A month went by, and Papa stayed away for most of that time. They were surveying the river lands for distribution. Greta kept busy doing what she trained to do. She put Yani on a strict diet of greens when she determined the baby was a bit anemic, and another baby got born during that time. There were spring animals to be born as well, and a small spring festival that went with the birthing days. Greta told the stories that reminded the people of their heritage and culture, and made their hard-working, difficult lives a little easier. Naturally, not all of the newborn animals survived. Greta clearly said there would be times when a mother or child or both might not survive. It was the way of all things. Life and death did not cease. They were like the seasons and would go on until the end of the world. Oddly, she found some comfort in that thought. It helped her grieve for Mother Hulda.
At the end of the month, Lady Brunhild, mother of the new War Chief Kunther, came to town. She came accompanied by an entourage of men and women, the chief of which was Vasen, the priest of Deyus’ Temple on the Mount of Kogaionon in Ravenshold. Boarshag had its’ shrines and priests of a sort, but nothing compared to the great stone and marble Temple on the Mount. That massive temple even impressed the Romans. Greta felt certain it was nothing her people constructed. She imagined it already got old by the time the people migrated down from the North and up from the Tessalian plains and Macedonia to merge into the Dacian people.
Greta carried water from the central fountain as the traveling party rode up in a loud and leisurely manner, causing a scene. Greta tried to get to the side of the road, but to no avail. The Lady stopped, and so everyone else stopped.
“Girl.” The Lady spoke to Greta. “Take me to the house of Lady Olga, wife of Lord Vobalus the high chief.” She gave a command to an underling hardly worth her contempt.
“May I ask your business?” Greta shot right back, without flinching.
For a second, it looked as if the lady might bite Greta’s head off, but she relented. “I am Lady Brunhild of Sarmizegetusa,” she said and gave the ancient name for Ravenshold, the capital of Dacia. “My son is Lord Kunther the high chief who shares that honor with Lady Olga’s husband. I would pay my respects to the lady.”
“We have come on behalf of the Woman of the Ways.” The priest interjected. Lady Brunhild gave the priest a sharp look and he cowered momentarily, but otherwise, the lady did not lose her composure.
“You have found the Woman of the Ways.” Greta said to the priest and ignored the lady. Greta stood, poorly dressed, having just slopped the hogs before she fetched water, but Mother Hulda had always said one’s dress proved far less important than one’s bearing, and Greta bore herself well.
Lady Brunhild’s eyes shot straight to her, and Greta stared right back, and again she did not flinch. Lady Brunhild appeared to be trying to get inside Greta’s mind, but Greta stayed busy making her own assessment. Mother Hulda had taught her that the eyes were the mirror to the soul. Greta saw the hate, treachery, a boundless, power-hungry, controlling ambition, and something very wrong inside the woman, which Greta could not quite name.
The lady laughed. “Child,” she spoke after she caught her breath. “You flatter yourself.” Some may have thought the woman laughed to cover her embarrassment at having made a bad first impression, but Greta heard the ridicule.
“I am going to Lady Olga’s home,” Greta said, as calmly as she could. “You may follow if you wish.” Greta started to walk, slowly. Most of the party dismounted to lead their horses, but, as Greta surmised, Lady Brunhild was not about to give up her lofty perch. It is difficult to manage a horse at a very slow pace, but Greta carried water and she saw no reason why Lady Brunhild’s ride should be a pleasant one.
When they arrived at the house, Greta set down her burden and turned in time to see Lady Brunhild turn up her nose at their plain and simple dwelling. Mama worked in the garden and Greta went to fetch her.
“Mama,” she whispered. “Kunther’s mother, Lady Brunhild, and the Priest from the Temple Mount are here.” Mama looked up, not quite comprehending at first, while Greta helped her to her feet. “Lady Brunhild is the war chief’s mother,” she whispered more quietly in her mother’s ear. “Watch out for her. She is a stuck-up, overbearing, sly, two-faced bitch.”
“Greta!” Mama sounded shocked by her mouth.
“Did you hear what I said?” Greta asked. She had chosen her words to be sure her mother heard.
“Yes,” Mama responded, kindly. “We do not speak such words, and I am not a child who needs instruction.”
Greta hugged her. She knew her Mama would not be snookered. “Allow me to introduce you,” Greta said, as soon as they came to where the others were waiting. “Lady Brunhild, widow of Kroyden and mother of Kunther, the new war chief, and Vasen, high priest of the temple on the Mount Germisara. She pointed to Mama but kept an eye on the priest and Lady Brunhild as she spoke. “And this is Lady Olga, my mother.”
The priest got it and gulped, and his eyes widened. Lady Brunhild, who now should have been doubly embarrassed, did not bat an eye, and Greta realized that Lady Brunhild would have treated her with the same contempt for an underling if she had known her to be both the Woman of the Ways and daughter of the high chief from the very beginning.
“Please excuse my appearance,” Mama started right in. “And I am afraid the house is a mess. You know, when the men go away it just is not the same. But, of course you know.” She sought the woman’s sympathy and tried to find some ground on which to commiserate. “I was just gardening,” she went on uninterrupted. “Would you care to see? It would be most kind of you if you did.” Mama took Lady Brunhild’s arm and guided her toward the side of the house. Greta grabbed the priest before he could tag along.
“You have come because of Mother Hulda?” she asked, but it was not a question.
“Outwardly yes, I mean, yes.” He showed much more grace to Greta than before and perhaps even a little respect.
“And what have you heard?” she wondered.
“That the gods are angry with us. That they sent a demon from the haunted wood to take our dear Mother away.”
“Yet she gave me the full blessing of the gods before she died so that I could follow-after her,” Greta mused, out loud.
“I know, Little Mother. Everyone has heard this. But Lady Brunhild says she will have no Woman of the Ways among her people. She says it is only her ways that we must follow.”
Greta understood that there was an ego. Forget a thousand years of collective memory and tried and true understandings, it is her way or the highway.
“Priest!” Lady Brunhild called. She must have noticed he was missing.
“Right here.” The priest spoke up, but he whispered before he turned his back. “Beware, she has powers to be reckoned with.” He ran. “I am right here.”
Greta wandered off the road to a place where she could sit but neither be seen nor heard. She spent a long time puzzling through what had been presented to her. At last, when she felt it safe, she went home. The coast looked clear. Mama had started cooking.
“Sit down, dear.” Mama said and touched her arm. Immediately, Greta went stiff and had to sit down. She saw Lady Brunhild clear as day speaking to the priest.
“She will grieve,” the woman said. “But she will give no trouble, no trouble at all.” Greta had to shake herself free of the vision.
“Eat, child,” her Mama said. “You must stop daydreaming. You will be married soon enough and your husband will want a responsible wife, not a dreamer.”
“Dreaming?” Greta asked. Mama knew the signs of her visions.
“Sitting idly,” Mama said. “Looking like you are thinking deep thoughts. A child like you should not have to be troubled with deep thoughts.”
Greta’s mind became crystal clear, and she saw the glaze over her mother’s eyes. She stood and slapped her mother, hard. “Mama, come back to me,” she commanded. Her mother looked surprised, then shocked, and finally looked terribly confused. Greta knew this had to be a powerful enchantment. Ordinary means would not work. She steadied herself and remembered her lessons.
Capturing her mother’s eyes, Greta cleared her mind and heart of any imbalance. Very quickly images of her and her mother together came floating up to the surface. Shared memories bubbled-up, and as they surfaced, they passed through Greta to her mother, triggering Mama’s deep self to come back to the surface.
She came, as Greta became more and more drained. “Greta?” Mama came back, slowly, and asked, as if recognizing her daughter for the first time. Then she shouted, “Greta!” and caught her daughter before Greta collapsed to the floor. She set Greta gently in a chair. “Are you all right?” she asked. “What am I doing?”
“It’s all right, Mama.” Greta regained herself quickly. She could see the magic of Brunhild, broken. “Who am I?” she asked to be sure.
“Greta, of course. Do you feel sick?”
“No, Mama.” Greta asked again. “Who am I?”
Mama paused. “My daughter. Daughter of the high chief.”
“Yes.” she said. “But who am I?”
Mama did not pause this time as she understood. “You are the Woman of the Ways for all of the people.” She spoke with a touch of both humility and pride. She smiled at the thought, and Greta felt satisfied the bewitching had been completely broken. At the same time, Greta felt exhausted and she doubted it cost Lady Brunhild as much. Powers to be reckoned with, Greta thought. No wonder the Priest seemed cowed.
Hans chose that minute to burst through the door. “What’s cooking? Smells great. I’m starved.” He stopped talking, suddenly aware that Mama and Greta stared at him with their mouths part way open. “Oh, women talk,” Hans guessed. He helped himself to the stew he found on the table, and sat, to stare back at them. “Go ahead, I’ve heard it all.”
Greta shook her head. “I’m tired,” she said. “I’m going to lie down.” And she did. Mama stayed up long enough to put Hans to bed, but she had much to think about and only chewed on a crust of bread and had a cup of water. She had lost her appetite.