Greta turned last of all to face Hans. “You broke your word,” she said, through clenched teeth.
“I couldn’t help it.” Hans let out his well-rehearsed protest. “It was the smell of those sweets. It was overpowering. I was enchanted before I tasted the first one. I couldn’t help it.”
“Stop it Hans,” Greta said. “Hansel.” She rubbed it in. “You had your mind made up before we ever got to the cabin. You lied to me and broke your word. How can I trust you?”
“Really.” Hans still defended himself. “I saw the smoke and I knew that was where I had to be. I couldn’t help it.”
Greta nearly let out all her anger, fear, and upset in that one moment, but that would not have been fair. She heard some truth in what Hans said, so she sniffed and held it all back. “You could have resisted,” she said, in a hard, small voice, which suggested much more behind her words. Hans did not argue. He simply looked at the ground and got quiet. “This is a dangerous place,” Greta went on. “You must do what I tell you or you will get us both killed.”
“I promise,” Hans said, much too loudly and much too quickly. Greta stared at him, and he saw the anger and disappointment in her eyes. He lowered his voice and spoke more carefully. “I’m sorry. I really do promise this time.”
Greta said no more about it, and they started down the east side of the hill and back into the heart of the forest.
The forest changed on the east side to more fir and pine, characteristic of the land around Ravenshold. More underbrush grew beneath the trees, particularly thorns, briars and nettles that caught the clothing unless they were careful. Hans caught his backpack twice, once rather badly, which put a tear in the blanket. Greta put a small hole in her dress, but it hardly looked noticeable.
About half way down the hill, they came across a stream. At first, they thought it would ease their descent, but the spring water proved too cold for their sandaled feet. What is more, the rocks in that stream were all green and moss covered, making them very slippery and unsafe. They followed the stream as well as they could, Greta grateful for the fresh water. Toward the bottom of the hill, the stream cascaded off a twenty-foot outcropping in a little waterfall before it made a dramatic turn toward the river. It took some going out of their way to find a place where they could climb down safely.
When they returned to the bottom of the waterfall, Greta found that the rock curved inward at a nice angle to make a natural shelter. She checked the sun as well as she could and decided this would be as good a place as any to stop for the day. Hans looked tired, and honestly, so was she. While Hans went in search of firewood, Greta did her best to gather kindling and get things ready. She dug down to the dirt and just started to set stones around it in a circle when Hans came back with his eyes big and his behavior strange.
“What is it?” Greta asked. “A bear?”
“No, something spooky,” Hans insisted. “There are sounds and lights and noises behind me, but when I turn around it is still behind me, like breathing on my neck and about to grab me from behind. I kept turning, but it stayed always behind me.”
“Well,” Greta said, still struggling with her hurt and disappointment with Hans. “There’s nothing there now.” All the same, Hans craned his neck as far back as he could, he did a little dance like someone covered in cobwebs, and then he breathed.
“Start the fire,” Greta said and tossed him the tinder box. “I’ll get the wood.” And she smirked a little, though she did not mean to.
“It’s not funny,” Hans reacted. “I’m not kidding. There’s something out there.” Greta just turned and went thinking two things at once; that in this place she ought to take Hans more seriously, yet after the morning performance, how could she believe him?
Just inside the tree line, some twenty paces out, she found a recently fallen tree. The tree looked dead and dry, but not there long enough to be filled with worms, maggots, and dry rot. She started to gather up the branches when she felt it. It felt like fingers or a hairy legged spider crawling up her back. She spun around and put her back to the tree.
“Who is out there?” she asked in a loud whisper. “I don’t appreciate the spooky stuff. I have already been upset once today, now please don’t make me angry.” This, whatever it might be, was going to get the full force of her vented anger if it didn’t cut it out.
She turned to pick up her wood and felt the creepies on her leg. “That’s it!” She screamed, and Greta no longer stood there. Amphitrite, Salacia to the Latins, queen of the sea stood there instead and she felt everything Greta felt. She had pushed her way to the front because she knew how to vent better than most. She floated up about six feet. Her anger became hurricane in proportion, and she blew for a good five minutes. More trees got killed by lightening or blown down by the wind in those minutes than had been damaged in the last hundred years. Several miles away, the little Sylvan river boiled over its’ banks and became a temporary swamp, flooding everything for miles. Even the cascading stream became a torrential waterfall, which swept away Greta’s pile of sticks and frightened Hans half to death. And it rained so hard at that time, Hans had to duck under the rock outcropping just to breathe.
Then, as always happens with a storm at sea, after that time, Salacia felt warm and tranquil. Hans got forgiven. She even let up a small prayer for the hag because she knew the hag had once been human. She brushed the clouds away, left only enough in the western sky to catch the sun’s red, crimson and purple.
Salacia called to the wood, and it dutifully split itself and followed her back to camp. It piled itself neatly, and a few pieces set themselves in the center of Greta’s fire ring, now perfectly encircled with stones. They came immediately to life, not damp at all, and the flame burned brightly as Salacia floated back to the ground with a sigh. “I don’t think we will be bothered again,” she said, and went back to her own time, while Greta came back into her place, feeling all of the tranquility that Salacia had felt.
Greta sat down by the fire without a word.
Hans closed his mouth and spoke for her. “You were absolutely beautiful,” he said.
“I know,” Greta answered softly. “Inhumanly so. But weren’t you scared?”
“I’ll say,” Hans nodded. “I think I wet myself.”
Greta thought for a minute and nodded. “I was scared, too,” she said. And it felt true. She scared herself. Such power she never imagined!
“Who was that?” Hans asked, handing his sister a tear of bread.
“Salacia.” Greta said. “The Roman goddess.” Greta chewed on her meal and went immediately after to lie down. She pulled up the blanket and then raised a corner and looked at her brother. It could still get cold at night. “Well?” she asked.
“Is it safe?” He returned her question.
“For you, yes,” Greta said. She was not sure about herself. Authority be hanged. Greta never imagined, and still could hardly imagine that much power in one person. It felt limitless. Nameless always dampened and disguised his true nature, and Danna did the same. She had not realized. It was true; there was almost nothing a god could not do. She could have flattened the entire forest with a mere thought. It staggered and frightened Greta to think of it, but at the same time, it brought some understanding. She felt sorry for the ancient gods. That felt like more responsibility than anyone should have to bear.