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Loose Threads

Fifty Two


            Dominique looked up from the hologram. “The coordinates match the ones I read with my spell.”

            Iain nodded. “Theodora, you are to set Gate Entry Condition Alpha and proceed.”

            She nodded. “I am weapons free and going to full EMCON.” She and Iain had worked together to turn all of the commands for regular activities into standard orders so he didn’t have to keep giving them over and over. “I will be entering the gate in five minutes.” The drones turned and raced away to self-destruction as the Theodora moved towards the gate on a vector that wouldn’t cross the tracks of the drones after they’d reemerged into the current universe. She looked at Iain. “The collection of the Empress Theodora’s DNA went well but we were never near the planet and I’m not sure I’m comfortable going into orbit around the Earth. I’ve never done that before and I’m concerned some budding astronomer will see me by noticing when I occlude a star or a planet.”

            Iain started to point out that it was the copper age where they were going and then changed his mind. There were various races of fey roaming around and they might have astronomers. That and some Neolithic and copper age structures were scarily accurate in regard to stellar phenomenon, which meant someone spent time staring at the stars. “Then put us in the L5 position and drop a shuttle for Earth at CPA.”

            Ygerna frowned. “What is CPA?”

            “It’s the closest point of approach,” Theodora said, “or the point where I will be closest to the Earth on my flyby to the L5 point. Time to the L5 point is sixteen hours and forty two minutes. The shuttle will launch in eleven hours and seventeen minutes when we reach CPA. It’ll land near the glade in eighteen hours unless you desire a full speed run.”

            “No, we’re not in that kind of a hurry.” Iain yawned. “After emergence, set shipboard time to that of the Earth since we’re going to be here for several weeks. We’ll spend the first day or so going through the time differential and get it over with. Tell April that no training for two days and then she can hit it as hard as she wants with the understanding that we will also be surveying High Cloud Valley as soon as we can and that takes priority over putting a tiny bit of edge on the combat teams.”

            I understand, Iain, April said over their bond from where she sat in Auxiliary Command. I don’t want to over work the teams anyways. We’re ready and I love you.

            Thank you and I love you too. He leaned back in his chair and tried to ignore the pressure in his chest as they headed for the portal. Maybe all of it was due to the presence of Danu and not fear over losing someone else this time. But even if it was, as it had been in the past, nothing but that fear, he wouldn’t try to stop them from fighting. He understood that was what they did, even though it terrified a piece of him every time they entered combat.

            But how to make them finally understand that’s what he did too?


            High Cloud Valley was not a valley at all, instead being a mountain pass that allowed uninterrupted travel over the mountains year-round. It was traversable even when partially choked with snow in the winter. For part of the year water ran in a stream the length of the valley and heavy swirls of fog cloaked parts of it almost every morning, that and the lush grass and bushes that grew in it during spring and summer giving it its name. Because of the altitude and its proximity to the southwestern coast of Eire, it was chilly in the valley almost all the time, with frost appearing overnight even into the early summer.

            “The goblin scouts are back,” Theodora reported to Iain and his guards as well as to the rest of the deployed clan forces. “I recognize the same individuals from their last visit two days ago.”

            Ground and cover in place, Ninhursag ordered clan wide. Anyone in the open slowly move to cover or inform me immediately if unable to do so.

            The clan had been running exercises in the valley on approach vectors and fields of fire for the coming battle. Nobody said they couldn’t reach cover and Iain allowed himself to relax a little as he reviewed what Ygerna had told him and Theodora had distributed about fey goblins.

            Physically, fey goblins reminded Iain of the orcs he’d fought when Nightraven was his instructor. They were taller and broader than most humans, averaging around a hundred and ninety centimeters in height and muscular almost to the point of bulky. Their skin ranged from what he’d seen in the scouts to anything from a dark gray to green with lighter and darker tones from white to black among the ones that Ygerna said were crossbreeds with other fey being much rarer. But they were faster than the orcs Iain had fought, filled with a supernatural vitality that made them run almost as fast as a thoroughbred horse and made them quick with weapons or their fists.

            Ygerna had told them that goblins were speedy on the short distance course but that they lacked endurance for long distance running, using a trot that ate up the miles at a slower speed that they could keep up for hours where Sidhe warriors could run for the same amount of time to cover vastly greater distances. But over short distances they were almost evenly matched in speed. Overall, goblins were physically stronger, but the Sidhe had much better organization and, in Ygerna’s opinion, better equipment. Goblins disdained the bow, instead using spears for ranged weapons, trading possibly more damage in a hit for the superior ammunition, rate of fire and range that Sidhe bows held. It also, after the initial volley or two of spears, freed up the entire goblin force to attack as heavy infantry units with their axes and swords. They didn’t wear armor as such, instead both the males and females wore a leather or hide breechclout under a leather or hide tunic. A few wore woolen or linen tunics that were either stolen or battlefield salvage. Some wore just the breechclout. Goblins were more fastidious than orcs and washed their clothes regularly when they bathed to allow them to hunt more effectively.

            Sidhe warriors usually wore linen lein as undergarments and a woolen tunic and skirt or kilt over the linen shirt. When anticipating a fierce battle, they wore over their other clothing a heavy tabard that had squares of bronze or iron sewn between two layers of boiled leather. The most powerful or richest of them wore enchanted versions of the same.

            Where Sidhe held the greatest advantage was in their superior magic. They had wizards who enchanted a far higher percentage of their equipment and almost every Sidhe had personal magic that the goblins couldn’t match. That and they tended to field units of their human vassals as living shields for the goblins to fight their way through while the Sidhe wizards and archers whittled down the opposing goblin forces, unconcerned for the most part about collateral damage among their human slaves. After all, humans bred like rabbits and had the lifespans of deer and if the goblins didn’t keep their numbers down the Sidhe would be forced to. It was easier for the Sidhe if the goblins assumed the blame for keeping the human population in check.

            Also, unlike the orcs Iain had faced, many of the fey goblins were almost human attractive, if oversized. In the pokegirl world, individuals would have been very popular as potential tamers except for the fact that their breeding cycle was cyclical with the movement of the sun. The males and females were both normally infertile except on the weeks of the solstices and equinoxes. Neither was even interested in sex except for those times, when they became like minks and tended to not leave their domiciles while the males and females fought for mates and bred. The rest of the year they tended to relieve their emotions and stress through violence, leading to a high mortality rate among even supernatural creatures who were almost immortal. They used it to settle rank, which was supposed to establish breeding rights, but most of that was forgotten when they went into heat. Then only the strongest bred the strongest and the weakest the weakest while the strongest were busy breeding each other. Once the strongest males got done breeding the strongest females, they went after the weaker females and the weaker males fled to survive. The rest of the year the established ranks allowed goblins to live together at least somewhat socially.

            These scouts seemed to be from the weaker lines as only one of them was taller than Iain. But weakness was relative and they could outfight most humans easily. They also knew their craft well and no human could have detected them as they passed without a physical trace through the valley. Sidhe would have found it hard to track them, but the noses of several of his clan would have been able to find them with ease. And, according to Canaan, they knew nothing about shielding their minds, making localizing them child’s play for any psychic pokegirl with more than minor telepathy.

            As for avoiding Theodora, nothing larger than a newly hatched baby cricket could have passed unseen through the web of sensors she’d precisely laid over the entire valley in the last three weeks unless it possessed enough magic or technology to become invisible, inaudible, scentless, weightless and intangible so she couldn’t track it by disturbed foliage.

            “There’s a Sidhe entering the valley from the other side,” Theodora announced.

            Iain exchanged a look with Lucifer. “Ygerna’s mother isn’t due for three more days.”

            “Perhaps our presence has changed the timeline subtly,” Lucifer suggested.

            “We haven’t done anything. If the timeline has changed then it did it just so it can fuck with us,” Iain grumbled. “Not that I wouldn’t believe something wasn’t trying to fuck with us.”

            My mother isn’t supposed to be here yet, Ygerna said through her twee.

            “It is a male and he’s wearing a charge from the court of Mullo,” Theodora supplied helpfully. Mullo was the king of the court the present day Ygerna and her mother were part of. “I am sending visuals now.” Suddenly everyone could see him in their minds. He was typical of the Sidhe men they’d seen while scouting the valley, tall and muscular and he carried himself with an arrogant grace that was even apparent while he jogged on the narrow path worn next to the stream. He had carnation yellow hair and bright green eyes. A wicked scar ran down the left side of his face and showed he was no tyro at the arts of battle. He wore a bronze sword that glittered in the sun and his belt carried more pouches on it than Iain had seen on a Sidhe yet.

            That is Bres, Ygerna said. He’s not much of a warrior but he is a decent mage and he’s a terrible lover according to my mother.

            You never slept with him? It was Allison.

            He was mean to me and to other women that he thought were weaker than he was until I outpaced him in my skills. Then he suddenly became ingratiating, which did not soften my heart towards him.

            It sounds like he’s a typical scumbag, Ninhursag offered.

            That is an accurate word for him yet one I am unfamiliar with, Ygerna replied. Where did you learn that word?

            Where else, the Elfqueen said with a mental laugh. Texas.

            Lucifer chuckled and Dianthus grinned as Iain shook his head sadly. “Theodora, where is he headed?”

            “He appears to be moving directly towards where the scouts are in hiding. It is not a good ambush point however, for he should see them forty or so meters before they can reach him. Even with the speed we’ve seen from sprinting goblins, Bres appears to be uninjured and he should be able to break contact easily. Do you think we should get involved?”

            Iain pulled up a map of the valley and charted Bres’ progress against that of the goblins. “He’s not important to us.”

            Bres doesn’t die until Eoghan murders the Sidhe, Ygerna said through her twee.

            Then he must be able to break contact with the goblins like Theodora said he should be able to, Iain replied. We are not saving every Sidhe who strolls through the valley.

            I understand, Ygerna answered.

            Track him and let us know if he gets attacked, Iain told Theodora.

            “I will,” she whispered to him.

            Why is he walking? The question came from Kasumi from wherever her team was hiding in a thick stand of trees a dozen meters from Iain’s position. The quality of his clothing and his demeanor suggest he’s at least a minor nobleman and all of those we have seen were riding horses.

            Zareen made a noise suspiciously like a suppressed laugh and everyone else around him smiled at each other. Ireland’s current horse would have been considered a pony in Texas and they reminded Iain of the Exmoor pony that would later be found roaming the moors of Somerset and Devon in England. Ygerna had reported that they had outstanding stamina and were used by the Sidhe as riding and pack animals even though Sidhe warriors could cover more ground on foot than the ponies could. Still, not all Sidhe were warriors and the horses were used by the upper ranks of the fey as status symbols.

            Ygerna laughed through her twee. Every horse that Bres has ridden became hand shy and fearful afterwards and eventually the stable master refused to let him have any more of them to ruin. He is a noble Sidhe but not highly placed enough to force the stable master to let him ride since the stable master is a noble in his own right and has the favor of the king. So far, none of Bres’ superiors have felt it necessary to spend the political capital to intervene in the dispute. As a mage of standing the king will order him provided a steed if the court goes to war but otherwise he must walk wherever he wishes to travel. Her laughter stopped. It was yet another reason I decided to have little to do with him when he made advances toward me. A man who abuses horses will abuse other things and people if he feels he can.

            “He’s stopping,” Theodora whispered into Iain’s ear. He knew she was informing the rest of the clan as well but it felt like she was only talking to him. “He should be able to see the goblins from where he is if he’s alert.”

            Show me and stop vocalizing so I don’t accidentally answer you out loud.

            Yes, clan leader. Injecting data into your visual cortex.

            The image was as clear as if Iain were watching it, although it was jarring to not see the scene with his perception too. Bres stopped where he was and waited until one of the goblins broke cover and approached him. “You’re late, Lord Bres,” the goblin snarled.

            Bres put right his hand on his sword. “I said that I would come before this day ended or before. This day has not ended and I am here. I am not late.” His hand dropped from the weapon. “And the news I bring is not what you were hoping to hear.”

            The goblin’s eyes narrowed and swept the area behind Bres. “What news do you have for my king then?”

            Bres shrugged. “The queen has decided not to make the trip and is instead sending one of the court’s officials in her place. She will come this way in two days. You will want her.”

            The goblin didn’t look convinced. “My king wanted the queen for his vengeance. Why should he risk much for some random Sidhe bitch?”

            “She’s fertile and she’s the mother of someone your king hates almost as much as the queen.”

            “I doubt that. My king hates your queen a lot. Who does he hate as much?”

            “The woman who will come in the queen’s place is the mother of Ygerna and her mother’s death or defilement will devastate Ygerna.”

            The goblin snarled angrily, revealing a carnivore’s teeth. “This is the mother of the murderess Ygerna?”

            Bres smiled nastily. “She is and she is not a fighter for the crown. She’s a bureaucrat for the crown. The time for your next breeding cycle isn’t that far off. Maybe some goblin can get her fat with a sibling for Ygerna.”

            The goblin eyed Bres shrewdly. “You hate her very much to give her to us.”

            “I despise both of them almost as much as I do the queen,” Bres snapped. “I have delivered my news and you may do with it what you will. Other than my payment, our agreement is complete.”

            “I will inform my king of your news. It is likely that he will want the woman. Sidhe blood would make us stronger and we have no love for Ygerna after all that she has murdered at the orders of her queen. If my king desires the woman, you will be paid as agreed after she is in his hands. If he does not want the woman, our agreement is not yet complete and you will still serve my king until it is. You have prospered as the Black Rock tribe has prospered. If we continue to prosper so shall you. If the woman suits my king then come here in a fortnight for your payment.” He raised a fist threateningly. “Now back to your court.”

            Bres sneered and opened his left hand to reveal a pair of butterfly wings. “I am a Sidhe nobleman, goblin. Do not threaten me or your king will have three fewer idiots in his court.”

            The goblin took a step backwards and his face flushed angrily at his display of weakness. He took a step forward to return to where he’d originally been standing. “You would use our magic against us?”

            “It is a spell that I learned from your people, goblin, nothing more. If I cast it, it isn’t goblin magic that will strike you down, it is Sidhe magic and mine. Now return to your king with the news that Ygerna’s beloved mother is within his grasp.”

            The goblin glared at Bres for a moment before whirling away and racing back to join his fellows.

            As Bres began retracing his path up the valley, Ygerna’s voice sounded in Iain’s head. It would change the timeline too much if I were to kill him now, wouldn’t it?

            You know that it would. If he’s murdered here then your mother might take a different path or come with a guard or possibly even not at all.

            I never knew that he hated my mother and me so much. He must have taken a great deal of pleasure in my grief, but I never saw that either.

            Your mother won’t die and he will, Iain pointed out. He thought for a moment. “Danu, do you carry the bones of Bres with you?”

            I do.

            “I want his bloodline to stay dead. Ygerna never knew that he hated her so much or that he betrayed her mother to the goblins for that hate and if she sees his face on something alive she may just go ahead and kill it.”

            There is nothing special about Bres. I will allow this.

            “Thank you.” Danu has agreed that we will not clone Bres. His blood will not live again.

            Ygerna sounded surprised. And what price are you to pay for this, Iain?

            She didn’t name a price and I didn’t offer one. She said there wasn’t anything special about him and that he could stay dead.

            You should not have done that, but I thank you for it my husband.

            You are very welcome. He reached out to Ninhursag. Cancel the training. If I were the goblins I’d put constant surveillance in place to monitor in case of duplicity on the part of Bres.

            He could feel her agreement over their delta bond. I was thinking along those lines too. I’ll take care of it.


            A large number of goblins are entering the far end of the valley, Theodora informed Iain. My count is three hundred and fifty-seven individuals. All are adults and none are wearing what Ygerna described as possible indicators for goblin wizards.

            Three hundred and fifty-seven was a far larger number than Ygerna had estimated as the size of the Black Rock tribe. Shit. Evaluate our chances to successfully repel them when they attack Ygerna’s mother.

            If they use the tactics we expect and you use the tactics you’ve planned, I expect their casualties to be crushing and ours to be light. Having said that, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Should I bring the artillery on line?

            Following the rule that overkill was a good thing, Iain had prepositioned three batteries of six Theodora controlled rapid firing 200mm heavy mortars where they could command the entire valley just in case things suddenly spiraled out of control. He’d been teased by Ninhursag and April about it and had taken the ribbing with good grace. Yes. Tell Ninhursag to tie them into her tactical plan as we discussed but don’t wait to use them in case she gets the mentality that sometimes crops up around here that pokegirls can solve any problem without help. If we survive then Ninhursag and the others can be upset with you and me for it. I am willing to let them try it their way first, though.

            I agree. The mortars are online and tracking. I have selected incendiary white phosphorous and high explosive antipersonnel fragmentation rounds for use.

            The goblins moved about a quarter of the way into the valley and took up positions in areas of dense cover. The scouts from three days ago moved forward and hid themselves about a kilometer farther into the valley, not far from the path.

            If I were them, Ninhursag said from where she waited, with that disposition of troops I’d let my target pass and then herd it to the main force with the scouts.

            I would, Lucifer countered, let my target reach the main force unmolested and use the scouts to cut off its retreat if it fled once it was engaged. Iain could tell that she was only speaking to him and Theodora out of respect for the fact that Ninhursag was in tactical command and that there could only be one leader in a battle.

            Iain glanced at the Megami Sama. What changes in our response between the two options?

            Lucifer nodded absently. You’re right. Nothing does. We still eliminate the scout unit while engaging the goblin main body to keep them away from Ygerna’s mother.

            You are talking to the others without speaking, Danu complained. What are you talking about?

            “Danu, we are discussing the possible goblin tactics,” Iain muttered. “Vocalizing is a bad habit that could get us exposed during our approach.” He displayed a quick hologram of the map and the goblin force disposition so he could see it with his eyes.

            I cannot hear the other way you speak. The goblins will do as they always do when they array for battle in that fashion. The scouts will rush to the attack just as soon as their victim passes them. If they can catch their victim they will gain prestige for the next breeding cycle within the tribe. If they fail, the victim will flee into the talons of the other goblins. That was one of the differences fey goblins had with orcs. They had thick short claws that ended in sharp points for rending.

            Iain quickly repeated what Danu had told him to both Ninhursag and Lucifer. The Elfqueen didn’t hesitate. We will deploy as soon as the goblins scouts engage Ygerna’s mother. Ganieda will eliminate the scouts as soon as they incapacitate her mother or she manages to obviously escape them. If she’s not incapacitated the main body will hold its fire until she’s down and then we will hammer the goblins. The deployment will be according to plan nine unless the wind changes direction. If it does, we will switch to plan ten.

            Not knowing where the goblin forces would take position, they’d set up a series of deployment plans for the clan that moved the clan forces down the valley as each one was acted out. Plan nine would put most of the clan on the right flank of the main goblin force and slightly behind them, placing them downwind of the goblins. It would require a teleport deployment but would allow the clan to roll up the goblins from right to left unless the goblins could change front in a coordinated fashion to bring their full strength to bear that Ygerna vehemently denied was possible. Plan ten would do the same thing only the clan would appear to the right of the goblin main body and attack the goblin’s left flank instead of the right.

            It didn’t matter to Iain. He’d seen the Elves shooting and he didn’t want to ever advance into that kind of fire without a force field to protect him from their terrifyingly accurate arrows. And if anything did go wrong, Theodora would pound the goblins with artillery fire while the clan broke contact. He didn’t think it would happen though since Ygerna’s memories didn’t show the signs of artillery fire in the valley when she’d been told of her mother’s death and had gone to see what had happened for herself while the queen readied the Sidhe forces for battle. She’d scouted the valley thoroughly in the hope of finding something that suggested her mother wasn’t dead or in the hands of the goblins. She wouldn’t have recognized what the craters or shattered trees and such had meant, but the signs would have been unmistakable to Iain when he reviewed her memories.

            Iain glanced up at the sky. It was just after daybreak and the sun hadn’t risen enough to reach into the valley, but the peaks of the mountains glittered where ice hadn’t yet melted from the late winter or early spring depending on what you wanted to call the season. Ygerna, he sent to her, Ninhursag and April, when did your mother set out on her trip so we can estimate when to expect her arrival?

            She will leave just after breaking her fast, which I believe means she will leave in about two hours. Parts of the valley can be treacherous in early spring and she will want the sun to be illuminating the valley before she arrives at the mouth. That would put her entering the valley right about noon. She would make up a lot of the lost time on the descent after she left the valley and stay for the night at a hostel operated by some human vassals. They had been warned to expect her arrival and they are the ones who sent word back to the court when she never arrived.

            I am sorry, Ninhursag said privately to him. I should already know the answers to that question. I’m still new at being a battle commander.

            We back each other up, my love, Iain reminded her. And we would have wanted to be in position before the goblins deployed no matter when she’d have arrived here. Fortunately, we did exactly that.

            The fact that the goblins got here so early means they don’t know her itinerary either, April sent in unknowing confirmation of Iain’s last comment. I’m glad we were in position before they arrived. We could attack from the shuttle but direct observation of events as they unfold will help when planning future engagements.

            She’s wrong you know, Theodora said to Iain. Everyone could directly observe this entire valley from the shuttle thanks to my sensor array.

            That’s true, Iain replied, and something that I appreciate but we can’t become too dependent on you because someday we won’t have time to set up a proper surveillance net before engaging some enemy. You’ll be there with us but you’ll be just as blind and reactive as we will.

            I hadn’t considered that and I should have. I need to be careful not to model myself too much after the historical Theodora. She isn’t clan and wasn’t a military leader.

            She was a political expert, Iain noted. Honestly, I need you to be an expert in pretty much everything since I’m not really an expert in anything and I need you to teach me what I need to know, hopefully before I need to know it but certainly when I do.

            I love you and I will be what you need me to be, Iain.

And I love you and I will be everything I can for you.

I want to bear your children.

            You will, both inorganic and organic when we have the time to do it right.

            He felt the feeling of surprise from her. You would let me give birth to other inorganic life?

            Within the strictures of clan law, yes. Our children will one day strike out on their own and some of them will need inorganic friends to go with them. As with all of our other children, we will make them together.

            He felt the surge of emotion, quickly suppressed. I will never leave you nor let you leave me. When the time comes one of our children will help to lead the clan while I will go with you just as Cassiopeia has always traveled with Kerrik. I only ask that you not make me sleep as much as he makes her sleep.

            Iain didn’t know what to say except one thing. I never expected this but I would welcome you for as long as you want to remain with me.

            I expected no less than that from you. Sorry for the distraction.

            I always have some milliseconds to spare for you. That and it certainly looks like we’ll be here for a few hours at least.


            There is movement at the entrance of the valley. At his waist his phone quietly whispered the same thing for Danu to hear. A Sidhe woman on horseback is entering the valley. Suddenly Iain could see in his mind’s eye what Theodora was announcing. A Sidhe woman whose tightly coiled hair was the reddish gold of the setting sun was riding a pony at a steady walk along the main path of the valley. She was clad in a woolen tunic and skirt and around her neck she wore a gold torc with the symbol of Mullo on it. The pony had a woolen pad tied on its back and she rode the beast astride, like every other mounted Sidhe they’d seen.

            That is my mother, Ygerna said.

            Iain started to reply and stopped. What is her name?

            I am surprised that this hasn’t come up before but her name is Gormlaith. Ygerna pronounced it Gormlee. Like almost all fey, she has no last name.

            I am repeating the messages to Danu through your phone, his twee informed him. I’m delaying just long enough to make sure that it isn’t anything that would violate privacy, in which case I will not pass that item along.

            Thank you. Iain reached out to Ninhursag. Tactical command is yours.

            Understood, clan leader. For the moment we wait. The only change I am making is the mortars will only fire HE fragmentation rounds if they are needed at all. White phosphorous rounds are too dangerous for our side too and the smoke will block our aim since we’re downwind of the goblins. The smoke is also toxic if inhaled in high concentrations. If it is necessary to use them, the damage from HE can be cleaned up in less than a day.

            Iain forced himself to sit down to wait with a reserve of patience that would have shocked his sisters, since he hadn’t been very patient before his kidnapping, but thanks to lessons that had started with Scheherazade and continuing with various members of his harem after her death he’d learned to play the long game for some of his plans and that required gaining the ability to be very patient indeed. He’d added several data streams to the view of Gormlaith riding down the valley to include the goblin scouts and various groups of the main body to keep things interesting and it was amusing to watch the goblins. Some were as patient as he was while others weren’t and kept getting clubbed in the head with the butt of an axe or the flat of a sword by their neighbors to make them stay still. He watched as the scouts saw their target in the distance and one of them gave the call of a bird that would have fooled him if he hadn’t been observing the act. Upon hearing it, the goblins in the attack force settled down with a dreadful anticipation.

            The main body of goblins had spread out in a line and then separated out into discrete groups that Ygerna said were called bands. Each was comprised of anywhere from nine to fifteen individuals but averaged twelve goblins each and theoretically could have been as lethal as the five man squads the clan was built around. According to Ygerna, however, they were no match for an equivalent group of Sidhe. In comparison, according to her estimate, the clan would have crushed any Sidhe force they fought that was less than four times their size and without resorting to technology and that included if the Sidhe could deploy their human levies before the battle to soak up incoming fire from the clan’s forces.

            Iain watched as Ygerna’s mother rode the path to where it came the closest to the hidden goblin scouts, which was only a few meters to one side of their location. She wasn’t twenty meters past them when they came out of hiding, one of them launching a spear that went through Gormlaith’s thigh and deeply into the pony’s torso. Blood sprayed from its mouth and nose as the horse screamed and it lunged forward a dozen steps before it went down, toppling sideways, snapping the spear and nearly landing on the Sidhe woman pinned to its back. The momentum slammed Gormlaith’s head into a rock and she went frighteningly still.

            Our target is unconscious, Canaan announced to Iain, Ninhursag and April. Brain activity suggests at least a concussion although from what I can see her head is unbroken so the damage is likely only limited to that and possibly a subdural hematoma.

            Deploy to plan nine, Ninhusag announced. Report when ready.

            Iain grabbed Lucifer’s hand as Zareen gripped the Megami Sama’s shoulder while Dianthus took her other hand as Pandora grabbed hers. The scene around them flickered as Lucifer teleported them together to their predesignated point behind a line of boulders thirty meters from the rightmost goblin. Everyone released Lucifer and moved into cover behind the rocks, Zareen shifting to her centaur form as she did while Iain and Dianthus unlimbered their bows.  Lucifer and Pandora readied their weapons as they watched the surroundings alertly. Grey ready, Pandora sent. Iain knew that other team leaders were reporting their readiness as quickly as she did.

            Ninhursag sent her next command. Archers, odd numbers will engage on my order and even numbers will go to point defense. All other units hold fire until the goblins charge.

            Dianthus pulled an arrow from her quiver, knocked it and drew as she lifted the bow in one smooth motion that was almost a blur. Then she went completely still as Iain readied an arrow of his own.

            Remote Dianthus’ view upper right quadrant twenty percent mask, Iain told his twee. Suddenly he could see a translucent image of what Dianthus could see in the upper right part of his vision. She was focused on the head of a goblin fifty meters away that floated just above the barbed head of her arrow as she looked down it. Iain didn’t have a target yet, but he was an even number and would fire only when the goblins threw their spears.

            Slow sustained fire only and all units are weapons free on my mark, Ninhursag’s voice drifted through Iain’s consciousness.

            Ganieda appeared just behind the onrushing goblin scouts as they ran for the fallen Sidhe woman. Energy blades in each hand decapitated two of the goblins even as her tail darted over her shoulder and stabbed deep into the back of the third’s neck to sever the spinal cord just below the brain stem. Still focused on his victim and completely unaware of the sudden deaths behind him the fourth goblin took another step towards Gormaith and the dying horse and Ganieda drove the points of both energy blades into his skull. The Snugglebunny Splice vanished before the last goblin could begin to fall, reappearing with her squad. The scouts are down, she informed Ninhursag and Iain as she took Siobhan’s hand and teleported back to Ygerna’s mother.

            All forces are weapons free, Ninhursag announced.

            As per Ninhursag’s orders only half the Elves and Elfqueens were firing but they could each put twenty arrows in the air every minute firing at their slow sustained rate and their quivers could easily supply that rate for hours. The goblins didn’t even know the Elves were there and thirty eight goblins went down in the first volley, shattering the goblin right flank.

            The goblins reacted with preternatural speed as the screams of the few survivors of the volley were still being born and turned as a group. Over three hundred spears shot in the general direction of their attackers.

            The goblins had little idea of where the clan’s forces were and no concept of the ranges typically used by Elves shooting living bows and most of the spears fell short of the Elves and the rest of the pokegirls. The ones that would have fallen among their ranks were deflected by arrows fired by the even numbered Elves who had been waiting for the return strike. Some of the spears still landed among the clan, one even giving an Elf a concussion, but none of them was seriously injured since the spears had been spinning end over end instead of coming straight in.

            A second flight of arrows sleeted in and more goblins went down silently or crying out in pain. Fewer died this time, partially because of the cover the goblins were in and partially because Iain didn’t want to wipe the Black Rock tribe out. But the living ones had hideous wounds as the arrows had been imbued with plant magic and had sprouted roots to spread inside their victims.

            “Parley,” a powerful voice shouted from the goblin forces as the third wave of arrows sliced into them.

            Under my law my children must respect a request for parley, Danu said to Iain.

He passed it on to Ninhursag even as Ygerna spoke to them both. We must agree to the parley so long as the goblins do not try to use it to reposition for attack.

            Cease fire, Ninhursag ordered instantly.

            We have recovered Gormlaith and Siobhan is making sure she’s stable without waking her up, Ganieda reported. At Siobhan’s order we also took the horse. It was better to do so than argue with her at the time.

            The Elfqueen Adrianna broke cover to stand in plain sight. “I accept your parley on behalf of my leader. Send forth your representative and any movement among your forces except to tend to your wounded will be considered preparation for attack and met with a devastating response!”

            “I am the king of the Black Rock tribe and I do not travel without my guards,” came back the shouted reply. “I will certainly not approach Sidhe without them!”

            Adrianna touched Iain’s mind. Sir?

            Four only to match my guards, Iain replied to both her and Ninhursag. And that does not limit us. If he doesn’t like that we can open fire again.

            “My lord says you may bring any combination of guards or others but their combined number is not to exceed four,” Adrianna yelled back. “If that is not to your satisfaction then we reject your parley and will resume your slaughter! What say you?”

            Your child has a rare way with words, Danu said with a feeling of approval. The goblins will be off balance because of her taunts. If you are truly his equal then goading him is your right.

            “I’m not his equal, I’m not really fey and stop distracting me,” Iain muttered.

            Dianthus grinned. “You are his superior.” Iain looked surprised and she smiled. Your twee is letting us hear the words of the parasite in your chest.

            “I accept your conditions,” the voice yelled back. “Where is your leader?”

            Zareen shifted back to her human form as Iain moved forward and fell in around him with the rest of his guards. He stopped next to Adrianna. “I am here!” He dropped his voice. “That was well done, Adrianna. Thank you.”

            “Thank you, sir.” She glanced at him. “Should I stay to protect you?”

            “I appreciate the offer but you should return to your unit and be ready to butcher all of them if they prove to be treacherous.”

            “Yes, sir.” She faded back into wherever she’d come from as five goblins appeared out of the brush. Three were male while two were female but the one who immediately grabbed Iain’s attention was easily two hundred and fifty centimeters tall and heavily muscled. He moved with a lithe grace that belied his massive weight and drew the other four goblins with him by the magnetism of his very presence.

            He stopped a few meters away when Pandora moved in front of Iain, eying her steel sword and shield before looking past her to the one in the middle of the circle of guards. His eyes widened. “You are not Sidhe.”

            Iain smiled thinly. “Unless you can do more than state the obvious this is going to be a very short meeting. I am Iain and I am the Grey.”

            “I am Lefan and I am the king of the Black Rock tribe. I demand to know why you have attacked us.”

            “You are in no position to demand anything from me, but to remain polite I am here for the same reason you are,” Iain said easily. “I’m here for Gormlaith.”

            Lefan scowled. “Who is that?”

            “She’s the Sidhe woman you ambushed just a few minutes ago.”

            The goblin female standing nearest to Lefan blinked and her eyes went wide. “Gormlaith is the king’s castellan.”

            “Once again you state the obvious,” Iain noted. “She’s also Ygerna’s mother and a friend to Mullo’s queen.”

            The female goblin glanced at Lefan. “Etain is friends with her castellan. You did not tell us that this theft would anger Etain. She will not take the loss of a friend lightly and will march as soon as she learns who snatched your prize.” Iain was sure there was a silent “you idiot” at the end of that statement.

            “I did not know who she was, but her life will keep Etain from besieging us,” Lefan snapped. He looked at Iain. “Give me the woman and we will go without further bloodshed.”

            Iain laughed in his face and Lefan’s jaw clenched. “You didn’t call this parley because you were winning, Lefan. If you’d been winning we’d still be fighting. You are in no position to demand anything.”

            Iain learned that goblins could flush angrily and Lefan actually growled loudly as he reddened. The sound was almost exactly that of an angry lion. “I claim the woman as mine,” he snarled. “If you do not relinquish her you’ll have to fight me for her.”

            Zareen extended her hand, palm pointed towards Lefan, and flames were suddenly dancing over her fingers. “Rude,” she said flatly. Her attention was focused on the goblin king but everyone knew her question was aimed at Iain. “Kill?” Lefan’s eyes went wide.

            Iain put his hand on Zareen’s and the flames moved from hers to his, flared and vanished. “No, that would be rude too since he’s here under truce. Now if he breaks the truce you’re free to roast him, but try not to overcook him since I’m curious about what goblin tastes like and this might be a good chance to find out.” He smiled coldly as he turned back to Lefan. “In case you haven’t noticed, which is likely considering my opinion of your intelligence is quickly lowering every time you speak, I should point out that Gormlaith isn’t even on the battlefield anymore. I already have her and I have her someplace you can’t get to. If nothing else, when Etain comes looking for Gormlaith you can try explaining to her that I have her and maybe she’ll spare your miserable life. I wouldn’t bet on that one, though. She’s probably going to be a little too angry to listen to reason coming from a lowly goblin.”

            “Challenge,” Lefan said angrily as he drew himself up to his full height. “The winner gets the Sidhe slut.”

            “Let’s see, if I win I get to keep what’s already mine and so I don’t really win anything except I get to end your life. If you win, you get Gormlaith. As I already have the prize and I gain nothing new from victory, I refuse your challenge.”

            You cannot refuse a challenge, Danu said to him. It is unheard of.

            “Shut up,” Iain muttered. “I’m not fey and I am not going to be bound by a bunch of stupid rules put together by a bunch of outlanders.” He felt the shock from her reverberate through him.

            The female goblin who’d recognized Gormlaith earlier was watching him curiously. “Who are you talking to? You do not appear to be mad, except in refusing Lefan’s challenge. If you do, we will attack. His honor will require no less.”

            “What is your name?”

            “I am Arianrhod.”

            “Whether you believe it or not, I’m talking to Danu, who is arguing with me about whether or not I have to accept Lefan’s challenge. You just can’t hear her side of the discussion.”

            “You’re mad,” Lefan stated decidedly.

            “Nope. I’m not mad. I’m not even irritated. When I’m angry you’ll know it. And I have a question for you, Lefan. If you take an apple in your hand and you cut it into three equally sized pieces and then throw one of them on the ground and grind it under your heel until it’s gone, what do you have left in your hand?”

            Lefan growled again but stopped when Arianhod raised her hand. “Hold, Lefan. Iain, I do not know the answer to your question. What is it?”

            “You have two thirds of an apple,” Iain replied, “which is representative of what percentage of your goblins are still capable of fighting after the first three arrow barrages in which less than half of my archers took part. You have already used up all of your ranged weapons; my archers still have plenty of ammunition and my infantry forces are fresh and unbloodied. If you attack me there will be no Black Rock tribe except for what remnants are hiding back in whatever cave you call home because every goblin on this battlefield will die today. You’re not bad warriors, it’s just that your training methods are terrible and you’re completely outmatched by my trained soldiers. Taking all of your lives would be a waste and I don’t like waste. But if you force me to waste your lives by attacking me I will.”

            “We are oath bound to Lefan,” Arianrhod said. “He challenged you and his honor is now at stake. If you refuse his challenge he will order us to die at your hands if your forces are as powerful as you say and we will have no choice but to obey him.”

            “Then he’d better come up with something that’s worth my time or you’re all going to die,” Iain responded curtly.

            Lefan folded his arms over his chest. “I challenge you to single unarmed combat. If I win, I get the Sidhe woman. If you win, you get the Black Rock tribe.”

            Lucifer’s voice drifted through Iain’s mind. If you take the tribe, who will Etain have to fight? That would change history too much, would it not? And to be truthful I am not sure you can defeat such a formidable foe.

            I’m wondering that too, Iain replied. “Who becomes leader of the Black Rock tribe if you drop dead unexpectedly,” he asked Lefan. He raised a hand when Lefan showed his teeth in outrage. “I’m not suggesting I break truce and slaughter you. If I fight you and I win I will have to deal with that person because you’ll be dead.”

            “Arianrhod is the strongest after me,” Lefan said. “She is my second.”

            “That explains the intelligent questions from her,” Iain said. He looked at Arianrhod. “You are oath bound to Lefan. When he dies, are you still bound by that oath?”

            She smiled slyly. “We are not. Oaths sworn to someone die with that person.”

            “I can make her swear an oath to serve you before the fight,” Lefan said, “which would only come into effect if you won.”

“I would not consider that oath binding,” Iain said. “An oath given under duress is useless under clan law. It must be freely given to be considered binding by my people.”

“I would still have to obey any oath he made me swear while he is alive,” Arianrhod pointed out.

            “In that case I would release you from that oath after he’s dead. But if I can defeat Lefan, would you fairly and without prejudice consider swearing yourself to me?”

            She smiled. “Now you sound like a Sidhe bargaining with me.” She nodded. “If you can defeat Lefan without using any trickery I would consider it fairly.”

            “Would others? I will take no one who is forced to oath themselves to me.”

            She frowned. “Not all would even consider it. You would split the tribe.”

            “You would no longer be Black Rock tribe anyway,” Iain said. “You’d become Grey clan and have to learn our law.”

            “Is this a good idea,” Pandora asked quietly.

            “Hush, I’m recruiting. Unless you’d like to screw up the timeline?”

            This explains things perfectly, Lucifer said across the link to both him and Pandora. Insomuch as to what Etain and Ygerna will find when they move against the Black Rock tribe.

            But can he win, Pandora asked mentally. Out loud she spoke gently. “You are the Grey and it is your decision to make.”

            Zareen laughed at Pandora. “Iain kill stupid goblin.” She grinned at him. “Add new woman to clan. Add tribe to clan.”

            Iain groaned. “That is not what I had in mind.”

            “Silly horse and herd not idea either. Yet clan now.”

            Dianthus chuckled. “I guess I have to ask the question. Do you have a plan to win this fight or are we going to slaughter all of them?”

            Iain shot her a look. “I have a plan,” he grumbled.

            Iain says he has a plan to win this fight, Dianthus broadcast to the rest of the clan. April, will you take the bets?

            I will, April answered. Private channel only.

            Iain winced. “Really?”

            Zareen smirked. “Yes. I bet you win easy.”

            “Fine.” He turned to a visibly agitated Lefan. “Do you really want to die today that badly?”

            “You cannot win a battle against me without weapons,” the goblin said with an evil smile.

            Iain shook his head. “Do you know what the military definition of surprise is?”

            “Is this another riddle like the one about the apples?”

            “I’ll take that as you are saying no to my question. Surprise is when you realize that you have seen something the whole time and not understood what you were seeing. You know I’m not Sidhe. Did it occur to you that I might still be dangerous?”

            “I know what you are now. You are a stinking human and a Sidhe slave,” Lefan snarled. “I will kill you with one blow.”

            Iain shrugged. “I tried to warn you off. I accept your challenge. We will use no weapons. We will use only the abilities that we possess. We will fight on the path and we will start the fight fifty paces apart and the fight will continue until one of us is dead.”

            “We will use no magic. No spells,” Lefan countered.

            “You are a supernatural creature and you have innate magic,” Iain pointed out.

            “Goblin magic does not use spells. If you have magic of your own that does not use spells, then use it if you can.”

            “If I can rest assured I will,” Iain said quietly. “Arianrhod, will you referee the bout?”

            She frowned. “What does that mean?”

            “You would put us in our starting positions, begin the fight, rule if there is cheating and have the final determination as to when the bout is over and Lefan is dead.” He smirked slightly. “Or I’m dead, although the chances of that happening are so low as not to deserve mention. Whichever happens.”

            Arianrhod smiled slowly. “You think very highly of yourself.”

            “I’ve had lots of people pronounce my untimely demise. I’m here and they’re not.” He glanced at Lefan. “Well, he’s still here for the moment.”

            “I am going to tear you apart limb from limb and I’m going to take my time about killing you,” Lefan promised.

            “Whatever.” Iain frowned and muttered to himself. “Danu, what happens to you if I’m killed?”

            I will not be harmed if you are killed by physical violence. I will not protect you either.

            “As long as you don’t help Lefan or hinder me I’m good.”

            I will not interfere in any way. I wish to see your strength and combat with Lefan is a good test to begin with.

            He sighed. “Now you sound like my teacher.” He looked at Arianrhod. “Will you referee?”

            “I will and you may trust my impartiality.”

            “Rule Thirty,” Dianthus announced.

            “I will follow Rule Thirty,” Iain told her with a smile. “Now, Arianrhod, how about we get this fight started? I’m not sure how long Lefan’s attention span is and I don’t want him forgetting we’re supposed to fight when he sees a pretty rock or a butterfly.”

            Her eyes went wide as Lefan growled loudly. “You test my patience,” the goblin king snarled.

            “The parley isn’t over,” Iain pointed out. “If you attack now my guards will butcher you like a hog.”

            Lefan growled again. “Do what he wants, Arainrhod, and do it now!”

            Arianrhod scraped a small circle in the dirt and then walked fifty paces before making another mark. “My king will start here and Iain will start at the first mark.” Lefan loped in her direction as his other guards moved to be near Arianrhod. 

            Pandora scowled. “She put the sun in your eyes.”

            “When she’s clan that loyalty will serve us well,” Lucifer noted almost idly. “And we have all seen Iain stare directly into bright lights without any effect at all.”

            “Hush, you.” Iain moved into the circle. “I’m ready.”

            “Both of you must remove your weapons,” Arianrhod announced.

            Lefan undid his belt and tossed it with his sword and dagger to Arianrhod. “Keep that safe for me.”

            “I will, my king,” she intoned formally.

            Meanwhile, Iain had removed his equipment belt and a gun from his boot to toss to the side. He then began producing knives from various places on his body and adding them to the pile.

            Arianrhod came over to examine the pile. “You carry many weapons.”

            “A rule I live by is never be without a knife,” Iain produced a final blade and tossed it onto the pile. “I have them so I can give them up and still have one somewhere, but that’s the last one.” He walked to his circle and stepped into it. “Do you need to search me to prove I’m not being deceitful?”

            She eyed him. “I return the question back to you. Do I need to search you?”

            “You do not.”

            “If you lie, you will lose and be foresworn.”

            “I have sworn no vows this day so I cannot be foresworn and if I am lying, you will declare Lefan the victor and we will kill all of the goblins when you are ordered to attack us,” Iain said quietly. Her eyes widened. “If I wanted to kill all of the goblins you’d already be dying. I am not lying to you. If you searched me you would find no weapons upon my person. Now start the fight, please.”

            She looked surprised. “Please?”

            “I see no reason not to be polite to you. You aren’t trying to kill me in single combat.” He looked past her to where Lefan waited impatiently. “It’s time.”

            “What is it that Lefan has been seeing but not understood?”

            Iain glanced at her. “You asked that too late. Now you will get to find out when he does.”

            She nodded. “How does a referee start a fight?”

            “Get out of the way and then ask each of us if we’re ready. Once we say we are, tell us to begin and then we figure out how he’s going to die today.”

            “You believe you can kill Lefan without weapons.”

            “Arianrhod, go start the fight. I’ll answer your questions afterwards.”

            She smiled. “Even if you die?”

            Her smile evaporated at the grim look on his face. “Even if I die.”

            The goblin female moved to the side and roughly halfway between Iain and Lefan. “My king, are you ready?”

            “What? Yes.”

            “Iain, are you ready?”

            “I am.”

            “Begin the fight!”

            Goblins who could see the area cheered as Lefan raced forward in a sprint that was easily as fast as Ygerna had warned about while Iain stood easily and watched him come. As soon as Lefan passed the point Iain had marked in his mind, Iain became his full-sized dragon form. His head darted forward and rotated sideways so his jaws could close around each side of Lefan’s head. He twisted his head savagely as he bit down and Lefan’s body flipped around his jaws and flew to the side in a spray of blood as it separated from his head.

            Iain regarded the motionless body for a moment before swinging his head around to look at a shocked Arianrhod. “Is he dead or do I have to eat the rest of him?”

            Arianrhod knelt and bent her head. “He is dead, lord dragon.”

            “Get up.” She blinked and looked up at him. “Have you sworn an oath to me?”

            “I have not.”

            “Then stop acting like you have. Go take charge of your goblins and settle who is their leader while I put all of my knives back where they belong,” Iain changed to his human form while speaking, “and think about whether you are going to oath yourself to me or not.”

            She rose and nodded. “Yes, lord dragon.” She headed for the goblins.

            Iain frowned. “Arianrhod?” She looked back at him. “Lefan is dead and you’re free of any obligations to him. From what I understand that probably makes you the leader of the Black Rock tribe. If you don’t want anything to do with us, I’ll understand and not hold it against you. But if you attack us, we will wipe you out and no calls for parley will stop that.”

            She turned to face him squarely. “If the Black Rock tribe attacks you I will be dead and they will deserve no less than utter destruction.”

            “The fact that I am a dragon is not commonly known outside of the clan. I would prefer you call me Iain instead of lord dragon because I’d like to keep that information closely held.”

            “This is the surprise you warned Lefan about.”

            “It is. Any human with half a brain would be terrified of fighting a goblin and he should have realized that. Besides, not all fey obviously look like what they are.” He turned and headed for his equipment.

            Zareen handed him one of his knives with a smile. “Taste?”

            He put the knife back where it belonged and she handed him another. “It might taste better cooked. Of course, the head isn’t normally considered a representative sample of the best parts of something.”

            Lucifer squeezed his shoulder. “You did that well.”

            “Thank you.”

            “You have obviously been practicing where we could not see it.”

            He chuckled. “April has been overseeing my training in dragon combat and you’ve been too busy with all the crap that’s flying around you, the Sisterhood and the Alliance to be involved. I’ve been training with Ganieda and Vanessa as my primary partners to make sure I get pushed hard.”

            “I am certain that if you’d done that to Ganieda she’d still be trumpeting how great you are,” Lucifer noted.

            “That is wrong,” Dianthus countered. “She would still be fucking him for catching her that much off guard. I sometimes wonder if it is a condition to the Huntress breeds because Misery is also sexually excited by being caught off guard by Kerrik.”

            “If I’d bitten Ganieda’s head off she’d be dead,” Iain said in an annoyed tone.

            I am not the only one who thought your victory was outstanding and sexy, Ganieda said inside his mind. All of us are wondering who you will chose for tonight.

            Let me guess, you’d recommend a pretty little rabbit doe Splice named Ganieda, right?

            She laughed in his mind. She would be among my first ranked choices, yes. I would recommend rewarding Ninhursag first and Lucifer if you didn’t want Ninhursag tonight. It was they who trained together to make Ninhursag into the leader she is becoming.

            I don’t like politicizing my attentions.

            You’re rewarding her, not punishing anyone else. No one will take umbrage at you for doing so and all will see it as her due. Her tone became teasing. Now if neither of them is to your liking, I understand that this Ganieda woman is an outstanding choice as well and would show her gratefulness in ways that would leave you exhausted.

            Iain shook his head. Wench. He reached out to Ninhursag. Well done, my love. Let’s break cover and reassemble in case we have to fight the goblins again, but stand them easy for the time being unless you think it unwise.

            It would be an excellent show of the clan’s strength and the goblins would respect that, Ninhursag replied. I’ll take care of it as soon as our few injured are healed. There were, as we anticipated, no fatalities and five injuries with only one being serious.

            “We’re going to assemble the clan’s forces in the open to show the goblins what they’ll be facing if they have a change of heart,” Iain said. “And to open up the fields of fire for our people.”

            “Brown girl not stupid,” Zareen said. Iain supposed she was talking about Arianrhod as the goblin’s skin was the color of tanned leather. “Not want die.”

            “I agree with Zareen,” Lucifer said. “I got the impression that Arianrhod wants to be on the side of the victors. I think she’ll decide to join the clan.”

            “She probably wants Iain’s baby,” Pandora grumbled. “Dragons being so rare and powerful and all.”

            “I don’t give a rat’s ass what she wants,” Iain said firmly. “I’m not fucking every female I meet nor am I getting them pregnant and I’m not going to start doing so either.”

            Your blood would make her children very powerful, Danu said. I would approve of such a coupling.

            “Danu, don’t ever go there again,” Iain stated firmly. “I am not going to father children just because it helps you or anyone else and you do not want to try and force me to do something I do not want to do. If you have a problem with the way I live my life please remember that you are not my goddess and I am not one of your worshippers. And just for the record there are women I love who would not approve of such a coupling and I’ll listen to them before I’ll listen to anyone I don’t love or even like.”

            “Everyone wants your seed,” Dianthus said amusedly, but her eyes suggested she wasn’t happy.

            “Yeah, well, not many are going to get it,” Iain responded bluntly. “My family comes first.”

            Dianthus chuckled, her demeanor relaxing. “True, you are usually that considerate of us.”

            “Ha. Ha.” Iain watched as the ladies broke cover and began assembling in the combat formation Ninhursag was telling the unit commanders to use.

            Lucifer was watching closely. “I could expect no better from my most seasoned units,” she said quietly to him. “You and yours have done well in instructing your forces.”

            “While you’ve officially been hands off in helping us, I know you’ve been tutoring Ninhursag and I appreciate your efforts,” Iain replied just as quietly, “Eve has been helping and we both know where she learned unit doctrine. We also both know who she has consulted with when questions arose.”

            “I would respond Ninhursag has proven that she is the true heir of the skills her mother Autumn possessed. I would also say that if you have managed to teach Eve how to teach others it is I who should be indebted to you, Iain. Her progress in that regard has recently been no less than amazing.”

            “I think the credit for that belongs to Theodora and Eve’s twee,” Iain replied. “Eve is smart enough to listen to them and she’s never had a problem learning from others.”

            “Arianrhod is returning,” Pandora interrupted them from where she’d been watching their surroundings. “And she’s bringing roughly a third of the goblins with her.”

            The count is ninety six and the percentage is little more than twenty five, Theodora told him. There are fifty two males and forty four females.

            “Let’s meet her,” Iain said as he strode forward.

            “Nicely done,” Lucifer murmured as his guards fell in around him. “This will send a message to the goblins that you are receptive to their presence that will help them acclimate to the severe changes that are coming to them.”

            “That is the hope,” Iain replied.

            When the two groups met, Arianrhod raised her right arm, keeping it bent at the elbow in a ninety degree angle and holding her fist directly over her forehead in what Iain assumed was some form of salute. “We wish to swear ourselves to your service, High King Iain. I will continue on as the queen of the tribe who has decided to join your host.”

            “The title is clan leader or the Grey,” Iain said, “and you are welcome. However, there are some things you need to know before you take that oath. I am not Sidhe and I would not wait to explain until after you were mine forever.” A few goblins grinned. “If you join us you will be clan and you will live under clan law. Each of you will be given a magical pellet to swallow and it will in time begin to talk to you and it will teach you clan law that you do not inadvertently violate it. That pellet will also give you the ability to silently talk with others who have a pellet of their own. We all have them and they give us a great tactical advantage on the battlefield.” He paused to let that sink in. “With that understanding, the first change will be that if I accept you as clan and Arianrhod as your leader in the clan, it becomes my right and my right alone to decide when she is no longer fit to be your leader.” The goblins looked surprised as he continued. “If you feel she is no longer up to the task, then you may inform me, but I am the one to decide her fate. Anyone who takes that responsibility upon themselves will face summary execution and I will get the opportunity to discover what roast goblin tastes like. Fear not, you will not grow fat sitting around and we will let you fight more than you can probably imagine. War is coming to the clan and it is a war that may just last for centuries until your children’s children are grown and proving their prowess in battle alongside you.”

            “Danu no longer favors us,” one goblin female growled. “There have been no children for many years.”

            “I think that will change,” Iain said. “Danu speaks to me and I’m sure she can listen to reason insomuch as regards to the fertility of members of my clan.”

            They and the other fey turned their back upon me and my worship, Danu said to him. Why should I favor them with offspring?

            “Well, when you’re out of my chest you can explain to them what they aren’t doing right, can’t you?” Iain kept his voice low. “And if you don’t I’ll figure out a way to give them children without your help.”

            The was a vast feeling of shock from her and then a growing anger that made Iain’s chest hurt. You would defy my will?

            “No,” Iain muttered. “I’d find them another god or goddess and let him or her help them. They wouldn’t be your problem anymore. Mielikki might appreciate them.”

            The anger faded and was replaced with a wry amusement. That is very crafty. You would make an outstanding fey.

            “I’m just trying to be a good clan leader.” He raised his voice. “So I give you one last chance to change your mind and go with the others.”

            “My sister was badly injured by your people,” one goblin female said. “She is not conscious and so I cannot ask her to join us and the new Black Rock king refuses to let us take the injured.”

            Iain looked at Arianrhod. “Until you swear yourself to me, you are the queen of the Black Rock tribe, correct?”

            She nodded. “But the others would resist my commands as I have announced my intent to swear myself to you.”

            “And if my people assist you in forcing them to listen to you?”

            She blinked and her sly smile reappeared. “I believe they would listen then.”

            “Then inform them that my people will heal the tribe’s injured this one time and they may then hear what you have to say and decide for themselves where they wish to go. If they refuse to let us help them with your wounded then they can deal with me and your injured will still be healed and will still get to hear you out.” He smiled thinly, letting his teeth show. “But when we’re done there will be a lot more injured and dead than there are now.”

            She nodded. “I will tell them. You will hear me call you High King as they would not understand what a clan leader is. I do not understand what one is either, but I am willing to learn.”

            “I understand.” At his mental summons April jogged into sight, followed by Canaan, Raquel in her equine form, Chuck in her battle form and Sofia. “This is April and she is one of my army’s leaders. She and her squad will go with you to lend weight to the idea that you have my support.”

            Arianhrod couldn’t seem to tear her eyes from the group. “They are,” she hesitated, “very impressive, clan leader.”

            “That was the idea,” April said neutrally. “We want to be imposing without being terrifying just yet.”

            One of the goblins cursed. “You get worse?”

            April grinned ferally. “I’d show you but that would spoil the surprise. Understand this, we are Iain’s to command but many of us are as dangerous as he is. The Black Rocks do not want to find out how true that statement might be so some of the more physically imposing clanswomen are with me today.”

            “Go,” Iain interrupted. “Get this over with before more of the injured die.”

“Yessir.” April turned to Arianrhod. “Lead and we’ll follow and not comment on what you say or do unless I think you want us to.”

            “I’ll ask direct questions of you when I want an answer,” Arianrhod replied. She turned and sprinted off, followed by April and her team and then the rest of the goblins.

            “Watch and keep my people safe,” Iain told Theodora.

            “As you know, I’m already doing just that. Permission to deploy combat drones?”

            “Denied. April and the others can escape or protect themselves until we can come to their rescue,” Iain said. “Keep Ninhursag in the feed unless she requests otherwise.”

            “What about you?”

            “Danu does not need to know what we’re doing any more than absolutely necessary so I can’t be too heavily involved.”

            Lucifer frowned. “Is it likely that the Danu of this time might come to see why there is the presence of another Danu here?”

            “I doubt that she,” Iain broke off and his eyes narrowed. “Mother fucker, that’s probably why she’s hiding inside me. I think she’s using the trick I have with my tattoos to keep her life force hidden from the Danu of this time as well as all of the other deities wandering around this part of the world.”

            What trick do you speak of, Danu asked him. Your life is invisible to me and so I knew that it would cloak mine if I wrapped your life around me.

            “Danu, my tricks are none of your business. We would have come back for you. Ygerna would have insisted on it and I’d have done as she wished to keep her happy. You didn’t have to do whatever the hell you did to me.”

            I could not take the chance on losing her again.

            “What do you think she did,” Pandora glanced in his direction.

            “The problem is that she doesn’t have a fucking clue what she changed so supposition on my part is going to be kind of meaningless without some data. I hope Kerrik has seen something like this before but I’m not confident he has because I never saw anything like it happening in his life. If nothing else, he’s seen my spirit so we’ll know if what she did is going to turn me into something else.”

            “If we did not know you as we do,” Lucifer said with a smile, “that statement would have us think that you were unhinged.”

            “She means more unhinged than normal,” Pandora noted as she alertly watched around them.

            Iain chuckled. “Yeah, I figured that part out all by myself. I can color and stay inside the lines too and without help or eating my crayon.”

            “Arianrhod was successful,” Theodora interrupted. “Ninhursag and I are coordinating the deployment of people with healing abilities. To that end, Heather will be along in a few minutes to relieve Lucifer and Dominique will relieve Pandora.”

A few seconds later Dominique flew in and landed. She looked at Pandora as she pulled her staff from between her breasts. “I relieve you.”

Pandora shook her head. “Lucifer, go. I’ll wait for Heather.”

“We all love him and none of us want to leave him,” Lucifer said with a smile. “But I will go so that you may stay a few moments more.” She shot into the air and raced towards the goblin forces.

            Pandora glanced at Iain. “I’m in your guard. I should stay if I can.”

            “I didn’t say a thing.”

            She smiled. “Good.”

            Heather appeared out of the forest. “I am here to relieve.” She broke off and looked around. “Someone?”

            Pandora smiled. “You’re relieving me. Dianthus, you’re in charge while I’m gone. Keep him safe.”

            “Understood,” the slender Elfqueen said without stopping her survey of their surroundings. “Heather, post.” Pandora summoned her wings and vaulted into the air as Heather took her place. “We’re unlikely to be attacked right now while the goblins are dealing with their wounded but stay sharp just in case.”

            A shriek ripped through the air from the direction of the goblin force. Theodora appeared. “That would be Arianrhod establishing that she is still the queen of the Black Rock tribe. She didn’t kill the would be king, instead she dislocated both of his arms.”

            “I thought she’d settled the healing issue.”

            “She had. This was the new king protesting her addressing the newly healed wounded as well as the rest of the tribe.”

            “It sounds like becoming clan is going to be quite a transition for them,” Heather noted quietly.

            “We’ll make the changeover as smooth as possible but I suspect you’re right. The unicorns had similar problems,” Iain said, “just in different ways since they don’t normally dismember each other as part of an argument.”

            “There were those two,” Heather said, “who were impaling each other over the great grapes when they thought we didn’t have very many of them.”

            “Even Golden Cloud wasn’t sure we should save them,” Iain pointed out. “But we did and they haven’t been that stupid since.”

            “Yet,” Dominique said.

            “True. But that’s not our problem today.”

            “Arianrhod is returning and she is bringing one hundred and sixty four goblins with her,” Theodora announced as she appeared next to Iain. “Two thirds of the newcomers are female, bringing the numbers up to seventy four males and ninety females, including her.”

            “What the hell did Arianrhod tell them,” Iain asked.

            “She told them that in the clan they would have children, as you told her.”

            “Shit,” Iain breathed. He took a deep breath. “I did tell her that and I was serious. We’ll make it work even if we have to take DNA and clone them blended babies. Still, the Earth Mother technique should work perfectly well on them.” He frowned. “I wonder,” he trailed off with a thoughtful look.

            “What,” Heather prompted after a minute had passed.

            Iain blinked. “Sorry, I was thinking about goblin reproductive strategies but it’s nothing really important right now.”

            “How can we bet on that,” Heather complained.

            “Do you bet on what I’ll have for breakfast?”

            “No. You’re too unpredictable.”

            “Well that makes me feel a little better.” He watched Arianhrod and her goblins until they stopped in front of him. “Do I need to repeat what I told you earlier or did you tell them?”

            “I repeated your words to them,” Arianrhod told him.

            She was almost perfect in reciting them, Theodora said.

            “What of the other goblins?” He idly watched as Lucifer and Pandora flew up and landed behind him.

            “They have accepted that the Sidhe woman is yours and they are going home. They will send a messenger to the court of Mullo explaining that you took her while preparing for the Sidhe attack in case they are not believed.”

            No messenger was received according to what Ygerna has told us, Theodora stated. Either it was never sent or it never arrived. But the new numbers of the Black Rock tribe match what Ygerna said they encountered and destroyed in retaliation for her mother’s disappearance and presumed death.

            That’s not our problem, Iain replied. “I will start with you and oath each of you in turn into the clan. Then we will depart, never to return.” He motioned Arianrhod forward to begin.


Iain Grey


Inner Harem

Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani

Eve Grey - Megami Sama

April Grey - Duelist & beta

Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage

Pandora - Fiendish Archangel

Canaan - G Splice (Hunter Amachamp & Alaka-Wham)

Zareen - Nightmare

Raquel - Fiendish Rapitaur

Sofia - Ria

Vanessa – Evangelion

Lucifer – Megami Sama

Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice

Heather - Elfqueen

Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen


Outer Harem

Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)

Daphne - Whorizard

Lynn - Growlie

Chuck – Doggirl

Ryan – Unicorn

Winifred - Rack (German)

Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)

Silver - Pegaslut

Joyce – Milktit


Outer Clan

Melanie – Iron Chef

Siobhan – Nurse Joy (Glasgow)

Golden Cloud – equine unicorn

Outer Clan

Melanie – Iron Chef

Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female


Satellite Clan

            74 male Goblins

            89 female Goblins


Queendom / Outer Harem

73 Elves

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

14 Wet Elves



Dead Harem

Eirian - Silver Dragoness

Aurum - Gold Dragoness

Skye - Blue Dragoness

Emerald - Green Dragoness

Beryl - Red Dragoness

Julia - human

Ling - Cheetit

Matilda - White Tigress

Liadan - Twau

Sorrel - Armsmistress

Natalie - Blazicunt

Maria - Slutton

Rhea Silvia - Chimera

Geradine - Human



Mother            s & Children






     Dorothy: Duelist

     Meara: Duelist

     Regan: Duelist


     Hannah: Huntress

     Rebecca: Huntress


     Lisa: Milktit

     Sherrie:  Milktit

     Harriet: Milktit


     Olivia: Megami-Sama

     Seraphina: Megami-Sama


     Caltha: Nightmare

     Kim:  Nightmare

     Xanthe: Nightmare

     Epona: Nightmare

     Philippa: Nightmare

     Nott: Nightmare

     Nyx: Nightmare