After that, there only passed snatches of conversations until it got dark and their captors brought some mashed meal and water. It hardly seemed enough to sustain them, and Greta felt faint from hunger, having gone all day again without food. One meal a day was not easy. On the other hand, she imagined she might be losing some weight. She really did not want to get round, like Mama. That thought did not help much.
Each person found a place to lie down, alone. Drakka became the first to sleep. As soon as Drakka began to snore, Koren crawled over beside Greta. He shook her because her back was turned, but she was not asleep.
“Greta,” he whispered. “Greta, I want to tell you why we are here. Greta.” She stopped his hand.
“I’m listening,” Greta whispered in return.
“It was Drakka’s father, Eldegard. When the men rode out of the village after Lady Brunhild, he told us to keep an eye on things. He feared Jodel’s father or one of the others might raise more men to swell the ranks of support for the Romans. He said we were to watch and stop anyone who headed out for Ravenshold. He said if we could not stop them, we were to kill them. Then you left town to cross the forest to Ravenshold. We followed.”
“Drakka’s father, Eldegard?” She got a clear picture, and her suspicions had been correct. Darius was riding into a trap, to be squeezed between the hammer and the anvil.
“I want you to know.” Koren went on. “I only came along to see that Drakka did not hurt you. I-I wouldn’t like it if you were hurt.”
Greta looked at him and he looked away. She kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Koren,” she said, while he turned scarlet. “But you need to get some rest now. We should all try to get some sleep.”
“Yes, you are right,” Koren said, while Greta scolded herself for sounding exactly like her mother talking to the children. “I’ll be over here. Good-bye, I mean, goodnight Greta. I’ll see you later, in the morning. Goodnight.” He crawled to the other side of the room and Greta glanced at Rolfus. Rolfus’s eyes were open. He faced her and as far as she could tell, he heard everything.
“What?” She shot at him and tried hard to push her mother words away. She wanted to know if he had a problem.
“Who can sleep with that racket?” Rolfus frowned and pointed at Drakka, who snored. He turned over and presumably shut his eyes.
Greta also scooted down and tried to get comfortable on the bare floor. As she did, she got the distinct notion that Danna not only spoke to her, but said that she would probably have to pay a visit to the people in the morning, and perhaps visit this Bogus the Skin as well. Greta pulled back from the thought. What did that make her? Far from fighting her own battles, she felt in danger of becoming no more than a pawn of the gods. Nameless fought her enemies, Salacia kept her safe, and now Danna, to do what? Gerraint said he was supposed to fight his own battles. That only seemed fair.
“No.” She almost responded out loud. “But what does that make me, just a vessel for the gods to use and trash when they are done?”
“Greta will have to deal with the guns in her day.” She remembered what Salacia said a lifetime ago, and sighed. She turned away altogether from such thoughts and just as quickly, she found herself somewhere else.
Marcus, Darius, the Centurion Alesander, Herzglaw and Eldegard stood around a table in a tent of grand Roman design. They were no doubt arguing about how they should enter Ravenshold in the morning. As soon as Greta saw them, Darius picked a cloth from a pocket in his cloak and went out into the night air.
“M’lord?” Gaius stood by the tent door, faithfully on duty.
Darius waved off his questions. “They’ll argue a while longer, but in the end Marcus will have his way,” Darius said.
“M’lady?” Gaius asked another one-word question.
“It’s strange, Gaius, but despite being so far away I can almost sense her watching over me,” Darius said. “But I suppose that is the way of it. Foolish men go off to fight over foolish things while women stay home and wait and watch.”
Greta felt sure Darius spoke of his true love in far-away Rome. She imagined that cloth as her token. With a sudden surge of anger and hurt, she nearly lost the sight, but she settled herself and looked again.
“Women fight, too,” Gaius said. “And just as much, but in other ways and on other battlefields.”
Darius nodded, as if to say Gaius was probably right, but he said no more. He walked away from the campfires for a minute and stood under the natural light of the stars and the moon. Suddenly, he came sharply into focus.
“The road is an ambush.” Greta’s thoughts came quickly. “Beware of Eldegard.” Those thoughts poured out of her, again and again.
Darius’ eyes shifted, and for one brief moment it seemed as if they were looked eye to eye.
“Not tomorrow, but next morning. Look for me. Look for me.” She saw Darius lift his hand as if to touch her face and then she saw no more. Someone kicked her.
“Get up!” The voice yelled.
Greta got up quickly, blinking against the bright morning light that streamed in the doorway. Drakka and Koren were being kept back by two men with swords. Rolfus was still lying down, saying things in Dacian which made Greta hope the guards did not understand the language.
Despite Greta’s willing compliance, the one who kicked her also shoved her out the door. She spoke her feelings in his language.
“Don’t do something you might later regret,” she said.
“Shut-up.” He responded with a slap across her face. Drakka and Koren both jumped but the door got slammed shut in their faces. Drakka let out some epithets, but he got ignored. Greta felt the blood in the corner of her mouth, but she barely had time to touch it before she got dragged down the street. She was not given the option of walking. When they reached the center square, she ended up thrown face down in the dirt.
“I said fetch her, Vedix. I didn’t say damage her.” Baran spoke. He stood in the square with a number of men and one very old woman who was allowed a chair in which to sit.
“Sorry.” Vedix retorted with a laugh.
“He lies,” the old woman said. The woman looked at Greta with a touch of sympathy as Greta got herself up and did her best to brush herself free of the mud.
“Fae.” Greta remembered the woman’s name. “I am pleased to meet you.” And she was glad, indeed, to see another woman in the midst of all the men. She hoped they might hear a woman’s counsel, and she also hoped that she and this druid, or wise woman might find some mutual ground on which to bond.
After a brief pause, Fae spoke softly. “She does not lie.”
Greta looked at Baran and her curiosity must have shown. He nodded, and explained.
“They say her grandfather was of the Vee Villy, though some believe he may have been one of the other spirits who haunt these woods. Her father, the child of that rape, was never right. He used to run off into the woods and disappear for days at a time. Some said he went to dance to strange music in the fairy circles in the wilderness, under the moonlight. Some say his other half needed time to live as well. Other times, he seemed more normal. They say when we escaped to these woods some seventy years ago, had it not been for him and his power over the animals and growing things, we all would have starved.” Baran paused to shrug. It all seemed mythology to him.
“In one of his more human moments, he impregnated a girl who gave birth to twins and promptly died in the birthing. He disappeared, though some say he ran away and was lost in the mountains of Agdala, the Dragon.” He shrugged again. “But for us, the question was what to do with the twins. After long debate, it was decided to give one to the Vee Villy in the hope that they would continue our prosperity without him here. That prosperity has continued to this day.” He paused to take a breath. He did not strike Greta as a believer in the earth spirits, but most of his people did believe, and as a politician, he blew with that prevailing wind.
“Gypsies.” Greta named the people. “It is so diluted now as to be almost nonexistent, but they, too, have the blood of the Vee Villy in their ancestry and have been cursed because of it.”
Fae’s eyes widened to imagine Greta knew anything at all about the Gypsies. “She does not lie.” Fae said. But Baran gave Greta a hard, cold stare.
“Sorry,” Greta said. “Please go on.”
“Our Fae returned to us as you can see,” Baran continued. “And she has served her people well for more years than any can remember. But her greatest service has been to know when someone is telling the truth and when someone is telling lies. She knows without fail,” Baran said, and he looked like he might be gloating. “So be careful how you answer.”
Greta, however, read the man more deeply than he imagined. She knew this was all show. If she hung herself, that would just make things easy, but if she did not, he had already decided her fate. It really was not fair, not the least because she was still having a hard time responding well in pressure situations. Don’t panic, she told herself.
“Greta.” She responded. “The Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, Greta, and I am also called the Kairos, but as the Kairos I have had and will have many names.” She looked up.
“What?” Baran gave her a stern look, but that stern look changed to surprise when he heard Fae give a little gasp.
“She does not lie.”
Baran tried again. “How old are you?”
“I am seventeen.” Greta said to Baran’s satisfaction, but she had not finished. “And I am over four thousand six hundred years old, though I cannot say exactly how much over.”
“What does that mean?” Baran threw his hands up when he heard Fae.
“She speaks the truth.” Fae looked at Greta with a strange and curious look on her face.
Baran gave it one more try. “You are the Wise Woman for your people?” He asked.
“What more?” Baran asked without waiting for Fae to verify her honesty.
Greta herself did not know where these thoughts came from, but she repeated them with certainty. “An experiment in time and genetics, a safety valve for the gods, the Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, goddess to the little spirits of the earth, Lady of Avalon…”
“Shut-up.” Baran roared. He threw his hands at her as if to say she started speaking nonsense, but Fae spoke clearly.
“She does not lie.”