Greta woke up around three in the morning. Hans started groaning in his sleep. She went to check on him and found him sweating, his heart beating much too fast. She thought of the stew. It had been meant for her. Lady Brunhild must have added poison to the recipe, and Greta knew she did not have enough time to find a cure. She almost started to cry, but Nameless came to her mind. He said he did not feel it was time for Hans to die, and maybe he could do something.
“Could you?” Greta whispered out loud. Then she learned how to consciously trade places in time. She went away and Nameless came to sit in her place beside Hans. He came dressed in his armor again. He certainly would not have fit into Greta’s nightshirt.
“It is all a matter of authority,” he whispered, knowing Greta would hear and remember. “Ares, or as the Romans say, Mars was authorized for war. Aphrodite, which is Venus was authorized for love. A god can do almost anything, but they could no more intervene in each other’s sphere than the sun could come up at night. Of course, sometimes the authority is not obvious. Even the gods of old had to walk by faith at times, but in this case, I just don’t feel it is Han’s time to die.” As he spoke, he easily drew all of the poison to Han’s pinky, and then out altogether. He kept it in a little blue bubble and let it float by his shoulder. He normalized Han’s heart and breathing and even fixed a couple of cavities and trimmed Han’s nails and hair with a thought. “After all, he is my brother,” he said, and smiled when he heard Greta’s protest that he was her brother. “All the same,” Nameless responded with a smile.
Hans woke up. “Quiet Hansel.” Nameless said softly, and he ruffled Han’s hair in the way Greta sometimes did.
“Hey, you promised.” Hans complained, as in that place between waking and sleeping he instinctively knew his sister, even if at the moment, it was a man and a life she lived more than fourteen hundred years earlier. When Hans came more fully awake he realized his mistake. “Hey!” He sat straight up.
“Hush,” Nameless said, not wanting to wake Mama. “To paraphrase the way my own Mama used to put it, you could say I’m your sister, even when I’m your brother.”
Hans shook his head, confused. This was the second time he had been surprised by this man. “Who are you?” He asked quietly.
Nameless smiled. “Grandfather Odin once said I was his favorite grandson,” he answered.
Han’s eyes widened. Nameless knew what the boy thought.
“Grandfather called me a light to heroes and such, and he placed the Valkyra sort of in my hands. I get invoked a lot on the battlefield, but truth be told, mine is a special calling. It is the little spirits of the earth, the sprites, dwarfs, elves light and dark that have been placed in my hands, and Greta’s hands, too, though she does not yet know this truth. It is part of the burden of the Kairos.” He ended with a sigh and saw Hans begin to tremble at his own thoughts. “Do not be afraid,” Nameless insisted. “I am on your side.”
Hans suddenly remembered how sick he had been. He got prompted to remember. “You made me well.” He understood and relaxed a little. Nameless pointed to the blue bubble that hovered just above his shoulder. “What are you going to do with it?” Hans asked. He started to reach out to touch it, but Nameless caught his hand. Greta stayed poison free, but he checked Mama, just to be sure, and he took the remains of the stew and buried it ten feet beneath the garden where even the birds and small animals could not get to it. Then he spoke.
“I am going to send the poison back to the one who sent it here,” he said. “But only enough to make her ill, not kill her.”
He got the distinct impression of Greta speaking in his mind. “You should turn her into a frog.”
“Authority,” Nameless reminded her. “Maybe it was not Han’s time to die, but maybe it is not Lady Brunhild’s time either. Besides, I hate clichés.” He turned his head and blew softly. The blue bubble pushed a little way from the bed and began to wobble. It popped and vanished.
Nameless smiled at Hans and pushed him back down under the covers. He began to sing. His mother Frya was, among her many talents, a goddess of music. Thus, he sang the lullaby she used to sing to him. His favorite. Hans smiled and did not resist. He fell asleep before Nameless finished the song. Then he could not resist one more ruffle on the hair of the sleeping boy before he traded places through time with his own Greta.
Greta leaned over her sleeping brother and kissed him sweetly on the forehead. She thanked Nameless for remembering her nightshirt this time and not leaving her in his armor, though she supposed it counted as her armor now. Once again, she had much to think about, but at the moment she felt too tired. She crawled into her own bed and had the best sleep she ever had in her life, and when she woke up in the morning she felt warm and soft.
For the first time, she imagined what it would be like to have a man beside her, to love her and share her feelings. She thought of Drakka, but she felt a coldness there which she could not break through. She tried not to think of the Roman, and while in the past, those thoughts might have shattered any good feelings and killed her mood, in this case she simply felt too snuggly to feel bad. She thanked her Nameless self for leaving behind a residue of love.
Hans had already run off in the morning. Who knew what story he might be telling his friends, not that they would believe him. Mama puttered around the kitchen, and hummed.
“Oh, Mama.” Greta smiled as they kissed. “What are you humming?”
Mama finished what she was doing. “I heard the most beautiful song last night in my dream. I am trying to remember how it went. I can’t quite remember, but it was the loveliest song I ever heard.”
Greta smiled, and indeed, she could hardly stop smiling. She picked up the jug for her trip to the central fountain and Mama followed her outside. They saw some early morning riders coming up the road.
“Excuse me,” Mama said. “I have some mushrooms to remove from my garden.” She walked around the side of the house even as the riders turned off to approach the house. Lady Brunhild, Vasen the priest, several of her escort, and a couple of the elders from town stopped at the gate; not what Greta wanted to see. She frowned, but she doubted Lady Brunhild knew what she frowned about. The Lady did look a little green.
“Good morning.” The priest spoke and the elders from town politely nodded in her direction, acknowledging Greta after a fashion.
“Yes, of course.” Greta’s smile came back and a real joy in her voice which simply would not go away. The town elders heard it, perked right up, and returned Greta’s smile. Even the priest brightened a little. “And what brings you here so early on this lovely morning?” Greta asked. “Is someone ill? Have you come to seek counsel?”
“No, Little Mother,” one of the elders spoke. “All are well enough.” His eyes shifted to Lady Brunhild and back to Greta. Lady Brunhild looked like she kept trying to keep her breakfast down, if she had eaten any breakfast, which Greta doubted.
Mama chose that moment to come back around the corner of the house. “Oh, it’s you,” she said rather harshly. “Your son and my husband have to work together, but that is as close as you and I have to come. You are not welcome here.”
Lady Brunhild looked about ready to croak, but in a massive effort of will, reflected in her cruel face, she jerked on her reigns. “It does not matter,” she said. “This changes nothing.” She trotted off, the priest and her escort on her heels.
Greta curtsied to the elders, turned down her eyes and humbled herself before them. They virtually saluted, and in the wind of their salute, Greta caught a wisp of what had transpired.
Lady Brunhild woke them early claiming some sixth sense told her there was trouble at the house. She expected to find one or more of them dead, or at least all of them deathly ill. Greta imagined Lady Brunhild already did not feel well at that point, but this was important. She probably carried the antidote for the poison so she could “heal” whomever was still alive. This would prove she had great power and deserved all of their respect and attention. It would greatly strengthen her position, especially if the Woman of the Ways lay among the dead. But, of course, Greta thought, it would not occur to the woman to use the antidote on herself since she did not know what was wrong. It certainly spoiled Lady Brunhild’s party to find everyone up and full of joy on that lovely spring morning—and it was a lovely morning. Greta imagined Lady Brunhild would be sick all day.
Greta spent the morning with the babies in town and she felt pleased to see nothing of the witch or her entourage. That afternoon, she walked with Yanda out to the farm of Jodel’s father. Jodel’s older brothers and their wives were all out in a field, clearing a new acre of stones and stumps. They came running to the house and poor Greta got forced to eat and drink more than she liked. She vowed to watch herself after that lest she end up as fat as a prize hog.
A long time passed before Jodel, Yanda and Greta could be alone.
“So, when do you want to marry?” Greta asked before they could speak. They looked at each other and laughed.
“I told you she knew,” Jodel said.
“I know,” Yanda replied. “But she is my best friend. It is hard to think of her that way.”