Flern sat straight up in bed. Poor Wlvn just lost eight months of his life, somewhere in time. Hardly fair, she thought.
“Flern!” The reason Flern woke up from her afternoon nap became apparent when her baby sister came bounding into the room. Gurdi turned fifteen, hardly a baby anymore. The real baby in the family belonged to twenty-year-old Thul who already had a girl of her own. Flern felt glad for her older sister, and not the least because the infant took some of the pressure off of her to marry as soon as possible.
“Stenis is taking the young men out on a hunt this afternoon.” Gurdi spoke as she plopped down on the end of Flern’s bed. “Isn’t it wonderful the way he takes charge. He is so dreamy.” Gurdi looked up at the ceiling, so she did not see her sister’s frown.
“I’m going for a ride this afternoon.” Flern acknowledged that her nap had become impossible. “Alone.” She knew what her sister wanted. Gurdi wanted to take her to the market and make small talk all day long with a bunch of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, and maybe do some sewing or basket weaving with more gossip. No thank you.
“But Flern!” Gurdi bounced on the bed just to be sure Flern did not plan to go back to sleep.
“Not a chance.” Flern escaped the bed out the other side. “And yes, Stenis is dreamy, if you think so.” She would not quite concede that any sixteen-year-old boy could be dreamy. Flern dressed quickly while Gurdi exaggerated all of Stenis’ dreamy qualities, then Flern heard something that got her feet moving.
“Flern,” Mother called from the other room, and that meant there would be chores. Flern went to her window and stared hard at Gurdi. Gurdi crossed her heart and looked up once while Flern escaped to the outside. It did not matter what Gurdi promised. Flern knew her sister would tell Mother in the next few nanoseconds, so Flern had to hurry.
Flern ran to the stables and only snatched her bow and quiver along the way. No one rode or shot with her much anymore. Vinnu and Thrud were too busy being married, and Pinn stayed too busy not touching Vilder. Elluin also stayed too busy being stupid with Drud, and Flern’s stooges were not around much, thank the gods. Flern whistled from behind the barn. She did not dare step into the open for fear of being caught, and she let out a soft whistle besides, but she knew Bermer would hear. Sure enough, after a minimal wait, Bermer the mare came trotting around the corner. Flern got right up and took off for the river. She had in mind to ride up the back of the hill to the cliff’s edge, and maybe take her nap there where her mother and sister could not find her.
“Okay,” Flern confessed to Wlvn for the hundredth time as she rode. “So I named my horse after your sister, but only because she is the sweetest thing I could think of.” Then Flern stopped talking altogether. She did not want conversation at the moment. She wanted to be alone and undisturbed, and that included Wlvn and all of her other lifetimes, at least the ones she could remember.
Flern let her mind wander as she rode, the way Wlvn had when he rode to the edge of his universe. She realized that essentially Wlvn got it right about her and her friends. Pinn had her Vilder in a commitment, though they were not married yet, just engaged. Vinnu had her Gunder, and they were married, and Thrud, the not nearly as beautiful as her name might lead you to believe, had her Tiren, and they were about to be married. Elluin looked like she was not going to give up on Drud, though there was no official word there yet, and that left Flern with her three Bozo the Clowns. We are all Bozos on this bus, she thought.
Of course, there was Kined, even if Flern did not feel allowed to think of him in that way. He remained just a very good friend, maybe her best friend. He told her that, even as he seemed to finally be giving up on Elluin. In fact, the last time beautiful, blonde Elluin ran away from Drud, Kined had not been there for her, hard as it must have been for him. He confessed how hard it felt to his good friend Flern in private, and Flern did her best to comfort him. Hugging seemed to help. Come to think of it, she and Kined spent a lot of time together in the last year; but Flern imagined it as no more than a sort of a misery loves company kind of thing. Kined seemed heartbroken over Elluin, and Flern needed some rest from her daily duty of telling her stooges, “No, I don’t want to marry you.” Good thing Bunder never asked. Actually, he never said more than two words to her in her whole life. She would have gone mad, though, if she had to say no four times a day.
Flern dismounted and climbed the hill to the little grassy spot at the top. The rocks still held a bit of ice, so she had to be careful, especially when she approached the cliff. She started moping by then and so she did not pay her full attention, but she managed not to slip. She had spent a year and a half badgering the Elders in the village to mount an expedition to go over the mountains and bring back the technology of bronze. At first, the Elders simply refused to listen to her. Then, the more she badgered them, the more stubborn they became against the idea. In the end, even some of her friends began to doubt what they had seen with their own eyes when they were, as they called it, “mere children.”
Couldn’t they see? This would be the only way they would have any hope against the Jaccar, and by then, no one doubted that the Jaccar were coming. Flern reached down to her side where she had begun to carry a copper knife. She said it helped cut her meat, but to be sure, it was the kind of knife with which she could skin her meat, not just cut it. She drew it out and used it like a pretended sword. She would be the woman warrior if she had to be, but her movements were awkward, and she knew it.
“Ga!” She spoke to herself. “All of the other lives I live are so dashing and capable.” She thought of the Princess as the true woman warrior, and Diogenes, sometimes called Alexander’s eyes, as a warrior in the extreme. Flern brandished her pretend sword again, pretending to be Diogenes, she cut down Persian after Persian. Doctor Mishka and the Storyteller had such skill, and they knew so much. “I ain’t got no edjumication.” Flern said, out loud, though whether it came out in her own tongue or the Storyteller’s English, it felt hard to say. Nor did it matter. She started to wonder why the goddess Amphitrite and the Nameless god put up with her as one of their lifetimes. What could she do? She began to cry, sat on the grass and felt like an ant, like a bit of temporal dust, totally useless. The women she had been in other days were all so beautiful, and the men were simply the best. Who was she?
“Now, now.” Flern heard a woman’s voice, and at first, she thought it might be the Princess. “You were just thinking about possible husbands and who might be a good father for your children. If you can handle that, surely you can handle a little southern vacation.”
Flern shook her head. “I’m not good enough to be the Kairos.” She felt shocked when she felt an arm slip around her shoulder. She looked, but all she saw at first was the cloak and the hood pulled up.
“My son,” the hood said. “Even when you are my daughter.” And Flern knew who it was; Vrya, mother of the Nameless god she would one day be. While she found it a little frightening at first to be held so tenderly by a goddess, that did not prevent her from having a good cry. Vrya pulled back her hood and let the girl cry it out while she spoke softly through the tears. “Sweetheart. We all don’t like ourselves, sometimes. Consider the responsibilities I carry. Many is the time I wished I was just a normal, mortal woman. After Od was taken from me, I thought I would be chaste and never have a child of my own, but here you are, even as you will be one day, and I am holding you and telling you that everything will be all right.” These were powerful words, coming as they did from the lips of a goddess. Flern could not help crying a little harder and burying herself in the warmth offered until she got it all out of her system.
After a while, Flern pulled back her head and tried to smile while she wiped her eyes. Mother Vrya smiled for her and brushed her red bangs back out of her eyes. “Feeling better?” she asked. Flern nodded. Of course, she felt the peace that so often comes after a good cry. Mother Vrya just nodded and tapped Flern on the forehead.
Flern immediately remembered the tap on Wlvn’s head all those years ago. “What was that?” Flern asked and looked up for a second as if she could see her own forehead, as if Mother Vrya pasted something there.
“But I thought—”
“Every mortal human is in our hands, and even the half-humans, but not you. You live beyond the reach of the gods. You are a very special person despite what you may be feeling at the moment.” Vrya touched Flern’s nose and smiled as she spoke. “But what I can do is hide who you are for a time so others may not notice.”
“Like you hid Wlvn from Loki.” Flern got excited. She suddenly understood.
Vrya nodded. “Now then. I understand you have learned about the discovery south of the mountains. I would say you have a decision to make as to what you will do.” She turned Flern’s attention out over the Cliffside to the village and helped Flern’s eyes see what her eyes unaided would never have seen. The Jaccar had arrived, and it looked like they took the village completely by surprise. The men were already being herded into a hastily erected compound, though the women and children still appeared to be in their homes, for the present. Flern’s countenance dropped once again. She knew it was long past time she should have gone for the bronze, herself. She chided herself for waiting and pleading with foolish old men and believing that they would eventually do something. All this time, she should have known that it would be up to her. There wasn’t anyone else, and she felt like such a fool.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Mother Vrya said. “Go and collect what friends you can and plenty of horses. Some will suffer while you are away, but you stand a good chance of getting there and back, and on your return, you should save most.”
“Most? A Good chance?”
“About fifty-fifty,” Vrya said, which did not sound all that reassuring. “In part, it will depend on how willing you are to be who you are. Don’t be slow to ask for help when you need it and do your best. That is all that anyone can do.” And Mother Vry simply was not there anymore.
Flern sat there for a little bit and stared down toward her village. She would have to go over the mountains herself, she decided, though Mother Vrya had been right about one thing: she needed to have her friends with her. She needed to wait until dark. With that, Flern curled up on the grass. Now she needed that afternoon nap more than ever. She tried not to think about it all, though she did not imagine her mind would let her rest. She actually fell asleep thinking, It’s the stress that gets you.