R5 Greta: Battle, part 1 of 3

“What is this place?”  Eldegard asked as he got weakly to his feet.

Greta conceded.  “Most who live here call it Avalon after the ancient tongue, but it has many names.”

“Is this Elvir?” Vasen asked.

“No, it is Usgard above Midgard,” Greta said. “Elvir is over there.  Nidelvir is that way, and Svardelvir is in that direction.”

“Usgard,” Bragi repeated.

“Usgard above Midgard,” Greta corrected.  “But you may as well call it Avalon.”

The fairy queen arrived at that point and became big, even as she landed.  Her court followed suit.  Immediately, she walked up to Greta, got on one knee and held up her hand.  “Lady Kairos.  All is well?”  She asked.

Greta took the hand, but made the Queen get up. “I don’t know,” she said.  “I cannot stay this time.  My anxiety is too great.  I must get back to work.”

“My Lady works too hard sometimes, I think,” Thumbelin said.

“This is Lord Eldegard of Boarshag.”  Greta introduced him.  “And this is Vasen the Priest of the Temple on the Mount.” Vasen had been staring at Thumbelin and Greta.

“And this?”  Thumbelin asked, sweetly.

“This is my brother, Bragi,” Greta said.

“Sir Bragi.”  One of the ladies of the court nearest him offered her hand.  Bragi took it, but since he did not know what to do with it, he merely held it for a second before he let go.

“And that.”  Greta pointed to the last of her party.  “Is all that remains of Brunhild.”

“She had become a powerful sorceress.” Thumbelin confirmed.  “What then of her god, Mithras?  What game is he playing?”

Greta shrugged.  “Same old?” she said.  It was time to go.  “Please take Brunhild to an outer isle where she can live out her days in peace.  I don’t want her eaten by dragons or cyclopses or any such thing.”

Thumbelin suddenly hugged Greta and whispered through a small tear.  “I love your kind heart,” she said.

“I love you, too, Thumbelina.”  Greta returned the same as she received.

The door appeared behind them.  It would let out at the outpost.  Everyone took a last look before they left, and Bragi especially had to partly drag Vasen back to reality.  Once through the door, Avalon vanished, but several men, Romans and Dacians, saw them step out onto the Earth.  They stopped what they were doing and stared.

Greta took advantage of the moment and pointed to Eldegard and Vasen.  “Take them to safety,” she said.  “Treat them kindly.  They have had a hard morning.”

“Indeed I have, Lady Kairos,” Vasen said, having caught her name.

“Forgive this old fool, Mother Greta,” Eldegard said, and for her part, Greta did forgive him.

She watched for a moment as the man hobbled away, head lowered.  “The rest of you need to follow me.”  She said that in both Dacian and Greek.

“Where are we going?” Bragi asked.  She could tell he was beginning to enjoy this.

“We are ordered to stay and guard this post,” one of the Romans spoke up.

Greta ignored them both.  She focused and held out her hands.  Her shield appeared in her left hand and Salvation vanished from its’ sheath to appear in her right hand.  They were heavy, but she held them well enough.  Some men stepped back in surprise, but she was not really showing off. As before, she did not feel sure if she could draw Salvation without cutting her own ear off.  This felt safer, but then she immediately handed them to Bragi. “Here,” she said.  “You know how to work these.”  She did not wait.  She started running across the field and about ten of the thirty or so men followed her.

It looked and smelled like a slaughterhouse. She saw bodies of the dead and dying everywhere.  A few might recover if they received help in time, but that seemed unlikely.  Some of the bravest survivors were out on the long field trying to help those that they could, carrying men on makeshift stretchers back to the outpost or the forest’s edge.  Greta knew she could help, but she had something more important to do first. She turned toward the mount and caught her breath at the sight. The mount looked gone, along with the temple, and the water which bubbled from the sides, still crumbled parts and carried away boulders.

“The explosion blew the temple off the top.” A man said, as he stepped up beside her. It was the Centurion, Alesander. The water did the rest.  It must have shot a hundred feet in the air and threw the walls of the mount for hundreds of yards in every direction. The rest then collapsed all the way around.”

“I said it was full of water under tremendous pressure, but I never expected this,” Greta said, then she had to save her breath to run.  She had the feeling she might be too late.  “Come on,” she said, but Alesander paused, and grabbed at her arm to stop her.

“Wait,” he yelled.  “The fighting is over there.  It is not safe.  Damn!” He followed.

It felt like running through a nightmare, even on the edge of the battle.  Greta had to run around and twice leap over men who were not quite dead.  The sounds of agony were deafening.  Some tried to grab for her legs or arms.  She heard the word “Valkyra” over and over.  She imagined a woman in armor with straw colored hair flowing behind would invoke that image, but for her own part, she wished the Valkyra were still around.  She could use their help.

A man jumped in front of her and made her pause. She did not know from his blood-soaked clothing if he was Dacian or Quadi.  He stared at her for a long second in disbelief, then he held out his arm. His hand was missing and the stump poured out his life’s blood.  She brushed past even as Alesander and Bragi caught up, followed by the rest of the squad.

Greta passed by other horrors.  She could not stop.  She began to panic and reminded herself that she did not respond well in panic situations.  But she feared she might be too late.  It was her vision.

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 3 of 3

“You see, my lady.  I am the Nameless god.  That is why your Mithras does not dare to show up and help you now.  I would kick his butt.”  He thought to Thorn.  “Now.”  And he unlocked the door for them and caused the guards to come and see the jackass in the making so there would be no risk and no one standing in the way of the escape of the others.

Nameless laughed a hearty, healthy laugh such as Brunhild could never imitate, and then changed back to Greta just as Brunhild let out her first “Hee-Haw!”.  Greta thought the woman recognized her for one instance, but then the light of understanding seemed to die in Brunhild’s eyes.  “Bragi, hold the Lady,” Greta said.

“Sister.” Bragi, free of Brunhild’s spell, acknowledged his sister and took hold of the donkey’s neck.  “Mother Greta, I should say.”  He gently stroked the donkey’s nose and spoke soothing words to keep it from panic.  Greta grabbed Eldegard’s good hand and Vasen’s hand as well.

“The rest of you have about ten minutes to grab your friends and get down the Temple Mount before the Temple is blown sky high by the explosion.  I mean it.” No one moved.  “All right then, stay here and die.”  That got them.  They tripped over each other as they ran in mass and rushed out just after Gregor, Finbear and Thorn.

“What about us?” Bragi asked as he struggled a bit to keep his new pet under control.  Greta sighed.  She would not make Brunhild suffer the final indignity by making a bit for her mouth. Let her have Avalon.  The Isles beyond the seven were innumerable, after all. Surely one could be found where she could live out her days without struggle or fear.

“We go the easy way,” Greta said, and against the same wall where Brunhild called up the pictures of the preparation for battle, Greta called up the door to Usgard.  As soon as she opened it, the donkey leapt toward the grass which looked greener than any grass ought to be, and the aroma became too much for the beast. In Avalon, all looked more vivid and more real than anything on Earth.  Bragi, of course, followed after the donkey almost heedless of where he headed. Greta brought Vasen and Eldegard more slowly.  “Like Dorothy going from black and while to color,” she said,

“Are you all right?”  She generally asked the men, but Eldegard stared around and wandered off without answering, and Vasen wept, so she expected no answer there, either. The door closed behind them and vanished.

“Hey!”  Greta yelled, dropped her hands and stepped forward.  “That’s my brother, and that’s my donkey, too.”

Two gnome-like creatures were about to throw a net over the donkey who was contentedly grazing and utterly ignoring them. Bragi was on his back looking up with fright at the horrifically shaped black cloud that hovered over him.

“Stop it.”  She turned to yell at the fire sprite who stuck his head out of the lantern which hung from the tree and the water sprite, who just started to rise from the bubbling stream.  “You two strike at the same time and you will just put each other out.”

“Sorry, Lady.”  The fire sprite spoke up.  “Foam was just going to slip your feet out from beneath.”

“Yeah,” Foam said.  “And Flick was going to fall on you from above.”

“Yeah,” Flick said.

“Exactly the plan,” Foam said.

“Exactly right,” Flick said.

“Yeah,” Foam said.

“Enough.”  Greta did not have time for this.  She introduced her companions.  “This is Eldegard.  This is Vasen the Priest.  That one is my brother, Bragi, and the donkey is Lady Brunhild.”  The two gnomes tipped their hats to the donkey while the cloud over Bragi took on a friendlier appearance and offered his hand.

“Sir Bragi,” he said.  “An honor to meet you.”

“Yes.”  Bragi looked unsure, but he accepted the hand and the help back to his feet.

“My name is Cloudhook, and my little friends are Noblink and Mrs. Weebles.  Of course, Flick and Foam have already named themselves.”

“That’s right,” Foam said.  “I named Flick.”

“And I named Foam,” Flick said.

“You might say we named each other,” Foam added

“Or, we said each other’s names,” Flick amended

“Yeah,” Foam said.

“Ahem.”  Cloudhook interrupted the perpetual “Yeah” with a cough which sounded a bit like distant thunder.  “Our job is to guard the door and be wary of strangers.  No hard feelings, I hope, Sir Bragi.”

“No,” Bragi said, very graciously.  “I would say you do your jobs very well.”  Then he rushed to Greta’s side.  “What is happening with Thissle?  Is she all right?”

“Quiet,” Greta said, and even the brook stopped bubbling for a minute.  She closed her eyes and reached out.  It seemed an easy thing to do from Usgard where all ways lead to her little ones. “Thissle is just fine, and she found Thorn and they are dancing.”

“I’m glad,” Bragi said.  “Good for her.”  Then he got quiet because clearly Greta had not finished.

All right, Madwick.  Burns, Scorch, Miss Spark, be careful.

She saw the sprites leap out of their safe havens like blow torches and touch the nearest barrels.  Madwick and Burns were close enough not to even vacate their safe havens entirely.  Scorch made it back, but Spark had a way to go.  The explosion came as she grabbed on to the dolphin for dear life.  She just sucked herself inside as the statue clunked to the ground in front of them, a smoking hulk.  There were lights headed their way, as odd as that sounded on a bright, cloudless day.  Eldegard pointed them out.  Vasen looked, though he clearly looked like a man, raptured with more delight and joy than his old frame could handle.

“That would be Lady Thumbelin, the fairy queen and her court come to collect the statue.”  Cloudhook said.  “Probably make a big deal out of the job and Madwick and Burns will have swelled heads for a hundred years.”

“Too late.”  Noblink mumbled.  “Already swelled.”  Weeble stomped on his toe and curtsied for Greta.

Madwick and Burns pulled themselves from the wreckage at that moment and took on human form.  They looked dizzy and appeared as if they had been through a war.  Then Scorch and Spark appeared together, talking and holding hands.  Scorch had grabbed her at the last second and pulled her to safety.  Madwick got ready to say how hard that was, but he was glad to make the sacrifice, when Spark beat him to the punch.

“That was fun!”  She yelled and ran to Greta’s side.  “Can we do that again?”  She appeared a very pretty sprite, and Greta saw that Scorch thought so, too.

“Yeah,” Scorch said, sounding very much like Flick. “Can we do that again.”

“Please, no,” Greta said.  “I hope we never have to do that again.”

They looked sad for a minute, but then Spark looked up with hope.  “I volunteer if you ever want to blowed something up again, though.  You will remember.  You won’t forget me.”

Greta touched Spark’s hot cheek, gently.  “I won’t forget you, Spark,” she said, and Spark smiled, shyly.

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

MONDAY

Brunhild has made an ass of herself… but there remains a battle raging on the earth.  Greta’s work is not yet done.  Don’t miss it, Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 2 of 3

Greta opened her eyes and saw lady Brunhild’s hand stretched toward her like one warming themselves at a fire.

“There is more in you than appears, but I perceive you cannot sustain it.  I do not know what you were trying to do, but it will not help you.”  She dropped her hand and curiosity crossed her face.  It happens when you can’t read minds.  “One thing puzzles me,” she said.  “What did you hope to gain by coming here?”

“I plan to destroy the weapons of Trajan,” Greta said, seeing no reason to disguise her intention at that point.  “They don’t belong here.  They should not even be invented for another thousand years.

Lady Brunhild laughed again, and it was becoming annoying.  “But be my guest,” she said.  “They are old and broken and mostly useless.  They do not matter.  I know the formula for the powder and how to fabricate the weapons.  That is my confidence that I will rule the world.”

“So Trajan thought,” Greta said, urged by Ali. “Does the name “Masters” mean anything to you?”

“Why, no.  Lord Mithras, bless him, is my only master.  Why?”

“No reason,” Greta said, and small consolation, she thought.

They were interrupted then by men who came in from the front of the Temple.  One man walked slowly, helped by another man, and there were two more with them.

“Ah!”  Lady Brunhild perked right up.  “My Lord Eldegard.  How good of you to come for this elegant occasion.”

“Lady Brunhild,” Eldegard said with a sideways glance at Greta.  “Kunther has taken the men to attack the outpost as you commanded.  But now that the battle is about to begin I must see to the defense of the Temple.  Why have you demanded that I attend you at this time?”

Greta could see that Eldegard was not bewitched. Bewitched men generally did not fight well.  Even so, Greta thought Eldegard would be a man very hard to bewitch and it gave her hope that Marcus might be in his right mind as well.  At the same time, she saw that Eldegard walked in very bad shape. His left leg looked like it had cracked and after a week, it did not heal very well.  He limped, badly, and his left arm hung at his side.  He was also missing his right eye, and it seemed a wonder that the man was still alive.

“Because I know your heart, my dear Eldegard.  You are beginning to doubt and that troubles me.” She cozied up to Eldegard like a woman who cozies up to a man with whom she has been intimate.  Eldegard stayed reserved.  Whatever may have happened in the past, Brunhild was now a beautiful young woman, younger than his daughter, and Greta could see that Eldegard did not entirely feel comfortable with that.  She remembered that Papa had chosen Eldegard because the man straddled the fence.  Apparently, having fallen off one side, he now got back up on the fence again.

“You must see with your own eyes and be witness to the righteousness of our cause,” Lady Brunhild said.

“The way you talk, aren’t you afraid of angering the gods?”  Greta asked.

Lady Brunhild looked surprised.  “My dear Greta.  And from you?”  It came as a question.  “You know for certain that the gods have all gone away.  Only my dearest Lord Mithras has stayed to begin anew.  Don’t you see?  After I have brought the whole world under the divine god Mithras, and after I have given Marcus sons to rule after him, I shall become a goddess and bear the children of Mithras.  Do you not see?  I shall be the divine Mother of the new gods.”

“Now I know the gods are angry for your arrogance and presumption.”  Greta said, and she saw that Eldegard felt the same way.

Lady Brunhild shook her head.  “I told you.  The old gods have all gone away.” she said, and she made a show for Eldegard. “I invoke the mighty Zalmoxis.  Great Zeus, come and bring your wisdom to this council.  Do you see? The statue has not moved.  It is merely stone.”  She laughed and went on.  “I invoke mighty Dayus the horseman to bring judgment to this gathering.” She looked at Greta.  “I invoke your Nameless god.  Come now, O Light of Heroes, Lord of the Valkyra.  Strengthen our arms for battle in the name of Selvanus, Lord of the Forest, and strengthen our hearts in purity and nobility under the name Epona and Bendi the Huntress.  Come, Nameless one.  Even now, come.”  Lady Brunhild laughed aloud one last time, but Greta heard a word.

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Greta vanished from that place, but no one knew, because as Nameless came to take her place, he made a glamour far stronger than the one Thissle could make.  It showed an illusion of Greta that Brunhild could have no hope of penetrating.

“Stand there.”  Brunhild turned on what she thought was Greta and commanded her. “Stand there.  Don’t move.  Don’t speak.” Braggi and Vasen let go, and Nameless played the part well, but of course, he felt nothing.  It would have been easier if Brunhild had tried to tell the galaxy to stop spinning.

“You see.”  The Lady spoke to Eldegard again.  “No one has come.  The gods have all gone away.  That is why we must give our allegiance to the one living god, Mithras, bless his name, who died and was raised to rule the world.”

“How about Abraxas?”  Nameless said in Greta’s voice, and then he thought, “Oops!” as he remembered that he was not supposed to be able to speak.

“Silence!”  Lady Brunhild yelled, her face turned ugly and distorted.  “Even if he should turn half the world to hags, that pretender will not survive the onslaught of the one, true god,” she said, and let her steam dissipate, slowly.  “But now, I take too long.  Enough of this foolishness.”  Her voice sounded cruelly wicked.  All semblance of girlish playfulness had gone.  Indeed, she sounded very much like the Lady Brunhild that Greta first knew and despised.

“At first I thought you would make a good lap dog, only now I think a jackass would be more appropriate.  You can bear my burdens for the rest of your days, but do not fret, you will never know it.  You will never remember being human at all.  Your transformation will be thorough and complete.”  Brunhild waved her hand, but it all appeared to be in slow motion to the nameless god.  Nameless could actually see the magic form and leave Brunhild’s fingers like so many sparkles of light or specks of gold dust.  Of course, the magic would have had no effect on him, but all the same, he put up a magic mirror, which let Brunhild pass judgment on herself.  It was actually a very easy thing to do, even if he had not been a god.

“Let this woman who would lead the people in the wrong direction be shown for the jackass she really is.”  Brunhild spoke for Eldegard, but in fact, Brunhild pronounced her own fate.

“Now, Thissle, now,” Nameless thought with ease while Brunhild’s magic struck the mirror and bounced back into her own face.

“Yes, Lord.”  Thissle said, and took only a moment to curtsy out of respect for one of the true gods of the little ones.

“Good girl,” Nameless said.  “Stay invisible and be careful.”

Lady Brunhild’s own magic hit her squarely and immediately her ears began to grow and her hands began to turn into hooves. Poetic justice, Nameless thought, and he dropped the guise of Greta.

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 1 of 3

The morning came quicker than Greta imagined. When they opened the door, the sun looked ready to rise, and even though the light remained very dim, it took Greta a moment to adjust.

“Come out,” Lady Brunhild commanded, and Greta stumbled out to see a girl barely older than herself.  Instead of attacking her, though, the Lady surprised Greta by twirling around in her dress like an excited school girl, and asked, “How do I look?”

Greta frowned.  The young Brunhild looked very beautiful, and Greta, by contrast, felt rather ordinary and plain looking.  Then Thissle’s words came back about the need to outshine, and she could not help herself. “You have a zit.”  Greta said.  “On your nose there.”  Greta pointed.

“What?”  Brunhild went into an absolute panic.  “Bring me a mirror,” she demanded.  “Hurry!” Her finger went along her nose to try to feel it.  When the brass came, Greta started snickering.  Then the Lady surprised Greta again by genuinely laughing when she saw her clear skin.  It seemed a pleasant laugh, too, and she did not appear to be mad at Greta at all.

“Too bad,” she said.  “Under other circumstances, you with Darius and me with Marcus, I think we might have been friends.  I reminded myself last night that you are no fool, and I would dearly love a friend who has a semblance of a brain, not to mention someone who knows what I am talking about when I mention India or China.”

“Too bad?”  Greta asked, thinking she would no more be friends with this woman than she would with a succubus.

Brunhild nodded.  “Too bad I have to kill you,” she said, sweetly.

“So, what shall we do?”  Greta asked.  “Pistols at ten paces?”

Brunhild genuinely laughed again.  “A sense of humor, too,” she said.  “It really is too bad.”  She walked toward the back of the temple near the altar and statue of Odin, but where the wall looked clear and uncluttered.  Everyone else followed.  “First we see what is happening down below.”  She waved her hand against the wall.  A picture formed on the wall like a movie or a television picture, but it appeared like they looked from the Goodyear blimp.  They zoomed down to the road where they could hear the noises and see the fortifications.  Greta noted with glee that a morning attack would force the Quadi to ride near enough into the morning sun.

“Such a pitiful few horses the Romans have,” Brunhild said.

Greta did not think it looked that pitiful, but then she realized that Brunhild could not see the knights of the lance, though the way they gleamed at sunrise, they became almost all that Greta could see. And it looked like more than a hundred! Greta began to count, but before she could send a stern word to Sunstone, the scene shifted.

“But see?”  Brunhild said as they zoomed over to the Quadi line.  “Three thousand men in the first wave.  They are expendables, really, designed only to break your lines.” The picture zoomed further back behind the first wave.  “You see? Ten thousand warriors ready to ride in the second wave.”

“I see.”  Greta said, and she thought Yin-mo saw as well, though she could not be sure. Brunhild looked at Greta as if sensing the subliminal message, but before she could speak they got distracted by the sound of drums.  The Quadi also heard the drums, and their front line had a hard time holding their horses in check.

“What is this?”  Lady Brunhild looked genuinely surprised.  She zoomed over to the forest and tried to peer down between the trees. The drums, so many drums, sounded as if they were getting louder and louder.  “I see.”  The Lady said as she must have seen something.  “Very clever. Outflank the Quadi.  Who will win?  But then, who cares.  I will win.” She laughed, and this time Greta heard no pleasantry in her laughter.  “All the same, it is exciting, isn’t it?”  Brunhild touched Greta’s hand in girlish excitement, but Greta pulled her hand away, feeling that she might have to scrub her hand with a Brillo pad.

“It is not exciting,” Greta returned.  She knew war too well.  “What if Darius gets killed?” she asked.

“That should hardly matter to you at this point.” Brunhild shot at her, taking Greta’s snub, personally.  Then she appeared to soften, like a snake.  “But if it is any consolation, I will find someone nice for Darius’ bed.  He will not be unhappy.”

“Aren’t you afraid Marcus may be killed?”  Greta asked.

“Oh, no,” Brunhild said.  “Marcus will not be fighting.  I have seen him already, and he has promised to stay out of it.”

“No!”  Greta leapt forward to get her hands around the woman’s throat.  She wanted to break Brunhild’s neck before this went any further. Unfortunately, two men grabbed her and held her by the arms like the night before.  They could do this easily enough because they were going after Greta, not her armor.  Even so, Brunhild took no chances.  One who grabbed her was Vasen the Priest.  The other was Bragi, her brother.  Both were deeply enchanted and Greta almost wondered how they could even see out of eyes so glazed.

“Bragi.  What are you doing?”  Greta asked and put what little she had into the question.  Bragi did pause, but then answered firmly.

“I do what the Lady wants,” he said, and Lady Brunhild laughed again and made no effort to disguise the wickedness in her laughter.

Greta had to close her eyes for a minute.  She found Thissle safe but not sure what to do. The rocket was already sticking straight up at the ready, where Bragi had set it the night before.  Thissle, Greta thought.  You will have to light the fuse when I tell you.  Then run straight to Berry.  Stay away from the fighting and horses, and stay invisible.”

“Yes, Lady,” Thissle said, and Greta felt sure this time that the little one heard her.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 3 of 3

Immediately, the two men who held Greta’s arms jumped back. This proved good, because Greta needed to collapse to the floor and take a moment to herself, to recover from the brink of death, and fortunately, Lady Brunhild gave her that moment.  The woman stared at her and seemed to be recovering a bit of her own strength as well, but outwardly she appeared to be examining the armor as if deciding what to do.

“I must tell you.”  Greta breathed as she struggled to her feet.  She would have appreciated the opportunity to pass out, but she was not about to stay prostrate before the woman.  “The armor belongs to the Nameless god.”  She spoke of the one with whom Brunhild and the men with her were most familiar.  “Defender and the sword, Salvation, have a mind of their own.  I do not want you to be hurt.”

Even as Greta finally got to her feet, Lady Brunhild spit in her face.  “Strip her.” She ordered.  The two who had been holding her arms stepped up and touched her.  Greta cried out.  She felt the power surge through her.  It struck the two men like lightening and shot them twenty feet through the air where they crumpled, unconscious, if not dead.

Greta caught her breath again, but found it much easier this time, as if the armor protected her from more than just arrows. Lady Brunhild stared hard at her and began to pace, once again to decide what to do.

“Ruby slippers,” Greta said, and Brunhild squinted at her, not understanding.

“I saw these weapons and this armor in a dream.” Brunhild began to speak.  “It was before Boarshag and it may be why you startled me so at the time.  The great God, Mithras, bless his name, revealed to me that if I could take them from the one wearing them I would receive riches and power beyond counting.” She stopped in front of Greta’s face and Greta tried to smile for her, and it would have been a truly obnoxious smile if her cheeks were not hurting.  “Give it to me, now!”  The Lady said and threw her every ounce of compulsion behind the words.

This time, Greta hardly felt it, though she knew it had to be very draining for the Lady.  She knew Lady Brunhild would sleep well that night, but for Greta, she merely smiled more broadly.  The Lady, however, did not attack Greta.  Greta remained as vulnerable and human as ever.  But the Lady went after the armor of the Kairos, and as such she had zero chance of success.  Greta watched the Lady’s face flush and she could almost taste the anger that rose up in the woman’s veins.  By contrast, Greta stood very calm and resolute, and smiled as much as her cheeks allowed.  Finally, the Lady grabbed the hilt of Salvation which stuck up over Greta’s shoulder. This time, the charge appeared sufficient to glue the Lady’s hands to the sword.  The more the Lady tried to pull, the more she got drained, until a small surge kicked her free before she killed herself.

“I told you, you cannot have it,” Greta said, and something rose up in her from all the days in the ancient past.  “And your Mithras will not help you.  He has no given authority in this region, and he knows if he shows his face he will be killed for real, and this time I will not be there to bring him back.”  Nameless got tired of the game, and he was a master game player, arguably second only to Loki among the northern gods of old.  Indeed, some of the men thought they were hearing directly from the Nameless god, the reported owner of the armor, and they would not have been wrong in that assumption even though Greta remained where she stood.

Meanwhile, Lady Brunhild fainted in Kunther’s arms. “Watch her tonight,” she said and promptly passed out.  They took Greta away at sword point because no one would touch her.  To Greta’s disappointment, however, they did not return her to the room with the others.  Instead, she got driven into a real storage closet which did not even have a window.  When they shut the door, she sat in utter darkness.

The state of grace Greta had felt, left her with the light.  She tried to reach out to Yin-mo.  She tried to tell him it would be all right to plan for the morning attack, as he thought best, but please limit his and the knight’s contact with humans as much as possible.  She felt he acknowledged her, but she could not be sure.

She searched for Thorn in her mind’s eye, but he seemed to be asleep.  Thissle, on the other hand, seemed awake and curious.  She and Bragi were half-way down the Mount on night watch.  They had been busy.  Thissle left the glamour that Lady Brunhild found.  She left it to fool the guards when Bragi stole the real statue and took it to the diggings.  After hiding the statue beside the powder, they talked to any number of men. Thissle tired from all of that. More than once she had to step up and break the spell Lady Brunhild had set like a glaze over the men’s eyes. That seemed the only way they could be sure about the men, and then Bragi went on duty with a rocket-like flare which would be the signal for all of the men to vacate the Temple.

All at once, Greta seemed to be seeing out of Thissle’s eyes and hearing with her ears.  Thissle yawned and Greta yawned with her.

“But in reality,” Bragi said.  “I think Karina is so very beautiful, it has made her shy. She is shy around men and shy about outshining all of the women around her.”

“Silly boy.”  Thissle yawned again.  “Human women live to outshine each other.  Why, for some, if they can’t outshine their neighbors, life is hardly worth living.”

Greta jumped back into her own skin.  That felt like a strange experience, and now Greta had a monster headache on top of her hunger and all of her other pains.  She did not expect to sleep.

She tried to reach out to Berry, to see how she was.  She imagined her and Hans, Fae and Hobknot all sitting in Fae’s tent worrying about her. It seemed a sweet thought, but then, Greta felt sure it was only her imagination.  Greta smiled at the thought and got struck with a vision, like the opening of a curtain on a scene that looked all too real.

She saw a young woman, screaming and terrified. She looked about Greta’s age, perhaps seventeen, but absolutely beautiful.  Greta well understood her terror.  A worm, a dragon hovered over her, looking at her like a tasty morsel.

Bragi stood there, yelling at the monster. Greta could not hear the words. But no, it was not Bragi.  She heard the young woman.

“No, father.  Please!  Hans, help me!”

It was Hans, but Bragi’s age.

“Berry!”  Greta snapped out of it, shouted the word out loud.  But how did she age so much in her big form?  She should have still looked thirteen, even if Hans looked eighteen or nineteen.  It seemed a mystery.  She would have to puzzle it out somehow, but even as she began to think, she fell fast asleep.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 2 of 3

“You really are an ordinary looking girl,” Brunhild said at last, squeezing Greta’s cheeks.  “Funny that you should have gotten so close to power and then failed at the last.”

“Whatever do you mean?”  Greta asked through fish-like lips.

“Silly girl.”  Brunhild smiled wickedly and let go, scratching Greta’s face with her nails. “My god, the Lord Mithras, blessings on him, has pledged to take over the whole world, beginning with Rome.  I shall marry the next emperor and rule the world, my dear.”

At first, the idea of Rome taking over the world brought a bad episode of Star Trek to mind; but then Greta’s eyes widened. “No,” she said.  “You cannot have him.  He will not serve you.”

“So, you know.”  Lady Brunhild mused.  “Yes, I must remember that you are no fool.  At first I thought my Lord wanted me to use Trajan’s weapons against Rome, ironic as that would have been.  But now I see that in his all-powerful turning of fate, all of this, the rebellion, certain Romans being here in this hinterland, the Quadi, all of it was simply to bring Marcus to my side.”

“No.”  Greta still shook her head.  “It won’t happen that way.”

“Why, yes, my dear.”  The lady had a flashy grin.  “And when I put my Germanic peoples together with the Romans, no force on earth shall stop us.”  She laughed. “Now don’t you think Marcus will make a good puppet?”

“He will make a good emperor.”  Greta spoke carefully.  “But he will never be the puppet you imagine.  Be careful, lest you end up serving him.”  Greta shook her head.  “Oh, I forgot.”  She spoke with determination.  “You won’t be there with him.”

Lady Brunhild slapped Greta’s face and started her lip bleeding again.  Then her smile returned and she pinched Greta’s cheeks once more.

“Now, what makes you think that?” She asked.

I’ll stop you, Greta thought, but she said nothing. All the same, Lady Brunhild laughed. She might not have been able to read Greta’s mind, but she could easily read Greta’s face.

“Let’s see your toy.”  The lady said, and scratched Greta’s face again as she turned toward the altar.  She looked carefully, and so did everyone else.  Lady Brunhild slowly circled the altar until she stood right behind it. Then she laughed again and waved her hand right through the object.  The statue wavered for a moment in the wind, like a vision of heat rising from the rocks, and then it vanished altogether.  “Very good.”  Lady Brunhild appeared impressed.  “I knew you had some power by blood, though I thought it was only a little from your grandmother.  I had no idea you were capable of such an illusion.  Such magic!”  She was not really impressed, but spoke to Greta like a mother might speak to a toddler. She came to pinch Greta’s cheeks a third time, and now it started to become very painful, but there seemed nothing Greta could do about it.  Her arms were still held tight.  “You may even have something of a lesser Spirit about you and that may be why I can’t quite catch your thoughts.”  She let go once more, and the scratch in her face began to bleed.  “But no matter.  My power has been granted to me by a god, by the Divine Mithras himself, blessings on him.  You startled me well in Boarshag, but I was not nearly so strong then as I am now. Perhaps this time I can startle you.” She giggled a very girlish giggle at her own thoughts and it made Greta want to gag.

“Mother.”  Kunther interrupted at no little risk.  “I mean, Brunhild.  These are the result of no illusion.”  He brought forward the man with the burned hands.  Brunhild touched them and closed her eyes.  Greta could see the strain on Brunhild’s face, but slowly, the blisters went away, the blackened flesh turned red and then fair again, and soon enough, all of the red had gone.  The man began to weep in gratitude, but Lady Brunhild brushed him off.  She had to catch her breath.  She clearly looked worn.

“There are other ways to burn a fool than by a spurious statue,” Brunhild said.  “As you told me, he dropped the statue, but the fire stayed on his hands.”

“That’s true.”  Several men confirmed, and Lady Brunhild brushed off any further discussion on that matter as well and turned back to Greta.  Greta steeled herself, calmed her insides and wondered what would happen next.

“That armor you manifested that day in Boarshag.  I would have it.”  She came right out with it.

“It is not mine to give.”  Greta responded.  It was hers, but only in her lifetime.  In truth, it belonged to her greater self, to the Kairos, and got passed down from Traveler to Traveler, from life to life.

“Manifest it now!”  Greta felt the power of Lady Brunhild’s demand hit like a brick.  It struck her mind and twisted her gut. Greta had no power like that.  She could not resist, but the armor resisted. It remained rooted too deep in the works of the gods of old.  Lady Brunhild might kill her, Greta thought, but the woman would never have the armor.

“Now!”  The Lady got impatient, and Greta could see her straining.  She forced the issue and Greta nearly went unconscious.  Then voices came into Greta’s head.

“She would do better if she relaxed and kept herself free of her emotions and impatient will.”  Danna spoke through time.

“I would not suggest it, though.”  Salacia quipped.

“Go ahead and show her the armor.”  Nameless finished.  “Trust.  You are the Kairos now.”

Greta did not exactly understand what Nameless meant by that, but she understood that her work throughout history was always a struggle, full of human foibles and failings.  Invariably she had to trust in the source, as the gods used to call it. She knew now, and for the last hundred and fifty years or so, what she had always known but was never allowed to speak about.  She knew what Gerraint knew, what Arthur learned despite Merlin, and what Festuscato knew as well.  She had to trust in the source, now called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which is to say, the God of the gods.  She called to her armor, and the call sounded strong, though she had nearly fallen into a coma.  She could always call for her armor, she knew, whether she found herself beneath the ocean or sucked into the vacuum of space, her voice would make the sound, and her armor would come.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 1 of 3

Something bothered Gregor.  “And where will you be in all of this?” he asked.

“I have to confront the Lady Brunhild,” Greta said.  “Which reminds me, Thissle.  Under no circumstances are you to be in the same room as Lady Brunhild.”  She turned to Bragi.  “I do not know the extent of her powers, but I will not risk Thissle, Okay?”

Bragi nodded again.

“I understand, my Lady,” Thissle said.  “I don’t like witches.  No, no, no.”

“She said that right,” Bragi interjected. “Lady Brunhild is a witch.  She bewitched us all.  I know you have the sight, but you have no power like hers.”

“She turned one man into a dog,” Gregor said. The others looked at him as if he had lost all sense, but he insisted.  “It is true.  Hagen confronted her and she turned him into a dog right in front of my eyes.”

“You can’t confront her,” Bragi said.

“But I am the only one who can,” Greta responded. “And this rebellion will never be over until Lady Brunhild is finished, one way or the other.”

“Bragi.”  The guard stuck his head in the door.  “The Lady is returning from the Quadi camp.  You need to get out of there before Kunther finds you.”

Greta gave her brother a last hug.  “Good luck,” she said.  “Take care of my Thissle.”  Greta let go, and Bragi left with the invisible Thissle beside him. The door got shut and bolted once again.

After that, Vasen became full of questions for Thorn. Curiously, no one questioned her authority over these gnomes except for Vasen’s one comment near the end.

“Truly you are Mother Greta.”  Gregor started it.  “Only the woman of the ways would know such things.”

Vasen shook his head.  “There is more here than mere tales of the woman of the ways.”

“Yes, that’s right.  Much more.”  Thorn started, but Greta hushed him.

“You don’t want to be a tale teller,” she said, as she went over to examine a tapestry on the wall.  Thorn shrugged, but got the message and got quiet.

“There is a lot of fairy work in the wall hanging,” Thorn said after a while.  “I can smell it.

“Yes,” Greta agreed.  “Grandfather Woden had it on the wall when this served as his hunting lodge.  The haunted forest started as his hunting preserve, you know.”  Thorn smiled.  Greta rolled her eyes and slapped her hand to her mouth almost hard enough to start it bleeding again.

“Grandfather Woden?”  Vasen caught it.

“The wise woman keeps silent, but the fool’s tongue cannot keep still,” Greta said through her fingers just before they heard a sound at the door.  “Thorn. Behind the tapestry.”  The little one complied.

Four guards stepped in and then stepped aside to let Lady Brunhild enter.  She looked as haughty and cruel as ever, Greta thought, yet something else as well. It disturbed Greta to look at the woman because she could not pinpoint what was wrong with the picture.

Lady Brunhild glanced at Greta, looked at Gregor who had a scowl on his face, and looked briefly at Finbear who did not look sure he knew what was going on.  Vasen turned his back on the Lady, but she stared at him, and he knew it as everyone saw the back of his neck turn red.  She walked casually to the tapestry and examined it, as if she sensed something.

“An exquisite piece of work,” she said. “Don’t you think?”  Greta heard something different about the woman’s voice as well, but it still eluded Greta’s grasp.

“Fairy work, one might say.”  Greta spoke pleasantly.  “It is very finely done.”

“Indeed,” the lady said.  Her hand came away from the tapestry to focus more fully on Greta. “I have been smelling the annoying things all over the Quadi camp all day.  No wonder they were in no condition this morning to mount an attack.”  She took a few steps closer and looked at Greta as if trying to penetrate her mind, but Greta, or more precisely, the Kairos would not let her in.  “Why do I feel you know something about all of this?” she asked.

Greta shrugged and smiled.  The woman would not read her thoughts, and after a moment, Lady Brunhild gave up trying.  She turned quickly toward the door.

“Bring her,” the Lady commanded.  Two men grabbed Greta roughly and seemed to delight in dragging Greta into the sanctuary.  It felt like Vedix all over again.  They returned to the alter which got towered over by the Odin statue, and there the men held her and did not let her so much as touch the scab forming on her lip. Greta saw her own small statue still on the altar, but then she realized it was only a glamour left by Thissle to fool the men.  The real statue had already gone.

Kunther also stood there along with a half dozen other men, including the man with the burned hands.  “Mother.”  He started to speak but became silent when she looked up at him, sharply.

“You must remember to call me Brunhild, Kunther dear, now that I am younger than you, Mother will not do.”  She said it.  That was it!  Lady Brunhild was no longer an elderly woman in her late fifties.  She was now no older than twenty-five, or perhaps twenty, and she spoke as if she expected to get even younger.  She walked up to Greta and squeezed Greta’s cheeks with her boney fingers. She caught the moment of recognition on Greta’s face and thought she might try once more to penetrate Greta’s mind; but no way she could.  Lady Brunhild had obviously gained a great deal of power and strength since their last meeting.  She was probably even more powerful than the Hag at that point, but the Traveler knew too much about the future.  Greta’s mind had been covered under the contract, so to speak, that the ancient gods in unison made millennia ago in the halls of Karnak.  It was the same contract which allowed her to manifest a power far beyond her natural abilities in relation to the little ones for whom she had been made responsible at that same meeting.  For Brunhild, no matter how strong, the attempt to read Greta’s mind became like a fly attempting to penetrate a concrete wall.

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 3 of 3

Gregor confirmed that Kunther was a fool and Lady Brunhild wielded the real power behind the rebellion.  She had presumably bewitched most of the rebels, but he was no longer fooled.  He had lost family up by Porolissum to Quadi raiders.  He said there were others who felt the way he did and Greta felt glad to hear that Bragi was among them.

“What I don’t understand is what she intends to gain,” Gregor said.

“Obviously, the people did not rise up in support of Kunther’s rebellion, so she had no choice but to look for help from the outside.”

“Yes,” he said. “But if the Quadi overrun the land, what place will there be for her?”

“I don’t know.” Greta wondered that, herself.

After about an hour, she heard Bragi at the door demanding to see his sister.  The guard did not sound unsympathetic, and said he could go in as long as it was brief.  Bragi and Greta hugged for a long time, and Greta cried just a little. Despite her outward bravado, Greta still felt very scared and everything about her, her face, her shoulder and her hip throbbed with a kind of dull pain.

Soon, Bragi and Gregor started exchanging notes and planning.  They must have mentioned two dozen men who were firmly with them and the only disagreement became whether to effect a rebellion within the ranks and sue for peace, or to contact the Romans first and bring them into the Temple for a surprise attack on Kunther.  Bragi saw the political implications and imagined the penalty the Romans might require for traitors.  He argued for bringing the Romans in as early as possible.  Gregor, however, argued for rebellion within the ranks. A successful rebellion would convince the Romans whose side they were really on more than any talk, he said. Greta imagined the man might have a personal grudge, though she never asked what that might be.

“No.”  Greta pulled herself together at last and stood to gain everyone’s attention.  “Priest. I take it you have not been cooperating of late.”

“Not since Boarshag,” Vasen said, and the others confirmed this.

“You know where the weapons of Trajan are stored?”  She shot straight to the point.

“Yes, good Mother,” Vasen said, but he wondered what she was after.

“They are in the cavern and diggings beneath the Temple,” Gregor said.  “But it is very damp down there.”

“Most of the weapons are rusty and useless,” Bragi added.  “And the powder is not dry enough to use, either.”

“Is any of it any good?” Greta asked.

“Some.” Bragi shrugged.  “But not enough of it to turn the tide of battle, even if our people got all of the good stuff.”

Greta closed her eyes and cleared her heart before she spoke.  “Thorn and Thissle.”  She commanded, and they appeared a few feet away.  It took them a few moments to orient themselves.  Then they hugged as if they had not seen each other lately, and they turned together to face Greta.

“My gracious, lovely lady,” Thorn said, with a bow, and Thissle curtsied as well as she could in her new form.  Bragi jumped in fright, but stayed beside his sister.  Vasen looked delighted as if, like Fae, they represented something he had longed to see all of his life.  Finbear looked curious.  He had seen Berry fluttering around and had also seen the goddess, so he did not get especially surprised.  Gregor let out a short shout and jumped to the wall, but he made no other noise for fear that the guard might hear.

“Thorn, how far away is General Pontius?”

“He should be here by morning,” Thorn reported.  “And Gumbeater the Hobgoblin of the lower hills says the Celts are moving through the woods in great numbers.  They should also be here by morning.”

“Thissle. Can you make yourself invisible so only Bragi can see you?” Greta asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  “That is very hard to do.”

“Bragi is my brother.”  Greta explained, and Thissle brightened.

“Sir Bragi,” she said with a little bow.  “For family of the goddess, if his heart is true to you as with your brother Hans, he will be able to see me.”  She vanished from the sight of the others.

Bragi looked up after a minute to see everyone staring at him.  “Is she?  Oh.  I still see her, but there is a glow about her that I did not notice before.”

“The invisible spectrum, some call it,” Greta said, and Bragi understood.

“Thorn.  Can you open this door when the time comes?” Greta asked.

Thorn examined the door.  He made himself small enough to squeeze through a mouse crack, and then he came right back.  “There is a guard,” Thorn said.  “But the door should be easy to open.”

“I’ll deal with the guard,” Gregor growled while Greta explained things to Finbear. Finbear also pledged to help with the guard and extended his hand to Gregor.  It made Gregor pause, but then he accepted Finbear’s hand and Greta smiled for them.  They were all in it together, now.

“When the time comes and Thorn opens the door, you must follow the Priest.  I am sure he knows the quickest and safest way down the Mount.  Do you all understand, Thorn?”

“Yes, Lady,” Thorn said and looked at the floor.

“Good,” she said. “Now Bragi and Thissle, here is what you must do.  As soon as you can, you must take the statue to where the good powder is and leave it there. Put it as close as you can to the dry powder, and leave it there.”

“The statue?” Bragi asked.  “The one you brought?  Is it safe?”

“You won’t be hurt,” Greta said.  “I have told them, I think.  But just to be sure, Thissle, tell Burns and Madwick they are not to harm Bragi.”

“Scorch and Sparky too?”  She asked.

“Scorch and Sparky, too,” Greta answered.

“I’ll make triple sure,” Thissle said, and there came an interruption.

Vasen had finally moved close to Thorn.  “Do you live in Elfhome?” he asked.

“No,” Thorn answered.  “Thissle and I live in the forest.  Her family is from Elfhome, but my people all come from Mid-elf-land.”

“Quiet.” Greta insisted.  She turned again to her brother.  “Don’t bury the statue or put it under anything, but hide it behind something, behind the powder if you can.”
“Who are Spark and those others?” Bragi asked.

“Fire sprites.” Thissle started to speak, but Greta hushed her.

“Never mind, just trust me and do what I ask,” Greta said.  “And when the statue is in place, gather your friends, the ones who have had a change of heart, and wait until Thissle gives the signal.”

“What signal? For what?”  Bragi asked.

“It will probably be something like, “Get Out!”  You must hurry down the Mount as fast as you can and head for the Roman outpost and surrender yourselves.  Don’t worry about Gregor and these others.  Thorn will get them out all right, and they will have the same message. Do you understand?”  She looked at Thorn and Thissle, but everyone nodded, including Finbear who had no idea what he nodded for.

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

MONDAY

Greta has been lucky so far, in one sense.  That terrible, powerful witch, Lady Brunhild, has been missing.  Hopefully, plans can be put in motion before she returns, but she will return.  Next week: Confrontation.  Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 2 of 3

“Sabazios Dyeus, grant us wisdom and courage,” Greta spoke as she walked.  “Zalmoxis, shine your light into our darkness. Artemis Bendi, defend the powerless on this day, and Selvanus, bring healing to all who do what is right.”  At the end of the sanctuary, there stood a giant statue of a man.  It looked like Odin, and Greta gasped to recognize him.  It had been carved from a single granite block, and it stood over the altar as if keeping a watchful eye on all the proceedings.

Greta set her meager offering on the table.  When she uncovered it, there were collective gasps and exclamations from the crowd. What the statue lacked in size, it more than made up for in priceless quality.  It appeared a magnificently crafted work of art, and the fact that Greta knew it got made in only one day felt almost unbelievable.

“This was made by the people who live in the forest,” she explained, not specifically naming the Celts.  “The lioness represents the Don, the Mother Goddess of the Gaelic people.  The dolphin is for the Romans, for Neptune, and in particular Salacia, Queen of the sea, to remind us that the Romans came to us from across the sea.  The bear is for the beloved grandson of the North, the Nameless god, the result of peace between the Vanir and Aesir.  If the gods can make peace, can we do less?”

“And the horse?” Vasen asked while Kunther nodded as if to say he had the same question.

“Let the horse in the middle be for all of us, and let it be a symbol of unity and peace. When well treated, the horse is a strong, loyal and tireless servant, and so we should serve one another in the cause of peace.  If there must be a fire, let it come from our unity, and let it be a fiery passion to defend our land, our loved ones, and our children who may yet harvest a legacy of peace and security for all.”  She pressed down on the horse’s tail and the horse rose up and showed flame from the eyes, nose and mouth.  When she let the horse down, the flame appeared to go out.

“Why, this is marvelous.”  Vasen said, and he tried the horse for himself.  Scorch behaved, but Greta hoped the Priest would not do that all night. Scorch would surely become sea sick.

Kunther walked once around the object.  He looked reluctant to touch it and Greta supported those feelings.  “This belongs to the temple, now,” she said.  “It is an offering to the gods and ought to be touched only by the priests.”

“Very well. I see no harm in the trinket, but as for you.”  He hit her in the mouth, knocked her down again and brought blood to her lip.  “I am sure Mother will want a word with you.  Put her in with the others,” he ordered.  “And take the Priest, too.”

Greta’s jaw hurt, her nose also bled a little along with her lip, and she feared she might get a black eye, but she refused to cry and shook off Vasen’s attention as several of the men took them to a back room in the temple.  When the door got shut and locked, Greta also knew that there were guards on duty.

The room itself seemed fairly large.  It appeared to be a place where the priests could retire for a time of meditation and prayer, and it held many of the priestly vestments as well as many artifacts of their work.  This was not a mere storage room, however, but rather a place for easy access to the sanctuary.  On one side, a door lead to the priest’s quarters.  It had been locked.  At the back, an opening and a rather small balcony unfortunately overlooked a cliff of considerable size.

Greta already found two men in the room.  They were the “others” Kunther had mentioned.  One, a Dacian named Gregor, had been accused of speaking out against the rebellion, and Kunther, and specifically against making any deals with the Quadi.  The only reason he stayed alive was because Kunther hoped to ferret out any others who might feel the same way, or cow those others into submission.  The other man in the room was Finbear.

“Lady!” Finbear made a beeline for Greta. “I almost lost hope.”

“Finbear.” Greta hugged him, which raised the eyebrows of the other men in the room.  She spoke for a moment in Gaelic which the others could not understand.

“Your father is in the Roman camp with Fae, Vedix the hunter and Cecil of the Eagle clan. They have allied with the Dacians and Romans in the field, but he does not know you are here.  He thinks you have gone home to care for your mother.”

“Yes, they have a right to know what has happened to me,” Finbear said.  “That is the only thing that kept me from jumping off the cliff. I do not think these people know what to make of me, but I think one recognized me as the son of the woodsman. I don’t know what your friend may have told them.”

“He is not my friend.”  Greta decided and confessed.  “I thought I was in love with him, once, but now I don’t think I even like him, and I assume he told them everything, about your people in the forest and everything.” She turned toward him and he noticed her bloody lip.

“But you are hurt,” he said.  “I do not understand.  Won’t the Don come now and set us free?”

“No, Finbear. It doesn’t work that way.”

“But the Don will come if you ask her,” he said, puzzled.  “I saw how she came to the village.  She revealed herself through you.  It must be something to be possessed by a god, even if only for a short time.”

Greta almost laughed.  It had to be about as interesting as a goddess being possessed by a Greta, she thought, but she said something else.  “You know how the gods work.  They put us in these impossible situations and somehow expect us to work our way out, all on our own.”  Finbear looked downcast.  He understood well enough.  “But don’t worry,” Greta added.  “We will find a way out.  The answer may be at the door even as we speak.”

They paused, but heard nothing.  That would have been too much to expect.  She did not have the timing of the little ones.  She was only human, after all.  She patted Finbear’s hand in reassurance, turned to Gregor and found him very informative.

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 1 of 3

Greta was met at the bottom of the Mount by two men.  She did not recognize the older one, but the younger, the one who hugged her, turned out to be her brother Bragi.

“You should not be here.”  Bragi spoke plain.

“Who is this fool?” the older man asked.

“She is my sister,” Bragi said.  “The young Mother in Waiting.”

“Mother Hulda is dead.”  Greta told them both.  They had not heard.  “I am the woman of the ways now.”

Bragi hugged her again.  “I’m sorry, Greta.  That must be a terrible loss for you.”

“What is your business here?”  The older one asked rather than demanded, though he clearly did not seem overly impressed.  He knew Mother Hulda.  He did not know Mother Greta.

“You should not be here,” Bragi repeated himself.

“My business is a peace offering for the gods.  This statue is consecrated to the gods and it is for the high priest, Vasen, and for his hands alone.”  She spoke with as much authority as she could muster, but it fell on deaf ears.

“Give it. Let me see.”  The man sneered and grabbed the cloth covered statue from Greta’s hands.  When she tried to hold on to it, he shoved his straight arm into her shoulder, bruised her shoulder and knocked her to the ground where she fell on a fairly sharp rock.

Bragi stepped between and protested, but the older man stared him down.  Bragi’s fist clenched and unclenched before he turned to help his sister.

“That is dedicated to the gods.”  Greta spoke up.  “How dare you touch it.”  The man, however, uncovered it and his eyes nearly leapt from his head for all of the inlaid gold and precious stones.

“I am sorry for you, but you must consider your hands forfeit.”  Greta said.  It had been a part of the plan which she had hoped she would not have to activate. The Lords Burns and Madwick shot from the statue and attached themselves to the man’s hands.  The man screamed and dropped the precious object, but too late. The fire got on him.  He could not put it out or shake it off or rub it out on the grass, or in any way save his hands.  His screams brought other men who stared, helpless and horrified.  Greta picked up the statue.  Burns and Madwick sped quickly back into the bear and the lioness, and Greta covered the statue again before anyone else got too close.

The man wept. It all happened rather fast.  Even in that short time, the man’s hands were red, full of blisters and with a couple of blackened spots.  “This is a peace offering consecrated to the gods.”  Greta repeated herself for the others who had come. “It is for the hands of the priest. It is not for you to touch.”  She considered the men around her.  She pointed to one and gave the man a small jar of salve she had prepared for this possibility.  “I cannot heal what the gods have decided, but this may help soothe the pain and suffering a little.”

“Yes ma’am, thank you,” the man said, and took the jar most carefully.

“Mother Greta,” Bragi announced.  “Mother Hulda is dead.”

“The Little Mother,” someone said.  Greta did not see who, but she guessed it was a man from Boarshag.

“Please escort me to the temple.”  She decided it would be better to ask for an escort than have some newly arrived fool repeat the mistake of the first one.  Bragi took his sister’s arm.  Greta tried not to limp, and after a short way she walked better.  Everyone else walked either in front or behind, and kept their distance, besides.

“Papa was right,” Bragi whispered.  “War is not the answer.”

Greta nodded. “You fought?”

Bragi took a deep, shaky breath.  “I killed a man,” he said.  “During the battle I felt nothing, but after, I felt something I never felt before and never imagined feeling.”

“What was that?” Greta had to ask.

“I felt ashamed,” he said, and Greta put her arm around his waist to return a bit of his hug. They walked in silence for a minute, but near the top, Greta felt she had to speak, quickly.

“Much has happened since you came here with Papa.  None have spoken, but many wonder why the son of the high chief opposes his father.”

“Kunther is the high chief,” Bragi said.  “Papa is a sham meant to fool the Romans.”

“No, Bragi.” Greta spoke quietly but clearly. “Papa is the true high chief, and that is how nearly all of the people see him.  That is why the people have not risen up to Kunther’s call, because the high chief has told them not to.  And Papa would be here, himself, fighting Kunther, if he were not wounded.”

What?” This all came as news to Bragi, and the important thing being Papa’s wound.

“Yes,” Greta said. “Lady Brunhild tried to have him assassinated.”  Greta had to be quiet, then, and Bragi could not respond.  They were at the door to the Temple, and Kunther stood there, waiting. Obviously, word had run ahead.

Kunther looked her over closely as Vasen got escorted forward.

“Mother Greta,” Vasen said, and gave her the respect due, heedless of the dirty look Kunther gave him.  “You should not have come.”

“Only I could come, safely,” Greta said, and gave Kunther a look that said he had better not do something stupid; a look with which Kunther seemed all too familiar, having seen it in his mother’s eyes so often.  “I have been given this gift of peace, dedicated to the gods and for service in the temple.”

Kunther turned away to examine the hands of the man from below, so Greta simply walked in. She got followed by Bragi and Vasen, and then the whole crowd, but altogether they barely filled a fraction of that great, pillared shrine.  The Temple looked like an enormous building, more like a medieval cathedral than a pagan temple.  She did not doubt that Rome was impressed.  She felt impressed, herself.