Heartcleft road – Gna’s Story part 9

Posted: May 13, 2015 in Deities & Wights, Gna, Stories
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Part 9 – Looking Up From The Mud –

Calm yourself Grisella, I told myself, don’t be giving them the satisfaction of seeing you cry.

Face down in the dirt, I took a breath. I’d been so intent on ignoring Bertha that I had not seen her trying to trip me. Whatever heaven you be in Father, I prayed, please give me strength, send me help.

“Go back to your mound,” she said with scorn. “We don’t want your kind touching our food.”

I gathered the onions, avoiding eye contact with my tormentors. It had been getting worse of late, since they’d seen my mark on the Day of Bathing.

The old gods were little good to me here, and the new god was no better. Maybe I’ll try being a good Christian when born again to Midgard, I thought, then made a sour face. There be little difference between the followers of either faith, I reminded myself. No matter what I did, I’d be alone if I could not mould myself to be like them.

Brooding in misery, that was when my dark angel appeared.

She was the first in a long while to take interest. Clearly a goddess, yet she was awkward, with a haunted look in her eyes. Like me, she seemed lost, alone.

Then to my surprise she acted like lads did – the ones who found my looks pleasing. Well, this at least I understood. It was something I could give, in a place where none wanted anything to do with me.

I’d not lain with a woman as one does a man – it being a sin and all – but then none had asked. Being already as damned as I could get, there be nowhere lower for me to sink. So, I thrust my chest out and put on my best smile for the lady. Being a whore for a goddess, that be better than what I had so far. Well, until she found someone prettier, less boyish, as the lads always did.

“Perhaps we can be friends? I am Gna, messenger of Asgard, or was until recently.”

Friends? Is that what they be calling unnatural relations these days? I can do that…

She questioned me further, testing me. I was sure I’d failed when she grew angry at my lack of knowing. She’d be casting me away like all the others any moment now, I knew. Surprisingly, she gave me blessing instead, and I started to believe she really was as lost she looked. My heart dared to hope that she be asking for more than a roll in the hay. I did know things she did not, and I could be a guide of sorts. I foolishly fancied myself becoming like an adviser to a queen. ‘

When I walked the road to my mound that evening there was a spring to my step, a small smile on my lips. Inside the mound it was just like my old home in Shildon – except that Father wasn’t there. The goddess, she wanted me. She acted much like the boys would, and wasn’t bad looking herself. The Hel-Maiden’s quilted armor reminded me of soldiers, and I’d always had a weakness for boys in uniform. Had I not been born a girl, I’d often mused, I might have gone for a life by the sword instead of smithing.

But the ones in armor here, it be mostly the women. Hmmm… could I be one of them? I wondered.

As I lay down to sleep in my cot, I imagined myself wearing her armor, proudly sitting on a warhorse with sword in hand. Those who laughed at me, I could cut them down, make them respect me. Ah, but who am I kidding? I be weak, worthless; always was and always will be.

I clutched my blanket, to dream as all dead dream, of the life they’d had and lost. If I held onto the right memory though, I might dream of one of the better days, when Father was still alive…

===

 

It was a fine morning with birds chirping outside. After a glance out the window, I shook the old man snoring in his cot. I’d just finished cooking up porridge and hung the pot higher over the fireplace to keep it warm.

“Father,” I said, “wake up, it’s time warm the smithy.”

“Ehhhh… I be needin’ me sleep. Get it going Grisella, I be up soon.” Pulling the rough wool blanket over his head, he went on snoring.

I sighed. Father had gone drinking again. Couldn’t blame him I supposed, his joints were always giving him pain and he said whiskey made it better. It was just a usual day for us by now. I’d try to wake him, and he’d tell me to warm it up.

I rinsed my breakfast bowl in the dish bucket, then rolled up my sleeves. I didn’t bother with dresses anymore in the morning, they’d just get ruined. I wore father’s old white shirt with my brown wool skirt, both of them singed by many sparks. Picking up his leather apron from a hook on the cobblestone wall, I slipped it over my head and opened the back door to the smithy. It was cool there, but wouldn’t be for long. I left the wide outer doors closed – I didn’t want anyone seeing me. Wouldn’t be good for business to see a woman of seventeen smithing away.

I stirred the banked coals with a poker, then added fresh ones. A little work at the bellows stirred them right back to life, and I stared at my last few horseshoes while it warmed up. Soon enough, I was hammering red hot metal at the anvil, sweating away at my work. I hoped Father would be getting up before noon, the customers would be a knockin’ then, and I could only keep up the seeming of “warming up the smithy” for so long.

===

It was well past noon when he wandered in, bowl and spoon still in hand. His neck made a loud crack when he bent it to the side. Dressed in his somewhat newer white shirt and dark-brown woolen trousers, he held out a hand for the apron.

“The smithy be warm enough, methinks,” he said

“I be almost done, Father, a minute.”

A few more strikes, and I took the glowing horseshoe over to the water basin for quenching. He stayed my hand, and pointed back to the anvil. Bringing it back, I loosened the tongs to let it drop there, then handed him the leather apron.

After fastening it, he inspected my work. “See here, lass. That part be too thick, and that one too thin. Ye be needing to swing at an angle to even it out.” Grabbing the hammer he set to showing me the way, then putting the metal back in the fire.

“It be good enough for some,” he added, “but the better be the enemy of the good. Ye can go back to the loom now.”

I nodded, and went to open the wide wooden doors – we being open for business now, and I back to women’s work.

When I was fourteen I’d only started the fire. Then later I’d played around with some ruined bits while I kept it going. Father gave me a little advice when he rose, then took over. It was one of the few things we talked about since Mother passed away. He’d mention a few things over meals, sometimes call me to watch what he did in the afternoon, then be off drinking for the night after supper.

I think he was proud of me learning to smith. He never said it in so many words – women weren’t supposed to – but with him not feeling well, I think I really helped get the work done.

There were whispers of course, boys peeking in the back windows. But they respected him; never said anything to our faces back then. The lads my age just commented on me having the arms of a man with a knowing smile.

As I sat at the loom, across from the cooking fireplace, I examined those man-arms of mine. I was pleased with being strong, but worried I’d not find me a husband. Then again, Father needed me. I couldn’t leave, not without him losing the smithy.

===

 I woke and stumbled over from my cot to stir the fire for breakfast, then straightened my white night-shirt.

Father will be hungry when he… I looked at his empty cot beside mine. Had he not returned from drinking?

No, wait, he’s… dead. I slumped. Then I realized how young my hands looked. He was alive when I was this age… how…

I shook my head as it came back to me. He was dead, I was dead. This was Helheim. What felt like yesterday was just a dream, a memory from life. With a lump in my throat, I remembered I lived alone.

I really hated mornings like this, having to grieve all over again as recent memories came back. Some of the dead just stayed in their dreams. That was the easy way, but I was never the sort to roll over and give up.

I shuddered, feeling the likes of a breath across my skin. Someone had touched me recently I remembered, and not just to push me over.

Yes! The goddess! My dark angel…

“Gna…” I whispered as I hugged myself. I thought of her helping me up, her blessing easing my worries. We had a date to meet today! I hurried to the making of breakfast, so I would not miss her leaving the castle.

The dead didn’t have to eat of course… but those who stopped going through the motions of life soon lost their rosy color. They came out of their mounds less and less, until they didn’t come out at all. That happened to Mark, a sort of friend I made here. I went to fetch him from his mound a few times, but one day the entrance was… gone. I reckon the Silence got him; I swore then that I wouldn’t let it get to me.

I hummed a tune as I stirred the small cauldron of porridge, steam rising. When was the last time I’d been excited in the morning, enough to sing? I couldn’t remember, but it felt good.

As I ate I remembered bits of a second dream. In it, Gna and I both wore the silver threaded gambesons of Helheim. We were companions, Hel-Maids. The dead rarely dreamed of the future. Could this be an omen?

Then I frowned. Had I flirted enough to entice her back? I wasn’t very good at holding a boy’s attention, and knew even less about seducing women. I hurried to the washing bucket.

If she catches a prettier maiden’s eye, I thought, she may forget all about me. Have to be there waiting for her; no idea how fickle she may be if I make her wait. This is my one chance, I can’t be wasting it.

Could I really lay with a woman as if a man? Pursing my lips, I wasn’t sure – but damned as I was already, there was little to lose by trying.

===

Clapping. I heard the terrible sound of slow, mocking clapping I so hated. Not again! I thought.

“It’s not every day we get such a display,” a man’s voice said, “I’d have them both for myself if I could, eh?”

I broke the kiss with Gna and stepped back. What was I thinking? Kissing her in front of people, making a hussy of myself!

“Show respect man,” the other man said. “They be our betters here.”

My face flushed. I think I would have died from the shame if I hadn’t been dead already. People were staring. The two men, those walking around us, everyone was staring at me!

“Perhaps we should continue this conversation in private?” Gna said, taking a step closer and running a finger along the side of my face.

I nodded. I would have agreed to anything to get away from this humiliation. Everyone please stop looking at me, I shouted inside my head. I had to hide, escape from here.

Gna went over to the bad men while I hid my face. I looked up when she called them ‘helpful’! Had she planned this? I felt so betrayed. She’s just like all the others!

I couldn’t breathe, had to get away before they started ripping off my clothes. I slipped in behind a big man walking by with a group, making a beeline for the trees. I thought myself safe for a moment, hidden by the evergreens, when I heard laughter behind me. Laughing at me! That sent me into a blind panic and I ran, trying to hold onto the last shreds of my dignity.

The memory of so many men’s laughter rang in my ears as I stumbled through, skirt catching every sharp twigs. Yew branches whipped their needles against my face, as if trying to punish me – fifty lashes for a scarlet woman caught in fornication, a hundred for adultery.

Every taunt I’d heard in life took a turn at whispering in my mind.

Look at the boy in a skirt!

The men said it, even the women said it.

Ah, why would I be marrying such as you, Grisella, when there be real women around? T’was just a roll in the hay, not a ring fer yer finger.

I was little more than a jester. First they clapped and then they laughed.

You best be stayin’ away from the forge and dressin’ like a lass if ye ever want to land yerself a man.

Tears rolled down my cheeks, I could barely see where I was going. The woods here went on to the darker parts of the realm and that’s where the likes of me belonged.

Surely you be joking. I wouldn’t court her if ya paid me. She smells of soot and steel.

Last time I took a chance on a boy, he said: “Let’s be doin’ it behind the bush near the church, ey? Show me yer not afraid o’ the preacher.”

We’d just been getting it on when his friends showed up and dragged me out by the heels. With me bein’ half-naked and screamin’ bloody murder, he’d pulled my legs apart.

“See,” he’d said, “she got a cunny, I win the bet, boys!” My face burned and I’d wished the ground would swallow me up. They all laughed, clapped, watching as I tried to cover myself. I swore I’d never let that happen again, but I did.

Panting like dog, I reached a flooded area in Hel’s forest. Not quite a swamp, just a lot of puddles with brown needles floating. Those muddy pools looked a lot like I felt; a pissing trench defiled by the filth of others. Spent, I sat on a stump and stared, trying to remember happier times when I was alive – when I was young and foolish enough to have hope.

 

I felt a hand on my shoulder a while later, breaking me out of reverie. Back to my shame.

“Grisella, I’m sorry I embarrassed you,” Gna said softly. “I didn’t mean to, but that makes it no less hurtful.”

“They clapped,” I said with resentment. “They laughed at me. And you encouraged them, said they were helpful.”

“I… n-no, I told Piotr he’d been helpful with the wind spirit, but that you didn’t appreciate the clapping. Then I called his friend an ill-mannered swine for what he said.”

“Y-you… defended me?”

“Of course. They were rude and I went to scold them. I demanded they apologize to you, but when I turned around you were gone.”

“I…”

She gripped my shoulder tighter. “I panicked when I couldn’t find you.”

I ran the events again in my head; I hadn’t really heard what she said to them. Maybe I overreacted?

“I came into the grip of the Silence again,” she sighed. “That’s why it took me so long to come find you. I’m sorry for that. I feel like such an idiot.”

I looked down to the mossy ground. “That be my fault, abandoning you, just thinkin’ bout myself.” I always ruined everything.

She came around to crouch before me and took my hands. “No Grisella. It’s not your fault. Have… bad things happened to you… with people clapping and laughing?”

I gave a small nod.

“That’s what I thought,” she said softly. “You had every reason to panic.”

I squeezed her hand back.

“Me, it’s being alone,” she admitted as she looked away. “That’s what I’m scared of, being rejected and abandoned by everyone. I thought I was over that, a strong independent woman, but I had Hoof-Tosser wherever I wandered; I was never truly alone. Then I lost him in the Void Between Worlds, and again when I woke up as a Hel-maid. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you too, my only friend here.”

I looked up, seeing pain in her pretty eyes.

“I needed to work out a few things, and I did. I haven’t been fair to you.” She lowered her eyes.

“Lady, please,” I said in alarm as I realized she was kneeling before me, “don’t be at my feet like I be the mistress. Ye’ll get sap on your nice leathers.”

She looked up with a gentle lopsided smile. “Well, you are the teacher now, so it’s appropriate. I tried to use you to replace my companion Hoof-Tosser and that’s not right. People are who they are, not substitutes for those we miss. I’m ashamed to admit it, but Hoofie is my confidence, and I tried to put that role on you. How about you be my hope instead?”

I swallowed.

Suddenly she stood, putting a hand on her head as if struck by a headache. “Accursed spirals, I’m doing it again! Making people into actors of my psyche. Forget what I said, I just… Look, I like you Grisella. I don’t know you very well yet but I want to. Can we start over and try to be friends? I’ll do my very best to take you as you are without embarrassing you further. Okay?”

I nodded, and she took me by the hand, helping me up.

“Milady, I’ve… never had a woman friend like you.” I blinked a few times. “I don’t really know how to be your friend.”

“Take it one step at a time then,” she said. “I’m not here to judge you, I just want your company.

Good for a roll in the hay, that’s all yer good for, the voices whispered in my head.

I looked into her eyes. Women mocked me. Men, they just wanted one thing. What did she really want from me? I didn’t have much to offer, so how could I hold onto this one good thing in my afterlife? I couldn’t stand being so alone…

“Well,” she said, “I’ve had enough excitement for today I think. How about we just go to my room to relax, maybe have a nap together? I don’t know about you, but a warm body next to me would do wonders for my nerves.” She smiled, that lopsided grin again.

My heart started pounding; my breath quickened with memory of the kiss. I remembered Lord Baniff leering at the women, choosing one, seeing her later dressed in finery. This was how common women got to be with nobles… how I had to be for my lady to want me, keep me…

“Are you all right?” she asked, eyebrow raised. “You’re stiffening up all of a sudden.”

“Yes Milady… let’s… go to your room… to lay down.” I made myself smile, but I was terrified. What if she abandoned me after doing it, like all the others? I had to be the best she’d had, but had no idea how. Except… be like Judith. She was always all flattery to the boys, before the lord chose her.

As we walked, I said: “Milady… you are so kind to me… such a strong, noble woman, I do not deserve you.”

“Nonsense,” she laughed, pushing aside a branch for me to pass, “You’re strong too, and beautiful. Just the kind of person I want at my side.”

I nodded and swallowed. I will be at your side however you want me, Milady…

= = =

 In the castle, Hela sat at her study, cobwebs covering half the room’s moldy bookshelves. The desk was of an almost-black purple wood, engraved in silver runes and symbols. Oil lamps of stone and glass hung, providing illumination for the chessboard that was her focus. From within the folds of a gray woolen cloak, her living hand slowly reached out to touch the top of a black pawn, her breath rasping.

This one was interesting, being three moves away from reaching the other side of the board where it would be made into a queen.

N _ _ _
_ _ _ _
_ _ _ Q
_ p _ _

Currently, the black pawn was undefended. On the next move forward it would be at the mercy of the other side’s golden knight, but at the same time, it would be protected by the black queen. Losing a knight to take a pawn was foolish, the bright knight would take no action.

She picked up the black pawn to examine it. A small circle at its top had turned golden. Hela smiled, from the side of her face that could. This was intended to happen. She made her move, placing it down.

N _ _ _
_ _ _ _
_ p _ Q
_ _ _ _

One more move, and the gold knight would be in jeopardy of being taken by her pawn. It could either run away to save itself, or do nothing and risk death at the hands of a minor piece. Either way, her pawn would reach the other side, completing its path to transformation.

Leaning in, she inspected the horse-headed figure of the knight. While its top was still the color of the sun, the base had turned to ebony, with thin veins of darkness creeping halfway up. This too was as she wished it to be.

Soon, her plan would come to fruition. She leaned back, waiting for the golden side to make its move.

“A little closer,” she whispered in encouragement. “Just let my pawn get a little closer, pretty one, and I will have your soul…”

The clacking sound that emerged from her half-ruined throat after that might have been called a laugh.

 


Remember, supporting your bard’s writing only requires a few gold coins per fortnight. Or you can leave a comment, your choice!

 

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Comments
  1. Ly says:

    This is such an amazing story, and I’m loving the detail and suspense. The goddesses are so often overlooked in the traditional stories.
    Thankyou for bring this and other stories to share. 🙂

    Like

  2. I really really really really hope you are thinking of putting these in a book once you feel your done. I think it would be lovely to have a book of devotional stories for the 12 Handmaidens of Frigga!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      I do! I started writing stories five years ago with the intent of writing a book. But stalking wild goddesses is time consuming, as is good writing. About two years ago they started leaning on me to make them available.
      “But they’re not perfect!” I said.
      “Did we stutter? Make them available! They don’t have to be perfect, just good stories.”
      So… I started this blog for that, to get feedback and encouragement, and to see if people were interested. I’ll probably publish a first book with the first three or four goddesses because these stories are getting pretty long.
      Thank you for supporting this. 🙂

      Like

      • Definitely let us know! I would be honored to have them on my bookshelf.

        As a side note, I enjoy your songs on youtube as well. I have been wanting to get better at memorizing things, so I started with “Banned from Asatru”, which i’m about 95% done with. (Next up is convincing someone to learn the musical part so I can have accompaniment!). The Jotun creation poem is great too – I love your alliteration.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lofnbard says:

        Thanks! I need to spend time recording more of my songs. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. sonyjalerulv says:

    You record songs? Ok I have to check that. 🙂
    “Friends? Is that what they be calling unnatural relations these days? I can do that…” I admit I laughed reading that. Then sobered up when we learn more of Grisella backstory. Her dream is bittersweet. And the pain of waking up… sound familiar. But to me it happened a few times in particular circumstances (usually during the grief period after the death of someone close) but not all the time! No wonder some choses to stay in the dream.

    Grisella’s backstory is painful to read but it explains much about her reactions. To the clapping and laughing, and also to Gna’s interest. We see what we want to see, or what we’re afraid of seeing. In this case, it is very much the latter. She often interpret events and Gna’s words as confirming her fears.

    Oh, and I love the idea of a book. I would certainly buy it. 🙂

    Like

    • lofnbard says:

      Indeed. You can find my songs on https://www.youtube.com/user/SigynsHope
      I haven’t spent time to record all the ones I wrote yet. More to do.

      It was fun to take a modern expression and make it sound more ancient. 😉
      People’s reactions often don’t make sense, unless you take their history into account. I liked giving Grisella a voice here for that. Helheim is a place whose currency is loss and grief, and a chance to heal them, but no one can force you to heal. That has to be a choice. Even in death, people hang onto their pain. It’s why ancestor reverence and prayers for the dead are important in our tradition.

      I didn’t particularly like having a sexual abuse scene, and much is said of using rape as a cheap way to get a rise out of readers. I didn’t want to do that. Grisella’s pain is one of constant rejection though, so she didn’t actually get raped. In a way, “not worth raping” is perhaps worse. “Good for a roll in the hay, that’s all yer good for” implies she may have had sex later on, voluntarily or not, but abandonment is the worst of her wounds. That led to an almost non-existent sense of self-worth.

      She expects everyone to eventually leave and mock her. When that happens often enough, you start running before they get a chance to get to their punch line. Gna’s smooth-talking is clouded by her own pain, so she awkwardly offers a hand to help Grisella out of the mud. Yet even that is twisted into terms the girl understands: that she will be used for a while and then tossed away. It’s not much, but it’s the best offer Grisella’s had this decade, so she takes it. Even if it means selling another chunk of her soul for the faint hope that this time it will last.

      Like

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