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

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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.”

R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 3 of 3

“The big bird is after the big worm,” Bogus said it, and they all ran to the door in time to see the dragon grabbed by the bird beak and tossed into the trees.  The dragon protested with fire, and it looked like it held its own for a while, but the bird kept grabbing it and shaking it and banging it against the trees, until at last, the big worm ran out of strength.

The bird picked up the worm with its claws and headed into the sky.  It punctured something, as the people smelled the gas.  The hydrogen bladder that ran along the whole belly of the beast had a leak. The dragon waited until they circled enough to gain some altitude, then Nameless said a quiet, “No.” as the dragon flamed himself.  There followed a massive explosion. People screamed at the horror.  Pieces of dragon rained down on the forest along with all of the insides of the Raven.  The bird plummeted in a streak of flame, and Berry and Fae raced out to where the dragon fell.  The rest of the crew followed.

Nameless saw something in his mind, picked everyone up with a thought and transported them to where the dragon head had turned into a very old and broken man.  Nameless also caught sight of the spark of light that came from the Raven.  It shot to the south, well beyond the dome, but he said nothing as Berry and Fae fell down beside the broken old man and began to cry.

The man could hardly speak, but he looked first at Bogus and breathed.  “Sorry father.”  Then he spoke to the girls.  “You have my permission and blessing.  They seem fine men, such as they are.”  Then he turned to Nameless and stumbled over his thoughts.  “None of the parts of Mithras mean good for the human race. They want to be the new gods and they all want to lead their way.  Beware Mithras.  He is the Pater.”

The old man’s voice trailed off and Nameless raised his head and commanded attendance.  “Willow,” he called, and his command went all the way to the Ural Mountains where a snow fairy vanished and reappeared at Nameless’ side.  The fairy spun around several times, but halted on sight of the Nameless god.  “Your grandson,” Nameless pointed to the old man, “And your great-granddaughters.”  He stepped back, and let Willow find her own way.

Willow flew up to face the old man.  She took on her big form, which made her appear like a beautiful, older woman, perhaps just shy of fifty.  She knelt beside the old man and looked briefly at Fae and Berry before she smiled for the man and spoke.  “You are Oren?”

“I am,” Oren whispered.  “And now my days are complete.”

Willow took Oren’s hand, the one Berry was not squeezing, and found one tear to protest.  “But you are so young.”

“More than a hundred,” Nameless said softly. “More than long enough for a half-human.”

Willow looked up at Fae and Berry.  “Berry,” she said.  “Queen Thumbelin has told me wonderful things about you, and young Mab said you were all right, which I think at her age is a great compliment.” Berry’s eyes teared up so she could not say anything.  “And Fae. I have heard from far away, from my dear old friend, Thissle, that you are a kind and wonderful person.  How you ever got involved with the old stinker, Hobknot, I will never know.”  Willow paused to wink at Hobknot, who scowled appropriately in return.  Clearly, they had some history.  “But love is a strange and wonderful thing, and that is worth holding on to.”  Willow turned her eyes toward Bogus who stood that whole time, quietly worrying his hat.

“Mother.”  He spoke when her eyes fell on him.

Willow smiled for her son.  “Sometimes love takes us places where we could never imagine. Love had its way with me and your father, and though it was only for a short time, he gave me you, my son.”

“I’ve been not much of a good son,” Bogus said. He lowered his eyes and shuffled his foot.

“But you have.”  Willow smiled for her son. “I have been thinking about it now for more than a hundred years.  I was wrong. You loved your human woman, Clarissa. The Kairos has taught us that we are not to mingle with human mortals, but even she knows that love will have its way. I treated her badly.  I was terrible.  I was wrong, and I went away, and I am sorry.  I missed my grandson’s whole life, and now I can never get that back.” Willow looked down and a few precious fairy tears fell to dampen Oren’s side.  Oren extracted his hand from Berry’s grasp and with a great effort, he covered Willow’s hand and patted it twice.  Bogus found a few tears of his own and stepped up to hug his mother. Nameless spoke.

“There are only two things in life that everyone experiences.  Love and death.  And we have no control over when they will come.”  Nameless went away so Greta could return and finish the thought.  “Who would have thought I would end up with a Roman?”  She stepped up and looked down at Oren.  “Sleep now,” she said.  “The old life has gone.  The new life has come.”  Berry reached for the cross she wore around her neck and Oren closed his eyes and stopped moving.  Immediately, they heard a howl.  The Wolv were not far away.  Greta lifted her voice to the sky.  “Nameless! You are mean.”  He brought her back to face her own Wolv.

“What are we going to do?” Hans asked.

“Oh, Hans.”  Greta stepped to the side and amended her word.  “Hansel.”  She grinned as she waved her hand in the air.  A great archway formed, a doorway to Avalon in the second heavens.  Greta and Berry had been there once.  Now, the others were coming, but then her little ones were always welcome.  “Hans and Hobknot, carry Oren,” Greta commanded.  “Quickly now.  Through the door before the Wolv catches us by the heel.”

People scrambled as another howl came, closer than before.  They heard the yip-yip of the Wolv before they crossed the threshold and stepped out on to a perfect, green lawn beneath a beautiful blue sky and a magnificent castle on a hill.  A small river ran through the grasses and emptied into the sea at their backs.  To their left were great rock pillars, like guardians against the sea.  To their right stood a field full of grain ready to harvest.  The air felt crisp in the late fall, but they saw no snow to cover the ground.  Directly behind them all, in the doorway to Earth, Greta stood and waited.

A Wolv ran up, but stopped as it tried to make sense of where it stood as opposed to what it saw through the archway.  A second and third Wolv arrived and stopped as well.  The third Wolv looked like an old gray-haired Wolv.  Greta spoke to the gray hair, and since she spoke from Avalon, she knew her message would be understood.

“You know this planet is off limits.  Your fleet will be destroyed in space before it can arrive if your commander is foolish enough to come here.  As for your transport, I have other tasks to perform, but as soon as I am free, I will attempt to repair your ship so you can leave. You would be wise to confine yourselves to the forest of the dome in the meanwhile.  Do not interfere with the war between the humans, unless you have a wish to die and be no more.”

Greta snapped her fingers and the door to Avalon blinked out of existence.

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

MONDAY

After a stay on Avalon, Greta and her family need to visit her brother who lives on the north border of Dacia.  She sees only blood being spilled, and fears the war to come.  Until Monday…

*

R6 Greta: The Road of Dreams, part 2 of 3

“Probably animistic.  I would guess they worship the spirits that inhabit the animals, the trees and the grasses and don’t think in terms of a larger picture that would include gods and such.”

“What?” Pincushion looked up from her cooking. “They worship the gnomes?”

“And others, more or less,” Greta felt uncomfortable with that thought, but Bogus, Vedix and Briana laughed.  “Rain is down to a drizzle,” Greta changed the subject. “We are going to have to put the fire out if the rain stops, even if it is in this sheltered spot.”

People objected to that idea until Hermes and Mavis returned from the horses.  “There are several campfires out on the steppes, two miles or so distant,” Mavis reported. “They are northeast, the way we have been heading.”  Mavis pointed, but of course no one could see anything but the shelter of the rocks and trees.  Besides, they were busy putting out the fire and preparing for another cold night.

They got up cold and hungry before the dawn and headed out into the dark. They saw no sign behind them of campfires, but they all guessed there were men out there, traveling to what end, no one knew.  They might have been friendly, but no one was going to stop and find out.  Vedix pointed out that hunting parties did not build more than one campfire, and Alesander reminded everyone that even the Gurt-groups, as they called them, were built around a single big fire at the center.

“This was definitely many fires,” Hermes said. “It looked like a small army. More than a raiding party.”

“I used to depend on Lucius for that sort of information,” Alesander said, with a frown.  Lucius had hardly been mentioned since the deserted village because Alesander became clearly upset with what he considered the betrayal of a friend. Alesander did not call Lucius a traitor, but that was what he meant and evidentially felt.

“Never fear,” Greta interjected.  “Lucius is out there, following.  He may not be right behind us, but he is out there, looking with the rest of them.”

As the sun came up, the group quickened their pace. It seemed the only way to shake off the cold, though the lack of good rest, the poor meals, and the exposure to the elements began to have an ill effect.  These were strong and hearty people.  Briana had the constitution of an elect.  Alesander and Hermes were soldiers, trained to hardship and long forced marches.  Bogus and Pincushion had the indomitable spirit of the dwarfs, and Vedix was a hunter, used to being in the wilderness at all times of the year, and for a week or more.  Mavis started wilting a little.  As a spirit, she could handle it, but she was an elf maid, not an ogre.  Greta was the one who suffered the most.  The thing that kept her going was believing that they were almost at the forest that marked the edge of the Land of the Lost.

The group stopped in a small copse of trees when the sun came fully up.  Vedix spoke as he shook his head.  “We spent two hours walking our horses in the rain northeast to angle away from the Road of Dreams.  Now, we have been about three hours riding northwest, and I see no sign of the road. Unless it curved to the west or came to a dead stop, I would say we lost it.”

“It was not much of a road anyway,” Bogus answered him.

“Quite right,” Greta spoke up.  “We just need to go north from here, and we should run right into the forest.  The rocks where we slept last night are on the edge of the change in the land.  The land here is rising and falling in little hills and showing rocks here and there like it previously showed trees here and there.   Soon enough, we should run into a great forest.  It surrounds the whole area where the rocks fall off and the River Muskva runs.  That forest is the Land of the Lost.  The great dome of the Ancient Master is just over a bend in the river.”

“The Wolv also live in that forest,” Briana pointed out.

Greta said nothing about that.  She mounted her horse and rode.  The others followed, and it seemed only a couple of hours before they reached the edge, like a hard line of unending trees that sprang suddenly out of the grasslands and stretched out to their left and right as far as they could see.  That whole area appeared to be still covered with snow because the rain apparently did not reach that far north.

Greta walked her horse along the edge of the tree line until she found an outcropping, where the rocks appeared to grow right up out of the grasslands.  The snow did not seem too deep in that area.  She dismounted, and the others followed her lead.

“It isn’t as nice as where we stayed last night, but it isn’t raining.  It will give you and the horses some shelter against the wind, and you can light a fire if you are careful.  I only need three days.  If I am not back by then, you must promise to return south, find Ulladon, and you will get home in about three weeks.  Do not stay here.  Do not follow, and if I don’t return in three days, promise me you won’t tell Darius or my family what happened.  They would only make a bad situation worse.”

Greta took a breath and everyone yelled at once in protest.  Greta chose to respond to Mavis.

“Not this time,” she said. “Mavis.  You must go back and be with your people.  You have been the best help and friend anyone could ask for.  Remember me.” Greta smiled for her, but Mavis began to weep.  Hermes stood right there to comfort her, and Greta thought she might never know what was between those two.

Alesander shook his head.  “I am pledged to follow you to the edge of the earth, even if it is round, like you say.”

“I’m going,” Bogus cut to the point and Greta nodded.

“Bogus and I will brave the land of the lost, alone. Berry and Fae are Bogus’ granddaughters, and Berry is still my ward, Hans is my brother and Fae and Hobknot are my special responsibility.  Alesander, I am counting on you to get everyone home, safe.  This is one time you must not follow me.”

“But you can’t ride right into the Wolv jaws,” Vedix protested and tried to sound reasonable.

“I don’t intend to ride in,” Greta said, but she would not explain.  “Pincushion, how about lunch?”

Pincushion shook her head sadly, but had a sudden change of mind and looked up with a smile that actually showed some of her elf mother’s beauty.  “Don’t worry. I’ll make your last meal a special one.” She set about gathering stones and wood for the fire, and reluctantly, the others helped.

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your dolphins?” Alesander asked.

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

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

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

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

“I felt something,” Mavis admitted.

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

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

“Howdy Folks.”

“He says hello,” Mavis translated the English.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

“Boat’s too big?” Briana guessed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lady calls,” one cloud spoke.

“Calls to us,” the other cloud agreed.

“We are here,” the first said.

“Here we are,” the second agreed.

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

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

“We want to help,” the other echoed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

“Hurry.”

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

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

“I could vomit,” Ulladon volunteered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One down, six to go, Greta thought.

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

MONDAY

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

Until Monday.  Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now it begins in earnest.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

“Bogus?”  Greta turned to the dwarf.

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

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

“Briana?”  Greta turned again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not?”  Vedix wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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