spoke.  “An orange star.  It became unstable about two thousand years ago, my time.  It kicked a habitable planet about three times its original distance from the star, according to the reconstructed theory.  The survey team found a city, but determined it had been abandoned a hundred years before the star bloomed.  The star has returned to its more stable condition since, but now there are ruins on the ice rock that was probably once an earth-like planet.”

“So why would they go to a place that has ruins?” Decker wanted to know.

“It doesn’t have ruins yet,” Elder Stow responded, and looked up at the sky as the sun sank to the horizon.

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

MONDAY

The travelers head toward Rome, and the Kairos, Marcia Furi Camilla Diana; but first, they have to get past the witch.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 5 of 6

Labium and his elf troop had been secretly ferrying out humans from the village since they took up their watch. They doubled their efforts as soon as they knew Ophelia was on the way.  They feared the intervention of the gods and imagined there might not be a village when it was over.

Taking people to safety did not always go well.  In one house, a husband, wife, and two children cowered in their hut-like dwelling. They seemed typically human when Labium spoke.

“Friend.  Friend.  Do you want to get to safety?”

“Yes,” the man said, a bit loudly. “Where are you?”

“I am here, but I am invisible.  I am an elf.”

The man stopped.  The woman looked at her husband, and he said, “Can you guarantee our safety?”

“If you follow my instructions and keep very quiet, I can lead you to safety outside the village.  I am not a god to guarantee anything, but we have a good chance to get away from the monsters, if you stay quiet.”

“We will,” the woman promised.

“I will show myself.  Not a sound.  Not a peep.”

“I understand,” the man whispered.

Labium became visible, and the woman took one look and screamed as loud as she could, and it seemed she would never stop screaming.  Labium went invisible again.  Two Wolv came in from the street, and Labium slipped out behind them.  After a moment, the screaming subsided.  Labium heard weeping with his good elf ears, and the Wolv came back out from the hut with the two children, whom they killed and ate.

In another case, a young elf maid led two parents and their teenaged son to the corner of an alley.  She held them there because two Wolv were on the street, and until they moved, she could not safely bring the people across the back of the alley.  She hushed them again and again.  Finally, the boy got bored.

“Dad,” he said, nice and loud, and touched his father on the shoulder.

The man’s fear came out of his mouth, really loud.  “We are going to get caught.”

The elf maid saw the Wolv coming down the alley.  She quickly shoved the nice woman into the house there and shut the door. Then she ran, much faster than the Wolv could catch her.  Sadly, she heard the nice woman come right back out of the house.

“What ya pushing for?”  She was nice, but not smart.  Needless to say, that family did not live long.

Far and away, most of the people in that village made it to safety.  Most of those headed for Corinth.  They got off the road when the dwarfs and travelers approached.  Few spoke.  No one pointed.  Most just stared.

A few villagers headed for Sidius, some because they had relatives there.  When they found the army coming to Isthmia, they wept and cried, believing the army would save them from the monsters.  In that moment, they could not have cared less if they were Athenians or Spartans.  Too many of their friends and neighbors had already died.

“Nicias,” Ophelia shouted, though the man was not far away.  “You need to set an escort to take these people to Sidius, to find shelter.”

“Just coming to that,” Nicias responded gruffly, and Ophelia changed her tone.

“Of course.  My apologies.  You are the general here.  You will do what is best.”

Nicias eyed her and nodded.

“Trouble?” Styphon stepped up.

Ophelia shook her head.  “I am a Spartan woman, but I must remember I am still dealing with Athenians.  I should respect the men, that they know what they are doing.”

Styphon nodded, and Nicias came up as Styphon stood up for her.  “We would have suffered much worse if you had not directed us in the battle.”  Nicias scratched his beard, but nodded a little. “I don’t know how you became friends with the spirits of the earth, but that has helped greatly.  You also seem to know about these space aliens, as you call them, and the story isn’t finished yet.  I am willing to follow your lead.”

“As am I,” Nicias admitted.

Ophelia accepted that.  “Just please be gracious to me.  When I deal with flighty fairies, or trickster elves, or pig-headed, stubborn dwarfs, I often have to be hard and harsh.  I do not need to turn that same attitude on you men, stubborn as you can be.”  She smiled, and the men smiled a little with her.  “Just forgive me and remind me if I overstep myself. Okay?”

This time, Nicias nodded in earnest. “I think an escort to Sidius for these good people is a fine idea.  I will see to it.”  He walked off, and Ophelia offered Styphon a kiss on the cheek.

###

Ophelia and the travelers arrived at Isthmia at about the same time.  The little ones guiding the travelers and scouting for the army were good at that sort of timing.

Prissy sat on Ophelia’s shoulder. Labium and Flaves stood beside her as she looked down on the village and the Humanoid transport.  It evidently crushed several houses when it landed, and no one bothered to see what or who might be under there.  Zeuxides and Tellis stood close as well.  Nicias, Styphon, Antiphas and Timocrates stood a couple of steps away so they could see around a tree.

Ophelia opened her arms as the travelers dismounted and began to climb her little hill.  Boston raced into Ophelia’s arms at a speed that made Labium smile and made the men take another look.  Boston appeared human enough.

“Ophelia?” Lincoln shouted up the hill as he walked.

“Yes, Lincoln,” Ophelia shouted back. “Lockhart and Katie, I have some people for you to meet.  Elder Stow, I will need your help.”

“You are older,” Boston said as she stepped back.  “Your hair is all gray, and short, like mine used to be.”

“I am forty-six, I think.  My youngest son is eleven.  My eldest son is seventeen. My daughter should be fourteen. She was ten when I went into captivity in Athens.  It is a long story.”

By then, Bergeron had pushed to the front.  He went to one knee and spouted his report.  “We have brought your traveler friends here safely.  We had to fight to protect them, especially the women, but we knew you would not want to see them hurt…” his voice trailed off.  He looked at the dirt.  He dared not say more.  Even with overwhelming odds, and mostly injured Wolv, a dozen dwarfs died.

Ophelia put her hands to her hips and tapped her foot.  “Prissy. You should visit with Boston’s shoulder.”

“Yes, Mum,” Prissy said.  “Thank you, Mum.”  She quickly vacated Ophelia’s shoulder before steam started coming out of Ophelia’s ears.  Ophelia tapped her foot and let Bergeron build up a good head of sweat before she said, “Thank you,” She growled, and turned away, and never smiled until she spoke to the others.  “Lockhart and Katie.  Please meet my friends.”  She introduced the couple to the commanders present even as she noticed an older woman and a young woman hugging Millie and Evan.

“Athenians and Spartans working together,” Katie remarked without explanation.

“Given the circumstances,” Styphon said. “We are all Greeks.”

“We worked hard to make a peace that would last,” Nicias added.

Katie did not respond, but the look on her face suggested she did not believe it would last.

Ophelia took charge then and began giving orders.  She moved the Spartans and their allies to the south, behind the dwarfs.  She kept the Athenians and their allies on the north, and moved the Elves in front of them, just in case.  “Yes,” she said.  “They know we are here, and are watching.”  She did not need to tell them that given Humanoid technology, they no doubt tracked them all the way through the wilderness.

“Katie and Decker, take opposite sides of the little hill here.  Zeuxides, open your blanket.”  The man did. There were three Humanoid heads in the blanket.  “Bergeron. Add your three Humanoid heads to the pile.  Lockhart and Lincoln, get the binoculars and direct things from here.  Millie, Evan, Sukki, Boston and Alexis, stay here with mother and my lovely daughter, Nyssa.”

“Ready,” Elder Stow said.  Ophelia nodded.

“Zeuxides,” she said, and the man picked up the blanket full of heads.  “Do not follow us, no matter what,” Ophelia told Styphon, Nicias and Lockhart.  She started down the hill toward the village, with Elder Stow beside her.  Zeuxides followed, and another young man appeared on her other side—a most handsome man. Ophelia squinted before she named the man.  “Proteus.”

The man smiled.  “I can’t ever fool you, mother.”  After several more steps, he added, “So you know, father wants to help.” Ophelia nodded, but she grimaced a bit to imagine what the god, Poseidon, might consider help.

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 4 of 6

The Spartans and Athenians dug three trenches on the slight rise, and they piled up rocks on the dirt they excavated to make like mini-walls.  Some of the Spartans, and to be fair, some of the Athenians did not like the idea of keeping their heads down, or throwing their javelins rather than stabbing the enemy in the face when the time came.  Some called bows and arrows cowardly weapons.  All Ophelia could say was they will probably get close enough for tooth and claw no matter what we do.  Then, gods help us.  Nicias and Styphon kept the troops focused.  They had no reason to disbelieve a woman who commanded fairies.

They waited all morning.  They waited until Zeuxides said he was hungry and ready for lunch.  Then they came.

They looked like wolves, albeit, dressed in vests and far bigger than any wolf seen by humans.  Ophelia made out the three Humanoids who kept back to bark out orders.  She raised her bow.  The Athenian archers, and some of the Spartans and their allies all raised their bows.  Ophelia tried to wait, but when it appeared they were not getting closer, she said, “Loose.”

The arrows barely went the distance, but two of the Wolv looked put out of commission.  Ophelia knew better.  It just made them mad.  She saw the Wolvs back out of range, and then had to yell again.

“Get your heads down.”

The Wolv pulled out weapons and several men reacted too slowly.  They got fried, and the rest of the men got an object lesson, encouraging them to keep their heads down.  The Wolv did not fire for long.  They had nothing but hand weapons, and that would take all day to cut through the fortifications.  Flaves showed up and helped Ophelia hear the barked orders.  Ophelia yelled

“Javelins.”

Fourteen of the twenty Wolvs attacked. The men stood and about a third threw their best, but the Wolvs moved too fast.  Only two got taken down that way.  Three bounded up to the top trench where the more lightly armored Athenians and archers waited.  Nearly thirty men got torn to shreds or were grievously wounded before they put down the three Wolvs.  The Athenian regulars in the second trench hardly did better when four Wolvs arrived. More than twenty men died there, and almost twenty more died among the Spartans in the first trench where they fought off the remaining five.  The Wolvs fought for victory or death.  They had no thought of retreat, but neither did the Spartans.

Ophelia got spared when Zeuxides, who kept his javelin instead of throwing it, stabbed a Wolv in the back, the same time two Spartans struck it from the front, one cutting off the Wolv’s arm. The Wolv hardly slowed by the loss of an arm, but then it was only a matter of time to put it down, completely. Six Spartans went down to five Wolv, along with nineteen Spartan allies who died or were wounded unto death.  Of the two hundred and ninety-two captured on Sphacteria, two hundred and forty-eight would make it home.  Zeuxides wept for his friends, and no one thought less of him for it, but Ophelia lifted her eyes to the three Humanoids and the remaining six Wolv.  What she saw angered her, greatly, and she stomped down from the fight to confront the situation.

During the battle in the trenches, the whole fairy troop landed in secret behind the enemy.  They got big and had their bows.  The Humanoids and Wolv became pincushions for Fairy arrows.  As she stomped across the field, Styphon, Antiphas, and Porocleon of Olympia saw and followed her.  Flaves arrived as the fairy troop got small and scattered, having seen the look on Ophelia’s face.  The anger of the gods is a terrible thing to behold.

Ophelia stopped, and made sure the Wolv were dead.  She noted that even with a half-dozen arrows in their backs, the Wolv still turned to attack, and only went down when another half dozen or more arrows struck their front.  Nicias, with a handful of Athenians and a few more Spartans jogged up when Ophelia got to examining the Humanoids.  She paused before she spoke, and then it was to Styphon, not Flaves.

“I want the Humanoid heads.  We will take them to Isthmia.”  Styphon and the others got right on that grisly job without question.  Ophelia looked at Flaves.  She knew Fairies were capable warriors in war and battle, but they would have been irreparably injured if forced to perform such a macabre task.  She turned to Nicias.

“We need to move out at dawn. Leave as many here as you need to care for the wounded, but I want to be in Isthmia before dark tomorrow, so we can end this”

Nicias nodded and began doling out orders.

###

Dawn in Corinth saw the Wolvs fire on the city walls.  They only had handguns, but they put some holes in the stone and shook the foundation. The Corinthians did panic a bit, but one Captain got mad enough to gather a company of like-minded soldiers. Lockhart, Decker, and Katie, who had gotten to the walls by then, all urged the man to not act like a fool. but he was determined.

“Stubborn and stupid,” Elder Stow called the man.  “I recognize the symptoms.  Gott-Druk are very good at stubborn and stupid.”

“A strong human trait,” Alexis agreed. “Homo Sapiens as well as Homo Neanderthal.”

“Yes, but we have long since mastered it.”

Decker got to one section of the wall and readied his rifle and scope.  Katie took a section far enough away to spread the Wolv fire.  On a field, they might catch the enemy in a crossfire.  Elder Stow stood about half-way between the two where he could relay words without using the watch communicators, which might be on a frequency the Humanoids could tap into; but he was not to do anything unless he caught sight of the Humanoid commanders.

When they were ready, forty men poured out of the Corinthian gate, and charged, shields up, swords at their sides, javelins in their free hand.  The Wolvs were close enough to the wall so the men had a chance to get there before they all got cut down with Wolv weapon-fire.  Plus, Decker and Katie fired from above, struck several Wolvs, and at least distracted most of the others.  Only a few Wolvs returned fire to the wall.

At the end of the engagement, forty Corinthians lay dead on the field, and about half of the Wolvs sustained injuries. Three got seriously injured. Three Wolvs died, mostly from bullets. But then Elder Stow caught sight of one of the Humanoids and fired, once.  A streak of power lit up the sky.  The humanoid, though not directly struck, melted, and the big, old oak beside him exploded into splinters.

The Wolvs began to pull back into a copse of trees.  No doubt, the two remaining Humanoids needed to consider this new development.  Katie looked content to let them do that, but Decker flipped his rifle to automatic.  He never got to fire on the Wolvs, however, because roughly two hundred dwarfs came seemingly out of nowhere and attacked, about six or eight dwarfs to each Wolv.

“Damn,” Lockhart said.  He stood by Elder Stow and watched through the binoculars.

“Oh, Bergeron is in big trouble,” Boston said, and grinned for the dwarfs.

“We better get down there,” Alexis said, foolishly thinking some of the Corinthians might still be alive and need her help.

The Corinthians were more than willing to let the travelers ride out, but there were no Corinthians left foolish enough to follow them.  It looked like a gruesome battle, with human, Wolv, and some dwarf pieces strewn all over the place.  Bergeron survived, though he had a cut in his arm.  He, and his dwarfs looked content, even if they were in trouble.

“The Lady is on her way to Isthmia. We need to meet her there,” Bergeron reported.  “She wants the Humanoid heads.”  A few quick dwarf-strikes with their axes and the heads got wrapped in fairy weave for transport.  The dwarfs remained stoic about their losses.  They were not going to show any emotion in front of the humans.  “Best get moving,” Bergeron said, and he went out front.  The travelers came behind him in silence.  Appalled by the events.  Most of the dwarfs marched behind the travelers, where even the most gregarious ones only whispered.

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 3 of 6

Lockhart and Katie got down in front of the inn where the guard in the gate directed them.  At first, he was reluctant to let them into the city.  He asked which side they were on.  Lincoln stupidly said Persia, because it was the only coins they had, from back in Xanthia’s day.  Rajish certainly had no coins to give them.  But the old Persian coins were silver and gold, so the gate guard did not argue too much.  He directed them to an inn where they did not ask questions.  It did not appear to be in the best neighborhood.

“Boston, Sukki, Evan, and Millie, please stay with the horses,” Lockhart said.

“Alexis and I could stay,” Lincoln suggested.

“No mister Persia.  You need to come and keep your mouth closed.”

“Good thing we came through when we did,” Katie said.  “Not that many years ago, Persian coins would have gotten us in real trouble.”

Krack!

Lincoln looked at the door.  “That sounds like…” Decker, Katie, Lockhart, Alexis and Elder Stow all ran by him.  Even Boston raced ahead.  “…gunfire.” Lincoln followed.

The inn had a dining area, not necessarily expected.  A man lay on the floor, bleeding out.  A woman knelt beside him, weeping.  Three other men and one older woman looked on in horror.

“Alexis,” Katie called.  Alexis got down beside the man, and Lincoln got down with her.

“Who did this?” Lockhart asked the people, but they stood there with dumb looks on their faces.

Decker found the back door, but paused when Boston shouted from the window.  “It’s one of the outlaws.”  They heard a “Yip-yip,” and the sound of a horse ridden hard.  Decker had to grab Boston to prevent her from jumping out the window to pursue the horse on foot.  With some elf speed, she might have caught a horse hampered by city traffic, but then what would she do with the man?

“Come here,” Katie caught the old woman’s attention and brought her to a table.  “Tell me what happened.”

That seemed to shake the men free of their stupor.  They all began to spout at once.

“Decker.  Lockhart.  Help me get him up on the table,” Alexis insisted.  Lincoln had the weeping young woman in a hug, to comfort her.

“Careful, careful.”  They got him up.  “Decker, cut the dress off him to expose the wound.  You may have to hold him down.”  Alexis dug into the medical pack that she carried like a purse.  She pulled out a jar of something and checked for the green dot on the bottom before she managed to get some down the man’s throat.  He moaned, and the young woman wanted to go to him, but Lincoln would not let her go.

“Boston,” Lockhart said.  “Aren’t you supposed to be watching the horses?”

Boston shook her head.  “Alexis might need my magic, or to cauterize the wound or something.”

Alexis reached to the bottom of her pack and pulled out a long, thin knife, the one she got back after the necromancer turned to dust.  She said, “I had hoped I would never have to use this.”  Then she added, “I wish Doctor Mishka was here.  She is an actual doctor, and a surgeon with battlefield experience besides.  I’m just a registered nurse.”  She leaned over the man to cut into the wound, and added a word for whomever might be watching.  “We have to get the bullet out if we want him to heal.”

Elder Stow interrupted her.  He had the device with which he pulled out bullets before.  Alexis gladly put her knife away while Elder Stow passed his device over the wound many times.  It took a while, and Alexis interrupted several times to staunch the bleeding, but at last, the bullet came to the surface and came out of the wound.

Alexis had Boston put a hand on her shoulder, so she could draw on a touch of Boston’s fire magic.  Then she placed her hands gently on the wound and a golden glow filled the area.  Eventually, the wound closed up, and both Alexis and Boston took a deep breath.

Lockhart went to Katie where the old woman and the three men began to babble.  It took almost as long to get a straight story from them as it did for Alexis to perform her healing.

Meanwhile, outside, Sukki got impatient. She finally told Evan and Millie that she was just going to check, and she would be right back.  She no sooner stepped in the door when Millie got grabbed from behind.

“Don’t cry out,” the man said in English. He had a knife to Millie’s throat. “Billy, check him,” he said.

The young cowboy checked to make sure Evan had no weapons.  He took the knife Evan had been given, but then balked.  “I can’t frisk no lady.”

The other man rolled his eyes. “Come with us,” he said.

Evan stepped up beside Millie, and did not argue.  Instead, he asked a serious question.  “You are a red Indian?”

“Apache,” the man said.  “Though I had a French grandfather.  Juan Reynard, at your service.”

“I’m Billy Porter,” the young man said, with evident pride.  “Me and my brother Tom robbed every bank on the Rio Grande.  Maybe you heard of us.  The Porter brothers.”

“Sorry,” Evan said.  Millie shook her head as they came to a building across the way from the inn.  “But if I was home, I might look you up.”

“Where is home?” Reynard asked.

“The United States, 1905.”  He added the date, because the others showed him that not everyone came from the same year.

“1875,” Reynard said.  “Inside.”

They went in, and Millie spouted, “Nanette.”

“Yes, Millie.  Good to see you.  And Evan, you are looking well.”

“What is this about?” Evan asked, not concerned about propriety.

“Why so suspicious, or do you not trust a darkie?  But look. My palm is as white as any white woman. It is light and bright.  The back of my hand is dark.  See?  Light and dark.  Look at my hand.  Light and dark… Light and dark… Light and dark… Now, when I count to three, you will close your eyes.  Light and dark… One… two… three.”

Millie and Evan closed their eyes.

“You will not remember seeing me or talking to me, or seeing these cowboys.  But there is one thing you must do.”  She explained, that they must wait until the others were asleep and bring all of their weapons to her, but in the next time zone.  “Now, when I say go, I want you to return to your horses, and touch your horse.  When you touch your horse, you will wake, and remember nothing of our conversation, except you will remember to do your job in the next time zone.  Now, go.”  Millie and Evan turned and walked back to the horses.

“Why the next time zone?” Reynard asked.

“Because the space monsters have come into this place.  We will have to ride hard up the west coast to avoid them.”

“Maybe the space monsters will eat the travelers so we won’t have to worry about them,” Reynard suggested.

Nanette rolled her eyes and stepped up to Billy.  “Billy, you are not to bring me anyone’s weapons.  You will wake up, remember what was said here, and make a sound like a chicken.”  She slapped Billy.  “Wake up.”

Billy said, “Cluck, cluck.”

###

The travelers sat around the table, feasting.  Dionysios, the wounded man, stayed upstairs, resting, but Helene, his young wife stayed with the travelers, grateful for their saving her husband’s life.  The old woman who ran the inn loaded them up with food. These people had gold, and the war over the last ten years really hurt the business.

“Tell me, Helene.”  Millie spoke kindly.  “How old is your husband?”

“Dion is thirty-six, but he is such a nice man.”

“My age, poor fellow,” Decker said, to everyone’s surprise.  “And how old are you?”  He asked in a way that suggested the answer meant nothing to him, personally.

“How old do I look to you?”

Decker shrugged. “Twenty-one?”  Helene smiled at the answer.

“Not more than eighteen,” Lockhart tried, and Katie tugged on his sleeve to quiet him.

Helene lifted her chin in pride. “I am just sixteen, but that is more than old enough to be a good wife, and young enough to have many children.”

“Start with one,” Alexis suggested. “Then see how you feel about it.”

“You should listen to my wife,” Lincoln said.  “She is old and wise.  Me? I’m sixty-eight, though I don’t feel a day over thirty.  Maybe twenty-eight.  She is much older than I am.”

“How could that be?” Helene scoffed. “She can’t be older than twenty-four. Maybe twenty-one as the Egyptian said.

“Last I counted, she is two hundred and thirty-eight years old.”

Alexis slapped Lincoln’s arm for telling, even as Decker spoke up again.  “So, I am an Egyptian now?  Good to know.”

“You’re not?” Helene looked surprised. “I thought all dark-skinned men were Egyptians.”

Decker got ready to explain, but stopped when Boston stood and knocked over her chair.  “You might as well show yourselves.  Do you have word from Ophelia?”

Bergeron the dwarf and two other dwarfs with him dropped their glamour of invisibility.  Bergeron introduced himself, said he knew who they were, and said, “Yes and no.  You see, it is like this, Miss Boston.  An alien transport landed up the coast in the village of Isthmia, and right now you got three Humanoids and twenty Wolv looking over the city walls, and the Lady won’t let us get in between.  We been watching these humans fight each other for ten years, and the lady would not let us help, even when she got taken captive and spent the last four years in prison.  Well, I got buckets full of dwarfs that are just itching for a fight, but the lady says the humans have to fight their own fights.”

“I’m human,” Decker said, and reached for his rifle, which was never out of reach.

“I was hoping you would say that,” Bergeron said.  “We wouldn’t have to fight, just sort of protect the women folk, if you know what I mean.”

“What do you mean?” Lincoln asked.

“I mean if the women are in danger, we might have to attack the Wolvs, just defensively, you know.”

Boston grinned.  Katie spoke.  “Your logic is so flawed, I don’t know where to begin.”

“Thank you, Captain.”  Bergeron tipped his helmet.  “I take that as a great compliment.”

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

MONDAY

The groups clash and try to find a solution that does not cost too much blood…

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 2 of 6

Nicias and Styphon got the Athenians and Spartans working together to fortify their position.  Timocrates and Antiphas, the Athenian and Spartan seconds, worked side by side.  Porocleon of Olympia had command of the 167 Spartan allies, members of the Peloponnesian League that had also been held captive in Athens for four years.  Lesycles of Thebes did the same for the Athenian allies who came along for the ride.

Lesycles wanted to kill one in ten Spartans to send the message of what would happen if they did not keep the peace, but Nicias overruled him.  He knew the Spartans would see that as an offense to their pride.  If they gave their word for peace, that should be enough. The decimation of the prisoners would have only angered the Spartans to continue the war.  Maybe that was what Lesycles wanted.  Now, if Ophelia was to be believed, he was glad to have the Spartans standing out front to face the enemy.

Ophelia got left in her tent with the Athenian Tellis and Zeuxides, who had been a good friend of her husband. Zeuxides knew, but Tellis stifled his own shriek when Ophelia called and a man appeared out of thin air, or rather, an elf, pointed ears and all.  Ophelia ignored Tellis.

“Labium, have you had a chance to examine the Humanoid ship?”

“Yes, lady,” Labium said.

“An explorer?  A scout ship?”

“No, lady.  It is a patrol-transport.”

“Damn,” Ophelia swore.

“Trouble?” Zeuxides asked.

“Double trouble,” she answered, before she explained.  “A typical patrol ship will be crewed by nine to fifteen Humanoids.  They patrol the solar system where they are based, and keep watch on whatever colonies or outposts might be in operation.  You might think of them as small ships that watch the coast for enemies or intruders.  A patrol-transport is a bigger ship that can supply colonies with men, equipment or food stuffs.  In a pinch, they can be used to transport troops to an outpost or colony that might be under attack.  They might carry as many as a hundred Wolvs on a short trip.”

Zeuxides whistled.  “If these Wolvs are as formidable as you say, and I do not doubt that, having seen the remains of the night guard—and no dead Wolvs, I might add, though they may have taken their wounded with them—that sounds like a lot to contend with.”

“But that isn’t the worst of it,” Ophelia shouted.  “Patrol ships are not built for long distance travel.  A patrol ship means they have to have come from a nearby star, and only a half-dozen would qualify, I would guess.  Tau Ceti, or maybe Epsilon Eridani.  They would be candidates, about ten to twelve light years away.  That means we have a humanoid house staking a claim in our back yard.”

“When you say star, you mean…” Tellis looked up at the roof of the tent, swallowed and pointed… “Star.”

“What do you mean, house?” Zeuxides asked a question Ophelia could at least try to answer.

“Think of the Humanoid Empire like Greece, but with an emperor—a kind of high king, like Agamemnon was in the Trojan War.  The houses are like cities, all but independent, but sworn in allegiance back and forth across the stars.”

“Like the cities sworn to Athens?” Tellis asked, and thought to add, “Or Sparta.”

“More medieval,” Ophelia said. “More complicated,” she clarified, since the men would have no way of knowing what medieval meant.  “Like Megara is pledged to Athens in one way, has long term economic ties to Thebes, has other contracts with Corinth about shipping, and a long friendship with Argos.  So, when Corinth attacks Argo and Athens comes to the aid of Argo, but Thebes wants to stay out of it, which way does Megara go?”

“Complicated,” Zeuxides got the gist of it.

“So, we have a house in our back yard, and you can be sure they are looking at our world as a world to feast on.”

“But what about us?” Tellis understood something.  “We are living here.”

“They bring tens of thousands of Wolvs here, and those humans, Spartans and Athenians, that don’t get eaten would become their slaves.  We need to discourage that idea from the beginning.”  Ophelia brushed everything off the table in the tent and got out a map of the area.  “Labium. Show me on this map, where they are and how many, as best as you know and what house?”

“House of Lachkar,” Labium said, as he stepped up to examine the map.  “Isthmia?” Labium pointed and asked.

Ophelia nodded.  “Corinth is the big spot.  We are about here, just on the isthmus, down from Sidius.  This is Isthmia in the middle between Corinth and us.”

“They are in Isthmia.”  Labium tapped the map.  He paused to catch the drool that tried to slide out of his oversized lower lip.  “Best guess is ten Humanoids and about fifty Wolvs in the village.  They have the villagers completely cowered, but have not eaten many yet.  Less than a quarter league from here are twenty more Wolvs under three Humanoids. They are scouting the area, examining the flora and fauna, and specifically looking for military information. Your group of roughly eight hundred affords them a perfect opportunity for testing.”

“Tough luck on us.” Ophelia said, and stopped when she had a sudden thought.  “Fifty, plus ten Wolvs still on the ship, plus twenty here, makes eighty. Did they explore the isthmus in the other direction, like towards Corinth?”

“I was just coming to that.” Labium sipped.  “Twenty more, with three more Humanoids are headed in that direction.”

“Damn,” Ophelia spouted.  “Who do we have down there?  Bergeron,” she commanded, and a dwarf deked out for battle appeared in their midst.

“What?  What?”  Bergeron appeared confused for a moment.  “Labium,” he acknowledged the elf before he turned to Ophelia.  “No, before you speak.  We got our eyes on the Wolv and a plan to turn them back before they get to the city.”

“You will do no such thing.  The humans have to defend themselves.  I won’t have any of your people killed defending the human race.”

Zeuxides stepped up and spoke. “Corinth has stout walls and a strong garrison.”

Ophelia shook her head.  “Wolv weapons will make holes in the wall and they will run right in.  As for the garrison, nothing disarms a man faster than panic.  Better they check the city and decide to not try it without reinforcements.  They could eat Corinth in a couple of days of feasting.”

“So, what can we do?”  Bergeron sounded put off by her refusal to let them fight.

“Keep me apprised of developments. If it looks like they are going to test the city, let me know.  We will decide what to do when that time comes.”

Bergeron looked mollified a little. She did not say when that time came that she would not let the dwarfs fight.

“And my people?” Labium asked.

“Keep an eye on Isthmia and on that ship, and please ask Prissy to come see me.”  She clapped her hands and Bergeron vanished.

“Miss Prissy is here?” Zeuxides brightened.

“Miss Priscilla and her whole troop have been following since Athens, and trying to hide,” Ophelia said, though her eyes stayed on the map.

“I told her it wouldn’t work, that you would know.”  Labium grinned.

Ophelia smiled for the elf.  “And you were right.  Thank you for all you do.”  She clapped.  Labium bowed as he vanished.

“Miss Prissy?” Tellis asked that much before two lights zoomed into the room.  One landed on Ophelia’s shoulder, though being a married woman, Ophelia had her hair cut short, so she had no locks for Priscilla to hide in.  The other light landed on the map.”

“Flaves, old man,” Zeuxides smiled for the fairy who was Prissy’s husband.

“Zeuxides, young man,” the fairy responded.  “Are you ready to go to war?”

“Always,” Zeuxides grinned, before Ophelia interrupted.

“Tellis.  Stay.”

Zeuxides grabbed the man before he could run out of the tent, screaming.  The elf he could accept.  If he ignored the lip and the pointed ears, he looked human enough.  The dwarf he could pretend was a short, stout man with an extra-long, untrimmed beard.  Fairies, however, became too much.  His eyes stayed wide as he stared at Flaves.

“Please get big.  That might help our friend here,” Ophelia asked Flaves.

“Me too?” Prissy said in her ear.

“Yes, please.”

In a moment, a very fine man dressed in armor appeared beside a most beautiful woman, one who appeared a bit shy. Ophelia watched Tellis take a breath and let it out slowly, as she introduced them.  “Flaves and Priscilla, this is Tellis, Athenian from Marathon.”

Flaves bowed and Priscilla curtseyed because they were sensitive enough to know a handshake would have been too much for the man.

“G-good to meet you,” Tellis stuttered.

“So, tell me about the twenty Wolvs and three humanoids not far from here,” Ophelia said, having little patience for formalities.

“Of course,” Flaves said, and pointed at the map.  “They have a physician who took the captive men and ran some tests?”  He did not sound certain about the phrase, but Ophelia nodded.  “I don’t know what he tested for, but he gave most of them to the Wolvs for lunch, after separating some prime pieces for the Humanoids.  They ate it all raw.  No one built a fire.”

“And their conversation?”

“They want to run more tests, and one is keen on testing the military strength you show.  He figured out in the wilderness, away from the settlements, we are fair game.  That was how he talked about you humans, as game.”

“Well,” Zeuxides said, plenty loud. “If they are hunters, they will not find us rabbits.  We will be like the bear and turn on them to their end.  Isn’t that right, Athenian?”

Tellis nodded, but he did not look at all sure.

“Zeuxides,” Ophelia said.  “Fetch Styphon and send for Antiphas and Porocleon. Tellis, fetch Nicias and send for Timocrates and Lesycles.  We need to share what we have discovered.”

“Yes,” Tellis said, as the two ran off.

“You should know,” Flaves said to Ophelia.  “The travelers from Avalon are in Corinth, and so is the witch and her three cowboys.”

“Typical,” Ophelia said.  “When it rains, it pours.”  She let out something between a scream and a growl and stomped back into the tent.

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 1 of 6

After 467 BC, Attica. Kairos lifetime 80: Ophelia, Spartan Princess

Recording …

A man screamed.  It came from the perimeter.  One man, and then several men began shouting, “To Arms!  To Arms!”  The camp scrambled.

The Spartan commander, Styphon, and the Athenian general, Nicias, both jumped to their feet and looked to the tent door.  Ophelia shouted.

“Wait.  See what it is first.  Panic and rash decisions help no one.”

Styphon growled.

Nicias looked again at the supper on the table.

Shortly, Timocrates, Nicias’ number two, and Antiphas the Spartan came to the door.  Timocrates reported.

“They came from the coastal area. No idea who.  Several men are dead, torn up, I don’t know how or from what. The sergeants are counting their charges to see if any are missing.”

Antiphas the Spartan spoke. “Zeuxides walked near the area. He claims he saw a wolf, but one standing on its hind legs, and bigger than any wolf he ever saw.”

“Damn!” Ophelia stood and threw her cloth to the table.  “Lord Nicias. We are less than a day from the border of the Peloponnesian League, but you better give the Spartans and the others their weapons now, if you want to survive this.”

Nicias shook his head slightly.  “I don’t know.  The Ecclesia charged me to see the prisoners safely out of Athenian land.”

“You know what we are facing?” Styphon asked, ignoring the general.

“I have a good guess.  I fear that I do know, and that is saying something, because you know I fear no man nor beast,” Ophelia responded.  “Timocrates, can you take us to the place so we can examine the evidence?”

Timocrates glanced at his general who appeared to nod, slightly.  “Follow me,” he said.

General Nicias had five hundred Athenians to escort two hundred and seventy-three soldiers of the Peloponnesian League to their own territory, one hundred and six of whom were Spartiates—Spartan warriors of the highest class.  Some did not survive four years of captivity, after the surrender at Sphacteria, though they had been treated well, and fed during those four years. Rightly or wrongly, the men credited Ophelia, a fellow prisoner, with the humane way they were treated and survived captivity, being treated like prisoners of war, and hostages, not like criminals.  They knew that being a woman, the Athenians wanted to release her, but being a Spartan woman, she refused.  She insisted on sharing the hardship of her people, even though she had a ten-year-old daughter back home.  Well, she had two older sisters to count on, and a husband who died an honorable and glorious death on Sphacteria.  Helen should be a fine young woman of fourteen by now.

When Ophelia and the men arrived, they found Zeuxides and the Athenian Tellis of Marathon waiting.  They looked uncertain.  Ophelia bent down to the shredded body of the guard.  She did not have to examine much before she swore again.

“Damn.  Wolvs.”  Ophelia called to her armor and weapons, and they came out of the Second Heavens and replaced the dress she wore.  No one blinked.  They had all seen her do that before.  “Nicias, you better arm the Spartans, even if it is a day early.  It may be a scouting party from a small ship, but we cannot count on that.”

“What are Wolvs?” Styphon asked.

“Like the name, but intelligent as a man, and big.  They have weapons of fire and explosions.”  She pointed to the burn marks on the body.  “They travel in ships that fly in the air the way our ships travel on water.  And even without weapons, they have claws and teeth that can shred you.  In fact, they seem to delight in shredding things like soft, human flesh.”

“Timocrates,” Nicias pointed at his number two.  “Arm the Spartans.”  Antiphas went with him to see it done.

“I haven’t even said the worst part yet,” Ophelia added, regaining everyone’s attention.  “The Wolv are just soldiers.  They answer to Humanoid commanders.  The Humanoids look like us, but have very sharp teeth.  They like to eat humans, raw.  They won’t bother to cook us first.”

“Wonderful,” Zeuxides said.  The Spartan took it like a challenge.

###

Evan explained how they came this way before, in the opposite direction.  “The time gate stood in the middle of a shallow river well north of Rome…”

“In the village of Pisa,” Millie interrupted.  “The Arno, I believe.”

“It was fairly shallow, and nearly dry,” Evan continued.  “We swam out in the muddy water, and did not know what to expect on the other side.” He paused to see if Millie wanted to add anything.  She shook her head.  “We landed in the Aegean, somewhere off the coast of Chios.  I thought we would surely drown.”

“Last time we moved from water to water,” Lincoln said, thinking a minute.  “That seems to be the way it works.  If the gate is in the water, the exit gate will be as well.  But, in any case, we moved from river to river, but that was before we had the horses.”

“So, what happened?” Alexis asked Millie.

“We got rescued,” Millie said, with a smile.

“We got picked up by a ship out from Rhodes, headed for Piraeus harbor and Athens.  That took a week, and the winds were favorable the whole time. Odd, to think of it.  The captain and crew acted like they picked up all of us in Chios, and our passage got paid.  That is very odd, now that I think about it.”

“What do you mean, we?” Alexis asked.

Millie answered.  “We traveled with a very kind older woman, Doris, and her granddaughter, Nyssa.  They gave us a cabin, where we ate all out meals; but I did not even know such ancient ships actually had cabins.”

“They don’t,” Lincoln said, as he got out the database to read.

“Another woman, one that Nyssa called Aunt Galatea was there, too.  But we only saw her on a couple of days,” Millie finished.  “I guess she kept mostly to herself.”

“We exited this zone around Olympia, where we came in,” Evan also finished, and added, “What?” because Lincoln appeared to be reading something interesting.

“Doris is Amphitrite’s mother. Nyssa is her daughter.  Galatea is her sister, one of the ninety-nine.”

“Amphitrite?” Evan asked.  He knew the name, even if Millie did not know it off hand.

“The Kairos,” Lincoln said, and Evan nodded, like he should have guessed.

“Sea goddesses,” Alexis told Millie, and a light seemed to go off in her head.

“Poseidon is Nyssa’s father,” Lincoln said.

“Neptune,” Evan told Millie.  “You would know her mother as Salacia.”

Millie nodded.  “Amphitrite is Salacia, and the Kairos.”

“And a wonderful woman, from what little I’ve seen of her,” Alexis added.

“Walk ‘em,” Katie spoke back to the four following.  She slipped off the back of Lockhart’s horse, and he also got down.  Sukki, who had taken to riding beside the mother and father of the group, also dismounted, but looked ahead.  Boston was returning from out front, having ridden out to check the lay of the land, and she had her amulet out, no doubt checking their direction.

“Corinth is up ahead.  Walking distance,” Boston reported.  “My guess is the Kairos is at the other end of the isthmus, on our side of the next big city, but not far from a village.”

Decker rode up in time to hear Katie name the village.  “The village is probably Isthmia, or whatever they call it in this time period, or maybe Sidius.”

“That’s it,” Decker said.  “The Kairos is insidious.”

“Ha, ha,” Boston spoke without laughing.

Elder Stow came in with an apology. “I am sorry, my mother.  The shrine of Artemis is no longer in the woods, and its wilderness location now appears to be farm fields just outside the city walls.”

“That’s okay,” Katie responded.  “I didn’t expect it to still be there after all this time.”  She glanced up at the sky and let out a little sigh for Artie, the android that Amphitrite made human, and that she and Lockhart adopted before they were even officially married.  She changed the subject as Lincoln, Alexis, Evan and Millie walked up.  “I am more unhappy that we came right through Nemea and did not get one whiff of a lion in the neighborhood.”

“The Nemean lion would be Hercules. That would have been ages ago, wouldn’t it?” Evan asked.

“We met him,” Lincoln whispered, to Evan’s surprise, but his whisper got over drowned out by Lockhart’s volume.

“Lunch.”  He shouted before he said more softly to Katie, as people turned to first take care of their horses.  “I want to get a meal in before we get to the city.  Even I can see that herd of sheep down that hill there.  That means we are too close to habitation to even technically be in the wilderness.”

Katie nodded.  “I wonder if your horse-thief’s inn is still there, in the city.”

Lockhart rolled his eyes.

When they were seated by the fire, Boston looked again at her amulet.  “The Kairos was moving in our direction,” she said.  “But she appears to have stopped for some reason.”

“We are too far away for a look,” Decker said.

“Indeed,” Elder Stow said, with a look at his scanner.

“Let’s just get through Corinth first,” Lockhart said.

“I’m sure there is a good reason,” Katie said, at about the same time.

“Who can understand the mind of the gods,” Millie said, still thinking about her trip aboard that ship.

“Exactly,” Boston and Sukki said together, but Boston said it louder.

Avalon 6.4 Stories, part 4 of 4

Boston and Sukki had the early morning watch.  They often built up the fire, put whatever substitute for coffee they had on to boil, and watched the sun rise.  On that morning, Boston, with her good elf ears, heard some sounds near the horses. The leaves ruffled, and a few twigs snapped.  Just when she got Sukki to go with her, to investigate, they heard Elder Stow’s alarm go off.  It sounded loud.

The immediate response came, even as people roused from their sleep.  Several streaks of white light energy dissipated short of the horses and the campsite.  Boston saw Elder Stow’s scanner on a log, outside his tent.  She figured he set it before he went to bed, just in case they had visitors in the night.

Elder Stow came out of his tent, rubbed his eyes to wake up, and stared at his scanner readout. “As I suspected,” he said.  “They are basically still working off Anazi weapons.  I see no signs of personal screen technology yet.  I read one humanoid and a dozen wolv.  A scouting party, I imagine.”

“You need to make your screens one sided,” Decker said.

Elder Stow grumped, even as two of the wolv came tooth and claw against the screens in a futile effort to break through.  “That is ship to ship technology, so we can shoot them and be protected against their weapons.  It is not meant for personal screens.  In a case like this, one might call it cheating.”  He made a grumpy face, but Decker simply stared at him.  Elder Stow finally said, “The screens are one-sided, even if that is not a proper technical description.”

“Thanks,” Decker said, and he took his fancy military rifle and killed the two trying to scratch and claw their way through the impenetrable screens.  By the time he turned on the rest of the wolv, Katie joined him with her own rifle.  Lincoln and Boston pulled their handguns, though they only fired a couple of shots each. Lockhart grabbed his shotgun and blasted one wolv that tried to sneak around to the other side of the camp.  It took three shotgun slugs to put him down.

Katie saw the humanoid officer half hidden behind a tree.  He appeared to be hopping mad, and yelling to whomever might be listening.  She shot him, figuring they did not need him to call in reinforcements.  Then she felt bad about it.  She knew better; but by outward appearance, the humanoids did appear to be human.

Decker had a comment when the firing stopped.  “Don’t be surprised if one or more wolv plays possum.”

“I see no more life signs,” Elder Stow said.  “But now having seen the wolv, I agree, caution is in order.”

People stopped when they heard a sound. They heard distant explosions before they saw a good-sized ship come to the grassland just beyond the start of the forest where they camped.  When the ship settled down, they saw a number of people come out from the inside.  They recognized these people as androids, and watched as the androids hustled to make sure the wolv were all dead.

“Lockhart.”  A big black man in the doorway shouted.  “Boston.”  The red-headed streak ran into the hug.  Bring the horses.  We have to get everything loaded and out of here before the Lingling send more troops.”

“Tobaka?”  Lincoln asked first before he got busy breaking camp and bringing the horses to the ship.  “Lingling? Not Hungdin?” Lincoln asked the second question as soon as he had the chance.

“Different house,” Tobaka answered. “But part of the empire.  This is really not a good time, though I suppose it never is.”

“Artie?” Katie asked when she had a chance.  Lockhart paid attention as one of the androids perked up.

“The queen is home, safe and sound,” the android said, but Tobaka gave a sad little shake of his head.  Katie cried a little, and Lockhart held her.

They flew a short way and set down in an android camp, where they powered down and pulled camouflage nets over the ship. The camp included two warships, like frigates, and three merchant vessels, none of which were as big as the Gott-Druk freighter.  There were local humans there, mostly young women, no surprise, but some soldiers in skirts that might have been Egyptian.  Tobaka called them Assyrians.

“So, Evan,” Tobaka began as he guided everyone to lunch under a big tent.  “How did you like flying?”

Evan nodded.  He swallowed, and grinned, but said nothing.

“Couldn’t see much,” Lincoln said.

“Decker,” Tobaka turned next to the major.  “I am not American, African-American, or even a black man. I am African, specifically Nubian, though you can call me an Egyptian.  My family ruled in Egypt until the Assyrian a-holes came and killed them all.” Tobaka appeared ready to growl, but held his tongue.  “These Assyrian soldiers are part of the king’s penance, but that is a long story I will not go into right now.  Suffice to say, Decker.  You and most of your companions are Americans.  That is your tribe and nation, and the color of your skin or the color of my skin is irrelevant.  Believe me. It is cosmetics.  I have had many skin colors, if you haven’t noticed, but necessary to fit in where I am born.”

“No,” Decker said.  “I get it.  Being an American has nothing to do with a person’s outward appearance.”

“Evan?”  Tobaka turned on the man.

Evan nodded, slowly.  “I understand.  My wife explained it to me more than once.  Nanette, the real Nanette, is an especially good person, and she would be no matter what she looked like.”

“Your road is harder,” Tobaka told him. “1905 is before the equal rights amendment, the voting rights act, and lots of important things in your future.”

“My heart understands,” Evan said. “I hope Major Decker can forgive me if my mouth gets stupid.”

Decker nodded, but Lockhart changed the subject.  “Lunch was great…”

“Edible,” Lincoln suggested.

“With actual fruits and vegetables,” Alexis said with a smile, and Elder Stow, Sukki, and Boston all agreed.

“But what are we doing here?  Are we supposed to be hiding?  Should we unload the horses?”

“I am waiting to see if the humanoids picked up our journey to get you.  I figure three hours is safe.  If they saw us and traced our energy trail to know where we are, they will attack.  If they don’t come in three hours, we are probably safe.”

Everyone looked to the sky, though the tent blocked most of it.

“Story,” Tobaka said, and stood. “This convoy originally had three escort warships, one being bigger, more destroyer size, to escort seven merchant ships and freighters.  They had a trade agreement with another world where they provided grain and sheep for certain metals, like coper, tin, and iron among others.  That world was rich in metals, but beginning an industrial revolution.  In human terms, like around 1800.  Their population started growing rapidly, and they were having a hard time keeping everyone fed.  It was a good deal.  The androids got the metals they needed, and the people on that world got fed.”

“It was an equitable arrangement,” DLN 28579-Dolan, the android commander spoke up, before Tobaka continued.

“The convoy got intercepted by a light cruiser and two destroyers of the Chantar house, a smaller house in alliance with the powerful House of Lingling.  It seems the humanoids have targeted the androids as competitors of a sort. That is why the androids fly in convoy, with escort ships.  The battle was fierce.  The humanoid cruiser got too heavily damaged to continue, and one destroyer got destroyed. The androids lost their destroyer and four of the seven merchant ships, though they left two behind that were only damaged.  Hopefully, they repaired and escaped before the cruiser affected repairs.  The frigates and three remaining merchantmen came here for repairs, not expecting to be followed, but the Chantar destroyer traced them to this world.”

“We hid,” Dolan said.  “Though many of my officers thought with our two ships, we could take on the single enemy.”

“The androids learned the stealth technology, and are using it against the humanoids that invented it,” Tobaka said.

“As long as we stay powered down, and they do not put another satellite in orbit, we don’t believe they can find us,” Dolan added.

“You are saying cruiser and destroyer, using human terminology for the ships,” Alexis pointed out.

“For the marines,” Tobaka said. “To show relative ship size and firepower.”

“I understand the human terms,” Dolan said.

“Anyway,” Tobaka continued.  “Evan came through, and shortly after that, I convinced the Chantar destroyer to leave.  The androids made what repairs they could on this planet and also prepared to leave.  The minute they powered up, they found a satellite in orbit that signaled someone. They destroyed the satellite, but came back to see who showed up, in part thinking the Chantar destroyer might be hiding behind the moon or in the asteroid belt.  Three days ago, the Chantar destroyer came back with a Lingling battleship, a Lingling heavy cruiser, and two Lingling destroyers, all overflowing with wolv troops.  It is a mess. It appears the Chantar captain did not heed my warning, or the man got overruled.  In either case, this is not a good time for you to be here.”

“Commander,” one of the android officers came into the tent, her eyes glued to a device, even like Elder Stow, who presently had his eyes fastened to his own screen device.  “There is no evidence of activity on the long-range power scans.”

“I am also not seeing anything in the sky,” Elder Stow said.  “Their ships are at the outside edge of my small equipment, but I see no movement there, either.”

‘Good,” Tobaka said, but they still waited several more hours.

When the sun began to set, so the light, including infra-red and ultra-violet would be in the enemy eyes, Tobaka made them get on the merchant ship again.  He said, good-bye, and they got flown to the next time gate, where they got dumped along with their horses and equipment.

“That was rude,” Alexis said.

“Camp,” Lockhart said.  “We go through in the morning.”

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

MONDAY

The Travelers head to Babylon where they run into Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem.  Next Time.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Cleaning Up, part 3 of 3

Three days later, the Nameless god, last of the gods of Aesgard, stood beside Mavis and watched the Wolv transport rise in the atmosphere.  The ogres and trolls Danna brought to protect them for three days while Martok did the repair work were home and safe.  They only had to kill six Wolv that lost patience and tried to eat Mavis or Martok, or whoever worked on the ship at the moment.

The gray-backed Wolv kept most of the Wolv under control for those three days.  There were only forty survivors by then out of the original hundred on the transport, and most of them were women and children, but the gray-backed Wolv understood, even if the others did not, that Earth was one planet that would not be won, even if they mounted a full-scale invasion.  They tried that once already, and failed.  It was not because Earth was full of unbeatable monsters, though from the Wolv perspective it seemed to be, but because the human race had reached just the right sort of primitive development where it had disciplined armies and effective weapons.

“Will they survive?” Mavis asked as she shaded her eyes against the sun for a better look.  The four hundred-year-old transport smoked a little as it rose.

“They should make it out of the solar system. How far they will continue into deep space remains to be seen,” Nameless said.  Nameless felt something then he had not felt in a long time.  He put his arm out toward Mavis in case he needed to draw her under his protective wing.  An old man appeared, in his robe, holding his staff, and Nameless named the man. “Mithras.”

“You have always been a good one to clean up the messes made by the gods,” Mithras said, as he turned his eyes to the diminishing spot in the sky.

“As Lord of the sprites of the earth, air, fire and water, I kind of had to specialize in cleaning up messes.  Even if I don’t know what tomorrow may bring, history is already written and the future is already set.  Keeping that written word on track mostly involves cleaning up messes.”  Nameless blinked and brought the three of them to the place of the ancient dome.

Mithras appeared startled.  “I am not used to being carted around by another god.  That is not easy to do.”

“But it is,” Nameless said.  “This remains Aesgard land, my land, and you are an intruder who does not belong here.”  He turned to face the old man.  “Your place is Persia, and I will not begrudge you the Indus or the Tigris-Euphrates, but you are no longer welcome in the land of Aesgard.”  Nameless traded places with Danna.  “And you must stay out of the West and the old lands of Vanheim as well.”  She traded again with Junior.  “The Near East, Egypt and North Africa are off limits to you.  You have no place among the Jews and the Christians.”  He traded again, and Salacia filled his shoes.  “In fact, the whole Greco-Roman world including the Mediterranean and all the lands and islands around are now off limits to you. Stick to your own place, but not for too long.  You should be on the other side as you know perfectly well.”  Salacia went away so Nameless could come back again.  He whispered to Mavis, “Now I am dizzy.,” but they looked at Mithras and saw him begin to cry.

“I’m afraid,” he said.

“I am not the judge,” Nameless said.  “But I would say on the scale of things, you have not done badly.  You should not fear.  The new way has come and it is full of mercy and grace.”

“But am I subject to the new way, or am I stuck in the old ways?”

“We are all subject, even the gods.  Only you must decide which way you will go and which path you will follow.”  Nameless turned to face the last broken blocks of what was once a magnificent dome in the wilderness.  “Grandfather Odin wanted this to remain as a reminder that the gods should not make promises.  He is gone now.  The old ways are gone now, and this particular reminder of the ancient world should go with them.”  As a true god of the earth, Nameless reached far down below and drew up the great stones of the underworld.  The stone broke through the surface and Nameless shaped it into a bit of a line where it might one day serve to remind him of the past, a reminder no one else would understand.  Then he crumbed the great blocks of stone to dust with a thought and blended the stone dust into the stone from below until they were made one.  Then he stood back and spoke again.

“One day, men will come here.  They will build other domes and rule and worship in this place.”  He stepped back, and Mithras had a thought.

“I spent a hundred years trapped in this place. It would not be a bad place to die.” He looked at Nameless.  It took a moment for Nameless to figure it out, but when he did, he took a step back.

“No way.  Greta killed enough for a lifetime, and Lucius became a horror for her.  She will never get over that.”

“You killed Mithrasis.”

“I made my contribution, and Junior killed your Jupiter, and Gerraint killed the Sun-runner, and Salacia killed the Persian and far too many men with her fury, the fury prompted by Greta who had to kill Lucius.  No, I will do no more killing.”  Nameless stepped back and watched Mithras cry.  “And for the record, don’t even think about trying to manipulate me into doing the job.  I will not be manipulated again, and any innocents you kill will be a mark against you in the eternal ledger, and I don’t believe you can afford that.” Nameless paused to think before he added, “It will be five hundred years before a man convinces a whole nation that the Almighty will somehow reward people for killing the innocent.  That darkness will spread from that day far into the future, but that is not this day.”

Mithras paused in his cry.  “The Don?  She has not had a turn.”

“Danna has her own reluctant and disobedient children to worry about.  You just need to let go of your flesh and blood yourself, and be done with it.  It won’t be so bad, and I am sure your brother Varuna, who loves you, is waiting with arms open to welcome you to paradise.”

Mithras nodded and faded from sight.  Mavis finally opened her eyes and lifted her head to look at the most noble face of the god beside her, and he smiled for her and said, “Let’s go home,” and they returned to the grassy place beside Bragi’s house, this time when no one stood there to watch.  Greta returned with the smile still on her lips.  She took off her red cloak for Mavis to hold, since after all, it had become a warm early spring day.

“And in six to eight weeks,” she said to herself. “I will be welcoming a new life into the world.  Marcus.” She had to get used to the name. “Now Mavis,” she spoke up.  “Let’s go inside.  I feel like cleaning something.”

“As you say.”

END

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

MONDAY

We begin a Christmas story, in twenty-one posts, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week, for the next seven weeks. The final post will be on Christmas day.

A Holiday Journey

The London Symphony Orchestra

And I hope they don’t have lawyers (solicitors) who want to behave stupidly.  The website/blog is not amortized (there is no money).  The stories I post here are free reading, like a Christmas present all year long.  I am sure the CD Guys won’t mind because they will probably sell more CDs.  But unless someone buys one of my books, and there are presently only a few of the first Avalon stories up on the bookseller sites, there is otherwise no compensation for me.  That’s okay.  I hope you enjoy the stories.

Don’t worry, we will get back to the Middle Ages soon enough.  After A Holiday Journey, the plan is to post Avalon, Season Six over twenty-four weeks.  Then, about the beginning of next summer, we will return to Light in the Dark Ages.  Festuscato will meet Beowulf.  Gerraint will search for the Holy Graal.  And Margueritte… She will struggle with ogres and unicorns, fairies and knights, dragons and witches–just about everything a young medieval girl could hope for.

I hope you enjoy your holiday journey.  Merry Christmas in advance.  (Give someone a Christmas hug), and until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 2 of 3

As the light grew in the valley, the slow, sneaky movement of the Wolv became evident.  Alesander pointed out the closest four out of six, and when they were ready, he said, “Fire.”  The Wolv were caught unprepared, and it took a moment before they crouched down and returned fire.  The return fire did not get through the screen of the goddess, though there were some good shots.  Sadly, the fire from the people had little impact on the shielded Wolv, except as a distraction.

The elves and fee were able to get close, and when the shuttle had a small explosion and began to smoke and send sparks on to the field, every Wolv eye turned to see.  The elves struck with five or six spears on each Wolv.  The wooden spear handles did not conduct the electricity of the shield, but the metal spear points strained the shield generator until it burned out.  The unprotected Wolv then died from multiple wounds.

When the two Wolv abandoned the shuttle, being without wrist shields, they got easily cut down by the fairies.  Two fairies, being the size of men in order to draw their blades, were sliced by Wolv claws in the exchange, one in the arm, and one right through his chest protector; but the wounds were not deep.  Eight elves were shot in the attack on the six Wolv in the field, three fatally, and the other five seriously, but the five would heal in the next hundred years.

The smidgens, elves and fairies pulled back right away once the work was done, and good thing because the moment the sun broke the horizon, people had to shield their eyes.  A magnificent, dazzling white horse came racing over the far ridge. It glowed with a light as bright as the sun, and Junior had to look to make sure Ulladon did not turn to stone.

“They are all fine,” Rhiannon assured him as Junior turned his eyes again toward the horse.  It left the ground and flew, which reminded him of the twin horses of Apollo that drew the chariot of the sun.  It landed at a spot beside the Wolv shuttle, and stomped the ground several times before it opened its mouth and began to roar.  As it roared, it changed shape.  The horse stood on its hind legs, which thickened to ogre-like legs, and its front legs became arms.  Its body grew to a titanic size as the light it gave out faded and blended into the appearance of the body being on fire, especially in the eyes.  The horse nose diminished as the head ballooned.  The pointed ears remained, but softened, as the eyes moved to the front and the teeth became long and sharp.  What had been the horse became the titan from the cave, and it quickly grabbed the whip it carried on its belt.

The whip cracked three times, and the ground spit fire. Ten thousand Sarmatians in their armor, on their armored horses, carrying their deadly lances lined up far behind the titan, ready to charge.  Five thousand Scythians prepared to back them up.  The other combined tribes on the left and the right prepared seven thousand men each to attack the flanks.  It was close to double the number of defenders, and the enemy still had men in reserve.

The Sun-runner, Heliodrom, the titan stepped a few steps forward and cracked the whip, which somehow reached all the way to the line of defenders.  One Roman burned to a crisp.  One Celt burned next.  The third crack turned a Goth to ash, to blow away on the wind.  The fourth crack killed a Slav.  The fifth crack had been meant for Junior.  Junior saw it in the titan’s eyes, but a man in a long cloak with his hood up and a staff in his hand stepped up and raised his arm.  The whip curled around the arm and the man yanked the whip free of the titan’s grasp.  The titan roared, and the Sarmatians began to move forward at a slow walk.

A second man showed up on the other side of Junior before Junior could say anything to the man in the hood.  This second man looked tall and lean, a swimmer’s build. His skin appeared gray-green and moist, covered only in seaweed.  He held something in his hand and held it out to Junior as he spoke from behind steel-gray eyes filled with death for Junior’s enemies.

“The Lance of Lugh,” the man said.  “And the apples taken by Apollo have been found and returned to the island of Avalon of the Apples where they can be guarded against misuse.”

Junior took the lance, said thank you to Manannan, Celtic god of the sea, and turned to the man in the cloak.  “You thought to make ambrosia with the apples of youth and healing.  You thought to make new gods for yourself.  Now, that will be impossible.”

“So I gather,” the cloaked man said in a familiar voice, because of course it was the Pater, Mithras himself.

Junior called for his own shield to go with the lance, and he caused the likeness of a dragon to appear on the shield.  Then he called for a plain white fairy weave tunic to wear over his armor, and he caused a dragon emblem to appear on the tunic as well.  “In honor of Fae and Berry’s father who sacrificed himself to bring down the Raven of Mithras.  All of the elves, dark and light, the dwarfs and the fee should have dragon tunics. It will help the Goths, Slavs, Romans and Celts remember who is on their side.”  Junior smiled toward the ladies before he turned to the task.

“Stinky.”  Junior called and whistled, and the mule trotted up, a true saddle with stirrups on its back over a blanket of white with red crosses on it, much like the knights of the lance. That was the thought that ran through Junior’s mind, though he honesty imagined more of a warhorse.  Stinky ignored the gods that stood to Junior’s left and right.  It butted right up to Junior, and Junior stroked the mule’s nose and instructed it before he traded paces with Gerraint. Gerraint mounted.  Junior had called to his armor to replace Greta’s dress when he first came, so all Gerraint had to fetch was his helmet.  He got ready, but he thought to add one thing out loud to whomever might be listening.  “Go for the face and eyes.  Maybe you can distract the titan this time so I can get close enough.”

Gerraint and the mule walked down the front of the man-made ridge and carefully went out beyond the trenches and spikes.  He paused there and saw the Sarmatians were still a long way off, coming from the hill on the other side of the valley. The horses still walked, though the line already looked a bit ragged.  It would be a couple more minutes before they started to trot, and they would trot for a little way before they galloped and charged.  The ragged line reminded Gerraint that these were semi-nomadic men, and mostly farmers.  Arthur’s men were also mostly farmers, but these men and their horses did not have the rigorous training of the RDF.  All the same, they were formidable warriors when they went into battle. The Sarmatians invented heavy cavalry several centuries before the Middle Ages.

Gerraint paused long enough to be distracted.  He saw the look on the titan’s face, when the laughter stopped and got replaced with surprise.  Stretching out to Gerraint’s left and right, only a Titan size away, were what looked like thousands of knights of the lance. Stinky started to walk as Gerraint yelled in his mind.  “Yin Mo!” Then he saw something, or several somethings appear around the titan’s head.  They were giant images of the faces of all the ancient sun gods, and they swirled slowly around the titan’s head and looked down on the Helios with disapproval.  Gerraint made out the faces of Apollo from Olympus, Utu from Samaria, Ameratsu from far away Nippon, and Lugh as well, and he saw the titan raise his hands against the accusing faces.  Stinky started to trot when the knights trotted, and Gerraint thought real loud “Sunstone!”  He imagined having words with the elf wizard, but then he had to focus on what he was doing.

Gerraint told the lance to slay the titan, and no one else.  The lance had the reputation of an older dragon, slow to obey once it started to feed. He tucked the lance up under his arm. He knew the work well.  He also knew Stinky would never reach a thundering gallop, like a real war horse, but the mule’s size, weight and strength would make up for much of that when they rammed the lance home.

Grassly and his gnomes were out in force, all but invisible in the winter grass under the cloud filed sky.  The knights of the lance were spaced around Gerraint to give the titan a wide berth, but at the last second, the titan noticed one of the oncoming knights headed right at him.  He reacted too late, got one of Grassly’s arrows in his left eye and got the Lance of Lugh shoved up under his ribs.

The lance was hungry after being on the wall for centuries.  Gerraint tried to hold on, but the lance twisted in his hands.  It felt like a ravenous beast let loose to devour the very fires of the sun.  It drank the titan’s blood of fire and far from being burned by the sun, it remembered when the fire of the sun carried it to victory after victory.

Despite the special saddle, stirrups and all, Gerraint got knocked completely off Stinky’s back.  He landed hard on the field.  He got shaken, but not hurt, and he rose quickly and pulled his sword, Wyrd, in case he needed to finish the job.  He watched as the faces of the old gods faded from sight, and the arrows of Grassly’s gnomes, that had no affect or bounced off at first, were now turning the titan into a true pincushion.  Gerraint smiled at the name for one second before he looked for Stinky. The mule skirted the titan and galloped with the knights of the lance for several hundred yards without Gerraint, before it stopped and started trotting back.  Gerraint only then looked up at his opponent.

The titan had been completely blinded by then, but the eyes were glazed over, and Gerraint watched as the titan fell to his knees.  The Lance of Lugh pushed out the back as the spearhead pulled the butt of the lance all the way into the titan’s body.  When the lance head became exposed, he heard a great moaning sound that echoed across the fields.  It came either from the titan’s lips, though the lips did not move, or from the titan’s body, like the slow leak of air escaping, or it was the lance itself roaring.

R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 1 of 3

Greta wore her red cloak to the battlements and pulled it tight against the cold.  The moon had set and the stars were hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. Greta expected another cold rain, and maybe some thunder and lightning to go with it.  She knew she had eight weeks left before the baby, but she felt plenty big already and her ankles started swelling again in the cold weather.

“I can’t see a thing,” Greta confessed. Fortunately, Ulladon stood there to do the seeing.  Mavis came with the extra blankets, and Briana stood there as well, she said, to be Greta’s bodyguard against so many strange men.

“The enemy camps are stirring,” Ulladon announced. “But after not sleeping much for a second night, I imagine they were stirring all night.”

“You can see that?” Briana squinted into the dark.

“Too far.”  Ulladon shook her head.  “Even if my eyes pierce the darkness as they do, I don’t have fairy eyes.  That is too far to see details.  My husband Crag, Rotwood and others are sending me information and pictures.  I can even smell the bacon cooking, which is making me hungry.  Time for my supper.”

“That may be our bacon,” Alesander interrupted as he came out of the bunker.  Soldiers brought a dozen chairs, now being used to the women and their needs. Alesander stayed to hug Briana and took the seat beside her.  They stared off into the dark, but only for a moment before they reached for each other’s hand.

“My bacon,” Pincushion said, as Rhiannon, Pincushion and a big fire appeared on the top of that man-made ridge.  Pincushion had an oversized pan of eggs scrambling on one side of the fire, a whole side of bacon frying on the other side, and in the middle of the fire, she had a cauldron full of oatmeal that she called mush. Rhiannon squeezed into a seat between Greta and Ulladon and announced that she liked bacon.

“You missed lunch yesterday,” Pincushion scolded. “I felt it my duty to see you got a good breakfast.”

“Hush,” Greta said.  A mist rose up from the ground to meet the cloud covered sky.  It looked like the last gasp of the few piles of snow that held on here and there around the town.  Greta heard whispers at first, but they became clear when two small clouds drifted close and spoke.

“Lady, we are here.”

“Here we are, Lady.”

“Fluffer and Sprinkles,” Greta identified them. “Is Bubbles with you?”

“He is high up above.”

“He is not down below.”

“Good.”  Greta said, and considered her options before she spoke.  “I would appreciate it if you kept the sky covered and the sun hidden today. I fear after yesterday’s disasters, the Heliodrom will show himself, and I want the source of his strength hidden as far as possible.  Keep Bubbles and his people with you if you can.  I will let you know when to let him fall and drive into the face of the enemy.”

“That will be hard to do, do you think Sprinkles?”

“Yes Fluffer, hard for us.  The heavier we get, the more we leak.”

“Some will leak when we get heavy, but we will try.”

“We will try our best.”

“That is all I can ask,” Greta said.  “Now fly into your sky and give my greetings to the Lord of the Rainclouds and Lord Zephyrus of the winds.”

“We will.”

“We most certainly will.”

Fluffer and Sprinkles floated up and disappeared rapidly in the dark, while Darius, Bogus, Hermes and Vedix came down the ridge, followed by Stinky the mule.  “Was that our sky friends?” Hermes asked, and Greta answered affirmative while Mavis got up to fetch him and sit him beside herself.

Vedix leaned over to speak to Briana.  “I left Nudd with his brothers.  They are all jealous that he is married to Heidi, a sweet girl, and they are still just engaged.”

“Pincushion,” Bogus interrupted.  “You hover over that cauldron and the fire in the night like the veritable Witch of Endor, or maybe Madea herself.”

“Please, no,” Greta said with a roll of her eyes. “But maybe the Witch of Balmoor.”

“Who was that?”  Rhiannon started to ask before she shook her head and answered her own question.  “Someone not born yet.”

Pincushion started to serve up, and as usual, she cooked more than anyone could possibly eat, even after Father came with Cecil, Olaf, Venislav and Tribune Hadrianus; and Olaf and Venislav both did their best, like they were in an eating contest.  The men went off to their own meeting place when the Lords Treeborn, Horns, Crag and General Redbeard arrived.  The Ladies Oreona and Goldenrod took their seats, and Karina came without the children because she said at least one utterly, ordinary human being ought to be there.

A couple of women got up and hugged her, as did Pincushion when she brought her some eggs.  The rest encouraged her, verbally, and told her what good children she had. They were presently with Liselle, Drakka’s wife, “And she laughs when Padme and I talk about all of you.”

“Oh,” Mavis spoke with a glance at Greta.  “We are not exactly a secret, but in general, the less humans that know about us, the better.”

“Those of us who went with Greta to the Land of the Lost know,” Briana explained.  “And I understand my father of the Eagle Clan, Olaf the Goth, Venislav of Moldav and Tribune Hadrianus know because they have to.”

“Olaf and Venislav met us in the Venedi town.” Greta reminded her about Bonebreaker being there.

“Oh yes, and Darius and your father know, but I understand your father just learned about it since being here.”

Greta nodded.  “I kept it from him for years, and Mother still has no idea.”

“But why should you trust me?” Karina asked.

“You and Bragi and your children are family, with Hans and Berry and whatever children they have.  My sprites can’t help caring about all of you.  It comes as natural as a bird on the wing or a flower in bloom. For the sprites, it is what the storyteller calls a no-brainer.”

“Snowflake would not go to Liselle’s except in her big size,” Karina said, like now it made sense.

“Being big for a long time is hard for a fairy,” Goldenrod explained.  “But I am sure she will hide to take a break and won’t let Liselle see her in her natural small fairy form, I hope.”  She turned to Greta.  “She is quite young.”

“I wouldn’t mind if Liselle saw,” Karina interjected. “She might not laugh so hard next time,”

“I don’t mind if Liselle knows, or Drakka for that matter, him being Bragi’s best friend,” Greta said.  “You know, I had a crush on Drakka when I was young.  It shows you how stupid I can be.”

Karina turned away to hide her laugh.  The others protested, but softly, and mostly they looked over at the men who appeared to be pacing, impatient, and morose, thinking about the coming day.  The women laughed and talked, and tried not to tell too many jokes about the men, and generally had a good time, while they waited for something to happen.

###

Mavis and Oreona heard it first with their good elf ears. The sun was due to rise but Ulladon did not worry as long as the clouds were thick.  She described the object making the sound as a box floating in the air, and Greta jumped even before she heard it.  “Lord Needle and your smidgen troop,” she commanded, and when she heard the floating box herself, she knew it was the Wolv shuttle, and it was landing,

“Fudge,” Briana said it this time when she recognized the sound.  She looked at Greta as a hundred little lights appeared to flutter and zip around Greta’s hand.  They were pin lights, and Briana asked what they were.

“These are nano-bites or nano-chits, the spiritual version.  They are smidgens, but some have called them gremlins for the way they love to gum up sophisticated machines.”

“Now, Lady,” a man said, as one pin light separated and turned into a five-inch fairy looking fellow, though even in his big size, he became not quite as big as a fairy.  “That is hardly fair since the only machines we have gummed up, as you say, are alien contraptions and thingy-ma-bobs that you told us about.”

“Right, and I have another one,” Greta said. ‘You will find it across the field, just landed.  I’ll get you through the screens and send you a picture of what to fry.”

“Lady,” Lord Needle bowed and returned to being a pinprick of light, and all of the lights followed him into the sky which by then had the faintest glimpse of light on the horizon.

Greta stood, and Amun Junior came to take her place. “Sorry, Ladies,” he said.  “But it is my turn.”  Of course, Junior could see the shuttle and the field perfectly, and he said as much.  “Fudge. I believe that is the current word. The shuttle let off six Wolv who are right now sneaking up to our lines.  Treeborn.  Horns.” The fairy and elf came right away, and Junior told them what they were facing.  Alesander, Hermes and Vedix followed, since conveniently, or by godly design, they were not really part of the command group.  Briana stood, and together they wondered if they might help.

“We still have the weapons and wristbands of the Wolv,” Alesander pointed out.

Junior shook his head, and then changed his mind. “If Rhiannon will hold up an energy screen against return fire, you might be able to draw the Wolv fire.  Maybe my elves and fairies can get close enough without being fried in the attempt.”

The humans were willing to draw the enemy fire, even if Rhiannon got stubborn, but Rhiannon was willing and only said one thing. “You do everything the hard way and make people work for their bread and butter.”

“I do,” Junior said.  “We do this by the book.”