R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 1 of 3

Greta was met at the bottom of the Mount by two men.  She did not recognize the older one, but the younger, the one who hugged her, turned out to be her brother Bragi.

“You should not be here.”  Bragi spoke plain.

“Who is this fool?” the older man asked.

“She is my sister,” Bragi said.  “The young Mother in Waiting.”

“Mother Hulda is dead.”  Greta told them both.  They had not heard.  “I am the woman of the ways now.”

Bragi hugged her again.  “I’m sorry, Greta.  That must be a terrible loss for you.”

“What is your business here?”  The older one asked rather than demanded, though he clearly did not seem overly impressed.  He knew Mother Hulda.  He did not know Mother Greta.

“You should not be here,” Bragi repeated himself.

“My business is a peace offering for the gods.  This statue is consecrated to the gods and it is for the high priest, Vasen, and for his hands alone.”  She spoke with as much authority as she could muster, but it fell on deaf ears.

“Give it. Let me see.”  The man sneered and grabbed the cloth covered statue from Greta’s hands.  When she tried to hold on to it, he shoved his straight arm into her shoulder, bruised her shoulder and knocked her to the ground where she fell on a fairly sharp rock.

Bragi stepped between and protested, but the older man stared him down.  Bragi’s fist clenched and unclenched before he turned to help his sister.

“That is dedicated to the gods.”  Greta spoke up.  “How dare you touch it.”  The man, however, uncovered it and his eyes nearly leapt from his head for all of the inlaid gold and precious stones.

“I am sorry for you, but you must consider your hands forfeit.”  Greta said.  It had been a part of the plan which she had hoped she would not have to activate. The Lords Burns and Madwick shot from the statue and attached themselves to the man’s hands.  The man screamed and dropped the precious object, but too late. The fire got on him.  He could not put it out or shake it off or rub it out on the grass, or in any way save his hands.  His screams brought other men who stared, helpless and horrified.  Greta picked up the statue.  Burns and Madwick sped quickly back into the bear and the lioness, and Greta covered the statue again before anyone else got too close.

The man wept. It all happened rather fast.  Even in that short time, the man’s hands were red, full of blisters and with a couple of blackened spots.  “This is a peace offering consecrated to the gods.”  Greta repeated herself for the others who had come. “It is for the hands of the priest. It is not for you to touch.”  She considered the men around her.  She pointed to one and gave the man a small jar of salve she had prepared for this possibility.  “I cannot heal what the gods have decided, but this may help soothe the pain and suffering a little.”

“Yes ma’am, thank you,” the man said, and took the jar most carefully.

“Mother Greta,” Bragi announced.  “Mother Hulda is dead.”

“The Little Mother,” someone said.  Greta did not see who, but she guessed it was a man from Boarshag.

“Please escort me to the temple.”  She decided it would be better to ask for an escort than have some newly arrived fool repeat the mistake of the first one.  Bragi took his sister’s arm.  Greta tried not to limp, and after a short way she walked better.  Everyone else walked either in front or behind, and kept their distance, besides.

“Papa was right,” Bragi whispered.  “War is not the answer.”

Greta nodded. “You fought?”

Bragi took a deep, shaky breath.  “I killed a man,” he said.  “During the battle I felt nothing, but after, I felt something I never felt before and never imagined feeling.”

“What was that?” Greta had to ask.

“I felt ashamed,” he said, and Greta put her arm around his waist to return a bit of his hug. They walked in silence for a minute, but near the top, Greta felt she had to speak, quickly.

“Much has happened since you came here with Papa.  None have spoken, but many wonder why the son of the high chief opposes his father.”

“Kunther is the high chief,” Bragi said.  “Papa is a sham meant to fool the Romans.”

“No, Bragi.” Greta spoke quietly but clearly. “Papa is the true high chief, and that is how nearly all of the people see him.  That is why the people have not risen up to Kunther’s call, because the high chief has told them not to.  And Papa would be here, himself, fighting Kunther, if he were not wounded.”

What?” This all came as news to Bragi, and the important thing being Papa’s wound.

“Yes,” Greta said. “Lady Brunhild tried to have him assassinated.”  Greta had to be quiet, then, and Bragi could not respond.  They were at the door to the Temple, and Kunther stood there, waiting. Obviously, word had run ahead.

Kunther looked her over closely as Vasen got escorted forward.

“Mother Greta,” Vasen said, and gave her the respect due, heedless of the dirty look Kunther gave him.  “You should not have come.”

“Only I could come, safely,” Greta said, and gave Kunther a look that said he had better not do something stupid; a look with which Kunther seemed all too familiar, having seen it in his mother’s eyes so often.  “I have been given this gift of peace, dedicated to the gods and for service in the temple.”

Kunther turned away to examine the hands of the man from below, so Greta simply walked in. She got followed by Bragi and Vasen, and then the whole crowd, but altogether they barely filled a fraction of that great, pillared shrine.  The Temple looked like an enormous building, more like a medieval cathedral than a pagan temple.  She did not doubt that Rome was impressed.  She felt impressed, herself.

R5 Greta: And Back Again, part 2 of 3

Greta looked up to see her escort of friends and the craftsmen waiting patiently.  They all stared at her, and she knew why. With each thought, she had been a different person of the Kairos.  She had been a different Traveler and without even realizing it.  She became Greta again, but she imagined the whole process had been something to watch.  It seemed something to experience.  She never skipped a beat in her thought processes.  It felt like she was only one person doing all of that thinking, which, of course, she was, regardless of who she appeared to be, outwardly.

“Master Burns,” she said.  “I need four fire sprites for a dangerous mission.  I cannot guarantee survival, so it must be purely voluntary.  If there are not four, I will understand.”  She outlined her problem and her plan to the craftsmen, and when she finished, Lord Madwick answered her.

“No problem with volunteers,” he said.  “Far too many, I would imagine.”  That settled things.

Greta made Berry come home for supper, even though Berry protested, vigorously.  She made Berry get big and get into her own bed to sleep.  Berry whined her teenage best, but barely hit the pillow before she fell fast asleep. It had been a long, tiring day.

Greta spent a little time trying to imagine what her confrontation with Lady Brunhild might be like, but soon enough, she too slept, and she rested.

In the morning, Berry had gone.  It took no insight to realize that she got up in the middle of the night and snuck out to frolic with her new friends under the moon.

That morning, Greta had a bite to eat in her room, and then she sat in the tub long enough to wizzle her toes while several elf maids made a fuss over her.  They painted her nails, trimmed her brows, fixed her hair, even added some fairy braids, and fixed her face just so.  Greta tried the mirror.  The elfs could do magic on nearly anything, but even they could not make her beautiful.  There did not seem to be much they could do about her freckles, either, so she stretched her fairy cloth to cover her shoulders and shaped it until it resembled the style of dresses she felt used to wearing.  She did indulge herself a little by making the dress conform a bit to her young figure rather than let it fall in the frumpy, one-size-fits-all pattern of her people.  She was just seventeen after all, even if she would soon be an old married woman.  She reminded herself that she had no room left in her life for childhood.  She was the woman of the ways.  She was a goddess to her little ones.  She was the Traveler in Time, the Watcher over History, and the Dacians got guns, and the Romans wanted them.  When she finally left her room, she felt older than time.

Lunch could have been an all-day affair, but Greta’s statuette got ready by one and she went immediately to examine the handiwork.  It proved very hard metal, and fireproof, and yet Greta thought it would have been extremely light if they had not studded it with gold and bits of emeralds, rubies and diamonds.  She decided it appeared a bit ostentacious, but then again, that might make it acceptable to Lady Brunhild.  She struck Greta as the kind of woman who went in for that sort of thing.  She felt sure at least the Priest, Vasen would appreciate it.

Greta toured another couple of guard posts in the afternoon.  Greta noticed that each home for a sprite in each place looked different. The craftsmen kept trying to make things appear as natural as possible and not make it appear as if they were guard posts at all.  For the water sprites, for example, one place had a fountain, a second, a simple fish pond and a third, a bubbling spring.  Greta praised the work.  She knew that would be important to hear praise from their goddess.  She felt glad it was easy to do.

During their last supper on Usgard, Berry yawned the whole time.  Greta said she had to stay and sleep that night because they would be leaving very early in the morning.  Berry did not think that would be a problem.  She remained more human than not, after all, and her human side started catching up to her.  She said her good-byes to Mab and her friends while Greta said good-bye to the assembly. Then they went to bed and slept very well.

The elf maids woke up Greta around four in the morning.  They seemed to delight in fixing her hair, her face, and helping her dress.  Greta thought she still looked exceptionally ordinary, but it could not be helped. She thanked the ladies and got ready to wake Berry, when Mrs. Kettleblack came banging in.

“Breakfast,” she announced in a very loud voice, and Berry sat straight up.  “I got pastries and sweet tarts this morning,” Mrs. Kettleblack said.  She did not mean to be loud.  It was just her normal way.  Honestly, she did not know any other way.

“Morning?” Berry mumbled.  “It’s still dark out.”  That was not strictly true.  The eastern horizon showed a touch of light.

“Can’t leave on an empty stomach.”  Mrs. Kettleblack finished her speech.

“Thank you Mrs. Kettleblack,” Greta said, and the old dwarf laughed and shooed everyone out of the room.  Greta and Berry got left alone.

“These sweet tarts are good, Lady,” Berry said.

Greta looked at her while she took one to try.

“What?” Berry asked at last.  She did not appear comfortable being stared at.  The truth, however, was Greta was still not quite awake herself.  She stared at nothing in particular

“You have to stay big, now, when we go back,” Greta said.

“I know, Lady,” Berry said.  “As big as my Hans.”

That brought something to mind.  “Berry, sweet.  It won’t do to call me lady anymore, unless you say Lady Greta.”  She paused.  She didn’t even know Darius’ family name.

Berry spoke into the silence.  “But Lady Kairos.  I have to call you something, and everyone knows you don’t like to be called goddess.”

“So just call me Greta,” she said.