Heartcleft road – Gna’s Story part 8

Posted: May 6, 2015 in Aesir & Asynjur, Alfar & Duergar, Deities & Wights, Gna, Stories
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Part 8: Little Friends –

I rolled out of bed and shambled to the window. Pulling the curtains, I was greeted by the sun peeking over a forested horizon. Except it was too red – had I slept through the day? Blinking a few times, I realized it was merely a painting of sunset covered with curtains. It wasn’t even on the outside wall.

“Funny, very funny,” I muttered, remembering this was my room in Helheim. Crypts did not have windows.

I ambled to the wooden water basin near the door and gave it a sniff. I was wary of what might pass for hygiene around here, but the liquid was clear and without a suspicious odor. Come to think of it, I hadn’t really noticed much in the way of smells since I’d died. After splashing water on my face to wake up, I went to find a towel, washcloth and soap.

Thoughts of the previous day brought me a smile, and I marveled at the improvement of my mood. I had to see her again, I decided. Being alone wasn’t good for me, and I’d do almost anything to avoid returning to that frozen state of Silence.

Once dressed, I stood at the mirror. My skin had more color, looking less dead than yesterday. I whistled an old wind summoning tune as I redid my braid. From there I practically flew down the stairs to the outer doors.

She was leaning against the garden fence, fidgeting with the drooping end of her belt as I stepped out, and she wore a green kirtle dress today.

“Greetings Grisella,” I said.

She looked up and smiled. “Greetings Milady.”

We faced each other, unsure of what should happen next.

“Finally, someone took notice!” A woman’s voice startled us.

I turned and saw the one I’d been calling Gray Woman, her arms crossed and smiling in malicious glee. Again she wore that plain gray wool dress today.

“I knew one of you would take care of her – once you could spare the time,” she said.

I took a step back. “Take care of her in what way exactly?”

She spread her hands. “Remove her, banish her, send her to the snakes in Nastrond to suffer. Whatever punishment you think is best, Milady.” She bowed her head to me.

My blood was definitely pumping right then as I pursed my lips. I considered a few scathing comebacks, then settled on a different approach.

I turned my head to Grisella and winked, then cleared my throat as I went to her side.

“As I was saying, dear Grisella, I like the curtains in our room at the castle the way they are, but if you insist we can change them to a color you prefer. I want you to be happy by my side, after all.” I took her by the arm and nestled close.

Gray Woman went pale. Her skin tone already matched her name, so that hardly seemed possible, but she did.

My friend blushed. “Milady is too kind. Who would have thought the two of us would grow so close in such a short time. It be a dream come true, becoming your companion.”

“Ah, you’re too modest, Grisella,” I replied. “It is you who is fabulous, and I who am in your debt for your counsel and comfort.” This was so much fun, I couldn’t help but push the game further. I nuzzled my friend’s neck and inhaled her scent as she squirmed in my arms. It was worth it to see Gray Woman’s jaw drop.

“So,” I continued, my voice turning cold as if I considered the subtle flavor of rotting fish, “what should we do with this one?” I waved a dismissive hand at Grey Woman. “She seems to think you’re unworthy, and by insulting you, she insults me. I can’t very well let such offense go, now can I?”

Grisella’s grin almost went to her ears. “Oh, ‘tis a terrible thing to insult my mistress, I agree. Sending her to the snakes… that be insufficient, methinks. Would they not welcome their own?”

Putting a finger to my chin I nodded. “Quite right. She might even take over, given a chance, as her mouth venom is more toxic than most. I think I’ll just have to punish her myself.” I let go of the arm and took a step forward.

The chastised woman fell to her knees. “Please, Milady! No…”

Gloom gathered around me, filled with the new power I wielded in Helheim. “Was that,“ I thundered, “the position you left my companion in yesterday?” My voice sounded hollow, yet echoed with dread and promises of doom.

“N-no…” she stuttered.

“Then assume that position now,” I demanded.

Grey Woman whimpered as she lay herself face down on the ground.

I wanted to kick her, hurt her. She deserved it. Glancing to Grisella, her eyes showed how she hungered for this revenge. But under that anger was pain. We had the upper hand and so became the new bullies. The tormented become the tormentors; that’s how Odin acquired fresh crops of warlords for Valhalla, but it was not Frigga’s way. I sighed.

“I know there is pain in your heart, and wounds upon your soul,” I said, “or you would not have acted as you did. Still, I am angry with you, and do not have the time or interest to unravel it. Ask for my blessing.”

“Wh… what?” she asked, her face in the dirt.

“Ask for my blessing,” I repeated. “It is the kindest offer you’ll get from me, so I suggest you take it.”

“I… yes.” She was trembling as she murmured: “Lady, please grant me peace.”

I took a deep breath, gathering even more gloom around and within, before pushing it into her with my words: “There is no loss without gain. Be at peace.” It actually took a few breaths to shove all of it inside her.

She slumped and lay still, while Grisella came to kneel at her side.

“She won’t be tormenting you again,” I said, “not for a long while.”

My friend seemed concerned, and a little afraid of me. She rolled the unresisting woman onto her back. Eyes unfocused, wisps of darkness were escaping her slightly parted lips.

“I take it back, Milady,” said Grisella. “That was the strongest blessing I’ve beheld. But be it necessary?”

I shrugged. “I’d rather practice on her than on you.”

“Mayhap it be for the best,” she commented, eyes upon her defeated foe. “Though the lordly blessing might have better been for this one.”

Raising an eyebrow, I asked: “There’s different blessings?”

“Aye,” she answered. “Ladies comfort loss, but the Hel-men be sin-eaters,” she said. “They be dealing with guilt. Like Baldr, they bring peace to battles within. ”

I nodded. Sin-eaters were usually men. Never a popular profession, I doubted there were any left in Midgard.

“Should we move her?” I wondered aloud.

“Nay. People can walk around her. She’ll come to eventually.”

Grisella shrank back a little when I offered her a hand, but still she took it. I hoped I hadn’t scared her off, and promised myself I wouldn’t use the blessing on her again to fix my blunders.

“Did you,” she asked shyly, “mean any of the things you said about me to Bertha?”

“Who’s Bertha?”

She pointed down. “This woman you just blessed.”

“Oh. Well, that was mostly to embarrass her. Why do you ask?”

“No reason, Milady.” She seemed disappointed, though I wasn’t sure why.

I looked up to the gray sky. “I wonder…”

“What is it Milady?”

“I still don’t know if my old powers work,” I said as we walked away. Already, some of Gray Woman’s friends were rushing to help her sit up.

The crowd parted before us as Grisella took me by the arm. I looked down at her hand, brows lifting in surprise. She tensed, then relaxed when I smiled, and nestled a bit closer. Her gaze darted to all those bowing to us, and I’m fairly certain she was enjoying this reversal of her reputation. By the time we reached the front corner of the castle, she walked as if I were her personal Prince Charming.

“Perhaps,” she looked up, “we could spend time testing your powers?”

“Cloudberry jam, you’re right!” I’d been so wrapped up in my situation, I hadn’t taken time to think it through. Hoofie usually reminded me of such things. Funny that a flying horse was the one to keep me grounded. It tugged at my heart to be away from him, but answers lay beyond the gates – where my friend could not follow, and I wasn’t willing to part from her just yet.

“Cloudberry jam?” she asked, tilting her head.

“Ah yes. Queen Frigga often teases me, saying I have cloudberry jam for brains. It’s become an expression for scatterbrained.”

“She seems nice,” my friend commented with a faraway look.

“She is,” I nodded, “and I miss her. She’s like a mother to us.”

As I glanced to the castle walls, I spied shapes looking like hastily carved gargoyles. I could make out all sorts of creatures in the black stone that covered the front of the castle.

“My parents,” she said after a few more steps, “they be good Christians. I’ve not found them here.” She slumped a bit, and I pulled her closer.

“This is supposed to be a place of happy reunions, but I’ve not seen my ancestors either.” I squeezed her hand. “Sometimes,” I said, “we have to make family with those we can.”

Her skin had been soft all along, but for the first time, it felt warm against my own. Either I was getting colder, or she was getting warmer. I chose to believe the second of the two.

Suddenly my ears perked up. “I think I felt the air move!” I said. “Let me call to the wind spirits, and we’ll know if that power still works.” Our pace slowed as I started whistling the tune from that morning.

Others around us also stopped and watched, forming a ring a few yards away.

That summon was in three parts, each sung twice, and I whistled the whole of it three times before I felt the first hint of an answer. I peered around at the expectant faces of my audience. Finally, I found it. A man whose long russet beard jutted forward from his plain linen shirt. He yelped as I grabbed his beard.

“Sorry about that!” I told him. A flutter went through the hair of people, moving left, and I hopped from one to the other in pursuit. “Wait! I just want to talk to you! Can’t you come to me?” Cursing, I realized I had to undo my braid for this, and started pulling it apart. “Come on, come play with my hair!” A brunette’s flapping curls dropped down and the breeze stilled. I held my breath in expectation. Finally, I felt my own hair lifted and moved.

“Nice to meet you little spirit,” I said. “I’m Gna. What can I call you?”

“No call me!” it whispered, “no see me! Lady not like flying.”

“I’m actually a goddess here,” I answered, “so it’s okay if you talk to me, I promise.”

“If promise…” it sighed, “Me scared. She feed to big eagle if bad.”

“She won’t feed you to any eagle if you’re my friend. Want to be my friend?”

“Oh… okay.” It was now blowing around my hand, and it felt good to have wind with me again.

“Can you push my hand up, little wind?” It did. “Good job! You’re doing great! Now can you do that under my foot, push it up? I promise no bad.”

It hesitated, but when I lifted my boot from the ground it pushed as hard as it could. Tentatively I put my weight on. Yes! It could hold me up, barely, though I’d probably have to hop one legged without a spirit to hold the other foot.

Grisella came closer. “That be one of the weirder things I’ve seen here.”

I chuckled. “I bet. But now I need tea.”

“You’re thirsty, Milady? I suppose with the whistling…”

“No, to feed this spirit. Where can I find tea?”

Her eyebrows rose. “I’d have to wait for the feast tonight, Milady, but you be able to get some from Ganglati I wager.”

“Excellent!” I took her hand and pulled her through the crowd of onlookers as they quietly muttered among themselves. Suddenly, I stopped and turned.

“Little spirit, are you still with me?”

“Hiding,” it answered, “in hair.”

“Stay there. And since you don’t have a name, how about I call you Right Step?” It swished about my ear, and I think that was an excited yes. Grinning, I resumed pulling my companion forward.

We’d made our way across in front of the castle’s front doors before she spoke again: “You be very unlike the other Ladies here… Milady.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, and I don’t intend to be like them if I can help it. Working here does not mean I have to change who I am.”

When we rounded the corner to the other side of the castle, we saw a man dropping off bushels of apples – which Ganglati then inspected. Berry bushes lined the walls on either side of the kitchen door.

Eyes twinkling, I curtsied low before her: “Oh great lady Ganglati, we pray you honor us with your favor.”

“Hmph. What ye be wantin’ now, Gna?” she said with a raised eyebrow.

“Could we have some tea please? With honey.”

“Take the apples in,” she answered, wiping her hands on her patchwork apron. “I’ll see about it then.”

Grisella and I each took a bushel into the low-ceilinged kitchen. I almost hit my head on a hanging pot.

“What ye be wanting? Mint? Yarrow? Her Ladyship’s fond of plantain and wormwood, with a dash of charcoal.”

My companion bumped into me as I stopped, with little floor room to put down the fruit. The table where I first awakened was filled with various pots and half-prepared foods.

“Mint please, with anything else you think is good. Actually, let’s keep the extras to just yarrow and plantain, I’m so not sure what you think is good in tea.”

“Aye.” She grabbed leaves out of clay pots hanging from the walls, and threw the handful into a wooden bowl I hoped was clean. With a ladle she poured boiling water from the cauldron over the fire. “There it is.”

“Honey? Please?”

She sighed, and gave a dollop with a wooden spoon from a jar. “Now, out with ye.”

I grabbed another spoon from the table along with the bowl, treading carefully over the bushels.

Once we stood outside the stone walls, I asked my friend: “Is there another kitchen here? Seems a bit small for preparing feasts.”

“Not that I know of, Milady,” she shrugged. “I’ve served table at feasts a few times, and she’s always seemed to provide. What now?”

“Now I feed the little spirit. Right Step? Want some tea?” He whizzed about my hair while I stirred it. “Catch!” I launched a spoonful of hot liquid into the air like a catapult. None of it made it to the ground, and I laughed in delight.

After a few, he returned to my ear. “Thank. Mistress. Me full.”

“Why don’t you go find a few friends, and come back to me? I’ll have some tea for them too.”

“Yes. Mistress,” he buzzed, and then was off.

I looked around with a smile, from the evergreen yew trees that lined the path on this side of the castle to the people milling about. Even the gray skies above seemed more alive, and I realized that death was a lie. They were just like the dead souls serving in Asgard, and this but the mirror side of life, awaiting rebirth in the dark. The whole of this land, I mused, was like a giant womb with Hela as mother. Womb and tomb, both bloody and bright. This I could handle, and even bringing a dead child here didn’t seem so bad anymore. With a new companion at my side and the return of my abilities, things were finally falling back into place in my life. I smiled, smug at how well I’d adapted to Hela’s attempt to clip my wings.

“So your powers, Milady?” my friend asked, bringing me out of reverie.

“They seem intact,” I answered. “I just need to make a few more wind friends here and I’ll be as good as new. Thank you Grisella, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you!” Bowl in one hand, I used the free one to pull her into an joyful embrace.

One of us misjudged. Or maybe it was intentional.

We ended up lips to lips in a kiss.

It was good. Very good. Neither of us pulled away.

≡≡≡

When we came up for air, I heard the sound of soft clapping from a few yards away. It was the man whose russet beard I pulled earlier.

A dark haired buddy of his was leering at his side, whispering.

“It’s not every day we get such a display,” the second man said, “I’d have them both for myself if I could, eh?” Wearing a white doublet and reddish puffy pants, he looked away and whistled to himself when I glared in his direction.

The first fellow slapped him on the arm.

“Show some respect. They be our betters here.”

Grisella was turning quite the shade of red by this point, backing away.

“Perhaps we should continue this conversation in private?” I said, tracing her jaw with a finger after stepping closer.

She nodded with enough force to swish her hair.

“You,” I said to Russet Man as I approached him, “What’s your name?”

“Piotr, M’am,” he said with a bow, hands on his dark gray trousers.

“Thank you Piotr,” I said, “you were very helpful earlier, though I don’t think my companion appreciated your clapping. Your friend, on the other hand, is an ill-mannered swine.”

Still, I smirked. I was making friends, renewing my powers over the winds, even bantering with the populace. Everything was returning to normal for me, finally. People milled around us, chatting away, while I glared at that rude friend of his.

“Erik,” Piotr said, kicking the other man’s foot, “apologize to the lady!”

He gave a short embarrassed laugh as he rubbed his chin. “Ah, I didn’t think you’d hear. Sorry.”

“These fine elven ears miss nothing,” I said, “especially not when it offends my friends.”

He bowed to me. “It was rude Milady, and I apologize.” Then he smiled a roguish grin. “Still, your friend’s a stunner. You’re a lucky woman.”

“Humph. All right.” Turning to my companion, I said: “Would you like to…”

Grisella was gone.

“She was right here a moment ago,” I voiced in confusion.

I glanced to the kitchen, then up and down the path. I saw someone that resembled her among one of the groups moving away, but no, it wasn’t her.

“Did you see where she went?” I asked the two men.

They both looked around. “M’afraid not, M’am,” said Piotr with a grimace. “All my attention was on you. You and not getting smited, you know. Not good to anger the gods. She can’t have gone far. Maybe for a piss in the woods?”

Numbly, I nodded. Maybe that was it. If I waited she’d probably return.

Still, how could I have missed her leaving? I should’ve heard or seen something. Someone would have noticed… wouldn’t they?

“Why didn’t she say something…” I muttered. Any moment now, she would return. I just had to be patient. Maybe she went for tea? I jogged to the kitchen doors and peered in. Empty. Slowly I walked back to the two fellows. That’s where she would come back to when she…

But what if she doesn’t? Did someone snatch her while I was distracted? Some companion I was, not even able to keep track of one friend when she was standing right next to me!

Concern wrinkled my brow. Or did I… gods, did I deeply offend her? That’s it! I embarrassed her and she ran away from me. Why didn’t I take care of her first, instead of going to deal with the boys? Stupid! What kind of messenger goddess can’t even read her own friend’s body language? I thought she was just a bit flustered by the clapping and comments but…

I wrung my hands. Sundered spirals! She’s probably never kissed a woman before. With the attitudes in Midgard about that, it probably flipped her lid clear across the room! I kissed her, then I turned my back to her. What an utter imbecile I am! Thoughtless and selfish, I berated myself, getting what I wanted and not considering her feelings. I should have taken her hand to reassure her, told her the kiss was sweet and wonderful. I put a finger to my lips, remembering the feel of her own pressed against mine.

What if I’ve lost her for good? What if she’s gone and never coming back?

I stepped closer to the edge of the forest, the only place where she could have hidden so quickly. As I did my breath became shallow, my pulse and steps slowing down while my mind raced.

I lost my son and family in death.

I lost Hoof-Tosser to the mist.

I lost all my Asgardian friends to the deal with Hela.

I pressed my lips and eyelids together, as nausea and dizziness washed over me. My feet stuck to the ground, as if wearing lead boots.

And now I lost Grisella. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I hold onto a single friend? I humiliated her and now she hates me forever…

As on my first day here, the crushing weight of loneliness pinned me to the spot. Part of me knew I was overreacting, yet I couldn’t help it. I’d never learned how to live without a companion. What were adventures worth without anyone to tell?

My throat was dry as dust, my limbs frozen. I tried to deepen my breathing, even as it became less and less perceptible.

No, no, no. Not now! I thought. She needs me. Spirals! I need her, to find her… the last person left… who might care about me…

It felt like a bucket of ice being poured down my spine. The Silence crept in once again, the blood in my veins thickening like syrup, paralyzing me. Rolling over my raging objections, it made me into a motionless, powerless observer once more.

She was … she was all I had here …

 

 


Author’s Note: I’ve solved continuity issues with the newly inserted chapters, and finally written up enough to be able to post every Wednesday again for at least two months. I’m currently editing chapter 10 and writing chapter 16. Big thanks to Ethan Kincaid‘s ninja editing for help in smoothing out the rough parts, I highly recommend him if you want to hire an editor.

If you enjoyed the chapter, please comment. That’s how I know people care about me writing more. 🙂

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Comments
  1. Teka Lynn says:

    I am very happy to see this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay! I’m so excited to continue reading this story!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lofnbard says:

    I’m glad to hear you can relate, so you can journey with her. I think that’s a big thing in deity stories. On the one hand they have to have something admirable that we can look up to, some particular virtue that inspires. But on the other they need to have some weakness so we can say “that’s sort of me there, struggling and succeeding.” Or sometimes fail miserably and having a “learning experience.”

    Gna is easy to write for, being a Gemini like me but in a more extreme way. I need downtime and alone time at home, but she needs constant stimulation, people, and new places. She’s stuck there, with no friends, in a quiet place. This is her “hell,” and a chance to move beyond her limitations. But she’s a bright, overly optimistic type, so she pushes through that by trusting her lucky star.

    This isn’t the case with all the Ladies, some have pretty dark pasts. But those stories need to be told as well, because not all of us have the luxury of an easy youth like hers. Gefjon, a Taurus, is far more pragmatic. She needs to put a lot more hard work into changing her social class and achieving her dreams. Gna already has it all… but can she hold onto it or will she lose it?

    Like

  4. sonyjalerulv says:

    Nice first kiss scene. Immediately followed by drama, so things don’t progress too quickly. 🙂 The spiraling down of loss and despair thoughts is very well done. Something most of us can relate to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      The rule of thumb is, when in doubt, torment your characters and make their life hell. When not in doubt, do that too… 😉
      I had to revise the spiraling down, it wasn’t quite working as intended. A friend walked me through the steps of his panic attacks to help produce the current version. And yeah, I’m putting things in specifically so people can relate with their own pain. Partly it’s so people relate to the goddess that deals with the same sort of issues, and partly I’m hoping the stories themselves help people as maps to finding a way out of the pit. Gna encounters a *lot* of pits of depression in this story.

      I think this cartoon explains it best: http://www.akimbocomics.com/?p=924

      Like

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