When they stepped into the small glade, Inga gasped. The hut had been razed to the ground. White columns stretched from both ends of a marble temple, forming two outdoor porticoes. Not practical in the north, but pleasing to Diana's eyes.
"A temple?" Freya asked.
"I like the design and the thick, heavy walls. And marble floors."
"I’ll be gone before winter." Diana had no intentions of lingering in the Norse lands any longer than she had to.
She hurried into her new home. Two rooms greeted her. The first held a round fireplace in its center, a wooden table and chairs, and a small sitting area. The second contained three beds with stuffed, feather mattresses. No gilt ceilings or murals. Nothing extravagant. Simple elegance and comfort. Diana's style.
Fruit spilled over the edge of a large, wooden bowl on the table—apples, figs, pomegranates, and grapes jostled alongside thick circles of cheese. Loaves of bread beckoned from a cupboard shelf, joined by a myriad of amphorae—the airtight, ceramic vessels Diana preferred to store wine.
Inga blinked, dazed. "Who did this? How?"
"I am a goddess." Diana waved a hand. "I have my ways."
Freya turned to study the surroundings too. "Lovely. Someday, I'll have to invite you to my hall in Folkvang. I think you'll like it."
With a nod, Diana reached for a clump of grapes. "I'm thinking that since Gudrun sent Inga to this place, it's protected. Am I correct?"
Freya took a handful of figs and bit the end off one of them. "Mmm, good." She motioned toward silver, cat talismans nailed to trees around the clearing. "When Inga was shunned, her tattoo protected her from mortals. Olaf combined his magic with mine to smith the cats. No enemy can pass them.”
“Hungry animals?” Diana asked.
“Anything that would harm her. But our magic together isn't as powerful as yours."
Inga answered. "A dwarf who lives in our village. He has the magic of his kind."
"Enough to ward off Heid?"
"Until now, yes. But since Heid has a coven? I don't know," Freya admitted.
"I've seen Heid's coven. Not goddesses. What are they? Half-goddesses maybe?" Diana knew all about the indiscretions of the gods. Greeks were known for them. Jupiter, alone, had produced more than enough progeny, causing his mortal partners worlds of grief when Juno grew jealous. She assumed Norse gods were no different.
Freya nodded, acknowledging her suspicions. "I doubt Heid's working with mere mortals, and no goddesses would join her."
Inga looked relieved. "Then it can't be that bad. Half-gods have only half your powers and gifts, right?"
Diana and Freya exchanged glances. "I'm thinking of Hercules," Diana said. "We couldn't have defeated the Titans without his help. Half gods can be dangerous enemies."
Freya added, "Our gods occasionally reproduce with giants."
"With your enemies?" Diana couldn't hide her surprise. “No god would mate with a Titan.”
"Some giants have saved or birthed us."
"So it's complicated." Diana unsealed an amphorae and poured herself wine. "Care for some?"
Inga sniffed the red liquid and shook her head. Freya took a small sip and pushed the goblet away. "I prefer mead."
"Sorry. Don't have any."
Freya smiled. "But you will." She turned when she heard a horse approaching. "Here it is now."
The three women walked to the door. A god galloped into the clearing, riding a horse with eight legs. Diana gaped. She knew it was ill-mannered, but she'd never seen such a creature.
"Woden's horse," Freya explained. "He sent Hermod with supplies for me."
Hermod moved with such speed, he reminded Diana of her friend, Mercury. It took no time for him to store Freya's goods in their marble home and wish them farewell. "You do us a great service, staying here—all of you!" Hermod called as he rode away.
Inga looked from Freya's drinking horns and jars of mead to Diana's wines and cheeses. Eyes wide, she said, "I've never seen so much food and drink."
"What have you lived on all these years?" Diana asked. Inga didn't look like a hunter. How had she survived?
"Nuts, fruits and berries, and lots of bread. I have eggs from the chickens, milk and cheese from the goats." She blushed. "Gudrun makes Griswold supply me with dried meat twice a year, because she says I'm important."
"You are important." Freya tossed an arm over her shoulder. "We're a team. What's ours is yours."
"But I'm a mortal. I'm shunned."
"Get over it," Diana said. "From this moment forward, you're our apprentice. You'll protect your village with white magic." No worry that Inga might turn to the dark arts. The girl couldn't wring a chicken's neck to have meat.
Inga spread her hands helplessly. "You keep saying that, but I have no gifts, no talents."
"Wrong, or Gudrun wouldn't have chosen you." The seer must have sensed something in the girl that Diana didn't. She seemed too timid to wield much power. "But you need to know that by joining us, you're putting yourself in danger." Diana would rather level with Inga than skirt around the issue. "Heid will try to destroy you before you reach your full potential."
"I had no life before, anyway."
The girl had a point. Diana turned to Freya. Greeks liked strategy. It was time to lay some plans. "What now? I'm here. There has to be something we can do besides sit and wait." She'd go crazy watching for signs of Ragnarok like Tyr and Donar did.
Freya's answer was so fast, Diana knew she'd been thinking about their next move too. "Can you do a reading? Will the runes give us more answers?"
"The trick is to ask the right questions." Diana reached for the pouch in her jeans pocket.
Inga hugged herself and inched toward the door. "I should leave. Runes make me nervous."
"It's wise to hold them in respect," Freya said. "If you're going to learn magic, though, you have to learn them."
Inga cringed. She hesitated, playing with the ties of her corset. At least, she didn't bolt. Diana gave an inward sigh. The girl sure wasn't embracing her new powers. Teaching her magic strong enough to challenge Heid was going to be no easy feat. In fact, nothing about the Norse land had proven easy so far.