Jodel and Yanda talked wedding and had the first of what would one day be called counseling sessions. Then Greta went to see Jodel’s father. He had figured it out, as anyone with any insight at all could, and he happily accompanied Greta back to town to see Yanda’s father. Yanda’s father, however, became a different matter. He seemed fine with the wedding, but Greta thought his haggling about the dowry would drive her crazy. In the end, they had to leave some things to be decided later. All seemed well, until he surprised her as she prepared to leave.
“I assume you will be at the meeting tomorrow.”
“Meeting?” Greta asked. She knew at once, but she needed to hear it out loud.
“The elder’s meeting,” Yanda’s father said. “Lady Brunhild says she has been sent by her son to speak for her son on important matters.”
Greta turned red with anger. Even her freckles could not hide the emotion, but she spoke in a very soft and controlled tone of voice. “There will be no rebellion,” she said. She knew exactly what Lady Brunhild would be promoting.
“Do you really think that is what it is?” Jodel’s father asked.
Yanda’s father spoke. “Some say it is so we can hear Kunther’s views on the land distribution. Some say it is so he can begin building our force to defend the border.”
“Yes,” Yanda’s father confirmed. “I thought you knew.”
Greta’s mind had been too busy dealing with poison and the aftermath. She should have known. She should have surmised. “Rebellion will simply get us slaughtered with nothing gained,” she said.
The two men looked at each other. They were elder elders who remembered the last rebellion. Clearly, they agreed with her.
“There will be no rebellion,” Greta said through gritted teeth. She left, but the joy of the day had all gone. By bedtime she felt beaten back down to reality. Even worse, her right leg throbbed, and she could not imagine what she might have done to strain it.
She slept fitfully, woke early and tried hard to think things through. Her leg still hurt, so she had to limp her way outside. She believed that on her own she was no match for the witch, and clearly the word “witch” described Lady Brunhild. Perhaps she gave more credit than due, but the woman seemed a first-class witch and Greta decided not to underestimate her. Nameless would not help her. He was not authorized, and neither, apparently, were Salacia or Danna. She sought out the others. Bodanagus felt distant. Ali, the life she lived right before her own, felt unsearchable. Even Festuscato and Gerraint with whom she began to feel very close, seemed aloof. Only one thing came through to her with crystal clarity, and it seemed to come from the Storyteller, the Princess, Diogenes and Doctor Mishka speaking with one voice in her mind. This was Greta’s life. There might be times when an intervention through time became warranted, but mostly Greta had to make her own way in her own life, and, as Gerraint underlined, fight her own battles. Too bad, because Greta felt certain that on her own, she would lose. She asked the Most-High God in Heaven to watch over her. She couldn’t die yet. There were still guns somewhere that she had to locate and dismantle.
Greta spent the better part of the morning stinking up the kitchen. She made a sleep potion, a healing balm with some antiseptic qualities, a strong inhibitor which could cloud the mind for a time, a hemp based uninhibitor, which could act something like a truth serum, and some pain killer. She had no idea what she might need, if anything. Mama’s only comment was she now understood why Mother Hulda built her house so far away from the village. Greta smiled, briefly, but it hardly seemed a joking matter. The time for the meeting had arrived.
Greta had her red cloak on and pulled her hood up to hide her face and hair. She did her best to blend in with the men, who entered the council room, and she sat in the back where she hoped she would not be noticed. Lady Brunhild had not arrived, yet. No surprise. Greta imagined the woman planned some grand entrance after everyone else got there.
Yanda’s father came up and sat beside Greta on one side. Jodel’s father sat on the other side. They must have talked. The men who visited her home the other morning sat in front of them. It felt like an honor guard and clearly some protection to be sure she did not get hurt. She felt grateful.
Sure enough, when the small talk had been going on for a time, Lady Brunhild, the priest, and some of the lady’s escort came in loudly, drawing everyone’s attention. The priest helped the lady into the seat that faced the collected elders. The young men were dressed for war. The priest immediately said an invocation to begin the meeting. He called on Zalmoxis, the Alfader, the god Sabazios of the horse, and the goddess Bendi of the Hunt. He praised Sylvanus, Lord of the ancient forest, and bowed to all the Lords of Olympus. Last, he called on the Nameless One whose right hand is the fist of battle and whose left hand is the open palm of peace. He asked for peace in the deliberations, but hinted strongly that they were going to talk about the fist of war. Greta smiled broadly at the description of Nameless, no doubt prompted through time. Shut-up, she told herself. She tried to focus.
Greta stood before Lady Brunhild could speak. “There will be no rebellion,” she said in the hush. “Last time the Romans showed mercy. They will not show mercy again.”
“Silence!” Lady Brunhild’s voice shot out and many of the men were startled by the rudeness of her interruption. “Child, you have no business here. You may speak again only when I give you permission.”
Greta sat down. She said what she needed to say so it no longer mattered that she could not speak. It felt as if her vocal chords were frozen. She felt a constriction around her throat that made her breathing shallow. She felt powerless to do anything about it, but she told herself it did not matter. The meeting began.
Lady Brunhild, supposedly speaking for Kunther, was persuasive. Greta wondered how much came in the words and how much was magic. The people in the North all of the way up to Prolissum followed the lead of Ravenshold, but in the South, people looked to Boarshag. Ravenshold seemed too far away, on the other side of the merciless forest. Greta knew if Lady Brunhild could turn the men of Boarshag to follow Kunther in rebellion, soon enough the whole southland would be in flames.
They neared a vote, and it began to look as if Lady Brunhild might have her way. The vote would be close. Greta had to do something, but she began to panic and thus far she had not done well in panic situations. One of the elders got up and opened a window. It brought daylight streaming into what Greta only then realized was a dank and dark world. The evil seek the darkness believing their deeds will not be found out, she thought. The righteous rise to the light. Greta stood.
The elders made way as she walked slowly to the front. The pain in her thigh would not let her move faster. When she got to the front and had everyone’s attention, she did the one thing she knew she could do whether she stood out in an open field or under a witch’s spell in a stuffy room in Boarshag. She called out for the armor of the Nameless god. It was her armor. It was her lifetime. Immediately, the constriction on her voice broke as her dress and red cloak were replaced by the chain mail of Hephaestus, the black and white cape of Athena, the helmet of Amon and the boots of her little ones, the little spirits of the earth, from the same crowd that made Thor’s Hammer, she thought, and that thought made her smile. Unfortunately, the sword Salvation, which rested on her back, would be much too heavy for her to handle. Besides, she had no experience with such weapons. The long knife that rested across the small of her back, however, was another matter, being thinner, not as long as a Roman short sword, but longer than most knives. “Defender!” She put her hand out and called to the knife and instantly, the knife jumped perfectly into her hand. This, too, had been a gift of the gods, and compared to the ancient gods, all the magic the witch could muster became like a drop of water to the ocean.
A collective gasp came from the men, and many hastily mumbled prayers, including several to the Nameless god which made Greta smile. It appeared very showy, to call to her long knife, but it seemed like the only way she could be sure not to accidentally cut herself, and a good show was what she was presently after. No one needed know that inside all of that glory, there stood the same little girl of small magic who felt no match for the witch.
Lady Brunhild shrieked at the change. She leaned away from Greta when Greta turned and pointed Defender at her face like the accusing finger of fate. “You came South to steal the best land before anyone else had a chance.” Greta accused the Lady. “Go and steal it if you can but leave Boarshag alone.” Command came from Greta’s voice. She felt armor inspired.
“No, no.” Lady Brunhild lied, and the lie became obvious to more people than just Greta. Despite everything, the witch drew herself up as well as she could, and just started coming back to her wits, when a raven fluttered into the room. Not one of the two greater spirits that used to serve Odin in Aesgard, to be sure. As far as Greta knew, they passed over to the other side with their master in the time of dissolution. Yet it was a raven all the same, so it had to be related in a sense. It seemed drawn to Greta’s armor where the scent of the gods still lingered. Greta put out her left arm, thinking fast, and the bird landed heavily on her wrist shield.
“Tell the Alfadur that all is well here,” she said. “I think I can handle one little witch and her mindless escort.” She pushed her wrist toward the window and the raven returned to flight with a “Caw.” Instead of flying out of the window, though, it headed for the rafters. “Yes.” Greta said as if speaking to the bird. “You can stay and watch.”
That became too much for the witch. When Greta turned again to face her and point Defender at her, she shrieked again. When Greta commanded, “Go!” The witch hiked up her dress and fled, her escort trailing behind.
R5 Greta: Desperation. Greta may have won the first skirmish, but the war is not over. The witch has other tricks up her sleeve, like assassination. Don’t miss the coming week, and…