Part 11 – A Great Hitch –

I was still pacing when I heard her steps. I turned and saw Grisella in the doorway, hands clasped and looking down.

“Sundered spirals!” I exclaimed, “What did Hela do to you?”

Brows wrinkling, I rushed to my companion’s side to lead her in.

The dead woman looked away. “She… she made me the age of my death, old and ugly.” Her hair had turned to a dirty blonde, its straggled edges laying limp on the green of her dress.

Eyebrows lowered in confusion, I asked: “What are you talking about?”

“I be fourty-two when I died,” she said with a frown. “You met me looking the way I was at twenty-two. I’m not the pretty thing you wanted to share a bed with anymore.”

Taken aback by her words, I then leaned in to inspect her more closely. Sure enough, there were more wisdom lines on her face, the kind that came from loss and anger.

“Oh, that,” I said. “I suppose you’re right. I hadn’t noticed.”

Her mouth fell open. “If it not be my wrinkles, then what were you ranting about when I came in?”

“Your spirals!” I said. “They’re all chewed up, drooping, mangled.”

“My what?”

“Your… ah, right, humans don’t measure beauty that way, don’t even see them most of the time.” I took a breath. “All right, five spirals. They’re here, here, here, here and here.” As I spoke, I poked her with a finger in the middle of the forehead, throat, over the heart, lower tip of the breastbone, and below the belly button.

She stared at me, eyes wide. “Okay,” I said, “you know how a human body has a liver, lungs, all sorts of organs like that?”

She nodded.

“Well, spirits have spirals, for much the same purposes, and yours are in pretty bad shape since your visit. So again, what did she do to you?”

Refusing to meet my eyes, she asked: “Be that… how gods see us?”

I ran a hand back through my hair. “Good question. You know, I’m not completely sure. That’s how the Alfar see people, and I know gods can see that way. I’m just not sure that’s how they normally look at people. And… you’re avoiding the question.”

“I’d… rather not discuss it now. It be… kind of a rough discussion we had, the Queen and I. Could we be talking about it later? Please?”

I tried to see what was wrong with her – something hard that wasn’t there before, and something hurt. I shrugged. “Very well. I’ll leave you be for now, but I expect to hear about it when you’ve had a chance to catch your breath.”

She nodded. “I be… owing you a backrub, ay?”

Smiling, I nodded.

“Then if you’d let me,” she said, “pay you back for yer kindness…”

I took her hand and led her to the bed. She couldn’t be that bad if she was up for this. Maybe she just needed touching, and to feel in control of that touching. I can deal with that, I thought as I pulled off my shirt and untied my breast band.

“How would you like me?” I asked with a wink.

“Um, on your belly?” It was cute how she avoided looking at my bare breasts.

“All right,” I said, laying down. I hadn’t had a backrub in… since… my face fell, remembering John, the human husband I’d left behind. I took a deep breath and tried to let that go as I buried my face in the red pillow. It smelled of evergreens.

I felt her sit on my pelvis, hands coming to rest on my back. She started kneading my shoulders like dough, and boy did it feel good. I grunted my approval as she moved onto the neck, and then the arms.

My elbows got special care, as she gently moved them and got into the joints. Then the hands, each finger was lovingly pulled, rotated, rubbed. She pressed her thumbs in all along my spine, and lifted my shoulders to get in under the shoulder blades.

“You… really… good at this…” I nearly moaned.

“Father had many aches in the joints. I tried to help,” she said without much inflection.

Then she put her fingers in my hair, started massaging my scalp. I shuddered in pleasure. This might not be Asgard, but I was in heaven! Then gently, she undid my braids and pulled at large tufts of my hair.

That felt really nice and I was getting pleasantly sleepy. I was drifting off when she pulled hard on my hair, holding my head back.

“That’s too much,” I said, “you’re hurting me.” Something sharp pressed against my throat. Not good! Very not good!

“Grisella…what are you doing?”

“I… I’m sorry, I have no choice. I don’t want to do this.”

I winced. The worlds are full of people doing terrible things who say they have no choice. Bile rose in my throat with betrayal, but I pushed those feelings back down. Now was not the time, I had to stall.

“You do,” I said, “you always have a choice. You’re choosing this… why? At least tell me why. You owe me that much before you kill me.”

“I… Hela wants you dead, all dead. I have to obey.”

My neck was starting to cramp. “You have to do no such thing… what did she offer you? Or threaten you with? People act for gain, or to avoid loss, so what is it you’re getting for this?”

She was silent, blade pressing in a little harder against my throat. I’d touched a nerve. Suddenly it struck me.

“It’s… she offered you what you wanted most, didn’t she? To be a Hel-maiden.” I heard nothing, but felt a forward and back vibration in the blade, and guessed she was nodding. Cold spread through my gut. That was the cost of her betrayal. Everyone has their price… Hela certainly knew how to offer me mine. I swallowed.

“Okay Grisella, listen, I understand, that’s a pretty sweet offer…”

“You don’t understand anything!” she shouted.

“Help me understand then, before you kill me, why this is worth becoming a murderer.” Stall, stall, stall. The longer she talks, the better my chances. Why is everyone always trying to kill me?

I felt more vibrations. Was she sobbing?

“My hands already be bloody,” she cried, “I’ve killed three men! She made me remember what I did.”

I did not see that coming. “But I’m sure they deserved it, right?” I was grasping, wondering what sort of person she’d become in her last twenty years from the sweet bashful girl I’d met. Vengeful? Greedy?

“They did,” she hissed, “They deserved to die.”

Vengeful then. Finally, something I could use. “Do you think I deserve to die?” I said slowly.

“I… don’t know. Don’t know you that well. Maybe you did terrible things too.”

“Fair enough.” The tension on my scalp was shooting darts of pain through my temples and down my spine. “You know that I gave up being a goddess in Asgard, sacrificed my life, so that my son could grow up with a mother. Does that sound like a person who deserves execution?”

“No,” she said weakly.

“I treated you fairly, with respect and kindness. Spirals! I even defended you twice!” I coughed. With my head tilted this far back, it was hard to breathe.

No response, but she didn’t cut me. “So let me hear it,” I said, “What exactly did Hela order? Did she say I want you to kill Gna?

A pause. “No, but that’s what she meant. Said it was my one and only chance to do the right thing…”

I smiled into the pillow, I had this. “Grisella, think about it. She makes vague references to killing me, never directly giving you an order, then she says you have one fecking chance to do the right thing. It wasn’t an order, it was a test of character to learn one thing: Would you kill your friend in exchange for a chance at power?”

Her hand started trembling, and I continued. “Look in your heart, are you that sort of person? Or more to the point, is that the sort of person you want to become? Because if you do this, killing someone who did you no wrong, you’ll be taking one more…” she let go of my hair, and I turned to see her fling the knife across the room with a scream of frustration.

I sat up, rubbing the back of my neck. Most of my enemies gagged me on principle, those who knew of me anyway. I could talk my way out of most perils.

She was staring at her hands, face contorted into a mask of horror and disgust. I tried to imagine what terrible memories were running through her mind.

I was numb, unsure what to do or feel, retreating into the safety of cold intellect. Also, I was half-naked. I should put my shirt back on.

Grisella stumbled off the bed and toward the door – until that path brought her beside the long mirror. There she looked up, let out a sob, mumbling incoherently. Trapped by her reflection, she stared at her damaged soul.

What do you do when a friend tries to kill you, then falls apart? Comfort them? Tie them up? I stretched my neck to get the kinks out, wondering if this counted as passing or failing in Hela’s eyes. Either way…

This, I thought, is not Grisella’s doing. Responsibility for this is on Hela’s head. My eyes narrowed and my jaw clenched as I pumped myself up to a righteous rage. It’s that bitch queen I should be angry at. She orchestrated this, put the knife in her hand, messed with her head. Grisella was a victim here.

I am fecking tired of having everyone push me around like I’m a chew toy. For Odin’s sake, who does she think she is? Making my friend into her assassin? I will tear her a new fecking asshole, as soon as I can get my hands on that bony neck of hers! The nerve! Playing the nice Mistress and then backstabbing me? Turning friends on each other? That is not acceptable. She can take her deal and shove it up her ass. I am not going to serve anyone so dishonourable.

Grisella put her arms in front of her face, unable to stand the sight of what she’d become.

“No… no…” she muttered. Then screamed. “Nooooo!” She turned and hobbled toward the door once more. Quick as I could, I hopped off the bed, shirt in hand.

“Wait!” I called out as she bumped into the doorframe, sobbing, face still hidden as she fumbled to open it. Pushing aside my rage at the queen, I gave chase as she stumbled into the corridor. “This isn’t your fault!” I cried out, my feet pounding behind hers.

She ran blindly, bruising her shoulders and elbows against the mortared stone walls as she went. It was no contest against one who runs like the wind, and I soon caught up with her, wrapping her in my arms.

She struggled to get out: “Let go! I’m… dangerous… a monster!”

“You’re not a monster,” I assured her, “just confused, it’s not your fault.”

Red-eyed, she caught my gaze. “I had a choice,” she panted, “and I chose to be a monster! A bloody killer, betrayer.” She slumped against me and I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“It’s okay,” I said softly, “I forgive you.”

“I… don’t want your forgiveness… don’t deserve…”

“Come back to our room Grisella. We can talk it over. It’ll be okay…”

She let herself be led by the hand, face locked in despair.

“You’re my friend,” I cooed, “Please believe me. Let me help.”

She spied the knife on the floor near the trunk, and mouthed something so softly I couldn’t hear. Then a little louder: “Kill me…”

“You’re already dead,” I said. Maybe not the smartest thing to say. I didn’t know what to say to break her out of this!

“I want to die,” she said in a soft monotone, “Disappear, be forgotten, stop hurting… and hurting people.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying! I need you! I don’t want you to…”

===

 On the distant chessboard, a golden tipped pawn was starting to wobble. It had not taken the knight. Nor had it moved forward to be queened at the edge of the board. Hela frowned. This was not an allowed move, not part of her plans. She put a hand to steady it, but it started crumbling into powder between her fingers. She let go; her rotting touch could only make it worse.

She bared her teeth in annoyance. The knight moved illegally into the pawn’s square, apparently supporting it. Her bony fingers moved to hold up her own forehead, hiding the rotting side of her face.

“Don’t let her go, Gna,” she whispered to the errant piece.

===

In the bedroom, Grisella pleaded with me.

“Can’t you just… end me? So I stop making everything worse.”

Boy, and I thought I had issues. “Talk to me, Grisella,” I said cautiously.

“I just… I just thought… I could help you… and you might help me. I didn’t want to hurt you. That’s the last thing I wanted, but she told me I had to… to… be that terrible person again. I like you. You’re a nice person. Everything good I try turns to shit and I end up alone. I don’t deserve… to even exist.”

She started shivering, and I fetched a wool blanket from the trunk to put over her shoulders. “Is that better?”

No answer.

“I want to hear your story. Please, say something!”

She was still unresponsive. I took her hand and pulled so she would sit on the bed with me. Worry took precedence over the fear of being left alone once more, and to my horror I realized she was slightly transparent. Was she Fading, as I had not long ago? Oh Frigg no! No way am I going to let her Fade away on me.

I looked for my saddlebags, soon realizing I didn’t have them anymore. They’d been left with Hoof-Tosser no doubt.

“Dammit,” I cussed, “I needed that stuff in my packs.” Words weren’t getting through. I wracked my brain for answers. A strand of Frigga’s yarn could bind her here for a while – until we figured this out – but that was as far out of my reach now as heavenly Gimlé. “Stay with me Grisella!” I begged, “I’m not angry with you anymore.”

I bit my lower lip, looking left and right. I didn’t even have a scrap of Asgardian cloth left on me, it was all gone, and I had no idea what this Hellish fabric might do. The only Asgardian fiber I had with me was…

My hair. I could spin my own hair into yarn, it’s not all that different from wool. I ran to the wooden trunk next to the mirror and flung it open. Please be there please be there… yes! I found a drop spindle among the various trinkets that were stashed away there. My braid had all but fallen apart in bed, so I finished setting it free. Grabbing a bunch of hair on the left side of my head, I pulled and tied it together with the leather string. Holding Mordgud’s knife in one hand, blonde lock in the other, I hesitated.

My beautiful golden hair!

It’s not worth a life is it?

No. It isn’t. It’ll grow back. Wincing, I made the cut… even as I realized it made me look a little bit more like Hela.

I could barely hear Grisella muttering: “Filth… trash…”

“You are not,” I argued as I sheathed the knife. “She tricked you… this is not you.”

“It is,” she moaned. “I’m a murderer, a dirty… backstabbing killer.” A sob escaped her lips. “I fucked them… then I killed them in their sleep. Me. I did that. Nobody forced me. I don’t deserve to live…”

Hair is more tricky than wool, more like flax, but I managed to spin it and ply it. With each glance up at my friend, my worry deepened. The blanket had all but fallen from her by the time I was done, and she was about halfway gone.

Now, neck or wrist? Where do I tie this? Still sensitive about the blue mark around my throat where Hela had strangled me, I tied it to her wrist and waited for the spun magic to kick in. Still, she continued getting more transparent. Maybe my yarn wasn’t as potent as Frigga’s. Maybe I didn’t count as an Asgardian anymore. My friend muttered something, and I leaned closer to listen.

“Alone, is that what you’re saying? You’re not alone Grisella! I’m right here with you on the bed. I’ll stay with you, I promise to take care of you and be there for you. Say you’ll stay with me, please!”

She didn’t react. Just to be sure she got the idea, I tied the other end of the yarn to my own wrist. “See, the two of us are bound now. Promise me we’ll be together for a long time yet, okay? I’ll take care of you and you’ll take care of me. I need you!”

But need wasn’t enough to bind two hearts – Frigga had taught me that. More softly, I whispered: “I love you Grisella. Please… promise to be the companion at my side…”

Her eyelids fluttered. Finally she seemed aware of me again and glanced down at our wrists. Becoming slightly more solid, she smiled and said something so softly I didn’t catch it. Louder she said: “I do.”

I embraced her – awash in a flood of relief – and as I did she turned her head to capture my lips with her own. I felt her becoming more and more solid as we kissed, seeing life pour back into her eyes.

“I didn’t know you cared that much, Gna,” she said with a blush.

“Well, I’ve lost a lot of friends recently. I didn’t want to lose another. What was that you said before ‘I do’ ?”

“I said,” she cleared her throat before continuing with a squeeze of my hand: “ ‘a traditional handfasting, how quaint.’ ”

My jaw dropped as I looked to our hands bound together. Did I just get married? Ah Friggin Hel!


 

 

Note: Ninja incentives are not available, but comments are still very much appreciated. 🙂

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Comments
  1. Ly says:

    I knew the right thing wasn’t to try to kill Gna!

    I giggled at ‘sundered spirals.’ The idea of how gods see people and beauty is an interesting one as they wouldn’t see what humans do.

    Seems like it was getting steamy .. At least before the murder attempt. Will that continue into the next chapter then? 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • lofnbard says:

      What, no murder? And miss a chance at fabulous powers? 😉
      There’s been a few times when heard a devotee say “Ugh, I don’t want my deity to see me like this!” as an excuse not to go do their regular devotions, with me going “Um, I don’t think they see beauty the same way we do.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ly says:

    Ah, well, I’m sure sometimes it’s easy to forget because we always look at our reflections.. And culture and societal expectations.. And other… Rambly points that totally aren’t excuses on my part for hypothetical times I might have done that..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve just stumbled in at this point, but wow am I glad I did!

    Like

    • lofnbard says:

      Welcome! Glad to have you aboard, and I hope you find joy and inspiration in the rest of the stories. Check out the Story Index tab to get the lay of the land. 🙂

      Like

  4. Eeeeee! I’m loving this!

    I’m not sure what it is, but so far this had been my favourite of the stories. I’ve been thinking a lot about Gna lately. ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      Thanks! What brings Gna to mind for you? 🙂

      Like

      • Mostly just musings on Her the past few weeks. Who She is and what She does. Yesterday though, i was getting poked hardcorecwith blue, blue, blue. I was thinking it was Loki until i looked ahead and saw the car i front if mine had “Gna” on the plates! Im not surprised a Lady who rules messages and communication has been poking aroubd while im finding my voice. Last night we shared a beer.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lofnbard says:

        Ha ha, awesome! Love license plate divination! So, how does she like beer? I don’t drink the stuff so I rarely offer it except by special request. Or, you know, if it’s Thor.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. She seemed to enjoy it! It was a Sam Adam’s summer ale. (I don’t drink often, but I tend to offer whatever I happened to have when I do). I put on some music and worked on unpacking and sort of talked at Her.

    Then, I wound up getting 4 back to back calls after midnight – whenever I answered it said “This is a call from …… please pick up”. No answer! i finally called/texted the number the next day, and they were asleep at midnight, so…who knows!

    Like

    • lofnbard says:

      My techno-mage friends are big into allowing tech into their practice. They were honoring a friend who recently passed away at their altar, at like 1am, when suddenly they got a text that said “LOL, you messaged me!”
      It was actually from me, answering some earlier message I found just then. But the timing was such that… it was a reply from that dead friend. She heard them and answered. 🙂
      So I’d say that was Gna getting in touch with you!

      Like

      • Thats what i figured. I was also playing my Zevon collection, which seems to be good for getting messages across! I will turn on mh pandora singer/songwriter station, and ask Loki to ‘tell me something good!’ And uts usually Zevon, lol

        Liked by 1 person

  6. sonyjalerulv says:

    The spirals idea is great. And I loved the ‘accidental wedding’. Everything is there; the handfasting, the love declaration, even the I do’s. Yet Gna don’t realize what she just did until Grisella point it out to her. Hilarious and sweet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      Well, it seemed odd to have her call them “chakras,” and I didn’t think it likely that gods see people the same way we do. So what do elves call them then? Spirals!

      Seven isn’t a holy number in our tradition, however five is used by the nearby and Celts (and presumably Sidhe elves) in their Ogham system of mnemonics given by the Tuatha De Danann god Ogma. There are five spirals facing forward and back — human spirit configurations don’t change just because you’re not Hindu. Add the root spiral at the crotch, trunk one at the top of the head, feet, hands, and you get nine. The limbs don’t get counted as major power centers in India because they’re each half-chakras. Put the backs of your hands together and you have the full hand chakra with a spiral on each side.

      I had fun writing that accidental wedding, and setting the events just right so it was believable. 😀

      Like

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