Greta got uncomfortable, so she changed the subject. “Where’s Bragi?” she asked.
Papa shook himself from his thoughts. “He has stayed in Ravenshold with the new war chief,” he said.
“There are two high chiefs!” Greta blurted it out before she could stop her tongue. She remembered what Mother Hulda said about how sometimes it would be best to keep silent. Papa slammed his fist on the table and looked at Greta as if she had just confirmed his worst fear. He stood and began to grumble as he paced the room.
“Two?” Mama asked.
“Two what?” Hans didn’t quite catch it.
Greta looked down at her lap where her hands were folded and her knuckles turned white. She had not intended to say anything, but she and Mother Hulda had figured it out. Her hands began to sweat. There were indeed times when it was best to say nothing at all. She would let Papa explain.
Papa stopped pacing and faced the family. “The council has decided to divide the leadership of the clan,” he said without any build up or preliminary explanations. “I have been elected high chief, but Kunther, son of Kroyden from Grayland has been elected what they are calling the war chief.” Papa paused, and that let Mama get a word in.
“My Vobalus elected high chief.” Her eyes got big. “Whatever shall I wear?” she asked. Greta grabbed her Mama’s hand to bring her attention back to the point, but she laughed because she had thought much the same thing.
“I swear this was the Roman’s doing,” Papa continued. “Divide and Conquer. Especially that Lord Marcus. You watch out for him.” Papa pointed at Greta for some reason. “I have never seen such political skill in one so young.” He paused again.
Greta considered Lord Marcus and all at once her eyes rolled back and she became stiff. Papa got ready to speak, but he noticed and stopped. Hans quickly grabbed his sister to keep her from falling.
Greta saw Marcus as an old man on a field outside Vienna. Darius was with him and to her surprise, she was as well. It would be the end of Marcus’ days. “Ah!” Greta let out a little shriek and came back to the table. Then, she could not tell how much was the vision and how much had been a gift from one of her future lives, but she spoke what she knew before she opened her eyes.
“Marcus Aurelius,” she named the man. “Son, or rather, adopted son of the Emperor, Antonius Pius. He will be the next Emperor of Rome.” She looked up and saw Hans smile, her mother with her mouth open, and her father in a fury.
“How can I do it?” Papa raged. “How can I give such a gift to the Romans? Hella’s breath!” He added a few more disgusting and colorful phrases and stomped out of the house like a man on a mission.
Mama and Hans asked simultaneously. “What was that all about?”
“I’m not sure,” Greta answered. “But it has something to do with me.” She smiled and took her mother’s hand because Mama looked worried. “You know a seer is never good at seeing things concerning herself. But don’t worry. In this case, I feel it will be all right.”
“I know your grandmother could not save herself in the last rebellion,” Mama said, thoughtfully. “She had no idea what was coming and ended up slaughtered right along with the rest of them.” It did not exactly abate her worry, but it did turn Mama’s thoughts to her own loss and years of being without her mother. Greta hugged her.
“Greta.” Hans interrupted, oblivious to the feelings being shared. “Will you go with me to see the camp?” He was being careful. He knew he would never be allowed to go alone and if he snuck out it would be worse for him. Mama looked up, appeared to want Greta around all of those men even less, but Greta patted her hand.
“Son and daughter of the new high chief,” Greta reminded her. They should be safe enough. “And I should go to keep Hansel out of trouble.” Mama agreed with that much.
Hans rankled at the name even as he jumped to the door. “Come on,” he said. A field full of warriors, weapons, armor, campfires, fights, drinking and stories. What more could a fourteen-year-old want for his birthday?
“All right birthday boy,” Greta said, and she followed after him.
“Keep out of the way, Hansel,” Mama shouted.
“Hansel,” Greta teased, but quietly.
“You promised!” Hans took that moment to protest, but he obviously did not feel too concerned. He took off running, and Greta was not about to run after him.
Two hours later, Greta chided herself for not running after him. She got angry that he took advantage of her good nature. He had no intention of going with her. He only told that lie to be allowed to go at all; and Greta thought the worst—he would probably swear that Greta was the one who got lost, and Mama would believe him.
“Hans! Hansel!” She shouted. Every time she walked between new tents, the men around that campfire would stop and stare. Still, she did not think that any of them would do anything until she came to a place where she knew no faces. One half-drunk man stood up to block her way.
“Lost your little boy, Hansel?” he asked.
“Not married, eh?” He baited her.
“And not interested,” Greta said, as she tried to push passed. He held his arms out to stop her even as his friends around the fire tried to hide their laughter.
“Aw, be kind to an old soldier,” he said, and Greta noticed he did not have many teeth left. “One kiss of those full, red lips and I could rip a lion apart with my bare hands.”
“Ugh!” Whatever made men think that sort of thing was a turn-on? All Greta could imagine was a bloody, disgusting mess of a poor lion.
“Come on,” he said. “One small kiss never hurt anyone.” He began to circle his arms around her, but Greta’s hand came up into his chest and she stiffened her arms to keep him at bay.
“No,” she said, forcefully. Something like a static electrical charge that ran up her arms and out of her hands. No white light of a goddess appeared, and no wolves caught on fire, but the man felt the shock and jumped back in surprise. Greta felt nearly as surprised herself, but she stayed calm. The men that sat around the fire also looked surprised. They saw the sparks fly.
“Greta.” She heard Drakka’s voice. “Greta.” He came running up, leaving Sanger to follow with the cart. Drakka quickly assessed the situation and began to whisper loudly in the man’s ears. Greta heard the words “high chief,” and saw the man step back. When she heard “Woman of the Ways,” and “Mother Hulda,” she watched the man move behind the protection of his fellows.
“Forgive me Little Mother. I-I didn’t know,” he apologized, and it sounded sincere. Every village and town had its’ healers and midwives, but the Women of the Ways were few. Mother Hulda was the only one in the whole territory in Greta’s lifetime. Everyone from Ravenshold to the north border and south to the Danube looked to her for many things. Chiefs and high chiefs all called on her at one time or another. This was another part of the job that would take some getting used to.
“No harm done,” she said kindly to the man, but when Drakka and Sanger took her away in the cart, she whispered into Drakka’s ear. “I should have turned him into a frog.” She meant it in jest.
Drakka’s eyes got big. “Could you really do that?” he asked, in all honesty, and Greta realized how stupid her joke had been. She dared not say no, though that would have been the truth. She dared not say yes for the sake of the truth, and for the future record. She remembered Mother Hulda’s lesson about knowing when not to speak too late. She had spoken foolishly.
“I would never do such a thing,” she spoke softly and humbly.
“Brother.” Sanger wanted help with the cart and Drakka kept his thoughts to himself and put his back into it. The cart had bread, meat and beer on it. Some had been drafted to go around the camp and make sure everyone had shelter and something to eat. Drakka spoke again at the next stop.
“Your father has appointed my father as one of his lieutenants,” he said. “I guess that means we will be seeing a lot of each other. That will be nice.”
“Nice?” Greta did not want that word to sound the way it sounded, but Drakka did not notice.
“Sure,” he spoke frankly. “Our fathers have always been close. I always thought of you as one of my best friends, really, even when you were as small and pink as a newborn pig.”
Friends? This time Greta only thought the word as Sanger spoke. “Hey!” They moved on.
At the next stop, Greta touched Drakka’s strong arm. It made him pause, and Greta felt a kind of electricity there, too, but this kind made her heart thump. “I’ve always liked you, too,” she said. She looked hopefully into his eyes. If he had any disinterest there, she could not read it. He smiled, but quickly turned and went to work distributing bread and beer. So, her position did not feel hopeless, Greta thought happily to herself. Then the cart got emptied, and they went back to the main road where the supply wagons were parked. Liselle worked there, helping-out, and Greta saw how Drakka and Liselle looked at each other and felt crushed all over again. Then she spied Hans in a wagon with Vabona. Too bad for him.
“What?” he asked, sheepishly, having a pretty good idea already.
“Your Mama told you that you could come here with me, not run off on your own.” She got mean.
“Your Mama?” Beliona picked up on it right away.
“Get down here,” Greta yelled. “I spent all afternoon looking for you.” Hans looked once at his friends who were not even trying to hide their laughter. He started to get angry as he climbed down, but his anger never had a chance. Before his toes touched the earth, Greta had him by an ear lobe and she began to drag him off. “You’ll be lucky if Mama doesn’t make you do the spring cleaning.” It was the worst thing she could think of and it started some others laughing.
“Greta.” Hans found his voice. “Go easy, sis. It’s my birthday and you are hurting me.”
Greta felt mad and unfortunately Hans became the victim. He got found in the wrong place at the wrong time. She did let go of his ear, but only to grab him by the back of his neck. He did not struggle. He knew he had no choice. Mama would only yell at him, but if he broke free and stayed out later, Papa would beat him or whip him for sure. He came quietly.