R5 Greta: Birthday Girl, part 3 of 3

They got muffins from the baker because he had not yet made any cakes.  They got sausages which needed to be boiled, but they were well wrapped and would keep all day before cooking.  Greta thought she would pick up the eggs last so there would be less chance of breaking them before she got home; but first, she gave into Vanesca’s pressure and did what she intended all along.  Vanesca grinned and bubbled the whole time.

“Hello Drakka,” Greta said, to grab his attention.  He was working, and probably had been at work for some time to take advantage of the cool morning hours.  He stopped for a moment to say, “Hi,” while his friend, Rolfus stoked the fire. Then he went right back to what he was working on.  Greta waited.

Drakka stood tall and dark, a young man of twenty-one, and terribly strong.  Greta watched, breathless, as his muscles rippled in his work and the sweat on his clear skin glistened in the morning light.

“Steady,” Vanesca whispered and put a hand on Greta’s shoulder before Greta lost it altogether.

At last, Drakka finished and picked up a cloth to wipe his hands.  He came over for a visit while Vanesca kindly lost herself.  Greta had no idea where Yanda went.

“What brought you by so early this morning?” Drakka asked with a smile.

“Market.” Greta gave her one word answer and lifted her basket to show him the bread and sausages.  Her eyes and attention were all his.

“Ah, sweet sausages.”  He smiled again when he reached her.  “Hey Jodel.” He shouted over her shoulder. Greta turned and saw Jodel and Yanda talking beside the old oak that stood out in front of the shop.  Jodel looked up as Drakka spoke.  “That yoke is not going to fix itself.”

“Be right there.” Jodel excused himself and turned back to Yanda.

“They make a nice couple,” Drakka said, as he turned back to Greta.  “Now, I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

Greta did not really get upset by the interruption.  Rather, she decided it was now or never.  She picked up her courage and spoke.  “Today I’m seventeen.  I was wondering if you could take a break and walk me to the farmer’s market.  I have to pick up some eggs and things.”  Greta looked up into his eyes and she knew he would see hope in hers.  She only hoped he would not see the strength of her desire.

Drakka paused before he spoke.  “I’m sorry, Greta,” he said.  “With father gone off to council with your father, I just have too much work to do. Hey Jodel!”

“Coming.”

“Anyway,” Drakka said.  “Happy birthday.”  He put his hand to her shoulder and gave her a pat before he turned back to his forge.

He did not see. Just as well.  When he touched her, Greta’s eyes rolled up in her head, her eyelids closed and she became stiff, but pliable.  Her good friend, Vanesca, knew the symptoms and came out of hiding to guide her to where she could not be seen from the shop.  She sent Yanda back for the basket.

Greta had a vision, hardly the first time it happened.  Indeed, it was no secret that she had the sight like her grandmother.

Greta saw herself standing in a field in front of a jagged, rocky hillside which appeared to be part steep hill and part cliff.  From a great cave at the top, water poured out, making little waterfalls and steep mountain rapids.

The dead and dying surrounded her in the field, as if some great battle had just taken place. Greta felt she knew some of the dead men, but she could not see their faces clearly.  This spooked her, and the vision turned ugly.

Drakka stood there, and he had a rifle in his hands.  That felt terribly, irrevocably wrong.  He pointed the rifle at the Romans, the Lords Marcus and Darius. Then Greta became confused. Instead of encouraging Drakka to slay their foreign rulers, she tried to save the Romans, like Drakka was the enemy.

“No!”  Greta shouted louder and more utterly than she could ever shout in normal space and time.  She heard a distinct click and bang as the gun went off.  Then she woke up.

“You all right?” Vanesca asked.  Yanda just held her and offered every ounce of support she had. Greta nodded.  She could not speak yet, but she did indicate that she needed to sit quietly for a few moments.

“Drakka.” Greta heard Liselle’s voice.

“Liselle!” She heard the enthusiasm in Drakka’s voice.  She felt crushed.  Liselle was one of the beautiful ones Lord Marcus had mentioned.  She and Venice and Karina were pretty and popular.  Greta, who thought of herself as rather plain, felt stuck with the great mass of ordinary and desperate girls.  She wanted to be one of the greats, but she did not qualify.  Then again, she did not fit in with the masses, either; at least not since she was twelve.

At twelve years of age, Greta started to study with the Woman of the Ways, Mother Hulda, the old wise woman who lived at the very edge of the forest.  Greta would be expected to take over for Mother Hulda when the woman passed away, and as a result, she did not really fit in anywhere. Greta knew she was the right choice, perhaps the only choice to follow Mother Hulda, but the older she got, the more estranged she became from the everyday and the normal.  Even her friends were beginning to treat her different, and she felt tears form because of it.

“Steady,” Vanesca said, even as Liselle spoke.

“Are you ready?”

“A moment to wipe up and off my apron,” Drakka responded.  Greta saw them walk off together in the direction of the market.

“He’ll get tired of that flashy face soon enough.  You’ll see,” Vanesca said, but Greta understood the regular girls said that sort of thing all of the time.  She hated herself for knowing better.  Sometimes those little lies could keep a girl going.  Greta looked at her friends.  Vanesca smiled.  Yanda still looked concerned.

“I’m fine.” Greta patted Yanda’s hand to return some of the assurance she had been given.

“What did you see?”  Yanda asked about the vision.  She either missed the whole human drama that played out like a worn cliché right in front of her, or for once she showed good sense to change the subject.  Greta wanted to believe the latter, so she hugged her.

“I’m sorry,” she said.  She hugged Vanesca, too.  “I’m sorry if I ever thought bad about either one of you.  You are my two best friends in the whole world.”  As she spoke, Greta wiped the few little tears from her eyes and stood to wipe her dress and cloak.

“You’re my best friend, too,” Yanda said with a smile.

“What bad thoughts?” Vanesca asked through her own smile.

They did not go back to the farmer’s market.  They went home, and Mama had to go to the market herself, but she did not mind.  Not much later, Mama and the girls were all laughing, cooking and preparing a great birthday feast.  Hansel, or rather, Hans came in followed by three of his friends, Beliona, the prodigious Burtha and Vabona.  The women played with the youngsters like wives and husbands, and the young men seemed to enjoy the game well enough.

“Woman!” Fat little Burtha roared.  “Bring me drink, woman!”

“Yes, my Lord.” Vanesca responded with a curtsey. She brought a small cup of goat’s milk and dumped it on his head.  Burtha licked the drips.

“Selvanus’ beard, woman!” he roared again.  “At least it could be fermented.”

“I’ll have no drunks in my house.”  Yanda pulled the phrase out from her own experience at home, and she rapped Burtha on the noggin with a wooden cooking spoon.  Burtha dutifully pretended to go unconscious and slid under the table, which made everyone laugh, until Vabona interrupted by holding up his empty plate.

“More sausages!” he shouted.  Burtha immediately got up and looked angelic.  He was not about to miss out on thirds.

“Please.” Hans added for the sake of Greta and Mama.  The women rolled their eyes, but set out the rest of it.  Ten seconds and a half loaf of bread later and the boys headed toward the door.

“Thanks,” and, “Happy Birthday.”  Those were the last words out of them.  Beliona belched and they were gone, the door not quite closed behind them.

Vanesca and Yanda stayed to help clean up, but then they also needed to get home, and Mama had chores in the garden.  Greta had chores as well, only she did not feel like doing them.  She moped around for a while, missed Papa and Bragi and tried not to think about Drakka and Liselle; but at last she could not stand it any longer.  She packed her basket with a loaf of bread, some greens and the two sausages she had saved without knowing why.  She donned her red cloak and pulled up the hood against the wind, as she so often did. Then she laid a cloth on top of the basket to keep out the bugs and went to kiss Mama.

“I’m going to Mother Hulda’s,” she said.  “I should be back tomorrow.  I don’t know when.”

Mama nodded. “Yanda told me you had a vision this morning, but she did not say what you saw.”  Greta shook her head.  “Quite all right,” Mama said.  “Sometimes my mother would go years without a word about what she saw.  You go to Mother Hulda.  Maybe she can help.”  Mama turned back to her gardening but added an afterthought as she dug.  “Besides, Yani is due to have her baby any day now and I am sure Mother Hulda could use the help.  She is not exactly young, you know.”  Greta stooped down because Mama worked on her knees.  She pulled her mother’s hair back and kissed her cheek. Then, without a word, she headed for the main road.

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MONDAY

R5 Greta, the Woman of the Ways… where Greta has more than a simple vision.  Time itself opens up for the Kairos and Greta discovers she is not alone, and learns something worth knowing.  Until then, Happy Reading.

 

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R5 Greta: Birthday Girl, part 2 of 3

By the time Greta got home, her attention turned back to her tasks.  She needed to sew the tear in her little brother’s pants.  This was not the first time she had to sew it, but Mama said the way he kept growing, he would need new pants soon enough. They needed to make the old ones last as long as possible.

Greta pricked her finger with the needle.  She made no sound, but tasted the blood when her finger jumped to her mouth.  She would be seventeen in only two more days, and she missed her father and her older brother, Bragi.  Father went to the council in Ravenshold and he said that Bragi, nearly twenty, could go as long as he kept his mouth shut.  The council got called to elect a new high chief, but Papa had been gone three weeks and the people could not imagine what might be taking so long—unless there was war talk.  That talk had been bandied about for some six years, ever since the people found out that Hadrian died and Rome had a new emperor in Antonius Pius.  No one, however, had spoken such words seriously. For one, there had been plenty of rebellious days since Trajan conquered the land some forty years earlier.  The last time, however, the people had been mauled so badly, some wondered if Ravenshold would ever recover.  And then, the last high chief would hear none of the rebellious talk, so people kept their opinions in check.  Now, with the ascension of a new high chief, Greta feared that might change.  Some people seemed convinced that only war talk could delay the council so much, and they were beginning to fear that the Romans might find out.

Greta did her bit. She learned that Lord Darius was escorting this Marcus to the capitol.  Unfortunately, they had left within an hour of her encounter, so there was not much more she could learn.  And she still did not know who this Marcus might be.

Greta mended Hansel’s pants and caught him as he came bounding into the house.  “Hansel.”  She stopped him.  “Try these on.”

“Not now, Greta,” he protested.  “The gang is waiting.”

“This will only take a minute,” she insisted and held the pants out to him.

Hansel rolled his eyes and huffed, but he dropped his one pair of pants to try on the others. “You will make a great mother someday,” he said, in his most annoying voice.  Greta imagined it was the worst insult he could think of.

“Thanks.” Greta took it as a compliment, and felt rather pleased with herself, as she sat down to check the stitching.

After another huff, Hansel spoke again in his most serious voice.  “Sis.”  Greta knew it was serious because he never called her that unless he wanted to lean heavily on the familial relationship.   “Could you maybe call me Hans and stop calling me Hansel?  It’s embarrassing.”

Greta smiled. “Mama will never stop calling you Hansel,” she said, and it was true.

“I know.” He understood.  “But it’s different for grown-ups.  You expect that kind of thing.”

“Why is it different?”  She teased a little.  “I’ll be seventeen day after tomorrow and that is practically all grown up.”

“And I’ll be fourteen in three weeks,” he said in a loud and exasperated voice.  “Please, Sis.  It makes a difference when it is someone who is close, I said, close to your own age.”

Greta stared at him for a moment. He had such puppy-dog pleading in his eyes it made her want to hug and squeeze him like she did when she was seven and he was four. Time seemed frozen in that moment. He waited ever so patiently for her response, and she loved him so dearly.

“All right,” she said to his relief.  She handed back the pants he had been wearing and took back her work.  “I will try to remember, Hans.”  She had to say it out loud because it sounded so strange to her ears.

“Thanks Greta. Pact?”

“Pact,” Greta said and she spit on her first two fingers while he spat on his.  They touched fingertips.

“And you will be a great Mama someday,” Hans said.  This time he meant it as a compliment.

Greta smiled. “You just be a great Hans, and everyone will be happy.”

“I will,” he spoke again in his flippant, teenage voice.  He let out a shout as he burst out of the door to join his friends.

But Greta could not be entirely happy.  She would turn seventeen and her Papa would not be there.

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When that special morning came, Greta felt determined to make sure someone knew it was her birthday.  She had a certain someone in mind and because of that, she kissed Mama good-morning, had a hurried breakfast, kissed a sleepy headed Hansel, and left.  Hans, she corrected herself, as she slipped on her red cloak and went out the door.

“Greta.” She heard the voice but did not stop. “Greta, wait up.”  Greta stopped and frowned.  Vanesca and Yanda caught her; the ones she sometimes secretly, though not unkindly, thought of as Bubblehead and the Village Vegetable.

“Where are you going so early?” Vanesca asked.

“Market.” Greta gave a one word answer.  She turned and resumed her walk as the girls came up alongside.

“Going to see Drakka?”  Vanesca prodded.

Greta’s frown deepened.  “No,” she said.  “Mama wants some warm muffins and eggs that aren’t all picked over and cracked.”

Vanesca nodded to Yanda.  “She’s going to visit Drakka.”  The words were matter-of-fact.

“No,” Greta protested.  She pulled up the hood of her red cloak while she tried to think of something to prove her case.  “I am going to buy some sausages.”  It was the most outlandish thing she could think of.  Naturally, she had no money with her.  All she had was her basket, and as she thought of it, she was not sure her family had any money at all.  It did not matter.  Greta had made up her mind.  She would get some sausages.  Vanesca, however, took Greta’s outlandish statement as confirmation of her delusion.

“Oh, Drakka, definitely, and it must be important.”  Vanesca nudged Greta in the side.

Yanda’s words came from a half-step behind.  “Why would you visit the blacksmith’s son?” she asked.

Greta and Vanesca came to a complete stop.  Yanda bumped into them before she stopped herself.  The girls gave Yanda a look before Vanesca spoke.  “I’ll explain it to you when you are older,” she said, and Yanda screwed up her face.  They could almost see the water wheel working overtime, trying to pull the water all the way to the top.

“But I am older,” Yanda said.  “I’m eighteen and you and Greta are only sixteen.”

“I’m seventeen today.”  Greta smiled and turned to Vanesca.  “It’s my birthday.”  She said that to suggest that this was the real reason for her early trip to the market and for her sausage buying.  Vanesca did not quite buy it, but she said, “Happy birthday,” and they kissed like sisters.

“Ah!”  Yanda got excited.  “We have to get sweet sausage and some of those little cakes at the bakers.”

“Careful Yanda.” Greta spoke over her shoulder. “You will be eighteen and weigh a hundred stone.”

“What’s wrong with that?”  Yanda asked, and in some strange way it seemed a reasonable question.