Heartcleft road – Gna’s Story part 10

Posted: May 20, 2015 in Aesir & Asynjur, Alfar & Duergar, Deities & Wights, Gna, Stories
Tags: , , , , ,

Part 10 –A Slight Hitch

I took Grisella by the hand as we walked back to the castle. There were curious gazes upon us, especially when I led her through the resident’s entrance.

While her eyes darted about in the corridors – her first sight of these parts no doubt – she said nothing. A small smile graced her lips all the way to my room.

As she followed me through my doorway, I noticed her demeanor change and I paused. She scanned the room as if she might find another exit. Her gaze stopped at the bed’s quilted blanket. Lowering her eyes, she started pulling on the front lacing of her green kirtle dress.

“Grisella,” I asked, “is something wrong?”

“Ah, no Milady,” she shrugged. “It just be my first time with a woman. It all be fine.”

Suddenly uncomfortable, I shifted my weight.

“Why do you think I brought you to my room?”

“Um… to satisfy your… um… to give comfort, Milady?”

“Wait, stop,” I said, raising my hands. “I thought you were interested in… well… I often make friends on the road. Usually men, but sometimes women. However, when I asked you to lie down for a nap earlier, that’s really all I meant.”

“Aye, that’s what I thought. I will be your… ‘friend on the road’ then.” She smiled wider but it did not reach her eyes. “How would you like me then, Milady? Do you prefer to be taking off my clothes yourself?”

“No, this isn’t… can we slow down? Just sit and talk?” I went to the wooden chest as I unbuckled my belt, letting the dagger clunk down on top of it.

“Do I displease you Milady?” she said behind me. I turned and cringed as I saw her eyes – I’d seen that look in many a dog beaten by their master.

“Are my arms too manly? That’s what the boys always said. I helped father a lot at the forge.” Their muscle tone was obvious in that sleeveless dress, and quite attractive as she clasped her hands in front of her.

I stood there, frozen by indecision. She clearly doesn’t want us to lay as lovers do, and yet, she fears that I may find her undesirable. If I bed her, I mused, it will hardly better than rape. But if I refuse her, she will be crushed. By Odin’s beard, what can I do without harming her?

“I… look,” I ran a hand over my hair. “You are very lovely, but I didn’t invite you up to take advantage of you.”

“I have little else to offer you Milady,” she said with a hint of desperation.

I rubbed my temples, feeling a headache coming on.

“Grisella, I just want your friendship.”

She went to sit on the edge of the bed as she mulled that over. I joined her there, keeping a little bit of distance between us and staring down at my hands.

“Do you find me… attractive, Milady?” she asked, cocking her head. This at least I could answer. I gave her a once over.

“I like strong arms in a woman, a generous bosom and a pretty face. Yes, I find you attractive.” It was very important, I’d learned, to compliment a woman on the part she felt least happy with.

“I’ve not had much luck with men. Maybe I’ll like it better with women,” she mused.

Likewise, she inspected my appearance, and a lopsided smile formed on her face. “I’ve always had a weakness for uniforms. You do look mighty fine in that one, and you have kind eyes.”

I let go a breath I didn’t know I was holding. Did I really want her approval? Yes, I suppose I did. And her desire… well, why not? I’d often looked for comfort in welcoming arms when I was upset.

“That still doesn’t mean you’re attracted to me though,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “And I don’t wear the uniform to bed.”

“Why not?” she teased, “I find it sexy on you.”

“Because it reminds me of my situation,” I sighed. I started unlatching the front of the gambeson coat, pulling each tooth out of its button loop. “I wear this uniform to make sure my son will grow up with a mother, and because I’m stuck as a messenger of Hela. It’s not my favorite thing.”

She gave me an odd look.

“What? It seemed like the responsible thing to do at the time.” Buttons undone, I shrugged it off and let it slide to the floor. Underneath, I wore a thin gray undershirt.

Her gaze lingered on my black coat. There was something here I was missing, but it seemed private so I did not ask.

I wasn’t looking at her, just staring ahead to the reflective surface of the wash bucket near the door, when her hand crept onto my back. It felt nice.

“Now what?” she asked. “What do you wish of me?”

“I wish,” I said wearily, “that you’d trust me enough to relax. How about we lie down and just hold hands? I’d like that.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw her nod, so I removed my boots and scooted over to the far side of the bed. She crawled further up toward the pillows, eyeing me for some sign of disapproval. Finding none, she lay down beside me and took my hand. I closed my eyes and let out a breath.

This is like taming a wild animal, I reflected. She’s so skittish. Maybe this will help.

Her hand felt warm, and I heard her breathing slow along with mine. Maybe, I thought, this will work out for the both of us, and allowed myself to relax.

 ===

A while later I woke, my hand feeling cold and empty. Cracking an eye open, I spied Grisella before the iron framed mirror, wearing my gambeson armor over her dress. She was posing, lips moving as she pointed a finger in admonishment, seemingly acting out some scene.

“For I am a Hel-Maiden,” she whispered, “and you shall pay for your sins!”

I watched for a bit, a cold knot forming in my stomach as I saw her cut down with an imaginary sword.

“Grisella,” I said, my voice flat, “what are you doing with my armor.”

She jumped, looked my way and then down, biting her lower lip. Her flowing blonde locks were tied back into a pony tail.

“I… uh… just wanted to try it on.”

I sat up cross-legged. “You were clearly doing more than that. What’s going on?”

She stayed silent, eyes darting to the door as she frantically started unbuttoning it. I closed my eyes, pressing my lips together.

“If you won’t talk,” I said, “then I will.”

Still she said nothing as she let the gambeson slide back onto the floor.

“Listen,” I said, opening my eyes. “I’ve been around the Nine Worlds a lot, had many lovers on the road over the centuries. One thing I’ve learned is that they don’t just bed me for my pretty face, not when they know who I am. They’re always looking for an advantage, so out with it. What is it you want?”

She looked away. “Am I that obvious to you?”

My chest tightened. I knew better, but still hoped I’d been wrong.

“No,” I said, “You aren’t, but this is how my life goes and I’m used to it.”

She interlaced her fingers, coming to a decision. “Well, you know that in death we all be equal, king and beggar alike?”

I nodded.

“Yet some of us,” she turned her head to me, “be more equal than others.”

Understanding dawned. “Even here,” I sighed, ”life is better if you know someone important. Right?”

She nodded.

Closing my eyes, I took a few deep breaths before opening them again. “You’ve already earned my favor. What else are you after?”

“That,” she pointed to my gambeson on the floor.

“You want my coat?” I asked in astonishment.

She shook her head. “Not the coat Milady, the job. I be due for rebirth in about seventy years or so but… seeing you, it made me hope, made me dream that…” She swallowed, squaring her shoulders. “I’d rather stay, serve, and see the worlds than be reborn. Be strong, respected, like you.”

“Except no one would listen to your requests, am I right?”

She nodded. “I’d be needing someone to put in a good word for me, to become a Hel-maiden. There be none I knew in life who might pray for my ascension. Only by finding someone here…”

I felt… used. Hugging myself, my voice broke as I croaked out: “I’ll be sure to mention you favorably to them when I get a chance.”

“Oh god,” she gasped, “I didn’t think… I didn’t want to… this isn’t why I…” She walked over, crawling onto the bed as she reached for me but I turned away. Putting a foot down on the cold stone floor of the far side of bed, I steadied myself while my vision blurred.

“Gna, please,” she begged.

“That’s Lady Gna to you…” I spat, “Or Goddess Gna.” I felt a dark mist spreading over my skin. Not the kind that inspired peace.

“Lady Gna,” she begged, “I didn’t plan it this way. Please believe me. It’s just the fancy of a foolish girl. I woke, saw the coat and… I acted out my dreams from last night. For the first time, I dreamed of something other than my old life.”

I turned. She was staring at her hands.

“You didn’t plan this?” I asked. “Didn’t try to catch my eye?”

“No Milady, I swear it by all that’s holy. I was completely surprised you’d take interest in me, that anyone might care about me.”

Her eyes glistened. “I can’t thank you enough for what you already did; just picking me up from the ground, talking with me, showing me respect. I had no hope, and then I started hoping for too much.”

I mulled over her words in silence, my darkness receding along with my anger.

With a sigh, she got off the bed and stood facing the door.

“I be very sorry Milady,” she said, voice trembling. “Ye’ll never see me again, I’ll stay out of your way. I hope your son is okay and you get what you wish. You be a good person who deserves happiness. I will cherish the memory of our short time together. Be well.”

Feet dragging, she made for the exit. I could see her shoulders shaking.

Swallowing a lump in my throat, I called out to her. “Wait.”

She’d opened the door by then and stood in its arch, frozen in place.

“Come back,” I said.

She closed the door and crossed half the distance between us, then sank to her knees.

“I’m afraid you’ll be having to come to me Milady – for my punishment. My legs cannot hold me anymore.”

I walked around the bed, with slow deliberate steps.

The dark mist slipped away completely before I lay my hand on her head.

“I’m not going to punish you,” I said. “What you did can not so easily be undone.”

She looked up, eyes wide in confusion.

“You’ve tamed me, Grisella, made me your friend. Just like I’ve made you mine. Do you have any other friends here?”

She shook her head.

“Neither do I, so I’m not letting you go that easily. Yes, you messed up. I’m still a little angry, but that doesn’t mean I give up on our friendship because it gets rough. Gods know,” I shrugged, “Hoof-Tosser pisses on my porridge often enough.”

Her brows knitted together. “He… pees on your porridge?”

I barked a short laugh. “Not literally, silly, I mean he challenges me and gets me annoyed.”

“Oh.”

“Here.” I offered her a hand, and helped her up. “Hug?”

She blinked, surprised at the turn of events, but accepted my embrace.

“Friendships,” I said as I inhaled the scent of her hair, “take work and good communication. I should know, that being my job.”

Slowly she relaxed into my arms, and nestled against my neck.

“I be sorry, Milady,” she whispered.

“Gna, just call me Gna,” I whispered back. “And for this, you owe me a backrub.”

She pulled back, a small smile forming. “Okay.”

An insistent knock on the door interrupted us, a slow rapping of knuckles on wood. Grisella and I looked at each other.

“Come in,” I said.

The door creaked open to reveal Ganglati in her patchwork scullery dress.

“The Mistress wants Grisella,” she said without much inflection. “I am to lead her to the study.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Tis not for me to question,” the maid answered, her head bobbing, “only to obey. She must come.”

Grisella squeezed me tighter. This was poor timing, though I supposed a few minutes earlier would have been worse.

Giving Ganglati a glare, I said: “Grisella is my friend and under my protection. I will be very cross if Hela takes more from me than she already has.”

The maid shrugged. “Ye not be in any position to make threats or demands, Gna. Grisella is her subject, to do with as she pleases.”

This only made my friend hold on tighter, clutching at my shirt.

“You’re scaring the poor girl, Ganglati. Cut it out.”

The servant’s eyes lit up, and she cocked her head, inspecting my companion like a piece of meat. “Cut what out, Milady?” There was a tiny knife in her hand, produced from who knows where.

I extricated myself from the embrace and walked up to the shorter woman.

“I’m already dead and serving my former enemy. I don’t have much left to lose so don’t push it.”

She chuckled through narrow eyes as she looked up to mine, scrunching up her wrinkled face. “Ye’d be surprised how creative Mistress can get, Gna.”

I’d had just about enough of her insolence. She’d crossed a line right there with her threat. I grabbed the front of her dress and bumped her up against the door frame. As my skin touched hers, it felt like worms were running races through my arms, playing hide and seek between bone and sinew. I was too angry to care.

“Know your place, woman!” I spat. “Hela can push me around but I’ll not take it from the likes of you.”

The old woman glared at me. “Your life here, I can make it into unending misery, even without the help of my Mistress.”

“You can,” I conceded, “but not if you want my cooperation. Mordgud took care to befriend me. Even Hela was respectful in her dealings, mostly. I doubt I got this nice room just because you felt like it. This tells me you all want something from me, something you can’t just take without my goodwill.”

She humphed, and held my gaze defiantly. That confirmed it.

“How do you think your queen will react when I tell her the deal is off because you broke my trust?”

“Your queen too,” she mumbled without much conviction.

“That’s still up for debate, depending on how I’m treated. Loyalty must be earned. So how do you want to play this, Ganglati? War or peace?”

Looking down, she muttered, and the worms withdrew from my arms.

“What’s that?” I hissed, “I didn’t hear you.”

“Peace,” she repeated. “My apologies Milady. I was just joking. No harm, no foul.”

I let go of her and stepped back, putting my hands behind me to hide the fact that they were shaking.

“Will you,” the old woman continued, “allow your companion to speak with our Mistress?”

I looked back. “Grisella? Is that acceptable?”

She tightened her face, but nodded. “I have to live here, Milady. I’ll go with her.”

“Very well.” I stepped back, deciding not to correct her on my name.

My companion’s last glance, just before she passed beyond the edge of the doorway, was much like that of a lamb expecting the slaughter. There was little more I could do to ensure her safety. I started pacing the length of my room while I waited, glancing toward my boots. Silent pacing was not as satisfying as the clickety-click of heels.

Maybe it’s a promotion, I told myself as I went to put them on. Maybe they’re going to remove that cross on her forehead. Even I couldn’t persuade myself. At best it would be a slap on the wrist, but my luck wasn’t that good these days.

 ===

Hela held a skull in the palm of her hands, looking into its empty eye sockets, when there was a rap on the oak doors of her study. She turned slightly in her bone armchair. Unlike her throne, this one was leather padded in the back and seat – worn from long hours of daily use.

“Enter,” she rasped.

The doors opened outward, to reveal Grisella standing beside the maid.

With a crook of her bony index, she gestured for the frightened girl to step inside. The hood of her gray cloak was up, obscuring much of her half-dead face in shadows.

The young smith advanced cautiously, as one would before a wild animal, and curtsied low when she reached the desk. There was no chair for the visitor.

Out of the corner of her right eye she caught large spiders scurrying along dusty bookshelves, making her twitch.

“Look at me girl,” Hela said “We have things to discuss.”

“Yes my Queen.”

“You want to be a Hel-maid.” It wasn’t a question.

“I… how did you… yes, my Queen.”

“I have had my eye on you, girl, and been grooming you from a distance.”

Eyes wide, Grisella was speechless.

“I have a bit of a problem with recruitment, you see.” She paused, and put the skull gently onto the desk. “Alas, the old souls here, they know little of how the world has changed. And the new ones… who do you think comes to me now?”

“I… have no idea, my Queen.”

“I can pull in the Christian dead, as all who die must answer when I call. But this place,” she gestured, “is not what they expect. It is not what they have prayed for all their life. And as you know all too well, my people are not overly fond of Christian souls.”

The girl frowned, rubbing at the cross-shape burned upon her forehead that had brought her so much grief.

Hela nodded. “Hmmm, yes. Were I to claim any sizeable share of them, Phanuel would forever be knocking at my gates to complain. You have heard the screeching I imagine?” She paused as Grisella thought back.

“You be meaning… the horrible wailing that makes you want to plug your ears?” Grisella’s brows lowered, wincing at the mere memory of it.

“Yes, that.” Hela nodded. “A messenger of the White Christ. The annoying angel cannot enter of course, but his shouting reaches in around the vicinity of the gates – promising eternal life in exchange for repentance. Hah, as if that was a good thing. It bothers my people, disturbing their rest.” Hela tapped a finger on her desk in annoyance. “Phanuel screams that discordant wail first to get our attention, then tries to sell us on his heaven while Garm chases him around. Sometimes, he even gets a little bite.”

Hela gave a disturbing grin at that, nodding at the shock on the girl’s face, before she continued. “Their shining ones have five vocal chords you know, allowing them great harmonies or terrible dissonance in singing…” She grew thoughtful gazing at her books. “Just like the Alfar,” she muttered to herself, leaning forward with her bony hand clasping at air. “If only I could get hold of a dead angel’s soul, or Garm could bite a good chunk off of a live one, I could see what Solomon did to…” She sat up straight before continuing. “Ah, but you do not care what happened to the lost tribe of desert Alfar, do you?”

“I be only trying to understand what you want with me, my Queen. I know little of the ways of angels and elves.”

“Quite right, the fate of the Jinn tribe is not yet your concern. So I will tell you which souls I can get without hassle, if you cannot guess.”

Grisella shrugged.

“Murderers. Thieves. Heretics. The ones who do not believe in that new god, who do not get a Christian funeral, who are buried outside their hallowed grounds. Those are the ones he makes no claim on, whom I can draw in by virtue of their bloodline or past lives.”

The girl nodded, biting her lip as she started to suspect the conversation would go ill for her.

“Oh, I never got the heroes, the ones who lived and died for honor, but I got good people, solid people. Now… I get the dregs, the filth they cast away. Twisted souls with unspeakable acts on their conscience. Much like yourself.”

“B-but I,” the lass stuttered, “I… never did anything that bad!”

Hela shook her head slowly. “You did, you just chose not to remember.”

Grisella looked at her palms. Had she done such things? She couldn’t… wouldn’t… no…

The queen stood, and slowly shuffled around her desk, bone foot scraping against the pale stone floor. Then with surprising speed, her living hand grasped the young one’s.

“There is blood on those hands, girl. The blood of three men you murdered.”

“N-no… I didn’t… I…” she said as she tried to get away from the queen’s iron grip.

“You did. Why do you think you chose such a young form here? Not for vanity, I assure you. You did it to forget, go back to a time of innocence, when you were still a victim. But I have no use for you like this. I need the steel in your spine.”

Hela paused to pull back the hood with her rotting hand. The sight of her true appearance, though expected, made the girl shrink back. “You were half-rotten when I got you,” she continued, “but that is fine, I am good with rot. I gave you a time of rest, but now I have need. The Asgardian goddess presents me with an opportunity and you are the right tool for this job. You do want this job, do you not?”

“I… um, may I ask what the job be, my Queen?”

“Hmm, yes, but first you must… remember.” Lady Death placed her decaying hand over the girl’s face. The young one screamed as she felt herself rapidly aging. Twenty years were added to her burden, her body and her memories.

When Hela removed her hand, the woman before her was almost unrecognizable. There was scorn etched into her wrinkles, and a hardness that had not been there before.

The now older Grisella spoke with barely contained rage. “They deserved it! For what they did to me, they had to die.”

Hela crossed her arms. “Hmm, yes, do tell. You slept with each of them and murdered them in their sleep. Made friends betray each other, had one bury the others until they found you with the last one.”

Grisella nodded, furious. “And then the bastards hung me. Self-righteous, pig-stuffing, arrogant men who did nothing to help me when those three tormented me. They said I’d burn in hell for my sins. What about the devils among them? Who’d punish those? No one would, no one except me.”

“So you made your own justice. Understandable.”

“Really, Lady? You… approve?”

“No. But I understand. And I need someone capable of taking lives. A killer who knows how to obey me. Are you that person, Grisella?”

The dead woman chewed on that question before answering. “Maybe. Depends who I have to kill. Depends if they deserve it.”

“Then perhaps you have what it takes to become a Hel-maiden,” the Queen of the Dead said with a slight smile, “to wear my colors and ride for me as messenger. That’s what you want, isn’t it? To be powerful, like Gna?”

The woman stepped back, as if slapped. The last few days came back to her, all that time spent with her dark angel. A hungry expression crossed her face and she answered.

“Yes my Queen. That be what I want. To make them pay, those who deserve it. To have the power of a Hel-maid.”

“Hmm. That’s all well and good, girl, but I need to test your spirit – to determine if you are the right sort for the job.”

Jaw set in grim determination, Grisella asked: “What must I do to prove myself, my Queen?”

Hela turned her head toward a small bone knife that lay on the desk. “I am not telling you to use that knife to kill Gna. My deal took a quarter of her life, but you know she will not be truly mine until she is all dead. It would not do to go back on my deal, and so I shall not tell you what to do. Do you understand?”

The murderess blinked. Doing that to the one person who was kind to her? This was her only chance to be who she wanted to be. But sacrificing her only friend in trade for power and respect? She swallowed a lump in her throat, but nodded. She was sick and tired of being powerless against bullies.

“Good, good,” said Hela. “I am going to go to that corner to inspect my books. Do not miss this chance to do the right thing. I promise you will not get a second one. Return to your new bedroom and companion at your leisure. You are dismissed.”

Grisella walked over to the knife while the queen shuffled to the bookshelf. She bit her lower lip, hand hovering over the blade. Looking away toward the Lady, she grabbed the knife and hurried out.

Looking down at her hand, no longer perfectly smooth with youth, she worried and muttered to herself. “What will Gna say when she sees me this old? Can I… really do this?”

 ===

On the chessboard, a golden tipped black pawn moved forward on its own, putting the golden knight in jeopardy while Hela watched from across the room. She returned to her chair and sat, to wait and see what would happen.

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


We’re back to Gna’s point of view! What did you think of that glimpse into Grisella’s perspective? 

Will Grisella betray her friend? How will Gna react to her friend no longer having the beauty of youth? Find out next Wednesday!

All comments appreciated! Let me know your thoughts on the story, what you liked or didn’t like. Comments bring good karma. Also, I won’t send ninja after you…

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Ly says:

    Ah, another cliffhanger I see! Cruel, leaving your audience with a cliffhanger like that! :p

    It’s interesting to see the more ‘human’ aspects of god/esses that feel pain, hurt, as we do, in their stories like this. It’s sometimes easy to forget that if they love us, and are close to one of us, their feelings can be hurt just the same way that ours can. (As opposed to the more remote higher aspects of Them).

    I loved this chapter, initially I was disappointed in Grisella for how she treated Gna. I also love being able to understand the chess references and how they work in the story, which is appropriate considering you’re the one who taught me to play :p

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Teka Lynn says:

    But what IS the right thing to do? Decisions, decisions….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. wynndark says:

    I read this on a lunch break…and had to restrain myself from laughing maniacally at Hela commenting about Phanuel. The idea of the Jinn having once been Alfar is deeply chilling and rings with some truth, at least enough to give it some serious mulling over.

    Absolutely love this tale, thank you for writing it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      Heh. I did have a zany chase in mind with Garm after the pestering angel. Hela’s not one to ham it up though. I’m happy to hear you got the subtle humor.
      Part of what I like to do is reinterpret Christian notions in Heathen terms, just like they did to us. The way I see it, either angels are constructs of that deity… or they came from somewhere. Lobotomized Alfar are indeed a chilling concept. Everything I’ve read about them and conversation with Arabic friends suggests they are some sort of Fay.
      I’m glad you like the story and look forward to further comments. 🙂

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s