R6 Greta: Briana, part 2 of 3

A head popped out of a bush, startled Alesander and spooked Lucius enough to make him jump back.  “It’s Mother Greta,” the man shouted, and twenty men came slowly up on to the road from all directions.

“Was it me or the armor?” Greta asked coyly, as she stepped up and made sure Lucius did not react in the wrong way.

“Both,” the man said.  “I remembered from the road.”

“Peace, everyone.  Put up your weapons,” one man shouted to the rest of the group.

“We have been watching the low road since the Lazyges came through two weeks back,” another man confided to Greta.

“But what brings you to our land?” a third asked.

“I’ve come to see my good friend Cecil, and to offer Danna’s blessing on your homes and fields.”

“We are honored,” the first spoke again, and the group lead their horses as they walked up the hill to a path in much better shape than the old road.  It took less than an hour to get to the village itself which rested behind fields, harvested in the fall, and flocks of sheep that grazed lazily on the hillsides.  The village sprang up suddenly on the mountain, hidden behind a well-built wooden stockade and butted up to a tall cliff. They no sooner entered the gate when all sorts of noises split the air.  People ran and shouted and a ram’s horn got blown from the town hall.  Word had evidently gone ahead of them, and a crowd gathered around them, but Greta held one man’s attention so he led them to Cecil’s house.  Mavis stayed close to Greta’s side, like her shadow, her eyes lowered, not being entirely comfortable in the midst of all these strange humans.  Greta assured her that it would be all right, and she watched Alesander, Lucius and Hermes.  They gaped at everything that happened around them, and pointed here and there to both familiar and unfamiliar things.

“Looks like we’ve returned to Gaul, if you ask me,” Lucius said.  “I even recognize some words, or at least the sound of them, though I couldn’t tell you what anyone is saying.”

“Ancient history,” Alesander told Greta.  “A brief tour before we were moved into Dacia.”

“They are a lively people, I must tell you,” Hermes said, and they arrived.  They found a woman in the doorway.  She looked young, maybe Greta’s age of near twenty-four, or a little younger, and dressed in a leather jerkin and britches.  She had a bow over her shoulder and a sword at her side.

“Father is not here,” she spoke right up.  “Our home is small and our meat is no great bounty, but you are welcome to share in all that we have.  My name is Briana.”  Briana’s Latin sounded passable.

“Maybe we should set our own camp and not burden the young woman,” Hermes suggested in his native Greek.

“That would be rude,” Greta responded in the Greek before she turned to Briana and spoke in Briana’s native Gaelic.  “Thank you for your hospitality.  If you be willing, the men may wish to sleep outdoors.”

“Nonsense,” a young man stepped up on the porch to stand beside Briana.  The young people shared a glance that only best friends can share, but they did not touch in any way like lovers.  Greta decided they were probably birth-mates like Beauty and Koren of old.  Briana even had a bit of red in her auburn hair. Of course, Beauty had been fire red.

“Koren,” Briana introduced the man and Greta just nodded at the name.  History did tend to repeat itself.

“I will take the men, and we will see to their needs,” Koren said as other men came up to take the horses and the mule that Greta had taken to calling Stinky.  Lucius and Hermes were reluctant to part with their animals, but with a nod from Greta, Alesander insisted so they had no incident.

“Gentlemen,” Greta turned to the soldiers.  “Follow this young man.  His name is Koren and he will see you bedded for the night.”

“Bedded, yes.”  Koren’s Latin sounded better than Briana’s.  “But the elders are planning a feast tonight so there might not be much sleeping.”

Greta listened to what Alesander said in response before she followed Briana into the house.  He said they were old soldiers, certainly older than the young man leading them.  “And after our journey, please don’t be disappointed if we sleep more than the elders planned.”  Koren laughed and took it with a good will, just as the other Koren would have taken it.

Greta shook off the visions of history and paused in the doorway.  “Blessings be upon this house and all who dwell herein.”  She stepped into the little two room house and it reminded her of Mother Hulda’s house by the woods, and it looked just about as messy.

“Father went south on an errand,” Briana said, while Greta sat at the table and Briana hung her bow, arrows and sword in their places on the wall.  “I must dress.”  Briana got ready to go into the back room when she paused.  They saw a shadow at the door.  “Aowen,” Briana named the old woman.  “Aowen is our healer, now that Fae is gone to us.”  Aowen scowled and leaned heavily on her cane, a sure help in her advanced years.

“You were close to Fae?” Greta asked.  “She was such a dear and lovely woman.”  It was not the time and place to mention that Fae still lived, only transformed into a dwarf wife as her half-fairy blood finally had a chance to express itself.

Aowen grunted and stepped into the house. Apparently, Greta said something right, and it helped when Greta stood and offered her seat.  Aowen grunted again and sat heavily.

“Mavis, fetch a cup of water.  Aowen has something to tell us.”  Mavis smiled at having something to do, and Aowen stared at Greta while Greta took another seat at the table.

“You are the wise woman of the Dacians?”  Aowen prodded.

“I am a woman of the Dacians,” Greta responded.  “Whether I am wise or not remains to be seen.” Greta reached out to touch Aowen’s hand, to show friendship, but her hand did not get that far.  She stiffened, and Mavis grabbed her, knowing the signs.

Briana came from the other room, dressed in a long tan dress with a green apron.  Now she looked like every other woman in the village, except for being young and pretty in a certain Celtic way that Festuscato would have loved.  She noticed nothing at first, but Aowen spoke sharply and got her attention.

“Put her on the cot.”  Mavis did and Briana asked what was the matter.

“She is having a vision,” Mavis explained.

R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 2 of 3

After that, there only passed snatches of conversations until it got dark and their captors brought some mashed meal and water.  It hardly seemed enough to sustain them, and Greta felt faint from hunger, having gone all day again without food.  One meal a day was not easy.  On the other hand, she imagined she might be losing some weight.  She really did not want to get round, like Mama. That thought did not help much.

Each person found a place to lie down, alone.  Drakka became the first to sleep.  As soon as Drakka began to snore, Koren crawled over beside Greta.  He shook her because her back was turned, but she was not asleep.

“Greta,” he whispered.  “Greta, I want to tell you why we are here.  Greta.”  She stopped his hand.

“I’m listening,” Greta whispered in return.

“It was Drakka’s father, Eldegard.  When the men rode out of the village after Lady Brunhild, he told us to keep an eye on things.  He feared Jodel’s father or one of the others might raise more men to swell the ranks of support for the Romans.  He said we were to watch and stop anyone who headed out for Ravenshold.  He said if we could not stop them, we were to kill them. Then you left town to cross the forest to Ravenshold.  We followed.”

“Drakka’s father, Eldegard?”  She got a clear picture, and her suspicions had been correct.  Darius was riding into a trap, to be squeezed between the hammer and the anvil.

“I want you to know.”  Koren went on.  “I only came along to see that Drakka did not hurt you.  I-I wouldn’t like it if you were hurt.”

Greta looked at him and he looked away.  She kissed his cheek.  “Thank you, Koren,” she said, while he turned scarlet.  “But you need to get some rest now.  We should all try to get some sleep.”

“Yes, you are right,” Koren said, while Greta scolded herself for sounding exactly like her mother talking to the children.  “I’ll be over here.  Good-bye, I mean, goodnight Greta.  I’ll see you later, in the morning.  Goodnight.” He crawled to the other side of the room and Greta glanced at Rolfus.  Rolfus’s eyes were open.  He faced her and as far as she could tell, he heard everything.

“What?”  She shot at him and tried hard to push her mother words away.  She wanted to know if he had a problem.

“Who can sleep with that racket?”  Rolfus frowned and pointed at Drakka, who snored.  He turned over and presumably shut his eyes.

Greta also scooted down and tried to get comfortable on the bare floor.  As she did, she got the distinct notion that Danna not only spoke to her, but said that she would probably have to pay a visit to the people in the morning, and perhaps visit this Bogus the Skin as well. Greta pulled back from the thought. What did that make her?  Far from fighting her own battles, she felt in danger of becoming no more than a pawn of the gods.  Nameless fought her enemies, Salacia kept her safe, and now Danna, to do what?  Gerraint said he was supposed to fight his own battles.  That only seemed fair.

“Is it wrong that Nameless, Salacia and Danna should seek to make peace between Dacian, Roman and Celt?” someone said.

“No.”  She almost responded out loud.  “But what does that make me, just a vessel for the gods to use and trash when they are done?”

“Greta will have to deal with the guns in her day.”  She remembered what Salacia said a lifetime ago, and sighed.  She turned away altogether from such thoughts and just as quickly, she found herself somewhere else.

Marcus, Darius, the Centurion Alesander, Herzglaw and Eldegard stood around a table in a tent of grand Roman design.  They were no doubt arguing about how they should enter Ravenshold in the morning. As soon as Greta saw them, Darius picked a cloth from a pocket in his cloak and went out into the night air.

“M’lord?” Gaius stood by the tent door, faithfully on duty.

Darius waved off his questions.  “They’ll argue a while longer, but in the end Marcus will have his way,” Darius said.

“M’lady?” Gaius asked another one-word question.

“It’s strange, Gaius, but despite being so far away I can almost sense her watching over me,” Darius said.  “But I suppose that is the way of it.  Foolish men go off to fight over foolish things while women stay home and wait and watch.”

Greta felt sure Darius spoke of his true love in far-away Rome.  She imagined that cloth as her token.  With a sudden surge of anger and hurt, she nearly lost the sight, but she settled herself and looked again.

“Women fight, too,” Gaius said.  “And just as much, but in other ways and on other battlefields.”

Darius nodded, as if to say Gaius was probably right, but he said no more.  He walked away from the campfires for a minute and stood under the natural light of the stars and the moon.  Suddenly, he came sharply into focus.

“The road is an ambush.”  Greta’s thoughts came quickly.  “Beware of Eldegard.”  Those thoughts poured out of her, again and again.

Darius’ eyes shifted, and for one brief moment it seemed as if they were looked eye to eye.

“Not tomorrow, but next morning.  Look for me. Look for me.”  She saw Darius lift his hand as if to touch her face and then she saw no more.  Someone kicked her.

“Get up!” The voice yelled.

Greta got up quickly, blinking against the bright morning light that streamed in the doorway. Drakka and Koren were being kept back by two men with swords.  Rolfus was still lying down, saying things in Dacian which made Greta hope the guards did not understand the language.

Despite Greta’s willing compliance, the one who kicked her also shoved her out the door. She spoke her feelings in his language.

“Don’t do something you might later regret,” she said.

“Shut-up.” He responded with a slap across her face.  Drakka and Koren both jumped but the door got slammed shut in their faces.  Drakka let out some epithets, but he got ignored. Greta felt the blood in the corner of her mouth, but she barely had time to touch it before she got dragged down the street.  She was not given the option of walking.  When they reached the center square, she ended up thrown face down in the dirt.

“I said fetch her, Vedix.  I didn’t say damage her.”  Baran spoke. He stood in the square with a number of men and one very old woman who was allowed a chair in which to sit.

“Sorry.” Vedix retorted with a laugh.

“He lies,” the old woman said.  The woman looked at Greta with a touch of sympathy as Greta got herself up and did her best to brush herself free of the mud.

“Fae.” Greta remembered the woman’s name. “I am pleased to meet you.”  And she was glad, indeed, to see another woman in the midst of all the men.  She hoped they might hear a woman’s counsel, and she also hoped that she and this druid, or wise woman might find some mutual ground on which to bond.

After a brief pause, Fae spoke softly.  “She does not lie.”

Greta looked at Baran and her curiosity must have shown.  He nodded, and explained.

“They say her grandfather was of the Vee Villy, though some believe he may have been one of the other spirits who haunt these woods.  Her father, the child of that rape, was never right.  He used to run off into the woods and disappear for days at a time.  Some said he went to dance to strange music in the fairy circles in the wilderness, under the moonlight.  Some say his other half needed time to live as well.  Other times, he seemed more normal.  They say when we escaped to these woods some seventy years ago, had it not been for him and his power over the animals and growing things, we all would have starved.”  Baran paused to shrug.  It all seemed mythology to him.

“In one of his more human moments, he impregnated a girl who gave birth to twins and promptly died in the birthing.  He disappeared, though some say he ran away and was lost in the mountains of Agdala, the Dragon.”  He shrugged again.  “But for us, the question was what to do with the twins.  After long debate, it was decided to give one to the Vee Villy in the hope that they would continue our prosperity without him here.  That prosperity has continued to this day.” He paused to take a breath.  He did not strike Greta as a believer in the earth spirits, but most of his people did believe, and as a politician, he blew with that prevailing wind.

“As a young woman, Fae went off with the people who wander the face of the earth forever and who have no home of their own.”

“Gypsies.” Greta named the people.  “It is so diluted now as to be almost nonexistent, but they, too, have the blood of the Vee Villy in their ancestry and have been cursed because of it.”

Fae’s eyes widened to imagine Greta knew anything at all about the Gypsies.  “She does not lie.”  Fae said. But Baran gave Greta a hard, cold stare.

“Sorry,” Greta said.  “Please go on.”

“Our Fae returned to us as you can see,” Baran continued.  “And she has served her people well for more years than any can remember.  But her greatest service has been to know when someone is telling the truth and when someone is telling lies.  She knows without fail,” Baran said, and he looked like he might be gloating.  “So be careful how you answer.”

Greta, however, read the man more deeply than he imagined.  She knew this was all show.  If she hung herself, that would just make things easy, but if she did not, he had already decided her fate.  It really was not fair, not the least because she was still having a hard time responding well in pressure situations.  Don’t panic, she told herself.

“What is your name?”  Baran asked. The lie detector always got the easy questions first.

“Greta.” She responded.  “The Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, Greta, and I am also called the Kairos, but as the Kairos I have had and will have many names.”  She looked up.

“What?” Baran gave her a stern look, but that stern look changed to surprise when he heard Fae give a little gasp.

“She does not lie.”

Baran tried again. “How old are you?”

“I am seventeen.” Greta said to Baran’s satisfaction, but she had not finished.  “And I am over four thousand six hundred years old, though I cannot say exactly how much over.”

“What does that mean?”  Baran threw his hands up when he heard Fae.

“She speaks the truth.”  Fae looked at Greta with a strange and curious look on her face.

Baran gave it one more try.  “You are the Wise Woman for your people?”  He asked.

“I am, as you call it,” she said.  He almost looked smug again.  “And much more besides.”

“What more?” Baran asked without waiting for Fae to verify her honesty.

Greta herself did not know where these thoughts came from, but she repeated them with certainty.  “An experiment in time and genetics, a safety valve for the gods, the Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, goddess to the little spirits of the earth, Lady of Avalon…”

“Shut-up.” Baran roared.  He threw his hands at her as if to say she started speaking nonsense, but Fae spoke clearly.

“She does not lie.”

R5 Greta: Betrayal, part 3 of 3

Jodel and Yanda talked wedding and had the first of what would one day be called counseling sessions.  Then Greta went to see Jodel’s father.  He had figured it out, as anyone with any insight at all could, and he happily accompanied Greta back to town to see Yanda’s father.  Yanda’s father, however, became a different matter.  He seemed fine with the wedding, but Greta thought his haggling about the dowry would drive her crazy.  In the end, they had to leave some things to be decided later. All seemed well, until he surprised her as she prepared to leave.

“I assume you will be at the meeting tomorrow.”

“Meeting?” Greta asked.  She knew at once, but she needed to hear it out loud.

“The elder’s meeting,” Yanda’s father said.  “Lady Brunhild says she has been sent by her son to speak for her son on important matters.”

Greta turned red with anger.  Even her freckles could not hide the emotion, but she spoke in a very soft and controlled tone of voice.  “There will be no rebellion,” she said.  She knew exactly what Lady Brunhild would be promoting.

“Do you really think that is what it is?” Jodel’s father asked.

Yanda’s father spoke.  “Some say it is so we can hear Kunther’s views on the land distribution.  Some say it is so he can begin building our force to defend the border.”

Greta stood up and the men stood with her.  “At high noon?” she asked on a whim.  Nameless might not like clichés, but there was a reason such things became clichés in the first place.

“Yes,” Yanda’s father confirmed.  “I thought you knew.”

Greta’s mind had been too busy dealing with poison and the aftermath.  She should have known.  She should have surmised.  “Rebellion will simply get us slaughtered with nothing gained,” she said.

The two men looked at each other.  They were elder elders who remembered the last rebellion.  Clearly, they agreed with her.

“There will be no rebellion,” Greta said through gritted teeth.  She left, but the joy of the day had all gone.  By bedtime she felt beaten back down to reality.  Even worse, her right leg throbbed, and she could not imagine what she might have done to strain it.

She slept fitfully, woke early and tried hard to think things through.  Her leg still hurt, so she had to limp her way outside. She believed that on her own she was no match for the witch, and clearly the word “witch” described Lady Brunhild. Perhaps she gave more credit than due, but the woman seemed a first-class witch and Greta decided not to underestimate her.  Nameless would not help her.  He was not authorized, and neither, apparently, were Salacia or Danna.  She sought out the others.  Bodanagus felt distant.  Ali, the life she lived right before her own, felt unsearchable.  Even Festuscato and Gerraint with whom she began to feel very close, seemed aloof.  Only one thing came through to her with crystal clarity, and it seemed to come from the Storyteller, the Princess, Diogenes and Doctor Mishka speaking with one voice in her mind.  This was Greta’s life.  There might be times when an intervention through time became warranted, but mostly Greta had to make her own way in her own life, and, as Gerraint underlined, fight her own battles.  Too bad, because Greta felt certain that on her own, she would lose.  She asked the Most-High God in Heaven to watch over her. She couldn’t die yet.  There were still guns somewhere that she had to locate and dismantle.

Greta spent the better part of the morning stinking up the kitchen.  She made a sleep potion, a healing balm with some antiseptic qualities, a strong inhibitor which could cloud the mind for a time, a hemp based uninhibitor, which could act something like a truth serum, and some pain killer.  She had no idea what she might need, if anything.  Mama’s only comment was she now understood why Mother Hulda built her house so far away from the village.  Greta smiled, briefly, but it hardly seemed a joking matter.  The time for the meeting had arrived.

Greta had her red cloak on and pulled her hood up to hide her face and hair.  She did her best to blend in with the men, who entered the council room, and she sat in the back where she hoped she would not be noticed. Lady Brunhild had not arrived, yet. No surprise.  Greta imagined the woman planned some grand entrance after everyone else got there.

Yanda’s father came up and sat beside Greta on one side.  Jodel’s father sat on the other side.  They must have talked.  The men who visited her home the other morning sat in front of them.  It felt like an honor guard and clearly some protection to be sure she did not get hurt.  She felt grateful.

Sure enough, when the small talk had been going on for a time, Lady Brunhild, the priest, and some of the lady’s escort came in loudly, drawing everyone’s attention. The priest helped the lady into the seat that faced the collected elders.  The young men were dressed for war.  The priest immediately said an invocation to begin the meeting.  He called on Zalmoxis, the Alfader, the god Sabazios of the horse, and the goddess Bendi of the Hunt.  He praised Sylvanus, Lord of the ancient forest, and bowed to all the Lords of Olympus.  Last, he called on the Nameless One whose right hand is the fist of battle and whose left hand is the open palm of peace.  He asked for peace in the deliberations, but hinted strongly that they were going to talk about the fist of war.  Greta smiled broadly at the description of Nameless, no doubt prompted through time.  Shut-up, she told herself.  She tried to focus.

Greta stood before Lady Brunhild could speak.  “There will be no rebellion,” she said in the hush.  “Last time the Romans showed mercy.  They will not show mercy again.”

“Silence!” Lady Brunhild’s voice shot out and many of the men were startled by the rudeness of her interruption.  “Child, you have no business here.  You may speak again only when I give you permission.”

Greta sat down. She said what she needed to say so it no longer mattered that she could not speak.  It felt as if her vocal chords were frozen.  She felt a constriction around her throat that made her breathing shallow.  She felt powerless to do anything about it, but she told herself it did not matter. The meeting began.

Lady Brunhild, supposedly speaking for Kunther, was persuasive.  Greta wondered how much came in the words and how much was magic. The people in the North all of the way up to Prolissum followed the lead of Ravenshold, but in the South, people looked to Boarshag.  Ravenshold seemed too far away, on the other side of the merciless forest.  Greta knew if Lady Brunhild could turn the men of Boarshag to follow Kunther in rebellion, soon enough the whole southland would be in flames.

They neared a vote, and it began to look as if Lady Brunhild might have her way.  The vote would be close.  Greta had to do something, but she began to panic and thus far she had not done well in panic situations.  One of the elders got up and opened a window.  It brought daylight streaming into what Greta only then realized was a dank and dark world.  The evil seek the darkness believing their deeds will not be found out, she thought. The righteous rise to the light. Greta stood.

The elders made way as she walked slowly to the front.  The pain in her thigh would not let her move faster.  When she got to the front and had everyone’s attention, she did the one thing she knew she could do whether she stood out in an open field or under a witch’s spell in a stuffy room in Boarshag.  She called out for the armor of the Nameless god.  It was her armor.  It was her lifetime.  Immediately, the constriction on her voice broke as her dress and red cloak were replaced by the chain mail of Hephaestus, the black and white cape of Athena, the helmet of Amon and the boots of her little ones, the little spirits of the earth, from the same crowd that made Thor’s Hammer, she thought, and that thought made her smile.  Unfortunately, the sword Salvation, which rested on her back, would be much too heavy for her to handle.  Besides, she had no experience with such weapons.  The long knife that rested across the small of her back, however, was another matter, being thinner, not as long as a Roman short sword, but longer than most knives.  “Defender!”  She put her hand out and called to the knife and instantly, the knife jumped perfectly into her hand.  This, too, had been a gift of the gods, and compared to the ancient gods, all the magic the witch could muster became like a drop of water to the ocean.

A collective gasp came from the men, and many hastily mumbled prayers, including several to the Nameless god which made Greta smile.  It appeared very showy, to call to her long knife, but it seemed like the only way she could be sure not to accidentally cut herself, and a good show was what she was presently after.  No one needed know that inside all of that glory, there stood the same little girl of small magic who felt no match for the witch.

Lady Brunhild shrieked at the change.  She leaned away from Greta when Greta turned and pointed Defender at her face like the accusing finger of fate.  “You came South to steal the best land before anyone else had a chance.”  Greta accused the Lady.  “Go and steal it if you can but leave Boarshag alone.”  Command came from Greta’s voice.  She felt armor inspired.

“No, no.” Lady Brunhild lied, and the lie became obvious to more people than just Greta.  Despite everything, the witch drew herself up as well as she could, and just started coming back to her wits, when a raven fluttered into the room.  Not one of the two greater spirits that used to serve Odin in Aesgard, to be sure.  As far as Greta knew, they passed over to the other side with their master in the time of dissolution.  Yet it was a raven all the same, so it had to be related in a sense.  It seemed drawn to Greta’s armor where the scent of the gods still lingered.  Greta put out her left arm, thinking fast, and the bird landed heavily on her wrist shield.

“Tell the Alfadur that all is well here,” she said.  “I think I can handle one little witch and her mindless escort.”  She pushed her wrist toward the window and the raven returned to flight with a “Caw.”  Instead of flying out of the window, though, it headed for the rafters.  “Yes.”  Greta said as if speaking to the bird.  “You can stay and watch.”

That became too much for the witch.  When Greta turned again to face her and point Defender at her, she shrieked again.  When Greta commanded, “Go!”  The witch hiked up her dress and fled, her escort trailing behind.



R5 Greta: Desperation.  Greta may have won the first skirmish, but the war is not over.  The witch has other tricks up her sleeve, like assassination.  Don’t miss the coming week, and…


R5 Greta: Betrayal, part 2 of 3

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.

“Good morning,” Mama said.  “And how is my Little Mother this morning?”

“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.

“Did we eat some bad mushrooms?” Greta asked with great concern.  “They can make you ill for a time, but I am sure it will pass.”

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.”

R5 Greta: Betrayal, part 1 of 3

A month went by, and Papa stayed away for most of that time.  They were surveying the river lands for distribution.  Greta kept busy doing what she trained to do.  She put Yani on a strict diet of greens when she determined the baby was a bit anemic, and another baby got born during that time. There were spring animals to be born as well, and a small spring festival that went with the birthing days. Greta told the stories that reminded the people of their heritage and culture, and made their hard-working, difficult lives a little easier.  Naturally, not all of the newborn animals survived.  Greta clearly said there would be times when a mother or child or both might not survive.  It was the way of all things.  Life and death did not cease.  They were like the seasons and would go on until the end of the world.  Oddly, she found some comfort in that thought.  It helped her grieve for Mother Hulda.

At the end of the month, Lady Brunhild, mother of the new War Chief Kunther, came to town. She came accompanied by an entourage of men and women, the chief of which was Vasen, the priest of Deyus’ Temple on the Mount of Kogaionon in Ravenshold.  Boarshag had its’ shrines and priests of a sort, but nothing compared to the great stone and marble Temple on the Mount.  That massive temple even impressed the Romans.  Greta felt certain it was nothing her people constructed. She imagined it already got old by the time the people migrated down from the North and up from the Tessalian plains and Macedonia to merge into the Dacian people.

Greta carried water from the central fountain as the traveling party rode up in a loud and leisurely manner, causing a scene.  Greta tried to get to the side of the road, but to no avail.  The Lady stopped, and so everyone else stopped.

“Girl.”  The Lady spoke to Greta.  “Take me to the house of Lady Olga, wife of Lord Vobalus the high chief.”  She gave a command to an underling hardly worth her contempt.

“May I ask your business?” Greta shot right back, without flinching.

For a second, it looked as if the lady might bite Greta’s head off, but she relented.  “I am Lady Brunhild of Sarmizegetusa,” she said and gave the ancient name for Ravenshold, the capital of Dacia.  “My son is Lord Kunther the high chief who shares that honor with Lady Olga’s husband.  I would pay my respects to the lady.”

“We have come on behalf of the Woman of the Ways.”  The priest interjected.  Lady Brunhild gave the priest a sharp look and he cowered momentarily, but otherwise, the lady did not lose her composure.

“You have found the Woman of the Ways.”  Greta said to the priest and ignored the lady.  Greta stood, poorly dressed, having just slopped the hogs before she fetched water, but Mother Hulda had always said one’s dress proved far less important than one’s bearing, and Greta bore herself well.

Lady Brunhild’s eyes shot straight to her, and Greta stared right back, and again she did not flinch.  Lady Brunhild appeared to be trying to get inside Greta’s mind, but Greta stayed busy making her own assessment.  Mother Hulda had taught her that the eyes were the mirror to the soul.  Greta saw the hate, treachery, a boundless, power-hungry, controlling ambition, and something very wrong inside the woman, which Greta could not quite name.

The lady laughed. “Child,” she spoke after she caught her breath.  “You flatter yourself.”  Some may have thought the woman laughed to cover her embarrassment at having made a bad first impression, but Greta heard the ridicule.

“I am going to Lady Olga’s home,” Greta said, as calmly as she could.  “You may follow if you wish.”  Greta started to walk, slowly.  Most of the party dismounted to lead their horses, but, as Greta surmised, Lady Brunhild was not about to give up her lofty perch.  It is difficult to manage a horse at a very slow pace, but Greta carried water and she saw no reason why Lady Brunhild’s ride should be a pleasant one.

When they arrived at the house, Greta set down her burden and turned in time to see Lady Brunhild turn up her nose at their plain and simple dwelling.  Mama worked in the garden and Greta went to fetch her.

“Mama,” she whispered.  “Kunther’s mother, Lady Brunhild, and the Priest from the Temple Mount are here.” Mama looked up, not quite comprehending at first, while Greta helped her to her feet.  “Lady Brunhild is the war chief’s mother,” she whispered more quietly in her mother’s ear.  “Watch out for her.  She is a stuck-up, overbearing, sly, two-faced bitch.”

“Greta!” Mama sounded shocked by her mouth.

“Did you hear what I said?” Greta asked.  She had chosen her words to be sure her mother heard.

“Yes,” Mama responded, kindly.  “We do not speak such words, and I am not a child who needs instruction.”

Greta hugged her. She knew her Mama would not be snookered.  “Allow me to introduce you,” Greta said, as soon as they came to where the others were waiting.  “Lady Brunhild, widow of Kroyden and mother of Kunther, the new war chief, and Vasen, high priest of the temple on the Mount Germisara.  She pointed to Mama but kept an eye on the priest and Lady Brunhild as she spoke.  “And this is Lady Olga, my mother.”

The priest got it and gulped, and his eyes widened.  Lady Brunhild, who now should have been doubly embarrassed, did not bat an eye, and Greta realized that Lady Brunhild would have treated her with the same contempt for an underling if she had known her to be both the Woman of the Ways and daughter of the high chief from the very beginning.

“Please excuse my appearance,” Mama started right in.  “And I am afraid the house is a mess.  You know, when the men go away it just is not the same.  But, of course you know.”  She sought the woman’s sympathy and tried to find some ground on which to commiserate.  “I was just gardening,” she went on uninterrupted.  “Would you care to see?  It would be most kind of you if you did.”  Mama took Lady Brunhild’s arm and guided her toward the side of the house. Greta grabbed the priest before he could tag along.

“You have come because of Mother Hulda?” she asked, but it was not a question.

“Outwardly yes, I mean, yes.”  He showed much more grace to Greta than before and perhaps even a little respect.

“And what have you heard?” she wondered.

“That the gods are angry with us.  That they sent a demon from the haunted wood to take our dear Mother away.”

“Yet she gave me the full blessing of the gods before she died so that I could follow-after her,” Greta mused, out loud.

“I know, Little Mother.  Everyone has heard this.  But Lady Brunhild says she will have no Woman of the Ways among her people.  She says it is only her ways that we must follow.”

Greta understood that there was an ego.  Forget a thousand years of collective memory and tried and true understandings, it is her way or the highway.

“Priest!” Lady Brunhild called.  She must have noticed he was missing.

“Right here.” The priest spoke up, but he whispered before he turned his back.  “Beware, she has powers to be reckoned with.”  He ran.  “I am right here.”

Greta wandered off the road to a place where she could sit but neither be seen nor heard. She spent a long time puzzling through what had been presented to her.  At last, when she felt it safe, she went home.  The coast looked clear.  Mama had started cooking.

“Sit down, dear.” Mama said and touched her arm. Immediately, Greta went stiff and had to sit down.  She saw Lady Brunhild clear as day speaking to the priest.

“She will grieve,” the woman said.  “But she will give no trouble, no trouble at all.”  Greta had to shake herself free of the vision.

“Eat, child,” her Mama said.  “You must stop daydreaming.  You will be married soon enough and your husband will want a responsible wife, not a dreamer.”

“Dreaming?” Greta asked.  Mama knew the signs of her visions.

“Sitting idly,” Mama said.  “Looking like you are thinking deep thoughts.  A child like you should not have to be troubled with deep thoughts.”

Greta’s mind became crystal clear, and she saw the glaze over her mother’s eyes.  She stood and slapped her mother, hard.  “Mama, come back to me,” she commanded.  Her mother looked surprised, then shocked, and finally looked terribly confused.  Greta knew this had to be a powerful enchantment.  Ordinary means would not work.  She steadied herself and remembered her lessons.

Capturing her mother’s eyes, Greta cleared her mind and heart of any imbalance.  Very quickly images of her and her mother together came floating up to the surface.  Shared memories bubbled-up, and as they surfaced, they passed through Greta to her mother, triggering Mama’s deep self to come back to the surface.

She came, as Greta became more and more drained.  “Greta?”  Mama came back, slowly, and asked, as if recognizing her daughter for the first time. Then she shouted, “Greta!” and caught her daughter before Greta collapsed to the floor.  She set Greta gently in a chair.  “Are you all right?” she asked.  “What am I doing?”

“It’s all right, Mama.”  Greta regained herself quickly.  She could see the magic of Brunhild, broken.  “Who am I?” she asked to be sure.

“Greta, of course. Do you feel sick?”

“No, Mama.” Greta asked again.  “Who am I?”

Mama paused. “My daughter.  Daughter of the high chief.”

“Yes.” she said. “But who am I?”

Mama did not pause this time as she understood.  “You are the Woman of the Ways for all of the people.”  She spoke with a touch of both humility and pride. She smiled at the thought, and Greta felt satisfied the bewitching had been completely broken.  At the same time, Greta felt exhausted and she doubted it cost Lady Brunhild as much.  Powers to be reckoned with, Greta thought.  No wonder the Priest seemed cowed.

Hans chose that minute to burst through the door.  “What’s cooking?  Smells great. I’m starved.”  He stopped talking, suddenly aware that Mama and Greta stared at him with their mouths part way open.  “Oh, women talk,” Hans guessed.  He helped himself to the stew he found on the table, and sat, to stare back at them.  “Go ahead, I’ve heard it all.”

Greta shook her head.  “I’m tired,” she said.  “I’m going to lie down.”  And she did. Mama stayed up long enough to put Hans to bed, but she had much to think about and only chewed on a crust of bread and had a cup of water.  She had lost her appetite.

R5 Greta: Betrothed, part 3 of 3

The men left for the south and the Old River in the afternoon; still too early for some of the celebrants.  Papa went with them, of course, but Hans did not despite his little tantrum.  Greta heard nothing from Darius.

Greta went to see Mother Hulda every day after that and always brought something in her cloth covered basket.  There still seemed to be a great deal that she wanted Greta to learn, and it seemed like she started cramming as much as possible into the shortest time.  Greta went home exhausted every night, but she went back in the morning with her goodies and a ready heart.

By the end of the week the sky turned overcast and rainy.  Mama insisted that she wear her red cloak, and Mama pulled the hood up and tied it tight against the weather, like she did when Greta was a child.  Greta did not complain.  This was her Mama.

“Tell the good Mother I will be up to visit in a week or so when your Papa returns,” Mama said. Greta knew that she wanted to talk to Mother Hulda about the wedding, but she appreciated the fact that her mother did not say so.

“I’ll be home for supper,” Greta said, but as she left, a strange sense of foreboding came over her.  That feeling increased when she got out of sight of the house.  The feeling came on strong enough to make her stop and look around.  She imagined nothing at home, and nothing to do with Papa, but it felt like something behind her, or up ahead, but behind in a way, like in the past.  She started to walk again and tried to explore the feeling of dread.

She heard a roar behind, a growl and a scream, and she screamed.  She spun around.  She wanted to run but her legs gave out.  She screamed again, but then she saw Hans rolling on the ground, laughing.

“Hans!”  She yelled, not a happy person.  She decided some demon must have set that up.  She already felt spooked, and Hans nearly gave her a heart attack.  She got so mad, she stomped her foot, made a fist, and let the steam out through gritted teeth.

“But you were so funny,” Hans said.

“Not funny!” she yelled.

“You going to Mother Hulda’s?  Can I come?” He did not really ask.  He would tag along regardless of what she said. Then she thought that he had seemed very bored in the last few days.

“Where are your friends?” she asked, having caught her breath at last.

“Doing stuff, I guess,” he said, with a shrug.  Greta imagined it had something to do with his new position, as son of the high chief.  Either he said something or did something, or they did, or they were no longer sure about him.  Greta felt certain that like the rain, it would blow over in time, but for the present, she returned his shrug.

“Let’s go.” She still felt spooked, and thought his company might help, even if he was a little creep.

They had not gone very far up the road, though, when Hans started off across country. “Come on,” he hollered.  “Let’s take the shortcut.”

“No,” Greta hollered back.  “I’m not tearing this dress on briars and bushes.”  How many dresses did he think she had?

“I’m going,” he said, and left, so it turned out she walked most of the way alone, after all.

Hans waited for her where the road turned.  After the obligatory, “What kept you?” they crossed the last, short meadow to Mother Hulda’s house.  All the while, Greta shook her head.

“Something’s spooky,” Hans said.  Even he felt it.  When they saw the house, the feeling intensified.  By the time they reached the porch, Greta could hardly keep from turning and running away.  She stopped at the door and told Hans to get behind her.  He did not argue.

She opened the door and screamed, and this time she knew what she was screaming about. There were bits and pieces of Mother Hulda thrown all over the room.  Mother Hulda’s head rested on a corner of the bed facing the door.  One eye was missing, but she stared at them with the other.

Greta could neither move nor stop screaming.  Hans pushed passed to see and promptly threw up behind the door.  That probably saved his life.  A noise came from the back.  A man hurriedly shuffled out of the dark, his eyes wide with madness.  He stopped, naked and filthy, and looked as if he had been burned everywhere.  Sores and open wounds covered his body where there had once been blisters.  His face looked like it had melted.

Greta still screamed, but her legs felt like lead.  She could not abandon Hans.  She could not move.  She cried out for help, and someone answered from deep in time.  The nameless god pushed his way through the centuries to stand where Greta no longer stood.  He came cloaked in his armor and weapons, but he did not touch the blades.

The madman clearly sensed the change and the aura of incomprehensible power.  He sniffed and howled after a fashion, dove through the window, and headed toward the forest, moving at a speed which seemed remarkable for a man who appeared to be half dead.  Nameless knew the wolf was something he would have to deal with, later. He learned long ago not to react out of upset or anger, and for the present, he had Hans to take care of, and Mother Hulda.

Nameless took Hans outside and cleaned him up.  Poor Hans got too sick even to wonder who this man might be.  Nameless carefully laid a hand on Han’s head and deliberately blunted the memory, making the sight inside the house seem like something from long ago and far away.  Thus, it would remain until it became long ago and far away.  Then Nameless turned toward Mother Hulda’s house.  He felt concerned about any saliva or wolf’s blood that might have spilled there.

When the last of the Were People isolated themselves from the human race, they hoped it would solve the trouble they caused.  They did not know breeding with humans would pass on the gene.  They also did not know about the micro-virus they carried.  To them, it remained harmless.  The wolf, the bear, the owl and eagle were mainstays of those shape shifters.  But in humans, it became a terrible thing.  Even when the gene and micro-virus got together, it could remain dormant for generations, but once active, there was no known cure. Humans were not built to withstand shape shifting.  The human mind was not made to temporarily take on the mind of the wolf.  The madness that produced was an intelligent, but utterly inhuman viciousness and lust that could only be sated with blood and more blood.

Nameless felt worried about the blood and saliva because that was how the micro-virus got transmitted.  Someone might come who unknowingly carried the gene.  It felt too risky for half-measures.  He concluded a funeral pyre was all he could do.  He moved everything of value that he cleaned to the barn with only a thought.  Then he spread his arms and the house burst into flames.  He reached out with his heart and made sure a number of people in Boarshag looked up at that moment.  He knew there would not be much time, so he immediately knelt beside Hans.

“Wow!”  Hans said, coming around since his memory got blunted.  “Who are you? Where’s Greta?”

Nameless smiled. “My grandfather named me Valdir, but most people know me as Nameless.  I am simply a man of the earth.  You might call me the woodcutter.”  That seemed to fit with the gist of the story.  “Feeling better?”

“You’re not dressed like a woodcutter,” Hans said.

“Hush,” Nameless said.  “It might be best if you did not say anything about my being here.”  Nameless spit on his two fingers and held out his hand.

Hans looked at the fingers, looked long into Nameless’ eyes as if searching for something he could not quite touch, and then spit and agreed.  They made a deal.  Immediately, Hans got something in his eyes, and while he turned away, Nameless left and Greta came home.  She almost slid right into the armor, which would have adjusted instantly to fit her, but at the last minute Nameless remembered, so she appeared in her dress, hooded exactly as she had been, in her red cloak.

“Where did he go?” Hans squinted up at his sister who now stood exactly where the nameless man had stood only a moment ago.

“The woodcutter went home,” Greta said, and she turned toward the house, which rapidly turned to ashes, and she began to cry.  Perhaps Hans’ vision had been blunted, but Greta’s had not.  The horror of what she saw washed over her, and she fell to the ground in revulsion and tears.

People came.

Hans hardly had time to stand, much less to comfort his sister before they found themselves surrounded by Rolfus, Sanger and Drakka.

“I saw the flames and smoke.”  Drakka spoke. “I was so worried about you.”  He got on his knees and held her up so she could cry in his shoulder.

“Oh, Drakka,” she said, and she wished he would hold her like that, always.  That thought barely flitted across her mind before the vision of Mother Hulda made rivers of tears.

Most of the women and not a few men that came, wept with Greta.  Jodel and Yanda brought Koren from his field, and he wept with Greta, and no doubt he would have wept for her if he could.  Mama came, and she kept trying to comfort Greta through her own tears.

Eventually, they got the story, mostly out of Hans.

“It was a man, I think,” he said.  “Mostly a man, I think.”

“What do you mean you think it was a man?”  Drakka’s words were loud, but it came out because of anger to think that anyone would murder the Woman of the Ways.

“A funeral Pyre,” Greta spoke in answer to the question she got asked.  It seemed the best thing.  Half-chewed bits of flesh and bone all over the house.  No one should have to see what she saw.

“What?” Sanger also sounded angry, and the others stood right there with him, but Drakka had Hans by the collar and it looked like he might hit the boy if he did not get a better answer.

“Was it a man or not?”  Drakka vented his rage.

Poor Hans looked frightened and confused.  “I don’t know.  I’m not sure.”  He shook his head.

“Stop!” Greta yelled and got more attention than she intended, even as it stopped the back of Drakka’s hand.  “It was a man who is a wolf,” Greta said. “It was the wolf who did this.”

“That’s it,” Hans said, hopefully.  “It was a wolf man.”  He need not have worried.  Drakka dropped him to the ground to focus on Greta.

“Don’t talk nonsense.”  Drakka said. “Was it a man or a wolf.”

“It was the wolf.” Greta answered.  “The werewolf.”  The crowd hushed.  Though only something from legends and nightmares, everyone knew what a werewolf was. Drakka took a half-step back, and people made signs in the air, mumbled prayers, and did little rituals to ward off the evil and gain the protection of the gods.  Greta pulled her red cloak and hood tight against the chill while thinking of her basket of goodies which by then had to be ashes.  She whispered one more thought before she stood to return home for a new round of tears.  “It was the big, bad wolf.”  Mama heard, and helped her walk without a word of her own.  Back home, Greta could grieve in the seclusion of her own room.



R5 Greta: Betrayal.  While the men go south to survey the good land, the enemy rides right into town.  The witch.  Yes, that is spelled with a “w”.  Happy Reading.


R5 Greta: Betrothed, part 2 of 3

The walk began in silence, but they had not gone very far before Greta prompted the old soldier. “Go ahead,” she said.  “Tell me what you wish.” She easily saw that there were things Gaius wanted to say.

“Tribune Darius is a good man,” Gaius began.  “He is a good soldier and commander, and he cares about the men under his command as much as any I have known.  He is honest, fair and hardworking.  All in all, about the best young man I have known.”

“Admirable,” Greta said.  “You are a good spokesperson, loyal to your commander, and that is also admirable.”

“Tonight, he was singing your praises.  I am sure he will make you a good husband.”

“Was he indeed?” Greta did not mean to sound sarcastic. “Tell me so I can see if he can carry a tune.”  Gaius looked reluctant.  Greta had to insist.

“I am no poet,” Gaius hedged.  “And I hardly remember, at least not exactly.  But he did say your hair was like the moonbeams, light and soft, to make a halo around your face.  Your eyes, he said, were the softest brown, like two fauns, wild and free.  And your cheeks were like currant and your lips, full and pink, like new raspberries.  Surely they must taste as sweet.”  Gaius stopped and cleared his throat.  This was hard for him.  Greta thought her Lord’s poetry might be improving, but that would not change the way she felt.  Despite his familial connection with Mother Hulda, he remained a Roman and that made him the enemy in all but fact.

They walked past a bonfire where several men were celebrating with gusto.  When they could talk again, Greta told him to finish. She knew there was something more, the crux of the matter.

“It is your father,” Gaius said.  “And Lord Marcus, especially.  My Tribune does not drink apart from wine with his meals.  But tonight, they insisted, and they kept giving him more, and they kept insisting.”  He stopped to face Greta so she had to stop.  She could tell this was the essence of the whole thing.  “Please, lady.  Do not judge him on this night.  He does not know how to handle drink and I am afraid his condition is not the best. Please keep an open mind tonight so you can get to know him as himself.”

“First impressions are lasting impressions,” Greta said.  She stopped talking.  She was not sure why she did not tell him she had already met Darius and felt suitable impressed by the way he defended her even when speaking in a language she presumably did not understand.  She knew him to be a good man, only she did not love him, and she decided that mattered to her.

Gaius turned around heavily and led the way without another word apart from asking her to wait at the door while he announced her.  Greta pictured him lifting his Tribune from the ground and setting his drunken Lord in a chair where he might stand a reasonable chance of staying upright.  When she entered the tent, she saw that was not the case.  Darius stood beside a small table and stool.  A parchment covered the table.  He appeared to have been writing.  Now, he looked only at her, and he did not even need the table to lean on. He dismissed Gaius.

Greta set her scarf on a stool by the door, and thought, In for a pound.  She removed her red cloak and laid it on top of the scarf.

“I will be just outside.”  Gaius saluted and left.  Greta did not know if Gaius said that for Darius’ sake or hers.

“Please sit,” Darius said, very stiff and formal.  He offered another stool, but Greta declined.  Darius requested to see her so she thought he should have the first go. It might have been a Koren kind of awkward silence if the drink had not loosened his tongue.  She could hear the slight slur in everything he said and she recognized the will it took to pronounce his words properly.

“I have been writing to Mother,” he said, is a casual tone.  “I thought perhaps you could help me with some choice phrases in your tongue, excuse me, in our tongue.”

Greta shook her head.  “It is not a written language,” she said.  “Besides, I will not help you do something you will later regret.”

She saw the anger flash across his face.  “I want to curse her for not telling me.”

“No,” Greta countered with equal fervor.  “Mother Hulda is precious to me, and I am sure her niece is a fine woman.  I will not help you curse her.”

“I thought she was Greek, you know.”  Darius spoke lightly, as if not giving the letter a second thought.  “There is no shame in having a Greek mother.”  She watched the anger in his face turn to pain. The drink started to play havoc with his emotions.

“There is no shame in being of the people.”  Greta said. She felt for the shock he must have suffered.  In time, he would see his blood as good and honorable, but it must have been a shock at first.

The drink turned his thoughts again.  “If it had to be someone.  I am glad it was you.  You are educated, and now I see you also have a heart.”  He took one staggering step forward, but stopped.  Greta felt the pressure on her own mind.

“I will be a good wife.  I will do my duty,” Greta said.  “But it is only fair to tell you my heart belongs to another.”

Instead of the anger or disappointment she expected, he smiled.  “How convenient,” he said.  “I also love another.”  Greta did not like the sound of that.  “But my dear Potrucias has not written to me in months.  I fear I have lost her to someone else, only no one will tell me.” He got angry again.  “I have lived my whole life in the dark, blind, stupid…” He turned and knocked over the table and sent the quill and ink flying.  He turned back to look again at Greta.  “By Jupiter, you are lovely.  Perfect, really.  He stepped to face her and she did not stop him.  He set his hands on her shoulders as much to steady himself as for any other reason.  “More than pretty to satisfy a man for a lifetime.”  When Greta looked up into his face, she saw the deep desire there and she thought she had better leave.

“We are not married yet,” she whispered

“What is marriage?” he quipped.  “How do we barbarians do it?  Ah yes, the men get drunk and take their women by force.”  He staggered back a step, but his ring caught on her stitching and tore her dress, nearly exposing her.

“Oh.”  He said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean.”  He apologized, utterly, but extracting his ring did not prove easy, and he nearly tore her top some more.

“Gaius!” Greta called before her anger could get the better of her.

“I.”  His eyes pleaded innocence as he staggered back and plopped down on the stool.

“How could you?” She said and held her torn dress up to cover herself.  “We are not animals, and I am not Lucretia.”  Just when she felt sorry for him, she was glad to be reminded that he was the enemy.  Gaius came in and covered her with her red cloak and then placed his big cloak around hers.  He started to guide her from the tent, but she turned her head for a last word.  “I will do my duty,” she said, a bit sharply, and left.

Gaius guided her home muttering to himself about how he should never have left them alone. About half way there, Greta calmed down enough to speak.  “Forget it,” she said.  She knew full well it was an accident.

“Pardon?” Gaius asked.

“This night never happened.  Just don’t let him drink anymore, ever.”  Greta pulled the soldier’s cloak tighter because it started getting cold.  “My scarf!”  She remembered taking it off with her cloak and setting it down in the tent. Gaius must have missed it in his haste to cover her up.  “Return it quietly if you find it, and then, as far as I am concerned, this evening never happened.”

“My lady is gracious beyond words.”

“Not really.” Though it pained Greta to say it. “I will be his wife whether I like it or not, only I will have no drunken fool for a husband.  You say he does not drink.  Good.  See that he stays that way.”

“On my honor,” Gaius promised.

Greta looked at him as they walked.  She felt certain he spent his whole life in the army, and he seemed the right age. When they were almost home, she ventured a statement, though it came out like a question.

“You were with Trajan in the valley the night his weapons factory exploded,” she said. “You were preparing to face the united front of Parthians, Persians and Arabs.”  Gaius stumbled.

“Yes.  How did you know?”  They stopped and Gaius answered his own question.  “Little Mother.”  He called her that in the vernacular.  “I was Lord Darius’ age, just twenty-two, an excited soldier in the ranks.  I got handed a weapon and taught hastily how to use it.  And I did use it.”  His voice trailed off.

“But now?” Greta prompted.

“But now I am a gray beard over fifty and I no longer find war exciting.  Peace is better, preferably peace with honor, but peace,” he said.  Greta liked what he said, but not what she was probing for.  She decided on the direct approach.

“I mean, if you were handed a gun today, would you use it?”

Gaius stood perfectly still and spoke with absolute certainty.  “No.  Such weapons do not discriminate.  Men, horses, women, children, they do not care.  I saw guns in Mesopotamia.  I saw blood and body parts everywhere.  No test of strength, courage, determination, discipline.  Such weapons do nothing to make a man into a man.  They make only carnage, for the sake of killing.  As far as the world is concerned, those weapons never existed, and those who remember do not talk about it.”

“Some of those weapons still exist,” Greta said, as she turned toward the door of her house. “I may very well need your help to destroy them.”  She handed him his cloak and went inside before he could answer.  She shut the door, believing it best to let him think about it.  Perhaps there were others of the same frame of mind.  She hoped by the time she found out where the weapons were, she might have some help.

Somehow, Greta got to the back and changed without waking Mama or Hans.  She then took the dress outside and started a little celebration bonfire of her own.  She did not want there to be any questions.  In the light of the fire, she thought of Salacia’s charge.  She saw no way around it.  The goddess clearly said that Greta would have to deal with it.  It hardly seemed fair.  Then it occurred to Greta that Salacia was simply herself in another life.  In a sense, she had to say she only did it to herself.  She could not blame anyone else.  She thought long about the implications of that, but concluded that it was still not fair.

When the fire burned down, she went straight to bed.  She dreamed in the night about Darius caressing her and she responded. She felt glad, at least, that it was not a nightmare.

R5 Greta: The Little Mother, part 3 of 3

When they neared the house, Greta spoke.  “I am sorry for what I said.  I was angry and upset, but it was not fair to take it out on you.”

Hans grabbed that opening, turned, and exploded.  “I’ll say it wasn’t fair!  I won’t be able to go anywhere for a month without people laughing.  Beliona might get over it, but Vabona never forgets such things. He spoke in a baby voice, “Mama said!  Mama said…  It would have been kinder to kill me.  I will have to walk around with a sack over my head for the next ten years.”  Greta slapped him, and then she let it out.

“Hans!  I got caught by a soldier when I went looking for you.  If Drakka had not come along I might have been raped or worse.  I needed you, Hans, and you weren’t there for me!”  She quickly grabbed Hans by the lobe again, dragged him into the house and deposited him at the kitchen table where he could nurse his ear.  She went to the back and fell on her bed where she cried, and she decided if Hans thought she cried about nearly being raped, let him.  After a while, when Greta lay quietly, Hans came slowly into her little room.

“Greta.”  He spoke softly and cleared his throat.  “Greta.”

Greta sat up, turned around and hugged him.

“I’m sorry,” Hans said.  “If you ever need me I promise I’ll be there.  I promise.”

“Stop,” Greta said, and pulled away from her hug.  “You should not make promises that you might not be able to keep.  Just be my best brother and that will be enough.”

Hans hugged her again, and then went out front, but Greta decided she would just mope around for the rest of the day.

After a while, Hans got to go off somewhere with Papa.  Greta hoped that would make his birthday a little better.    Mama stopped in several times and on one of those times she told Greta that Yanda came to the door.  Greta felt crampy, though, and said she was not in the mood to go out. Papa and Hans finally came home. Mama had been cooking special things all day and only Bragi was missing to make it a real family gathering. Greta felt better for a minute or two, until Papa spoke up, even as he grabbed a hot sausage.

“Sorry, dear,” he said.  “I have to eat with the Romans tonight, dreadful as that sounds for the digestion, but things will get back to normal soon enough.”  He kissed Mama and sent Hans out to bring in the packages.  They were new dresses, and Hans got a new outfit, too.

Greta squealed, just a little, and went immediately to try it on.  The dress was soft pink, richly embroidered with white flowers all around the collar and sleeves, and cut well and fit well around her young figure. She thought it showed her off, nicely, and everyone else thought so too.

“Papa.” Greta felt thrilled, and she gave him a big hug and kiss.

Papa pulled back. “Now go take it off,” he said.  “You will need to wear that tomorrow.”

Greta started toward the back, but stopped and turned.  “Why?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute,” Papa said.  “Get changed.”  Greta hesitated.  “Go on.” Papa smiled.  It looked forced, but Greta went and changed.

When she came back, she saw that Mama’s dress also looked very nice, but very Mama-like. Han’s new tunic had been emblazoned with a bear and a raven, and he showed Greta every stitch; but he felt most excited about showing her the knife which hung from his belt.  It seemed a rather long and sharp weapon for a fourteen-year-old, but the knife was the thing he most prized.  Greta felt pleased to see that he could put it back in its’ sheath without cutting himself.

“Now Papa.” Greta spoke suddenly.  “You must tell me all that has been decided.  Not your daughter, but you must tell Mother Greta. And you must tell me before you go back to the Romans.”

That bit about Mother Greta caught Papa off guard.  He sat heavily, but he began without hesitation.  “All right,” he said.  “You already know about the two chiefs.  What you don’t know is the offer the Romans made to bring about the whole thing.”

“The Macromani, the Quadi, the Samartins.”  Greta said. “Neither we nor the Romans alone have the resources to keep them at bay forever.”  That took no great insight to see.  A little talk and a little logic was all that was needed.  Greta was still too young to realize how rare a little logic was in the human race.  Papa stared, so she shut-up.

“Essentially,” he said.  “The Romans have proposed that we join forces for mutual protection.  It is the Emperor, Antonius Pius’ idea to use the peoples along the border to help defend the border.”

“That is reasonable,” Mama said, trying to join in.  “If the Romans want to help us defend our villages, I say, let them.”

“And what did they offer us to fight and die for their empire?” Greta asked.

“Land,” Papa said. “They will be granting us the lush, productive land along the Old River itself.”


“And some of the men have packed their homes already in anticipation of the riches. Others, however, mostly the young, claim to be insulted that their lives should be bought so cheaply.  They say we should see what the Samartins offer.  But the older men know better.  I still remember the rebellion and losing my father when I was Hansel’s, er, Hans’ age.”


“So, the council elects a high chief to work the deal with the Romans, and a young war chief in Kunther, son of Kroyden, to raise and train what they are calling the Foederati troops to be used to defend the border.”

“But you don’t like the idea at all.”  Greta said. She started reading him, but he only laughed.

“I am the high chief.  Why should anyone listen to me?”  Greta stared at him until he confessed himself.  “I think it will truly divide and ruin us.  Some will pursue wealth in the lowlands.  Some will maintain their honor and live in pride in the highlands. Soon the Lowlanders will grow tired of feeding the Highlanders and the Highlanders will grow tired of defending the fight-less Lowlanders.  Then we will be fighting each other, and we might as well just give the land to the Quadi.”

“Draw lots to see who gets the rich lands,” Greta said.  “Then insist that they provide sons to fight in the first line of defense or their land will be given to a family that has sons.  Since they will have the best land, they should feel strongest about wanting to defend it.”

Papa visibly brightened.  He hardly had to think about it.  “That’s it!” he said, but then his face fell again.  “There are the young ones with Kunther.”  He leaned forward and whispered even though it was only the family in the house.  “They are talking outright rebellion and even joining the Quadi and Macromani against the Romans.”

Greta shook her head.  She had no suggestions for that one.   “One problem at a time,” she said.  “Meanwhile, there is more.”  She nearly asked where the cement was that would bind the agreement between the people and the Romans, but the hair rose-up on the back of her head and she grabbed her tongue.

Papa looked down. He began to twiddle his thumbs.  A deep sense of foreboding passed over Greta. “The Lords Marcus and Darius have taken a real liking to your brother, Hans,” he said.

“Darius gave me my knife.  He really is a great guy, ow!”   Papa kicked Hans under the table.  Greta turned toward Papa and the creepy feeling went all over her skin.

“In order to solidify our agreement and solidify our unity, the daughter of the new high chief will be betrothed in a special ceremony tomorrow at noon to the Tribune Darius.  The wedding will be in mid-summer.”  Papa stood and Hans stood with him as Mama drew in her breath.  Greta stared at Papa in shock as they left.  Then she closed her mouth.

Mama got up after a moment and fixed two plates with some of the special things she had been cooking, carefully picking out Greta’s favorites.  Greta told herself screaming would have been pointless.  She could not cry about it.  She had spent all afternoon crying.  Perhaps she could just hang herself.  Maybe Drakka could make something special with which she could hang herself, because, after all, he was such a very good friend.

Mama set Greta’s plate down and sat facing her.  “We’ll have to get straight to work if we are going to get your wedding dress ready by mid-summer,” she said.

Greta screamed. It wasn’t as pointless as she thought. When she went to bed, she was not sure if she had blinked yet, but her last thought was, well, at least he got a promotion out of the deal.


Greta cried in the morning on general principal.  Then Papa came in and they had to talk.  He hugged her first, but she had gone cold.

“Greta sweet.” He called her that sometimes.  “You have to try and understand how important this is.  In a way, it means the difference between war and peace.”

“Tolstoy.  I read that book,” Greta responded, without really thinking.  “I think it is about time you men fight your own fights or make your own peace without selling your daughters like cattle.”  Greta paused. She remembered Helen of Troy and realized that men used women as an excuse for all sorts of things.  She looked up at her father.  “What?”  She started to wonder what he wanted.

“Greta sweet.” He said that already.  “I was thinking, the people need their Woman of the Ways for counsel and help, especially in difficult times such as these.” He paused.  He was not sure what to ask so Greta helped him out.

“So, you want someone else to be the Woman of the Ways,” she said.  Papa nodded.  “Impossible. I did not pick this, as you know. I’ve been with Mother Hulda almost all my life and regularly for the last five years because she knew I was chosen to follow-after her.  There is no one else.”

“Mother Hulda?” Papa said, hopefully, though he knew better.

Greta shook her head and spelled it out.  “She is too old and there is not enough time for her even if there was someone else.” Greta did not say that Mother Hulda would die soon, but they both understood.

“You could pass on the gifts?”  He tried again.

“Not by mid-summer,” Greta said in a voice that was not to be questioned.  “And there is no one right now to pass them on to. Papa, I must be what I was born to be. I would cut off my right arm before giving this up.”

“I would cut off my right arm for peace,” Papa said.  “Worse, I have given my only daughter to the Romans for a pinch of hope.” He looked at the floor, ashamed of himself.  Deep inside, Greta understood, even if she despised her fate.  She kissed Papa’s cheek and spoke, though her heart was not in the words.

“I will do my duty,” she said.

Papa looked up. “I know you will.”  He kissed her forehead.  “I believe in you.”  And he rushed out the door, his cape fluttering behind.



R5 Greta: Betrothed… but there are some twists and turns in this road.  Don’t miss it…


R5 Greta: The Little Mother, part 2 of 3

Greta got uncomfortable, so she changed the subject.  “Where’s Bragi?” she asked.

Papa shook himself from his thoughts.  “He has stayed in Ravenshold with the new war chief,” he said.

“There are two high chiefs!”  Greta blurted it out before she could stop her tongue.  She remembered what Mother Hulda said about how sometimes it would be best to keep silent.  Papa slammed his fist on the table and looked at Greta as if she had just confirmed his worst fear.  He stood and began to grumble as he paced the room.

“Two?” Mama asked.

“Two what?” Hans didn’t quite catch it.

Greta looked down at her lap where her hands were folded and her knuckles turned white. She had not intended to say anything, but she and Mother Hulda had figured it out.  Her hands began to sweat.  There were indeed times when it was best to say nothing at all.  She would let Papa explain.

Papa stopped pacing and faced the family.  “The council has decided to divide the leadership of the clan,” he said without any build up or preliminary explanations.  “I have been elected high chief, but Kunther, son of Kroyden from Grayland has been elected what they are calling the war chief.”  Papa paused, and that let Mama get a word in.

“My Vobalus elected high chief.”  Her eyes got big.  “Whatever shall I wear?” she asked.  Greta grabbed her Mama’s hand to bring her attention back to the point, but she laughed because she had thought much the same thing.

“I swear this was the Roman’s doing,” Papa continued.  “Divide and Conquer.  Especially that Lord Marcus.  You watch out for him.”  Papa pointed at Greta for some reason.  “I have never seen such political skill in one so young.”  He paused again.

Greta considered Lord Marcus and all at once her eyes rolled back and she became stiff. Papa got ready to speak, but he noticed and stopped.  Hans quickly grabbed his sister to keep her from falling.

Greta saw Marcus as an old man on a field outside Vienna.  Darius was with him and to her surprise, she was as well.  It would be the end of Marcus’ days.  “Ah!”  Greta let out a little shriek and came back to the table.  Then, she could not tell how much was the vision and how much had been a gift from one of her future lives, but she spoke what she knew before she opened her eyes.

“Marcus Aurelius,” she named the man.  “Son, or rather, adopted son of the Emperor, Antonius Pius.  He will be the next Emperor of Rome.”  She looked up and saw Hans smile, her mother with her mouth open, and her father in a fury.

“How can I do it?” Papa raged.  “How can I give such a gift to the Romans?  Hella’s breath!”  He added a few more disgusting and colorful phrases and stomped out of the house like a man on a mission.

Mama and Hans asked simultaneously.  “What was that all about?”

“I’m not sure,” Greta answered.  “But it has something to do with me.”  She smiled and took her mother’s hand because Mama looked worried.  “You know a seer is never good at seeing things concerning herself. But don’t worry.  In this case, I feel it will be all right.”

“I know your grandmother could not save herself in the last rebellion,” Mama said, thoughtfully. “She had no idea what was coming and ended up slaughtered right along with the rest of them.”  It did not exactly abate her worry, but it did turn Mama’s thoughts to her own loss and years of being without her mother.  Greta hugged her.

“Greta.” Hans interrupted, oblivious to the feelings being shared.  “Will you go with me to see the camp?”  He was being careful.  He knew he would never be allowed to go alone and if he snuck out it would be worse for him. Mama looked up, appeared to want Greta around all of those men even less, but Greta patted her hand.

“Son and daughter of the new high chief,” Greta reminded her.  They should be safe enough.  “And I should go to keep Hansel out of trouble.”  Mama agreed with that much.

Hans rankled at the name even as he jumped to the door.  “Come on,” he said.  A field full of warriors, weapons, armor, campfires, fights, drinking and stories. What more could a fourteen-year-old want for his birthday?

“All right birthday boy,” Greta said, and she followed after him.

“Keep out of the way, Hansel,” Mama shouted.

“Hansel,” Greta teased, but quietly.

“You promised!” Hans took that moment to protest, but he obviously did not feel too concerned.  He took off running, and Greta was not about to run after him.

Two hours later, Greta chided herself for not running after him.  She got angry that he took advantage of her good nature.  He had no intention of going with her.  He only told that lie to be allowed to go at all; and Greta thought the worst—he would probably swear that Greta was the one who got lost, and Mama would believe him.

“Hans! Hansel!”  She shouted.  Every time she walked between new tents, the men around that campfire would stop and stare. Still, she did not think that any of them would do anything until she came to a place where she knew no faces. One half-drunk man stood up to block her way.

“Lost your little boy, Hansel?” he asked.

“My brother,” Greta said.  She deliberately did not say little brother.  Let the man think what he would.

“Not married, eh?” He baited her.

“And not interested,” Greta said, as she tried to push passed.  He held his arms out to stop her even as his friends around the fire tried to hide their laughter.

“Aw, be kind to an old soldier,” he said, and Greta noticed he did not have many teeth left. “One kiss of those full, red lips and I could rip a lion apart with my bare hands.”

“Ugh!” Whatever made men think that sort of thing was a turn-on?  All Greta could imagine was a bloody, disgusting mess of a poor lion.

“Come on,” he said.  “One small kiss never hurt anyone.”  He began to circle his arms around her, but Greta’s hand came up into his chest and she stiffened her arms to keep him at bay.

“No,” she said, forcefully.  Something like a static electrical charge that ran up her arms and out of her hands. No white light of a goddess appeared, and no wolves caught on fire, but the man felt the shock and jumped back in surprise.  Greta felt nearly as surprised herself, but she stayed calm.  The men that sat around the fire also looked surprised.  They saw the sparks fly.

“Greta.” She heard Drakka’s voice.  “Greta.”  He came running up, leaving Sanger to follow with the cart.  Drakka quickly assessed the situation and began to whisper loudly in the man’s ears.  Greta heard the words “high chief,” and saw the man step back.  When she heard “Woman of the Ways,” and “Mother Hulda,” she watched the man move behind the protection of his fellows.

“Forgive me Little Mother.  I-I didn’t know,” he apologized, and it sounded sincere.  Every village and town had its’ healers and midwives, but the Women of the Ways were few.  Mother Hulda was the only one in the whole territory in Greta’s lifetime.  Everyone from Ravenshold to the north border and south to the Danube looked to her for many things.  Chiefs and high chiefs all called on her at one time or another. This was another part of the job that would take some getting used to.

“No harm done,” she said kindly to the man, but when Drakka and Sanger took her away in the cart, she whispered into Drakka’s ear.  “I should have turned him into a frog.”  She meant it in jest.

Drakka’s eyes got big.  “Could you really do that?” he asked, in all honesty, and Greta realized how stupid her joke had been.  She dared not say no, though that would have been the truth.  She dared not say yes for the sake of the truth, and for the future record.  She remembered Mother Hulda’s lesson about knowing when not to speak too late.  She had spoken foolishly.

“I would never do such a thing,” she spoke softly and humbly.

“Brother.”  Sanger wanted help with the cart and Drakka kept his thoughts to himself and put his back into it.  The cart had bread, meat and beer on it.  Some had been drafted to go around the camp and make sure everyone had shelter and something to eat.  Drakka spoke again at the next stop.

“Your father has appointed my father as one of his lieutenants,” he said.  “I guess that means we will be seeing a lot of each other. That will be nice.”

“Nice?” Greta did not want that word to sound the way it sounded, but Drakka did not notice.

“Sure,” he spoke frankly.  “Our fathers have always been close.  I always thought of you as one of my best friends, really, even when you were as small and pink as a newborn pig.”

Friends? This time Greta only thought the word as Sanger spoke.  “Hey!” They moved on.

At the next stop, Greta touched Drakka’s strong arm.  It made him pause, and Greta felt a kind of electricity there, too, but this kind made her heart thump.  “I’ve always liked you, too,” she said.  She looked hopefully into his eyes.  If he had any disinterest there, she could not read it.  He smiled, but quickly turned and went to work distributing bread and beer.  So, her position did not feel hopeless, Greta thought happily to herself.  Then the cart got emptied, and they went back to the main road where the supply wagons were parked.  Liselle worked there, helping-out, and Greta saw how Drakka and Liselle looked at each other and felt crushed all over again.  Then she spied Hans in a wagon with Vabona.  Too bad for him.

“Hans! Hansel!”  Greta yelled at him, insulting him in front of his friends. She trapped him in the wagon. He had nowhere he could go to escape.  He came to the wagon’s edge.

“What?” he asked, sheepishly, having a pretty good idea already.

“Your Mama told you that you could come here with me, not run off on your own.”  She got mean.

“Your Mama?” Beliona picked up on it right away.

“Get down here,” Greta yelled.  “I spent all afternoon looking for you.”  Hans looked once at his friends who were not even trying to hide their laughter.  He started to get angry as he climbed down, but his anger never had a chance.  Before his toes touched the earth, Greta had him by an ear lobe and she began to drag him off.  “You’ll be lucky if Mama doesn’t make you do the spring cleaning.”  It was the worst thing she could think of and it started some others laughing.

“Greta.” Hans found his voice.  “Go easy, sis.  It’s my birthday and you are hurting me.”

Greta felt mad and unfortunately Hans became the victim.  He got found in the wrong place at the wrong time.  She did let go of his ear, but only to grab him by the back of his neck.  He did not struggle.  He knew he had no choice.  Mama would only yell at him, but if he broke free and stayed out later, Papa would beat him or whip him for sure.  He came quietly.

R5 Greta: The Little Mother, part 1 of 3

Greta got up from bed as soon as she was allowed.  She busied herself with tasks to keep from thinking too hard.  Mother Hulda, patient all that time, did not say a word about it.  After three more days, Yani went into labor and Greta accompanied Mother Hulda to the house.  Under Mother Hulda’s insistence, Greta delivered the baby.  She had presided over other deliveries, to be sure, but never one where Mother Hulda went into the other room, closed the door and had tea. Yani had a beautiful baby girl. Later, Mother Hulda said Greta got everything just right, but then Greta knew she had help beyond what Mother Hulda had taught her.  About nineteen hundred years in the future from where Greta stood, she knew Doctor Mishka had delivered hundreds of babies.  Greta even heard the words, “Very nicely done,” echo in her head at one point. It sounded very much like talking to herself, but Greta knew she was not.  The Doctor praised her work, and after that, Greta thought that perhaps living all of those other lives might prove some benefit and not be the terrible burden she feared.

Yani looked up into Greta’s face when Greta handed her the baby.  “Thank you, Greta, dear,” Yani said, and with such genuine gratitude in Yani’s countenance and in her voice, Greta became temporarily speechless. Greta looked at Mother Hulda who nodded, and that reassurance helped.

“Get some rest.” Greta told Yani.  “Let your mother hold her granddaughter for a while when you are ready.”  She gave Yani a sisterly kiss and stepped away while Yani nodded, and Greta knew from that moment on she would be Yani’s doctor, and her baby’s doctor, and probably her mother’s doctor as well.

Still early morning, Greta and Mother Hulda left Yani’s house.  Mother Hulda said she had to go home.  Greta said she would accompany her.  She worried about Mother Hulda walking so far, uphill, alone.

“The question is,” Mother Hulda spoke, virtually reading Greta’s mind.  “Are you up to it?”

“I’m not sure,” Greta answered honestly with a laugh, and the two, like cripples, one old and one young, waddled up the hill.

“I saw more than you think,” Mother Hulda said, after a short way.  “The Nameless god is watching over you, even as he watches over the elves of light and dark.  If you ever needed help, I would not be surprised if he sent the spirits of life themselves to your aid.  I also saw Danna, and how Salacia is on your side as well, though that last connection is not so clear in my mind unless there is a young Roman man in your future.

“Please,” Greta protested.  “I would feel like a traitor to my own people.”  It sounded like a horrendous idea in her ears, but she considered Mother Hulda.  Mother Hulda had been taken to Rome, and some said she even took a lover there.  Greta decided that the idea did not sound nearly as horrible to her.

“All the same.” Mother Hulda said.  “I saw the powers watching over you.  I have had no such geis on my life.  My power is very small, but it has sufficed for my needs.”

“It has been sufficient for all that you have been authorized to do.”  Greta suggested.

Mother Hulda thought that through.  “A good way to put it,” she said.  “Still, it is good to have work in whatever way it comes.”  Greta waited for Mother Hulda to finish her thought.  “As for your magic, I do not know.”

“It is small,” Greta said, honestly.

“Bah!” Mother Hulda responded.  “You have two good feet and two good hands, sharp eyes, a well-ordered mind and a good heart.  You have everything you need to succeed.  Otherwise, I would not be giving my children to you, and most alive are my children, including Yani and you.”

“Giving them to me?” Greta said, innocently.

“Of course, child. I will not be here forever,” Mother Hulda said.  Greta nodded, but felt a little twist in her stomach.  She was not ready for Mother Hulda to pass on her magic wand, so to speak. Greta knew that someday she would be the village Shaman, the Witcher Woman, the Woman of the Ways, the keeper of the old ways in the knowledge of the old stories, the purveyor of wisdom, reading, writing and conversing in several languages, knowing herbs and salves, potions and medicines, being midwife and healer for the tribe and clan, the seer, and maker of magic for the benefit of the people.  It was a lot to expect, and Greta felt nowhere near ready.

“Oh, dear Mother,” Greta spoke, as she took Mother Hulda’s arm to help her over some rough spots. “You will be around for a long time yet.”  Greta felt glad Mother Hulda did not argue.  They both knew what Greta said was not true.

“And you have your task already laid out for you,” Mother Hulda said.  “The gods have been kind to you.”

“Task?” Greta questioned.  “I don’t understand.”

“Every woman who mediates the way of the gods in service to the people is given a task by the gods to prove their worth to take up the mantle of wisdom and healing.  I saw your Arabian and the wagons of weapons. I can tell you, the weapons of Trajan never made it to Rome.  I heard the goddess say it would be Greta’s task.  That is you, child.”

“But,” Greta began, but she saw no point in protesting.  Witcher Woman or not, Greta knew the job would still be hers, and every life she lived with whom she was presently in touch confirmed that feeling. Guns did not belong in the Roman Empire.  That was that.

“Well, I am sure with the gods in so generous a mood, they will also empower you to accomplish your task.  Then you will officially be the one for the people, though I feel in my heart you are already there, and you might be surprised to know that most of the people agree with me.”

Greta did feel a bit surprised to hear that, but curiosity ate at her.  “And your task?” she asked.

Mother Hulda smiled, as if she anticipated the question.  “To spend twelve years in captivity in a foreign land and not be enslaved, or worse.  To come home in one piece, free and safe.”  Greta nodded. She had guessed that, but Mother Hulda had not finished speaking.  “Do not shrink from whatever the gods may send to test you.  Obedience is better than words, and so is silence.  If there is one lesson left to learn, it is to know when to speak, when to humble yourself to refrain from more speaking, and when to keep silent.  It is a lesson, like most, that you will never master.  Only remember what you are supposed to do.”

They arrived a short time later at Mother Hulda’s door.  They kissed good-bye and Greta turned for home.  She had to go slow.  It was not easy making her tired legs take her back to bed.


After another two weeks, Papa finally came home.  He pushed himself to arrive on the day Hans turned fourteen.  Two days earlier, Greta caught her little brother holding hands with a thirteen-year-old girl.  The girl turned very red and ran away, but Hans made Greta swear not to tell anyone, especially the guys—as if she ever talked to them.  Greta promised, but then she could not seem to refrain from calling him Hansel all during his birthday.

During those days of waiting for her Papa, Greta discovered several things.  For one, she found it was not difficult to avoid the boys, and Drakka.  She felt a bit embarrassed by her recent, helpless condition.  Fortunately, she had no reason to hang out at the blacksmith’s shop unless she chose to do so.  Of all the boys, only Koren made the effort to catch up with her.  He seemed good about her experience, but after several sentences, Koren ran out of things to say.  They would stand awkwardly for a few minutes until Greta said she had to go. Then Koren would perk up.  He was very good at saying good-bye, but after a few such encounters, Greta felt sorry to say, she began to avoid him as well.

On the other hand, the girls seemed to always be around.  She saw Vanesca every day, and Yanda only a little less, because Yanda began to spend more time with Jodel at the blacksmith’s.  She saw Venice several times, and Venice seemed nice, but that was not surprising, because she had always been the nice one.  What felt surprising was running into Liselle twice and Karina three times.  On their own, they came across warm and friendly.  When she met them both together, Greta noted her treatment became more formal and cordial.  It reminded Greta that their friendliness came, not because she suddenly became one of the beautiful and popular people.  Rather, her position mattered.  It was always important to stay on the good side of the Woman of the Ways. Both would be needing Greta’s services in the future, and perhaps in the not-too-distant future.  They did not exactly butter her up, but Greta found her treatment far better than it used to be.  Clearly, they continued to snub Vanesca and Yanda without a second thought.

Papa came home at the front of a great column of men.  Some of the men lived in Boarshag, some came down with him from Ravenshold, and some, perhaps most, lived further down the hills, in the valley of the great river.  Some three hundred auxiliaries hailing from Dalmatia, Moesia and Gaul, and two hundred Romans, also came; almost half the contingent assigned to Ravenshold from the legion fort in Apulum.  The Lords Marcus and Darius, and another centurion named Alesander headed the columns. Greta saw them ride through town, laughing and talking as if on a hunt, or a friendly afternoon ride.  The Romans and auxiliaries took their men to camp on the hilltop south of town; the best defensive position around.  The people camped in Papa’s main field which had just been planted before the high chief died and the counsel got called.  Greta felt sure that after the camp they would not get much grain out of that field, but apparently, the men did not consider that, or they did not care.

Once the camps were set, Papa came bounding in to give Mama a big hug.  Wouldn’t you know, the first thing out of Mama’s mouth was the story of Greta’s visionary experience.  She told how Greta birthed Yani’s child, and about a couple of small healings Greta had performed in the last two weeks.  Mother Hulda made it clear to everyone that she had become too old to continue and they should look to Greta now as their Woman of the Ways. Mama sounded very proud.  She always felt her mother, Greta’s grandmother, should have had that honor.  But now, Greta being chosen seemed like vindication in her mind.  Papa, however, sat in silence at the kitchen table.  He came home dressed in his armor, like one ready to go to war, and he kept looking at Greta like one studying his enemy and searching for weak points to attack.