They walked their horses the rest of the day, surrounded by men of the Wolf Clan. Greta felt comfortable enough to send her armor away and recall her plain dress and red cloak. The elder of the Wolf Clan saw and blinked before Hermes interrupted. He sounded Greta’s note and said when he first saw the men of the Wolf, he thought of Greta’s story about the Were people changing into animals. Greta assured him the Were people were all gone, but if he happened to come across a human werewolf, he could unfortunately blame that on the Were people.
Like the other villages of the Celts, the village of the Wolf Clan had been surrounded by a strong stockade. This one had six feet of stone at the base into which whole trees had been set and bonded with some kind of mortar. This time, their big guide, an elder among the Wolves named Dunova, volunteered to bed the men for the night. He took the women to Briana’s cousins. Briana’s grandmother belonged to the Wolf Clan.
“Lynnux is gone, taken by a Lazyges arrow, but Gwen, the lady of the house keeps a good home, and she has three strong sons to fetch whatever you might be needing.” With that, Greta, Mavis and Briana were left alone, and Greta stepped up to the doorway to offer a word.
“Blessings be upon this house and all who dwell herein.”
Gwen welcomed Greta warmly, and her three sons, Devon, Hyfer and Nudd fawned over Mavis even as they made sure Greta stayed between them and Briana. Poor Mavis hid her head in Greta’s shoulder, embarrassed at such attention. Curiously, Gwen ignored Briana, and Greta felt the snub right away.
She felt the ill will in the air, but Briana kept her thoughts to herself as she removed her sword and set down her bow and arrows. They all felt the cold quiet in the house apart from Gwen’s prattling on about being so honored to have a true druid in her home, and a woman besides.
“So, when are you going to give your niece a hug and welcome her to your home?” Greta interrupted in a voice that almost sounded rude. Gwen frowned before she pasted on a fake smile and reached for Briana. Briana shared the hug. Briana seemed willing, but uncomfortable.
“Please explain,” Greta insisted as she sat at the table. Mavis looked up to listen even as Gwen looked down at her feet.
“It is my sons,” Gwen confessed. Devon, Hyfer and Nudd wisely let their mother speak first. “They are all fine boys and any one of them would make a fine husband, but Briana has refused them all.”
“She said she would marry the one who bested her,” Devon spoke up. “And she offered the sword, the bow, or just to wrestle.”
“We all tried,” Hyfer added. “She broke poor Nudd’s arm.”
“I can’t lift it higher than this,” Nudd said as he lifted his right arm as high as his head but no further.
“She hurt my boys, her own kin.” Gwen said, stiffly.
“You mean she hurt you,” Greta countered and reached out to gently pat Gwen’s hand. “Your boys should be married, and you know it. But you are stubborn and punishing them because Briana turned them down. You know Briana is not for your boys, and you have known that for some time now. You need to let her go and let them go.”
Gwen turned red and angry, but Greta’s words were so kindly spoken and so evidently true, there seemed nothing she could say in protest. She began to cry, softy.
“Mother.” Devon reached for her, but Mavis got there first. As an empathetic elf, she had a magical touch in the comfort she offered as well as the tears she shared.
“Boys,” Greta got their attention. “Find a nice young woman and be faithful to her. Don’t let anyone prevent you from the pursuit of happiness.” And Greta judged from their expressions that Devon and Hyfer already had nice young girls in mind.
“I could—” Briana began to speak, but Greta hushed her.
“You have always been more like a sister to these boys,” Greta said, and she saw in the faces of the boys where her words rang true. “Now if you boys will excuse us; I need to have a talk with your sister.” She stood, took Briana by the elbow and escorted her outside.
“But I know a couple of young women,” Briana said, with a look back.
“I think Devon and Hyfer have already been selected by a couple of young women, and I doubt they had much to say about it. Nudd is the only one that might need help.”
“Oh, but he is the hard one,” Briana thought. “Not too bright,” she explained.
“But faithful and honest, I bet. And stubborn like his mother. He does not give up easily which is why you had to break his arm.”
Briana looked down just like Gwen. “I am sorry about that. I’ve said I am sorry a thousand times.”
“A gazillion times,” Greta said, as she factored in inflation. It became a distraction that allowed Greta to reach out and catch Briana’s face in her hands. She looked into her eyes. Greta emptied her own thoughts to see what she might perceive. She caught sight of a man, and caught something of the training Briana received, and from a woman, a goddess, but before the pictures became clear, someone in her future blurted out, “Vulcan mind meld.” Greta responded. “Not funny,” and let go of Briana’s face as she framed her thoughts.
“There is a man for you, and you know him. I offer no advice on that. But you also know that you are an elect, a one-in-a-million warrior woman, and as such you are faster and stronger and better with a sword and bow than any farm boy. You are like Atalanta, but you are not Atalanta. You played a silly game with an unfair advantage, and I feel you need to apologize.”
“Me apologize?” Briana did not imagine she did anything wrong.
“Yes,” Greta said in her most firm and certain voice. “You need to apologize to your Aunt Gwen for not being honest with her from the beginning.”
“I tried, but she would not hear it.”
“So, you needed to try some more and try harder, but even so, her hearing you or not is no excuse for not being honest about your feelings. You dragged the boys into your game, and now she has berated them to no end, and they are miserable.”
“Apologize and just tell the truth.” Greta smiled and headed back to the door. Briana followed one step behind. As they came in, Gwen paused in her tears and looked up. Briana took a deep breath and spoke from the heart.
“Aunt Gwen, I’m sorry for not being honest with you from the beginning. I love your boys very much, but like brothers, not like husbands, and no amount of time is going to change that. I played a silly game which I see now gave you hope that something might be worked out. I am sorry.”
Gwen got right up and grabbed Briana for a big, genuine hug. “It’s all right. It’s all right,” she said it twice. “You are like the daughter I never had, and I love you very much. All I want is for you and my sons to be happy.” The tears were still leaking from the corners of Gwen’s eyes, and now they appeared in Briana’s eyes as well. All the boys could do was smile. This was what they had been praying for. The tense atmosphere in the room deflated and everyone relaxed whether they realized it or not. Mavis grinned ear to ear, almost too much for a human face, but then she got serious again as she spoke.
“Oh, but lady, we have a feast to attend.”
“Quite right.” Greta hardly felt immune from the good feelings that now filled the room. “Boys, please escort you mother and sister. We need to celebrate.” She turned and lead the way back to the open ground just inside the front gate where the bonfire had already been lit and the sound of laughter could already be heard. She only stalled her progress to get a last word to Devon and Hyfer.
“Listen well, your mother will soon fall back into the bad habit of berating you and preventing you from spending time with your young women in any way she can. You must not let that stop you. Marry those women, and your mother may soften some when she has grandchildren.” They appeared to understand.