Everything on the table tasted wonderful, just the right temperature, including some of the fruit, which was chilled. The woman merely sat at the head of the table the whole time and watched, mostly Wlvn. Wlvn felt uncomfortable having those eyes trained on him, but for most of the time he got too busy stuffing his face to protest. When she produced the raspberry ices at the end of the feast, Wlvn finally had to say something.
“My Lady is too kind to us poor travelers,” he said, and she smiled at his sentiment while he continued. “Have you tried orange ices? You must, though I don’t know where you can get oranges this time of year outside of Italy or perhaps Iberia.”
The lady opened her beautiful blue eyes just a little wider and brushed her long, blond hair behind her ear. “I thought you were the one,” she said, without explanation.
Wlvn returned her smile and got to the point. “I would not like to impose on your hospitality, but we are being pursued by Loki’s creatures and I would be most grateful if you would give us sanctuary for the night.” Wlvn had looked out the long window in the room and he saw that the sun getting ready to set.
The lady eyed him for another moment before she answered. “Your horses will be safe. The creatures will not come up to the house, though I may require you to teach me how to ride one of the beasts.” She paused to flash her smile for him once more. “As for the rest, your rooms are already prepared. If you will follow me.” She stood. Somehow, she had changed out of her robe and skintight clothes and now wore a dress, still skintight from the waist up, and which did not even fall to her knees, and when she walked, moved in a way to where it is safe to say the three travelers who followed her did not see any other parts of that great house.
“For your servants,” the lady said and opened a door to a room with two beds. She stepped back to let Wlkn and Badl enter the room, and she took Wlvn by the arm. He could hardly protest, though he thought she seemed taller when he first saw her. Presently, she looked just tall enough for her head to top out about at his eyes. That made her his perfect height, as Wlvn supposed, and he had no doubt that was what she wanted to be. “Call if you need anything.” The lady turned Wlvn to walk down the hall.
“My friends will be safe, Ydunna?” Wlvn had to ask. He knew the woman’s name. She was the goddess of youth, keeper of the golden apples.
Ydunna stopped in mid stride and turned to face him. Clearly, she had made herself to be as ordinary and human as possible and looked a little miffed that he guessed. He looked down into her blue eyes and saw her change of mind as she pulled herself in real close and planted her lips on his. What could he do but oblige? But when they parted, he spoke again.
“My friends will be safe?”
Ydunna looked miffed again. “Yes,” she said. “And your horses. The Alfader says your mission is too important to keep you here, much as I might like.” She looked up again into his eyes and smiled as if in search of another kiss, but then she seemed to change her mind and turned him toward a door. That room was filled with a great big double bed, and Wlvn thought that maybe the Goddess did not change her mind after all. “In the meantime, you are mine tonight, and you will always have a bed here when you want it.” The way she said that gave Wlvn chills, as she followed Wlvn into the room and closed the door behind her, tight.
“What about your husband?” Wlvn asked.
“Oh, I’m not married,” Ydunna responded.
Wlvn quickly grabbed her to keep her at arm’s length. He studied her for a minute. “Only because you are so young,” he concluded. “What are you, fifty? Sixty?”
Ydunna dropped her eyes for the first time. “How could you possibly know that?” She asked.
“I’ve been around.” Wlvn softened a bit.
Ydunna looked up, and the look in her eye made her look like a cat and Wlvn felt like the mouse. “But I just love red hair.” She reached up to lay her hand tenderly on his cheek. Wlvn became afraid she might start to purr or growl at any moment, so he felt he had no choice but to change. One second Ydunna stroked Wlvn’s young cheek and looked longingly into his eyes and the next second she snatched her hand away like she had been burned. Wlvn went away and Flern came to stand in his place; and Flern frowned at the goddess.
Ydunna backed away and thought for a second before she came to a conclusion. “I don’t go that way.”
“I don’t either,” Flern said. “But look, as lovely, desirable and attractive as you are, my Wlvn has not had a good night’s sleep in three nights. He really needs to rest, if you follow what I am saying. Please, not tonight. Maybe some other night, but not tonight. Okay?”
Ydunna looked down for the second time. “But maybe it is too late,” she said. “I painted his ice with ambrosia. Odin said he was going to go against the Titan, and I was afraid he might need some extra help. He should be immortal now. What?” She asked what because Flern kept shaking her head.
“It doesn’t work on me. I’m immune. Whoever is in control to make sure I keep getting reborn at the right time and in the right places has taken me out of the hands of the gods altogether. Ambrosia is just apples to me. Oh!” It became Flern’s turn to act startled and Ydunna responded appropriately.
“I just realized. Wlkn and I shared a taste of our ices because I didn’t think mine tasted like raspberries. That old man had a taste of ambrosia.”
“No! He can’t have had enough to be made immortal.”
“No, but I bet he gets a fair bit younger.” Flern started to laugh and Ydunna joined her in her laugh, and even put out her hand to touch Flern’s hand in a spirit of sharing. “You really blew that one,” Flern said.
“Now what is that old man going to do?” Ydunna asked and both girls began to laugh again just thinking about it. Then at once the laughter stopped and Ydunna looked hard into Flern’s eyes. “You know; you look exactly like him in a way. You have the same skin, same hair and same eyes.”
“We have the same soul,” Flern said.
“I know that, but I mean you look exactly alike, except you are a girl and he is very much a young man.”
“Thanks for that,” Flern said.
Ydunna patted Flern’s hand before she took her own hand back. “All right. I won’t have him tonight. I will let him rest, but remember, you promised I will have a turn.”
“No, no.” Flern spoke quickly. “I said maybe. The gods never make promises, and you might as well learn that now before you get any older.”
“We don’t?” Ydunna had to think. “I never heard that before. The gods never make promises?”
“Exactly.” Flern patted Ydunna’s hand this time and went away, letting Wlvn return to his own place and time. “That way you never promise something that you can’t deliver or that gets you in trouble later on.”
Ydunna put her hand to her mouth at the change. “That is remarkable the way you do that.” She stepped in and grabbed him and kissed him good night, but like she meant, see you later. “Just so you remember me,” she said, as she pulled away. Then a wry little grin crossed her face. “Right now, I have to go check on an old man.” She left, and Wlvn thanked Flern with all his mind and heart because there was no way he was going to be able to resist Ydunna if she became really determined. Wlvn tried not to think of poor Wlkn as he crawled up into the big bed. It turned out to be not much of a struggle for him to put Wlkn and everything else out of his mind because his head only touched the pillow and he fell asleep.
When Wlvn returned to the dining room in the morning, he found the table set once again with every delectable food to break his fast, but this time Ydunna did not come around. Badl came in and joined him as he partook of the feast, and Wlkn came in last of all, slapping his hands against his skinny chest. The gray hair was black again and it looked like a full head of hair. His teeth were restored, the wrinkles were all gone, and his eyes sparkled with vitality and youth.
“Good,” Wlvn said. “So you can carry your own grain again to the center of the universe and once again risk being selected. Pass the butter.” He said the last to Badl who obliged with a straight face.
Wlkn sat down quietly, having the wind knocked out of him a little with that comment. “Now, that was hardly something to bring up when I was just thinking how good it felt to be a man again.”
“You have my sympathies,” Badl said. “Fortunate for me, I was never a man in the first place. Pass the bread.” Wlvn passed it and tried not to grin too hard.
Wlkn placed his chin in his hand, his elbow on the table and stared hard at his two companions. He looked like he was ready to sulk until Wlvn spoke up. “You better fill your plate. No telling when we may get a next meal, and you are skinny as a sapling, new man or not.”
Wlkn said nothing, but he did fill his plate, twice. Then he mumbled as he sat back with a contented grin on his face. “Still, it’s been a good dream so far, overall.”
A good sleep and a good meal helps, but the night creatures are still after them and Badl can’t think of where to lead them except into the swamp. Happy Reading