Greta breathed. She was all bluff and bravado, without substance in any perceived threat. She let the armor and weapons return from wherever they came and stood once again in her plain dress and red cloak. She turned to the astounded elders.
“There will be no rebellion,” she said flatly. “Go home and make peace.” Greta had to sit in the chair recently vacated by Lady Brunhild. She felt afraid to get her cooties, but she had to sit down. The elders filed out, slowly, acknowledging her as “Little Mother,” and “Mother Greta.” Yanda’s father paused to kiss her cheek. He thought perhaps he might provide everything asked for Yanda’s wedding after all. Greta smiled. She knew he was one who would have voted for peace no matter how persuasive the witch might have been. When they were gone, Greta saw the Priest still there on his knees.
“Vasen?” Greta called him by name.
“Great Mother,” he called her.
Greta shook her head and stood to help him to his feet. “Don’t make more out of what just happened than what you saw.”
“Nothing fake about that,” he insisted.
“No, not fake. But more show than substance.” She took his arm as the raven chose that moment to change perches, flying from one beam to another. “Timing is everything,” she told him without further explanation.
“Quite all right,” Greta said, as they reached the door. “Soon enough, strange men will come to us clothed with real power and authority from on high, and they will tell us of the God who was raised on the third day. Then you and I will simply fade into history, but all will be well,” she assured him. “It is how it should be. It is how it must happen.”
He did not really understand, but he nodded all the same and took his leave. Greta limped home thinking about the guns. Some things Lady Brunhild had said suggested that she knew where they were, and that meant Kunther knew where they were, and that would be very bad, indeed. She imagined a shoot-out on the streets of Laredo. This time she had the faster gun and a bit more firepower, but that did not mean there would not be a next time.
Despite losing the first skirmish, and her loss in battle in front of the elders, Lady Brunhild did not leave town right away. Greta fretted about what the woman might be scheming. In the morning, Greta made the long trip to Mother Hulda’s old house, despite the pain in her leg. The house was utterly gone, of course, but the weatherproofed barn still stood. Nameless had seen to that. He had sanitized the books and one-of-a-kind items, and transported them to the barn before the burning. Greta thought she could find something to combat Brunhild more directly. She found a lot of interesting things, and spent considerable time going over scrolls and parchments penned in Greek and Latin; but the search proved fruitless. Without knowing what Brunhild might be planning, Greta concluded that the potions she had made earlier were about the best she could do.
Greta arrived home before dark. She decided that someday soon she would have to pack everything and move it to safer quarters, but for the moment, Mother Hulda’s barn seemed about the safest place. She had nowhere else to keep such precious things.
Another fitful night of sleep followed, partly because her leg seriously began to throb. She could not imagine how she hurt it. She got up around midnight and stepped out into the night air, walking to where she could just make out the campfires of Lady Brunhild’s camp. The moon had come up, but it would not be her full Artemis moon for perhaps another week. She sat to look at the stars, and rubbed her leg.
She heard the sound of someone riding hard. A rider came up from the South, and by the sound of the horse, Greta guessed it had been a long, swift ride. The horse jerked to a stop in Lady Brunhild’s camp. From her vantage, Greta saw the dark silhouette of the horse against the distant campfire. It appeared to be steaming. She waited. Not ten minutes later she heard shouting and a great deal of commotion. Shortly after that, she saw another rider race out of camp on a fresh horse, headed North. Greta did not have to stay up to know that Lady Brunhild and her troop would be gone before daylight. She had no doubt, whatever Brunhild’s designs on the river land, they had to be put on hold. Greta felt sure the troop would be racing back to Ravenshold and she wondered why. She sighed. She felt tired, and her leg, if not better, presently felt numb. She knew she would hear all about it, now. She also felt sure she would never again be left out of any meetings. She went to bed.
By the time she got up with the sun, sure enough, Lady Brunhild had long gone. Greta let it go for the time being. She had plenty of duties to attend, some things she had neglected over the past few days. She kept herself busy all day, and listened, but it seemed a mystery to everyone why the lady left so suddenly. A few confirmed that they indeed headed north, back to Ravenshold, but no one knew why.
The following morning, Greta got her answer. This time, the sound of many horses came up from the South. Greta waited by the front door in anticipation. The Lords Marcus, Darius and Sergeant Gaius were the first to arrive. They dismounted without a word of what might be following. Darius came over and put his hands on Greta’s shoulders. He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss like a husband might kiss a wife, and she kissed him back without thinking about it.
She kissed him back? But it was not so bad. His touch was not so bad either, but that was not the point. He was not Drakka. Darius was nice, but not what she wanted. Greta stopped cold and looked up. Darius stood, smiling. Marcus grinned from ear to ear. Greta stepped back and slapped Darius, but not too hard. Marcus started to laugh so she stepped over and stomped on his foot. “Oaf,” she called him. She did not care if he would be emperor one day. She grabbed Gaius by the arm and walked him away from the laughing fools. Gaius had been trying to get her attention. She noticed.
“We found the guns,” Gaius whispered quickly. “Outside Ravenshold, and Kunther has them. Marcus wants them for Rome so he can make more.”
“Why weren’t they used in the last rebellion?” Greta wondered out loud.
“Your high chief at the time hated them. He said the people would rise or fall on their own strength, not magic weapons. He buried them, but Kunther has dug them up and vowed to see Rome itself engulfed in flames.”
“Not good,” Greta mumbled. “Very not good.”
By then Mama had come out and Darius and Marcus quickly calmed down. They had something serious to tell. “Greta.” Darius said, and took her again by the shoulders. She wanted to pull away, but she did not want to. “It’s your father.”
“What?” Mama breathed loudly.
“He’s all right, alive,” Darius said, quickly. “Thanks to the Lord Marcus who tackled the assassin. But his leg is badly cut. The physicians worked on him, but they believe the leg will have to come off. Your father, however, insisted that the Woman of the Ways examine his leg before they did any cutting.”
“We carried him three days.” Gaius said and shook his head, as if to say the leg looked hopeless. Greta did not hesitate. She became like a whirlwind. She grabbed Gaius and Darius by the hands and started toward the house. Hans and Beliona came running up even as they arrived at the door. Hans hoped to tell the news of the soldiers and looked a little disappointed to see that they already knew. Greta paused and did not let go of her captives.
“Hans.” Her voice commanded. “You and your friends need to gather as much moldy bread as you can find. Search the dumps out behind people’s houses. The more the better.” She said, knowing that most of it would be useless. Hans looked curiously at Darius who nodded. “Do it!” Greta commanded.
“Right. Come on.” He tapped Beliona on the arm and they ran off while Greta dragged her captives into the house.
She made them move Papa’s bed to the center of the main room near the kitchen fire. They pushed the table back against the wall and Greta started Darius tearing linen sheets into bandages. She had Gaius break a chair into clean pieces for a splint.
“His right leg.” Greta said, suddenly. Hers started feeling better. Darius and Gaius looked at each other, shrugged and continued working.
Vanesca chose that moment to show up. “Good.” Greta said, handed her the empty water jug, and practically closed the door in her face. Greta went back to stoking the fire. She had emptied the jug into the cauldron which would also get the bandage cloths once the water started to boil. Then she checked the potions she had made earlier in the week, particularly the sleep potion, the antiseptic balm and the pain killer. They were still good and would be for some time. She felt relieved and happy to have them in advance.
Marcus came in with Mama. Mama cried, but Greta did not have time for her. “Mama.” She spoke rather sternly. “Go to Hermosas’ house and talk about the wedding. I’ll let you know when there is word.” Greta caught her mouth and looked at Darius who looked up and smiled. Greta frowned to think she would have to get used to that smirk. She made a face at him and turned her back on him since Marcus started speaking.
“It would be my honor to escort your mother,” he said, having assessed the situation perfectly. He really was very good with her, and since he apparently also saved Papa’s life, Greta felt obliged.
“I owe you one,” she said hastily. And they left, but not quite soon enough. Papa arrived in a carrier. She heard his voice repeating, “I’m all right. I’m all right,” but Mama would have kept him in the yard and cried over him all day if Greta had not intervened. “Get him in here,” she shouted. “And get her out of here.” People jumped and Darius got stupid. He stuck his head out over her shoulder.
“That’s my wife to be,” he said, proudly. Greta refrained from elbowing him in the solar plexus.