“All right,” Aruna said, as Hans yawned. “Now you must be very tired. It is late and time for growing children to be in bed. We can sort everything out in the morning.
Greta felt agreeable, but she had one last thought. Perhaps it was Aruna’s age that brought it to mind. “Mother Hulda,” she said.
“Oh?” Aruna raised her eyebrows and eyed Greta suspiciously. “Do you know the good Mother? She visits for tea quite regularly.”
“I know her a little,” Greta hedged her thoughts, though she was not sure why. “Has she been by recently?” Greta asked.
“Why, just two or three days ago she was here and we had a grand time,” Aruna said.
That lie helped bring Greta back to reality enough to know she needed help. “Agreed.” She heard the word clearly in her head, and then Greta vanished from that time and place and Danna, the mother of all the Celtic gods, sat in her place, and left up a perfect glamour of Greta so the hag, Aruna, would be no wiser. Danna saw the hovel for exactly what it was, and in fact had to lower herself a bit to see where their beds were supposed to be. They were in the oven, of course.
“Hans.” Danna, looked and sounded exactly like Greta and stopped her brother from going straight to bed. “Girls first,” she said aloud and made sure he had to obey. She walked to the oven and started to climb in but quickly climbed right out again. “The fire went out,” she said. “It’s too cold in there. I can’t sleep.”
“What?” Aruna looked dumbfounded and she had to see for herself. Danna grabbed Han’s hand and suddenly he saw what she saw. As the hag poked her head into the fire box, Danna traded places in time with Bodanagus of the Nervii. He came dressed in the armor of the Nameless One, the armor which had once been his, and he did not pause before he spoke.
“Push,” he told Hans, and though Hans came up with his hands ready to push, essentially Bodanagus, in a moment of near Herculean strength, bent down beneath the hag’s butt and flipped the old woman into the oven. He slammed the door.
“Why did we just push Grandma into the oven?” Hans asked, still very confused.
“Not grandma,” Bodanagus explained. “A hag, a grendal. Such creatures have many names. Something pounded on the iron door of the oven, and it came with enough force to make dents in the door. Bodanagus picked up a log and opened the firebox. As he did, a hand sprang out of the box and tried to grab him. Wyrd flew out of its’ sheath in a flash and Bodanagus cut the hand off, cleanly. Even severed from the body, it still clutched at them. Bodanagus used the tip of the sword to fling the hand back into the fire while Hans quickly opened and closed the fire door. The creature shortly stopped pounding and began to scream. That was his cue.
Bodanagus grabbed the bucket of water from which the hag had drawn their tea. It still sat mostly full. He knew this had to be quick. He got Hans to open the oven door as he threw the water in. Then they closed the door again, though they almost did not get it closed in time. The scream of the hag became an unearthly sound. Bodanagus did his best to cover Han’s ears, but the screaming went on for a while. Hans buried his face in the armor. He recognized the armor and the sword, even if he did not exactly recognize Bodanagus. When it was over, Bodanagus trade places again with Danna. She had the power to remove the spell from Hans completely. She also removed the standing glamour from the place, which otherwise might have continued for decades.
“Wow,” Hans said. The real hovel had no roof. Only two walls stood, and the oven, of course, with its high chimney. The field of grain no longer grew there. In fact, they hardly saw a meadow. Only the encroaching forest grew. The food also had all gone, except for Hans who proceeded to vomit out whatever he ate. Danna made double sure that the beast died, and then threw some magic into the air, not unlike fairy dust, and traded places with Greta so the magic could fall on her. Thus, she set herself completely free of the same enchantment, and then Greta vomited a little, but not nearly like Hans.
Greta checked the sky. It proved shortly after noon. They had to move on. She had forgotten about the wolf and wished the hag had not brought it up. Greta collected their things, which still sat on the forest floor where they left them. She looked again. Perhaps it turned one o’clock. She had to get Hans moving, even if it would be slow going as long as he felt sick. It became slow after that as well while they climbed the hill that Hans had seen from the treetop. And all that while they moved in relative silence. Hans did not feel much like talking, and Greta felt angry enough to scream, and for several reasons.
She could not even speak to Hans. If he wasn’t so sick, she could have killed him. Just as well he did not feel like speaking.
At the same time, the question of Hans haunted her. What good was having a god on your side if he wouldn’t do anything for you? The magic of the hag proved stronger than anything she had ever encountered, but she had the distinct feeling that if she had not caught the perfect grandmother in a lie, which in effect blunted the spell, all those other lifetimes she lived would have let her be lunch. Even then, she did not feel sure anyone would have helped her if she did not ask. What good was having a god on her side?
That was not the only thing that haunted her. At times during their climb, her fears almost overwhelmed her anger. Storytelling was one thing the Woman of the Ways did for the people. She knew most of the stories of the haunted forest, only now they took on a reality she never expected, and some of the stories were very frightening, indeed.
In the end, she settled on being upset. The churning in her stomach did not help.
From the hilltop, Greta could see well enough to get her bearings. Ahead of them, smaller hills pushed into the gray, eastern horizon. To the south, the hills softened more, though it still looked like forest for as far as she could see. She knew the road lay way beyond her sight. West, behind her, she saw more trees. They had moved far enough into the woods by then so she could see nothing of Boarshag. All she could see was trees and more trees. Even the ruins where the hag lived blended into the forest and vanished from sight. She supposed if she really tried, she could have found the now smokeless chimney sticking up from between the trees, but she chose not to try and turned to look north. She felt fairly certain she could make out the Sylvan River. It appeared to be running due west. Somewhere much further east it had to turn in a great arc to end up twenty miles north of Ravenshold, but for the time being, she knew that as long as they kept the river to their left hand they would do well.