Kairos Medieval 3: Light in the Dark Ages. M3) Margueritte: The Old Way Has Gone

Beginning MONDAY

In the early days of Charles Martel, Margueritte experiences everything a Medieval girl might want: fairies, ogres, a unicorn, dragons, knights to love and daring rescues.  But it is Curdwallah the hag, the devotee of Abraxas, that haunts her dreams in the dark.

Don’t Miss it. Enjoy a preview… So it begins…

M3 Margueritte: In the Dark

The woman came on her knees, her head lowered, her eyes downcast, the blood still dripping from her lips.  “I have done all that you asked,” she said, and then held her tongue to await her god’s pleasure.  The shining one stepped close.

“And what is it you have done?” 

“My children have been my meat.  Their bones litter my floor.  And my husband has hung from the rafters.  His blood has been my drink.”  The woman spoke plainly.  She had no guilt or remorse.  She was simply obedient to her god.

“I am the god of light and dark,” Abraxas proclaimed himself.  “I hold the night in my left hand and the day in my right.  One hand covers with darkness and the other blinds with the light.  I know what you have done in the darkness.  What you do in the light will be proclaimed.  You will be my witness, and all people will come to me through you, only not yet.”

The woman looked up, but still held her tongue for fear of her awesome god.

“The gods of old are gone and I am left to start anew.”  The shining one spoke to himself.  “This Aden from Iona must bring the people to uncertainty between the old ways and the new ways.  When there is stress and confusion and war between the old and new, we will strike.  In the meanwhile, grow strong.”  Abraxas placed his hands on the woman’s head, and something flowed from him to her.  “The fire and the water are forever at war,” he said.  “Thus, you will know when to move.  Strike when you sense the elements in opposition and war in the minds of the people.”  He withdrew his hands, and the woman reeled from the power.

“Yet there is one annoyance of which I must be certain.”  Abraxas still thought out loud and tapped his chin.  “Right now, the Kairos is an old man in Constantinople.  When the old man dies, it will be better for all concerned if the Kairos is not reborn in this time and in this place.” 

************************

Until Monday,

*

M3 Festuscato: What It Is, part 1 of 3

“I know what it is!”  Festuscato shouted and sat straight up in bed.

“Festus?”  Hilde snuggled down deeply under the covers.

“Not now,” Festuscato said, pushed her away gently despite her protests, and got up to dress hurriedly.  When ready, he went and banged on Mirowen’s door.  “Mirowen,” he called.  “I know what it is.”  He waited until Mirowen came to the door, her fairy clothes shaped into a comfortable white nightgown.

“In some places, they call it a harlot,” Mirowen said.

“What?  No, Hilde’s a nice girl.  No.  The monster.  I know what it is.”

“My pardon, Lord Agitus.  I am not yet awake.”  Mirowen raised her arms and her gown shape shifted and changed color to its former style, though it looked as if just cleaned and pressed, while her hair pulled itself up into a small bun that left a ponytail which fell to the small of her back.  Mirowen also looked like she had just bathed and been preening all morning, and she smelled of hyacinth and roses.

“You do that on purpose to drive me nuts,” Festuscato said.

“I can hardly drive you to where you already live,” Mirowen responded with a grin that ever so lightly creased the corners of her mouth.

“Like your hair,” Luckless said as he came around the corner with a fist full of pork loin.  “Sets off your ears.”

Festuscato paused to look out the window.  The sun just began to lighten the Eastern horizon.  “Breakfast already?”

“Pre-breakfast snack,” Luckless said.  “The cook likes to watch the little guy eat.”

“Who can sleep with all that snoring?”  Seamus came around the same corner, stretching and yawning.

“Gregor?”  Festuscato did not really have to ask.

“Makes me hungry,” Luckless admitted.  “Anyway, Bran can.”

“A good soldier can sleep anywhere,” Festuscato told him.

“Hold it!”  Mirowen shouted.  “Would you all like to come in?”  She threw the door wide open and moved aside.  The men looked at each other and Luckless swallowed.

“Er, thanks.”  Festuscato accepted the invitation for all.  He stepped in, followed by the others.  Mousden darted in just before Mirowen closed the door.  She ended up leaving it open a crack.

“I was wondering when you would show up,” Mirowen frowned.

“What did I miss?”  Mousden asked in his most excited squeak.

“You said you know who it is?”  Mirowen turned Festuscato away from the window and the sunrise and completely ignored Mousden.

“Who is what?”  Festuscato asked.

“You said.”  Mirowen started, and he remembered and hushed her with his hand.

“I said I think I know what it is,” he corrected her.  “I have no idea who.”  He began to ponder that question.

“Well?”  Seamus seemed the impatient one, probably from lack of sleep.

“It’s a hag, I think.  A servant of Abraxas.”  Festuscato came out of his reverie.

“Can’t be.”  Luckless spoke while licking his fingers.  “It’s a male.”

“All right.”  Festuscato took a step back.  “Then son of a hag, but the look, the strength, the speed, the size, it all fits.”

“Something near enough like it anyway.”  Mirowen did not disagree.

“A hag?”  Seamus asked.

“A Doctor Jeckel, Mister Hyde.”  Festuscato said and then he quickly had to wave off their questions.  “A normal enough person most of the time, but a secret devotee of the god, empowered by the god to take on enormous power and strength at times to serve the god’s nefarious purposes.  Here’s the key.  Unlike a werewolf or other such nightmares, a hag retains her mind, or in this case, his mind.  They can still think things through, and talk.”

“And how do you know this?”  Seamus did not question.  He got curious.

“Greta had to kill one once.  Cooked her in her own oven.  And Margueritte just faced down Curdwallah; but that’s the future.  I guess I’m not supposed to talk about that.”

“So it is a hag.”  Mirowen nodded.

“Or near enough like it,” Luckless repeated her words.

“I knew it!”  Mousden fluttered down from the ceiling, and he sounded and looked very agitated.  “Monster talk.”  He shivered visibly at the whole idea.  “I thought we weren’t staying or getting involved in that business.”

“We won’t, much.  Let the Geats handle it.”  Festuscato assured the little one.  “That’s why it is so important you stay on the roof at night and keep your eyes peeled for a sail on the horizon.  If the Kairos’ timing holds up, the Geats should be along any day now.”

“Yeah, but now I’ll have daymares and won’t be able to sleep.”

“Geats and hags.”  Seamus shook his head and sat in a chair.  “Who will believe it?”

“But the creature stayed quietly absent from the hall last night,” Mirowen pointed out.  “Unless the creature shows itself, how can we know who it is?”

“No trail to follow does make it tough,” Festuscato admitted.

“We could set Gregor to sleep in the hall as bait,” Seamus muttered.  Mirowen’s jaw dropped open.

“Such a suggestion.  And from a Cleric!” she scolded.

Seamus shrugged, and turned as red as Festuscato’s hair.

“Wouldn’t work,” Luckless said.  “All that snoring would just scare the poor creature away.”

Festuscato snapped his fingers to regain everyone’s attention.  He was again watching the sunrise, but he spoke to the point.  “I figure the best candidates are Aschere, the king’s Counselor.  There is something of slime about him.  Heinrich the Bard.  It is hard to tell how much of their own stories such men believe.  Wulfgar, the king’s Herald, though he seems a good man.”

“Svergen, the officer of the Coastal Watch.”  Bran spoke up from the open doorway.  “Shouldn’t be heralding this into the hall,” he said, as he stepped inside and shut the door tight.

“It isn’t the king,” Mirowen said.  “He is too old, and too sincerely crushed by it all.  Twelve years is a long time for humans to suffer.”  She looked up and saw the others looking at her.  “I spoke with queen Wealtheow,” she explained.

“Isn’t the cook,” Luckless said.  “I don’t hold for human food, but this cook is not half bad.”

“Can’t speak for the other half,” Festuscato mumbled softly.

“No, and that servant of his, Ragnard is afraid of his own shadow,” Luckless finished with a chuckle.

“The rest of the men are too transient.”  Mirowen said, by way of conclusion.

“Except Unferth,” Seamus said

“Hrugen’s father?”  Festuscato asked.

Seamus nodded.  “He wouldn’t be the first to use drink as a cover for something else.  And he has the reputation, at least in the alleged killing of his brothers.”  Most nodded, except Bran who smiled.

“Leave it to an Irishman,” Bran said.  It seemed hard to tell if that was a compliment or an insult.

“So then, that’s the short list.”  Festuscato wanted to get it right.  “Aschere the Counselor, Wulfgar the Herald, Svergen the Coast Watcher, Heinrich the Bard, and Unferth the Drunk.”  He shook his head.  Having tasted those names on his tongue, he was not sure if any of them felt quite right.  He went to the door.  “Suns up.  Breakfast time.”  He opened the door and found Luckless already in front of him.  Bran chuckled quietly from over his shoulder.

“Festus.  Festus.”  He saw Hilde’s head poke out from behind his door.

“Keep good notes, Seamus.  I’ll catch you up.”  Festuscato disappeared into his room to a roll of Mirowen’s eyes.

It turned high noon and time for the main meal in the hall when Festuscato finally did catch them up.  “What did I miss?”  He sounded a bit like Mousden.

“Nothing,” Gregor said grumpily.  “Can’t get any of these Danes to arm wrestle.”

That did not sound like jovial Gregor, but Festuscato did not have time to ask as Wulfgar came straight to the table on Festuscato’s appearance.

“Roman.  I would not have my king filled with false hope.”

“Quite right,” Festuscato responded.  “But sometimes there is only trust.  I would not want to see your king hopeless, either.  I have felt hopelessness.  It isn’t fun.”

Wulfgar thought about that for a minute before he responded.  “I hope that what you say comes to pass,” he said, and paused again before adding, “For your sake.”

“If I am wrong, I won’t be the first in these twelve years,” Festuscato said, and Wulfgar moved off with things on his mind.

“What have you been up to?”  Mirowen asked, but before Festuscato could answer, Aschere came up.  It appeared as if the Danes were taking turns.

“Roman.”  He began as Wulfgar began, but his conversation turned in a different direction.  “Yours is the strangest crew that has ever been seen or heard of.”

“A preposition is something you should not end a sentence with,” Festuscato said, with a straight face.  Mirowen stopped translating half way through and gave him a hard look.

“This woman who speaks the king’s tongue like a native is a beauty such as few men have ever imagined,” Aschere said.

“That’s true.  He’s got you there,” Festuscato said and delighted in the way it reddened Mirowen’s ears, though of course Aschere could not see her in her true elven form as Festuscato saw her, so he did not get the full ear effect.

“Tell him I thank him for the compliment.  You have always been like a big sister to me, when you are not acting like my mother.”  Festuscato said and gave the elf a kindly frown.  She told Aschere something.  Aschere nodded as if he understood.  He turned then to his mediocre Latin.

“And this little man,” Aschere went on.  “I see no good in him except to fill his stomach.”

“He is my tinker and blacksmith,” Festuscato said.  “He is as good with gold and silver as he is with iron and steel.”

“I have seen his tools.”  Aschere admitted.  “Some are very finely wrought.”  He made the admission.  “But then what of the boy?  Where is he?”

“Sleeping.”  Festuscato said and shrugged as if to suggest that was what all young boys did.  “He stayed up late.”

“In truth,” Aschere said with a sly grin.  “I found him this morning up on the pinnacle of the roof, though without a ladder, I am at a loss to say how he came there.”  The man clearly asked.

“All right, if you insist,” Festuscato said.  “In truth, as you say, Mirowen is a light elf, Luckless is a dwarf, and Mousden is a dark elf with wings.  He flew to the roof to look through the night for the sail I am expecting.”

Aschere looked taken aback at first.  He raised his eyebrows, but then he began to chuckle.  He left laughing, certain that Festuscato had to be joking, but fortunately he did not see Mirowen slap Festuscato on the shoulder or hear what she said.

R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 3 of 3

“Woman.” Baran turned his wrath on the old woman. “I think age has finally caught up with you.  She speaks crazy and you say it is the truth.  I do not even understand what she is saying.”

Fae simply looked at the man until he backed down.  “I understand little myself.”  She said. “But what she says is truth.  She does not lie.”

“Tell us about the wolf,” Vilam spoke up.  “Tell us about Liam.”

“I killed the wolf.”  Greta spoke plainly as she recognized that in a sense this became like a visionary moment for her.  “He did not suffer.  And I buried him twenty feet beneath the earth and solid rock.  Do not dig him up lest you become infected like he was. Let him rest in peace.”

“You killed the wolf?”  Baran only caught the first part of her answer.

“She speaks true.” Fae almost went unheard.

“But you said the Nameless god of the Yellow Hairs killed the wolf.”  Vilam objected.

“The Nameless god did kill the wolf.”  Greta said.

“But how could you both?”  Vilam got confused.

“That doesn’t make sense.”  Baran still protested.

“She does not lie!”  Fae said, with sudden strength.  Everyone looked at her.  Greta also looked and saw that the old woman started looking at Greta in a very different way.  She guessed that the quarter of Fae’s blood which belonged to her little ones saw something her human three quarters never dreamed possible.

“The Yellow Hairs will be made weak by the loss of their woman.”  Baran wasted no more time.  “Put her with the others.  We will bring them to the bogie beast this very afternoon.”

“The bogie beast? The hag.”  Greta understood.  “That won’t be possible.”  She spoke before they could grab her.  “I killed the Hag.  I baked her in her own oven.”

That really got their attention because they knew all about the chimney and, of course, the oven.

“She does not lie,” Fae said, and Baran looked astonished.

“That is why the smoke stopped,” Vedix said, as if confirming her story.  He started looking at Greta with different eyes as well at that point, and not without some fear.  Greta showed considerable restraint not to say anything especially since Salacia kept urging her to ask if Vedix would like to spend the rest of his life as a sea slug.

While Baran conferred with several of the men, Greta considered the stockade around the village.  Such a structure could not ultimately keep out a hag, or bogie beast as they misnamed it. Such creatures returned to the same village, and often to the same house as their last feeding.  But then, a regular flow of sacrifices might keep one at bay and even fix the beast on a new place for feeding.

Baran turned angrily and spoke without preliminaries.  “Tie the woman in the swamp and leave her for the banshees.”

“I destroyed the banshees, the wyvern.”  Greta spoke without hesitation, but lowered her eyes as if not wanting to remember what she saw.  “They are no more.”

“She.”  Fae began to speak, but Baran interrupted her.

“Old woman, I swear you are senile and don’t know what you are saying.”  Then he turned his anger back to Greta.  “I suppose you can prove it!” he demanded.

“I have a witness.”  Greta answered, as calmly as she could in the face of the man’s storm.  She had amazed even herself up to this point in the things that she said, but now, suddenly, she felt completely alone.  She did not hear a peep throughout time, and she knew she had to do it herself, whatever that might be.  In truth, she could only think of one thing to do.  “Berry.”  She called softly.  She steadied herself and decided how things needed to be.  “Berry.”  She insisted. “On my shoulder.”  And Berry got compelled to vanish from wherever she was and appear on Greta’s shoulder.  “There, there.”  Greta said immediately.  “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Berry let out a little shriek and instantly hid in Greta’s hair, but not before everyone in that place saw her.  Most just stood and stared, including Baran who appeared to be frozen with his mouth part way open.  Fae, however, fell to her knees, placed her face in her hands and wept.  It seemed as if seeing Berry became the fulfillment of her every hope and dream.

“Just talk to me.” Greta said.  “Come and face me and speak up good and loud, Okay?”

Berry hesitated and shook her little head.

“You can put your back to all of the people so you don’t have to look at them.”  Greta pointed out.

Berry thought about that and decided she could do that.  She flitted out to hover and faced Greta, and Greta did not hesitate to get her talking instead of thinking about being on display.

“Did I go into the swamp yesterday morning?”  Greta asked.

“Yesterday? I have to think.”  She put her little finger to her temple and tapped. “Think, think.  Oh, yes!  You know you did and I almost stopped you, but Bogus the Skin said I was supposed to just watch.”

“And you followed me?”  Greta made it a question.

“I watched like I was told.  I do good what I’m told.  So I fly from leaf to leaf and you don’t see me because I hide-ed.”

“You hid.”

“I sure did. I do good what I’m told.”

“Then what happened?”

Berry flitted back and forth several times very fast before she settled down again.  “I don’t like to think that part.  The suckies came.”

“The banshees? The wyvern?”  Greta suggested both the Celtic and Dacian names for the succubus.

“They been called that.”  Berry said. “But you got the big god sword and POP! One is no more.”

Then you did something very brave.”  Greta praised her, and Berry puffed up her chest in pride.

“I showed myself,” she said, and then added, “But not so brave.  I knew you would save me, and you did.  You powered them with more than magic, like fire and lightening herself, and they turned like fish bubbles and POP!  POP!  POP! They were no more.”  Berry smiled and then frowned.  “But four still chased you.  They did not chase me so you could not power them.  One got popped on the God sword, but three surrounded you and I was afraid for you.”

“And what did I do?”

“You went into tomorrow or yesterday and the big man came.  With the god sword and the long knife, you one, two, threed them and they were no more.”  Berry thrilled at the memory of them being no more, and everyone present felt it. Berry did a back flip in mid-air and zoomed right up to hug Greta’s neck and kiss her cheek.  Then she pulled back and looked serious as if she just remembered something very important.

“Oh, but Lady. I’m not supposed to be here.  No, no!  Bogus the Skin made a greement.  The mortal, clumsy trompers get this side of the river and we get the other.”

Of course, it was nonsense.  Greta knew that Berry and plenty more were over on the human side all of the time. They were in the grain, the trees, the flowers, the animals, but she supposed they always hide-ed.  They had a comfortable freedom in being able to go about without always having to be invisible; but then those days were over since the dissolution.  The days of dividing the land into separate realms was over.  The earth was one, now, and it belonged to the lowly human race.

“And what was this agreement?”  Greta asked. She was not entirely surprised to hear Baran answer.

“It would last until Danna herself, the Earth Goddess, the mother of all the Gods should end it herself, and what can you do about that?”  Everything had gone so badly for him thus far, he wanted to mock her, as if that might still give him some power over events.  Greta simply looked at the man without blinking.  Then she went away into the winds of time, and Danna, herself came to take her place.

Some ran. Most hid.  Some fell to their faces.  Berry got big and got down on her knees beside Fae, but she could not contain herself.  She slowly inched forward to where she could hug Danna’s knees, and Danna reached down and gently stroked Berry’s hair.

“All right.” Danna said.  “The agreement is now ended.”  And she made sure that Bogus the Skin and all of the little ones heard as well. “The whole forest now belongs to humanity which at present means the Celts, Dacians and Romans in equal measure.” She paused to let that sink in before she turned to the leader.

“Baran, you think if the Romans and Dacians fight each other it might weaken them and be to your advantage, perhaps even give you the opportunity to reclaim your land. Foolish man.  The Northland is terribly overcrowded.  Even now Germans of many tribes and nations are jostling each other and pushing against the soft side of the Roman Empire.  Even as we speak, the Quadi stand poised to invade. If the Romans and Dacians weaken each other, only the Quadi and Samartins will gain, and the next invasion will not stop at the borders of the forest.  For your own survival and for the sake of your children, I implore you to make yourselves known to the Romans and Yellow Hairs.  You must join with them to strengthen and defend the border. There may yet be a hundred years of peace, but I leave that in your hands.”  She paused again, but only to stroke Berry’s hair.

“Now Vedix.” Danna said, and Vedix appeared before her, instantly.  A number of people gasped and several screamed.  They were startled, but not surprised when Berry appeared earlier. They almost expected such things from the Vee Villy.  But to think that it could happen to a man!  “You kicked me this morning.”  Danna said.

Vedix fell to his knees.  His heart beat too fast, his palms sweating and he looked ready to pass out.  Poor Danna had to tone down her nature to almost nothing at all, and even then Vedix barely eeked out a response.

“’Twasn’t you,” he said, and fell on his face.

“’Twas.” Danna responded in kind.  “Not Danna me, but Greta me,” she said.

“Oah!” Vedix moaned.

“This is your punishment.  Hear me!” Danna threw her arms out compelling attention and the sparks flew from her hands and eyes.  Vedix certainly had to hear her because she had the power to send him to where a thousand years would barely begin his torment.  All she did, however, was speak.  “You must learn to treat others as you would wish to be treated if you were in their shoes.”  She paused before adding, “No sea slug.”  And she waved her hand once more and sent him back to the place where he had been trying to hide.

“I must go,” she said, and smiled, which suddenly warmed every heart present.  Many people looked up, but only Berry had the presence to speak up.

“Must you?” she said and flitted to another thought.  “Is it time for my Greta to come home?”

“Yes, sweet,” Danna said.  “This is my Greta life, not my Danna life.  Only, be good to her.  You know my Greta is just as human, mortal, and fallible as Baran.”  She paused for effect.  “Well, perhaps not that fallible.”  And she vanished into the winds of time, and Greta did come home, still speaking as if finishing Danna’s very thought.  “Still, Baran, I would appreciate it if you would stop trying to sacrifice me to myself.  That would be too strange, even for me.  Now, I hope to make peace instead of war, but even if I fail at that, I must still destroy the weapons of Trajan.”  Greta shook her head.  These people had no idea what those weapons might be.  “But first.”  She looked down at Berry, “I’m going to fetch my brother Hans.”

************************

MONDAY

R5 Greta goes in search of Hans, but he is in the territory of the Wee Willies, and they are not inclined to cooperate with mortal humans.  As she really begins to learn her place, and what it means to say they are her little ones, it becomes a very heady experience.  Sadly, she does need to return to the real world to finish her quest.

Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: The Fire and the Dark, part 1 of 3

“All right,” Aruna said, as Hans yawned.  “Now you must be very tired.  It is late and time for growing children to be in bed.  We can sort everything out in the morning.

Greta felt agreeable, but she had one last thought.  Perhaps it was Aruna’s age that brought it to mind.  “Mother Hulda,” she said.

“Oh?”  Aruna raised her eyebrows and eyed Greta suspiciously.  “Do you know the good Mother?  She visits for tea quite regularly.”

“I know her a little,” Greta hedged her thoughts, though she was not sure why.  “Has she been by recently?”  Greta asked.

“Why, just two or three days ago she was here and we had a grand time,” Aruna said.

That lie helped bring Greta back to reality enough to know she needed help.  “Agreed.”  She heard the word clearly in her head, and then Greta vanished from that time and place and Danna, the mother of all the Celtic gods, sat in her place, and left up a perfect glamour of Greta so the hag, Aruna, would be no wiser.  Danna saw the hovel for exactly what it was, and in fact had to lower herself a bit to see where their beds were supposed to be. They were in the oven, of course.

“Hans.” Danna, looked and sounded exactly like Greta and stopped her brother from going straight to bed.  “Girls first,” she said aloud and made sure he had to obey.  She walked to the oven and started to climb in but quickly climbed right out again.  “The fire went out,” she said.  “It’s too cold in there.  I can’t sleep.”

“What?” Aruna looked dumbfounded and she had to see for herself.  Danna grabbed Han’s hand and suddenly he saw what she saw.  As the hag poked her head into the fire box, Danna traded places in time with Bodanagus of the Nervii.  He came dressed in the armor of the Nameless One, the armor which had once been his, and he did not pause before he spoke.

“Push,” he told Hans, and though Hans came up with his hands ready to push, essentially Bodanagus, in a moment of near Herculean strength, bent down beneath the hag’s butt and flipped the old woman into the oven.  He slammed the door.

“Why did we just push Grandma into the oven?” Hans asked, still very confused.

“Not grandma,” Bodanagus explained.  “A hag, a grendal.  Such creatures have many names.  Something pounded on the iron door of the oven, and it came with enough force to make dents in the door.  Bodanagus picked up a log and opened the firebox.  As he did, a hand sprang out of the box and tried to grab him.  Wyrd flew out of its’ sheath in a flash and Bodanagus cut the hand off, cleanly.  Even severed from the body, it still clutched at them.  Bodanagus used the tip of the sword to fling the hand back into the fire while Hans quickly opened and closed the fire door.  The creature shortly stopped pounding and began to scream. That was his cue.

Bodanagus grabbed the bucket of water from which the hag had drawn their tea.  It still sat mostly full.  He knew this had to be quick.  He got Hans to open the oven door as he threw the water in.  Then they closed the door again, though they almost did not get it closed in time.  The scream of the hag became an unearthly sound.  Bodanagus did his best to cover Han’s ears, but the screaming went on for a while.  Hans buried his face in the armor.  He recognized the armor and the sword, even if he did not exactly recognize Bodanagus. When it was over, Bodanagus trade places again with Danna.  She had the power to remove the spell from Hans completely.  She also removed the standing glamour from the place, which otherwise might have continued for decades.

“Wow,” Hans said. The real hovel had no roof.  Only two walls stood, and the oven, of course, with its high chimney.  The field of grain no longer grew there.  In fact, they hardly saw a meadow.  Only the encroaching forest grew.  The food also had all gone, except for Hans who proceeded to vomit out whatever he ate. Danna made double sure that the beast died, and then threw some magic into the air, not unlike fairy dust, and traded places with Greta so the magic could fall on her.  Thus, she set herself completely free of the same enchantment, and then Greta vomited a little, but not nearly like Hans.

Greta checked the sky.  It proved shortly after noon.  They had to move on.  She had forgotten about the wolf and wished the hag had not brought it up.  Greta collected their things, which still sat on the forest floor where they left them.  She looked again.  Perhaps it turned one o’clock.  She had to get Hans moving, even if it would be slow going as long as he felt sick. It became slow after that as well while they climbed the hill that Hans had seen from the treetop.  And all that while they moved in relative silence. Hans did not feel much like talking, and Greta felt angry enough to scream, and for several reasons.

She could not even speak to Hans.  If he wasn’t so sick, she could have killed him.  Just as well he did not feel like speaking.

At the same time, the question of Hans haunted her.  What good was having a god on your side if he wouldn’t do anything for you? The magic of the hag proved stronger than anything she had ever encountered, but she had the distinct feeling that if she had not caught the perfect grandmother in a lie, which in effect blunted the spell, all those other lifetimes she lived would have let her be lunch.  Even then, she did not feel sure anyone would have helped her if she did not ask.  What good was having a god on her side?

That was not the only thing that haunted her.  At times during their climb, her fears almost overwhelmed her anger.  Storytelling was one thing the Woman of the Ways did for the people.  She knew most of the stories of the haunted forest, only now they took on a reality she never expected, and some of the stories were very frightening, indeed.

In the end, she settled on being upset.  The churning in her stomach did not help.

From the hilltop, Greta could see well enough to get her bearings.  Ahead of them, smaller hills pushed into the gray, eastern horizon. To the south, the hills softened more, though it still looked like forest for as far as she could see.  She knew the road lay way beyond her sight. West, behind her, she saw more trees. They had moved far enough into the woods by then so she could see nothing of Boarshag.  All she could see was trees and more trees.  Even the ruins where the hag lived blended into the forest and vanished from sight.  She supposed if she really tried, she could have found the now smokeless chimney sticking up from between the trees, but she chose not to try and turned to look north. She felt fairly certain she could make out the Sylvan River.  It appeared to be running due west.  Somewhere much further east it had to turn in a great arc to end up twenty miles north of Ravenshold, but for the time being, she knew that as long as they kept the river to their left hand they would do well.

R5 Greta: Into the Woods, part 3 of 3

Hans stopped eating long enough to smile.  He had a red berry ring around his mouth which made him look like a toddler. Greta got so mad at him, she felt like wringing his neck, but she also managed a smile for the old woman.

“My name is Aruna,” the woman said, hesitantly.

“I’m Greta,” she said.  “And my pig’s name is Hansel.”  She turned to her brother.  “Stop, Hans. For Heimdahl’s sake, stop eating the poor woman’s food.”

“It’s quite all right,” Aruna said.  “The old ones won’t be coming today, alas.  All my baking was for nothing, unless you enjoy it.  I would much rather it be eaten than thrown out.”

“The old ones?” Greta asked.

“Yes, Gretal, child.  But come now, eat what you like.  I am especially proud of my tarts.  Come, come.”

Tarts were her favorite.  Greta had not noticed any until the woman mentioned them.  She picked one up, carefully.  It reeked of magic.  “Thank you,” Greta said.  “Tell me about the old ones.”  She pretended to eat and the pretense appeared good enough for the moment.

“The old ones. Now, that is a long story.”  Aruna smiled a toothy smile.  “Come, let us go inside and I will make some tea and tell you all about it.”

“How did you come to live alone in the forest like this?” Greta asked, stalling their progress.

“Now, that is another long story,” Aruna said.  “It would be much better told inside where the sun is not so bright and hot. I have worked hard this morning and I would love to rest my weary feet.”

“Yes, work,” Greta said, not giving up.  “How did you manage a field of ripe grain this early in the spring?”

Aruna handed her a sweet pie and indicated that she should help herself.  “A gift of the gods for this poor, old woman,” she said. “No matter how much I cut in a day, by the next morning the field is full and ripe again.”

Greta happened to know the ancient gods were no longer available to make such gifts, and they had not been around for nearly a hundred and fifty years.  “Which god should be so generous, if I may ask?” Greta tried to sound pleasant and conversational.  Aruna frowned.

“Abraxas,” she said, drawing the “s” out in a true serpent-like manner.  He was not one of the northern gods, nor any of the gods that Greta knew, and yet the name sounded vaguely familiar.  Had she come across the name in the writings in Mother Hulda’s barn?  While she puzzled, she took a bite of the sweet pie without thinking.

“Good,” Aruna said.  “Now poor Hansel is getting very thirsty.  Isn’t that so?”

“Yeah I am.” Hans spoke with his mouth full.

“Come in. It is still early spring and gets dark early.”  Aruna said, and Greta almost believed her.  “You don’t want to get caught out doors at night with the wolf prowling about.”

“Dear, no,” Greta said and put down her pie.  Aruna struck a chord there that Greta could not deny.

The minute Greta stepped inside, she knew what was wrong but she did not seem to have enough power to do anything about it.  In her mind’s eye, she saw a dirt floored hovel with stones and stumps for furniture, and no great artifacts of any kind apart from the tremendous oven; but then she saw a quaint, wood-floored home with a nice table and chairs, flowers in a vase, a neatly made bed in the corner, a fireplace in place of the firebox, and above it, where the oven had been, two small beds in a little loft, just right for her and Hansel.

“Old ones?” Greta thought if she talked it might help break the spell, but that became a mistake.

“Quite right,” Aruna said.  Her voice sounded so kind and enchanting, it drew them in more deeply.  “A little conversation helps grow the appetite.” She began to reach into all sorts of cupboards, cabinets and pantries and she pulled out roasts that were steaming hot, fresh baked bread, still warm, every kind of cheese Greta could imagine, greens and fresh fruit that paid no attention to the season, and of course, every kind of sweet that might appear on anyone’s menu.  “My,” she said.  “We have quite an appetite for children.”  But Greta felt the woman referred to their imagination, not their eating habits.  She suspected that she saw one thing, Hans saw something else, and only the woman saw what was real.

“Old ones,” Greta said.  She hung on to that thought, and she would not give it up, even when Aruna looked at her crossly.  Aruna smiled again and poured Greta some tea in a porcelain cup, though for a moment it looked like dirty water in a chipped crockery bowl.

“Drink up dear Gretal child,” she said.  “You will like this tea.  It is a special blend from my own garden.”  That did not inspire Greta to drink.  Greta still resisted, and Aruna knew it.  Greta looked up with some insistence in her eyes.

“All right, dearie,” Aruna said, and she started to talk to take Greta’s mind off fighting the spell.  “The old ones were the first people in the land.  They lived here long before the yellow hairs came.”  Greta understood there were people in the area going back to the stone age, but there were certainly people around before her own Dacians. In truth, her people took the land themselves barely two hundred years before Trajan brought up his army.  Maybe three hundred years, but it remained recent history, just a blink in time.  She believed, though, that the earlier inhabitants had long since been driven away or assimilated with her own people.  She could not imagine a whole enclave of them living apart for so many years.

Aruna stroked Greta’s long, light blond hair.  She would have stroked Greta’s cheek if Greta had not pulled back, sharply.  Aruna let her hand drop and went back to speaking. “They live in the forest, dear,” she said, as if reading Greta’s mind.  She wove a twisted tale.  “I am a widow of the rebellion.  I married on the very day hostilities broke out.  My dearest love was killed before we could even share our wedding bed.  I wanted to die, too, but I did not have the courage to take my own life.  Instead, I ran into the forest in such tears and grief I thought the agony would never go away.  But here, I thought, in this haunted land, some demon or beast would kill me quickly and my misery would be at an end.

“In this place, my great god Abraxas found me.  He began to heal me in ways I never imagined.  And then he brought the old ones to find me, and they fed me, but kept a close watch on me to be sure I came to no harm.  I prayed to Abraxas every day.  He is the great god who shines light in the darkness and shows the darkness hidden in the light, and I grew stronger every day, until at last, I could go about without fear.  I could not go home, because everyone I knew had died.  And yet, I did not belong in this place, either.  The old ones left me here, half-way between their world and the outside world, and I have lived here to this day.”

Greta sipped her tea and thought what a sad and tragic story.  Hans shed a few tears.  This poor old grandmother had lived such a hard life, it would only be right and fair to show her some kindness.

************************

MONDAY

Don’t miss R5 Greta, the Fire and the Dark.  It may be time for the oven.

Happy Reading, while you can…

*