Mysteries Wrapped in Puzzles

It was another day.  Frieda and Liesel went out on their bikes once again.  This time, they were just going to ride around Opa’s neighborhood and see what they could find.  Johannes came with them on his roller skates.  Sometimes, they didn’t like having him around, but he was good at keeping up with them and it was nice to have him there when they went exploring.  He was very good at remembering how to get back to Opa’s house.

They rode around the different side streets near Opa’s house for some time.  Then, Frieda noticed a path that led off through the trees.  “A bike trail,” she said, as she stopped to read the sign.  She looked over at Liesel and Johannes.  “Do you want to check it out?”

“Sure,” Liesel said, nodding.

Johannes frowned for a moment and then looked up towards his right, where Michael probably was.  Finally, he nodded.  “We’ve got a few hours until Opa calls us for supper,” he said, grinning.  “Maybe it’ll lead out by one of the lakes or something.”

Frieda nodded and then kicked off, steering her bike down the trail.  Liesel and Johannes followed behind along her.  Soon, they were lost in the enjoyment of exploring the trail.  In the shade of the trees, it was cool and refreshing.  Little birds flitted from the branches that hung low overhead, singing and chattering to each other.

As they rounded a corner, Frieda saw a lone figure walking along the trail.  She eased her bike to one side of the trail, so that she wouldn’t hit him.  However, she frowned when he moved directly into her path.

“What’s his damage?” Liesel murmured.  She rang the bell on her bike and then glanced at Frieda when the man stopped, still standing directly in their path.  Together, they put their feet down and stopped their bikes.  Johannes skidded to a stop between them.

“Engel Cross,” the man said, his voice soft.  “You shouldn’t have come here.”

Frieda tensed and glanced over her shoulder.  Behind them, there were two other figures.  “Are they tainted spirits?” she whispered.

“They’re people,” Johannes said, shaking his head.  In a soft voice, he added, “I think… maybe they’re like the Thurmans were – people who serve the Great Father’s adversary and who aren’t nice.”

Konrad had mentioned that Mr. Gilbert was like Johannes – but served the adversary as well.  However, he wasn’t a bad person.  He didn’t agree with randomly opening portals to let whatever wanted to come enter their world.  He simply didn’t like the idea of trapping good spirits in their world.  That was, sometimes, what corrupted them, after all.

“What do you want?” Liesel asked, as she hopped off her bike.  She shook her head.  “We don’t want any trouble from you.  We’re just riding our bikes.”

“Let us have the Cross, then,” one of the people behind them said.  She smiled at Johannes and added, “Then, they can be on their way and we’ll be on our way.”

“We’re not going to let you have our brother,” Frieda growled.  She let her bike fall to the side of the trail as she summoned her pike.

As she watched, one of them summoned a whip.  The lone stranger summoned a bow with arrows.  The third summoned a long staff with metal tips.  “Then, it seems we’ll fight,” he said, his voice soft.

Johannes breathed a soft curse.  He was about to sing when a low, dark melody began echoing through the trees.  Tears sprang to his eyes and he covered his ears with both hands.  It was the same reaction that he had whenever Singers would sing at him.  However, Frieda was certain there was no Singer this time.

Growling, she looked at Liesel.  “We need to get him out of here,” she said.  When her sister nodded and caught hold of Johannes’s hand, she spun away to charge down the path, back the way they’d come.

The pair at that end of the trail had a moment to look surprised before Frieda reached them.  She swung her pike around to catch the one with whip in the gut with the blunt end.  Then, it was her turn to be surprised as Liesel bounded over the head of the one with staff, practically carrying their brother.  Frieda blocked an attack from the staffman, throwing her entire weight at him.  It was enough to make him stumble back.

Then, she banished her pike and took off after Liesel.  She jumped and was shocked when she landed at the trailhead.  Then, she took off for home, leaving the trio of attackers far behind her.

She caught up to Liesel and Johannes as they reached the porch.  There, she looked from one to the other.  They both seemed to be all right now.  Focusing on Johannes, she said, “What happened back there, Hansel?  I thought you said they were humans.”

“I think that was their version of a Cross,” he said, grimacing.  Shrugging, he shook his head.  “Maybe we react the same way to their singing as they do to ours.”

“That would explain why the Thurmans reacted that way,” Liesel said, her voice soft.  “It doesn’t explain why that one sang in the same language as the Singers use.”

Johannes grimaced.  “Let’s tell Konrad what happened,” he said.  “He’ll know how to get your bikes back.”

Frieda winced at the thought.  After all, strictly speaking, those bikes didn’t belong to them.  They were there for when their cousins visited Opa.  They were only borrowing them because they were visiting for the summer and hadn’t been able to bring their own bikes out from West Virginia.

Konrad listened to their tale with wide eyes and a worried expression.  Finally, he heaved a sigh, shaking his head.  “That explains how the Thurmans got away from the picnic, too,” he said.  He looked at Liesel and Frieda.  “I didn’t know we could move like that.”

“Apparently, we can,” Liesel said, shrugging, “if we really need to do it.”  She shrugged.  “I’m just glad that woman with the bow didn’t get off any shots.  That would have hurt.”

“We left our bikes, though,” Frieda said, grimacing.  Just then, the doorbell rang.  Frowning, she looked over at Konrad, who shrugged and headed for the door.  As they trailed behind him, she asked, “Who is, do you think?”

Shrugging, Konrad shook his head.  He opened the door carefully and then smiled.  “Hello, Mr. Gilbert,” he said, opening the door further.

“I think you can call me David, Konrad,” the man said, smiling.  He tilted his head to peer around Konrad.  “You girls all right?”

“Yes, sir,” Frieda said, echoed by Liesel.  Obviously, he knew what had happened.  Had the ones that attacked them told him about it?

Gilbert looked back at Konrad.  “We brought their bikes back for them,” he said, his voice soft.  “The Thurmans – the ones that weren’t arrested – weren’t happy about what happened with their Sword and his wife.  That’s why they went for your Cross and the girls.”

“I thought it might have been something like that,” Konrad said, his voice soft.  His brows furrowed.  “Are you worried about what your elders will think of you… being friendly towards us?” he asked.

Shaking his head, Gilbert said, “There are some of us that think this has gone on long enough.”  He looked over at the girls and added, “The Thurman Lance is among them.  That’s why he didn’t try to shoot you.”

“I wondered about that,” Johannes said, his voice soft.  Then, peering around Konrad, he asked, “How’d you know what happened?”

“Rob told me about it, after you kids got away,” Gilbert said, shrugging.  He shook his head.  “After his cousins took off after you, he got the bikes and brought them to my place.”  He chuckled and looked at Konrad.  “I think he was a little afraid to bring them himself.  What the Thurman Star did… it should have knocked the little guy flat.”

“Hansel’s a very powerful Cross,” Konrad said, his voice soft.  “That’s what comes of the union between a Cross and Staff, I guess.”

“That would certainly explain it,” Gilbert said.  He glanced at the kids one last time.  Then, he wished them all well and headed on his way.

As he closed the door, Konrad said, “Factions within factions.”

“Curiouser and curiouser,” Liesel said, her eyes sparkling.

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