Greta got up from bed as soon as she was allowed. She busied herself with tasks to keep from thinking too hard. Mother Hulda, patient all that time, did not say a word about it. After three more days, Yani went into labor and Greta accompanied Mother Hulda to the house. Under Mother Hulda’s insistence, Greta delivered the baby. She had presided over other deliveries, to be sure, but never one where Mother Hulda went into the other room, closed the door and had tea. Yani had a beautiful baby girl. Later, Mother Hulda said Greta got everything just right, but then Greta knew she had help beyond what Mother Hulda had taught her. About nineteen hundred years in the future from where Greta stood, she knew Doctor Mishka had delivered hundreds of babies. Greta even heard the words, “Very nicely done,” echo in her head at one point. It sounded very much like talking to herself, but Greta knew she was not. The Doctor praised her work, and after that, Greta thought that perhaps living all of those other lives might prove some benefit and not be the terrible burden she feared.
Yani looked up into Greta’s face when Greta handed her the baby. “Thank you, Greta, dear,” Yani said, and with such genuine gratitude in Yani’s countenance and in her voice, Greta became temporarily speechless. Greta looked at Mother Hulda who nodded, and that reassurance helped.
“Get some rest.” Greta told Yani. “Let your mother hold her granddaughter for a while when you are ready.” She gave Yani a sisterly kiss and stepped away while Yani nodded, and Greta knew from that moment on she would be Yani’s doctor, and her baby’s doctor, and probably her mother’s doctor as well.
Still early morning, Greta and Mother Hulda left Yani’s house. Mother Hulda said she had to go home. Greta said she would accompany her. She worried about Mother Hulda walking so far, uphill, alone.
“I’m not sure,” Greta answered honestly with a laugh, and the two, like cripples, one old and one young, waddled up the hill.
“I saw more than you think,” Mother Hulda said, after a short way. “The Nameless god is watching over you, even as he watches over the elves of light and dark. If you ever needed help, I would not be surprised if he sent the spirits of life themselves to your aid. I also saw Danna, and how Salacia is on your side as well, though that last connection is not so clear in my mind unless there is a young Roman man in your future.
“Please,” Greta protested. “I would feel like a traitor to my own people.” It sounded like a horrendous idea in her ears, but she considered Mother Hulda. Mother Hulda had been taken to Rome, and some said she even took a lover there. Greta decided that the idea did not sound nearly as horrible to her.
“All the same.” Mother Hulda said. “I saw the powers watching over you. I have had no such geis on my life. My power is very small, but it has sufficed for my needs.”
“It has been sufficient for all that you have been authorized to do.” Greta suggested.
Mother Hulda thought that through. “A good way to put it,” she said. “Still, it is good to have work in whatever way it comes.” Greta waited for Mother Hulda to finish her thought. “As for your magic, I do not know.”
“It is small,” Greta said, honestly.
“Bah!” Mother Hulda responded. “You have two good feet and two good hands, sharp eyes, a well-ordered mind and a good heart. You have everything you need to succeed. Otherwise, I would not be giving my children to you, and most alive are my children, including Yani and you.”
“Giving them to me?” Greta said, innocently.
“Of course, child. I will not be here forever,” Mother Hulda said. Greta nodded, but felt a little twist in her stomach. She was not ready for Mother Hulda to pass on her magic wand, so to speak. Greta knew that someday she would be the village Shaman, the Witcher Woman, the Woman of the Ways, the keeper of the old ways in the knowledge of the old stories, the purveyor of wisdom, reading, writing and conversing in several languages, knowing herbs and salves, potions and medicines, being midwife and healer for the tribe and clan, the seer, and maker of magic for the benefit of the people. It was a lot to expect, and Greta felt nowhere near ready.
“Oh, dear Mother,” Greta spoke, as she took Mother Hulda’s arm to help her over some rough spots. “You will be around for a long time yet.” Greta felt glad Mother Hulda did not argue. They both knew what Greta said was not true.
“And you have your task already laid out for you,” Mother Hulda said. “The gods have been kind to you.”
“Task?” Greta questioned. “I don’t understand.”
“Every woman who mediates the way of the gods in service to the people is given a task by the gods to prove their worth to take up the mantle of wisdom and healing. I saw your Arabian and the wagons of weapons. I can tell you, the weapons of Trajan never made it to Rome. I heard the goddess say it would be Greta’s task. That is you, child.”
“But,” Greta began, but she saw no point in protesting. Witcher Woman or not, Greta knew the job would still be hers, and every life she lived with whom she was presently in touch confirmed that feeling. Guns did not belong in the Roman Empire. That was that.
“Well, I am sure with the gods in so generous a mood, they will also empower you to accomplish your task. Then you will officially be the one for the people, though I feel in my heart you are already there, and you might be surprised to know that most of the people agree with me.”
Greta did feel a bit surprised to hear that, but curiosity ate at her. “And your task?” she asked.
Mother Hulda smiled, as if she anticipated the question. “To spend twelve years in captivity in a foreign land and not be enslaved, or worse. To come home in one piece, free and safe.” Greta nodded. She had guessed that, but Mother Hulda had not finished speaking. “Do not shrink from whatever the gods may send to test you. Obedience is better than words, and so is silence. If there is one lesson left to learn, it is to know when to speak, when to humble yourself to refrain from more speaking, and when to keep silent. It is a lesson, like most, that you will never master. Only remember what you are supposed to do.”
They arrived a short time later at Mother Hulda’s door. They kissed good-bye and Greta turned for home. She had to go slow. It was not easy making her tired legs take her back to bed.
After another two weeks, Papa finally came home. He pushed himself to arrive on the day Hans turned fourteen. Two days earlier, Greta caught her little brother holding hands with a thirteen-year-old girl. The girl turned very red and ran away, but Hans made Greta swear not to tell anyone, especially the guys—as if she ever talked to them. Greta promised, but then she could not seem to refrain from calling him Hansel all during his birthday.
During those days of waiting for her Papa, Greta discovered several things. For one, she found it was not difficult to avoid the boys, and Drakka. She felt a bit embarrassed by her recent, helpless condition. Fortunately, she had no reason to hang out at the blacksmith’s shop unless she chose to do so. Of all the boys, only Koren made the effort to catch up with her. He seemed good about her experience, but after several sentences, Koren ran out of things to say. They would stand awkwardly for a few minutes until Greta said she had to go. Then Koren would perk up. He was very good at saying good-bye, but after a few such encounters, Greta felt sorry to say, she began to avoid him as well.
On the other hand, the girls seemed to always be around. She saw Vanesca every day, and Yanda only a little less, because Yanda began to spend more time with Jodel at the blacksmith’s. She saw Venice several times, and Venice seemed nice, but that was not surprising, because she had always been the nice one. What felt surprising was running into Liselle twice and Karina three times. On their own, they came across warm and friendly. When she met them both together, Greta noted her treatment became more formal and cordial. It reminded Greta that their friendliness came, not because she suddenly became one of the beautiful and popular people. Rather, her position mattered. It was always important to stay on the good side of the Woman of the Ways. Both would be needing Greta’s services in the future, and perhaps in the not-too-distant future. They did not exactly butter her up, but Greta found her treatment far better than it used to be. Clearly, they continued to snub Vanesca and Yanda without a second thought.
Papa came home at the front of a great column of men. Some of the men lived in Boarshag, some came down with him from Ravenshold, and some, perhaps most, lived further down the hills, in the valley of the great river. Some three hundred auxiliaries hailing from Dalmatia, Moesia and Gaul, and two hundred Romans, also came; almost half the contingent assigned to Ravenshold from the legion fort in Apulum. The Lords Marcus and Darius, and another centurion named Alesander headed the columns. Greta saw them ride through town, laughing and talking as if on a hunt, or a friendly afternoon ride. The Romans and auxiliaries took their men to camp on the hilltop south of town; the best defensive position around. The people camped in Papa’s main field which had just been planted before the high chief died and the counsel got called. Greta felt sure that after the camp they would not get much grain out of that field, but apparently, the men did not consider that, or they did not care.
Once the camps were set, Papa came bounding in to give Mama a big hug. Wouldn’t you know, the first thing out of Mama’s mouth was the story of Greta’s visionary experience. She told how Greta birthed Yani’s child, and about a couple of small healings Greta had performed in the last two weeks. Mother Hulda made it clear to everyone that she had become too old to continue and they should look to Greta now as their Woman of the Ways. Mama sounded very proud. She always felt her mother, Greta’s grandmother, should have had that honor. But now, Greta being chosen seemed like vindication in her mind. Papa, however, sat in silence at the kitchen table. He came home dressed in his armor, like one ready to go to war, and he kept looking at Greta like one studying his enemy and searching for weak points to attack.