To others, Diana made it appear as though she, Tyr, and Freya were inspecting the new well. It was a quickly constructed fence that surrounded a hole that dipped to an underground stream. A rope was attached to a log to hold its bucket in place.
"Nothing fancy," Freya said.
"It works." Tyr looked at the community gardens nearby. "A good location. People can sip a drink while they pick and weed."
All nice, but Diana had more important matters on her mind. Safe from being overheard, she told them about her conversation with Peta.
Freya shook her head, amused. "To think that a dragon thought of a woman as our traitor while I, goddess of love and beauty, suspected a man. I know how alluring and lethal a female can be."
“A mistress?” Tyr ruminated. "Surely Griswold would suspect her after she tried to poison him."
"Not if she poisoned herself, too, then took the antidote," Diana said.
Freya jammed her hands on her hips, aggravated. "What if Heid made a love potion to bespell Griswold? I can't believe it, but maybe it's not his fault he's an idiot. Maybe he's under someone's spell."
"A love spell can only do so much," Diana said. "It might make Griswold long for the girl, but it wouldn't erase all of his judgment."
"With him, that's all it would take." Tyr lowered the bucket into the well and brought up fresh, stream water. He took a sip. "Griswold's never been known for his wisdom or prudence."
"It's his lack of judgment that worries me.” Freya glanced across the community garden to Olaf’s smithing shop. The sounds of hammers hitting metal rang in the air. “If Griswold had a brain, he wouldn't have sent Jorunda and his men out hunting without one of us to protect them.”
“The idea could have been planted by whoever sleeps with him,” Diana said.
Freya shrugged. “I’ve seen his servants. Not an attractive one in the lot. It couldn’t be one of them.”
Diana glanced toward the longhouse. Did Griswold leave the kitchen door open so that someone could sneak into his bedroom at night?
“Somebody’s influencing him.” Tyr’s eyes scanned the village. “Who knows what he'll decide to do when we battle Heid?"
"Whatever Heid’s spy convinces him to," Diana said. "If it were me, I'd tell him that the village would be safer if his warriors joined the battle."
"So that Jorunda and his men are vulnerable to attack." Tyr's eyes widened. "Something a Greek would think of. Heid and her coven can’t pass through the gates, and neither can their hellhounds."
"If giants trample the rowan, that would change. Heid or her witches could enter the village. They could blast magic everywhere." Diana frowned, thinking. "I need to train Asdis and her witches more. We need them to stand guard at the gates, no matter what's happening someplace else. It wouldn't hurt to give Asdis one of Olaf's shields. She's not strong enough to defeat older witches on her own, but with a shield to deflect the witches' energy, she could battle in safety and hold them off."
"Not big enough," Tyr said. "Olaf's shields would only cover a small part of her."
"Asgaard's dwarves," Freya said. "Our shields are built to our full size. I'll summon Hermod."
Diana nodded. "The giants and witches are our first line of defence."
"We need to find our traitor," Freya said.
"That, too, but I doubt Griswold meets his lover during the day. There are too many servants and warriors coming and going. That’s why I’m obscuring myself tonight and watching Griswold’s room.”
“You are? Can I come too?” Freya clapped her hands, she was so excited. “I can disguise myself as something small. A mouse?”
“I’d rather stand watch alone. No use taking chances of being noticed.”
Freya’s shoulders sagged, but she gave a quick nod.
“That means I have time to work with Asdis and her witches now." Diana started toward the village gates. "Then I'll rest before supper and watch over our chieftain during the night."
Tyr fell into step beside her. "Freya and I will come with you. We’ll work with the giants. They rely on their size to win battles. If they learn warrior moves, they'll have an advantage, even if they're outnumbered."
"They need weapons," Freya said.
"A sword is too small," Tyr warned. "We need something bigger, longer."
"In that case, I'll bring axes." Freya smiled.
“How will that be any better?” Tyr asked. “Axes are no larger than swords.”
"The ax is a tool,” she explained. “Wood can be lethal, especially if it's whittled to a point."
“Spears.” Tyr nodded. “Good thinking.”
They spent the rest of the afternoon in the meadow. Diana taught Asdis and her witches both offensive and defensive spells. Hermod alarmed everyone by speeding toward them on Woden’s eight-legged horse to deliver the shields Freya sent for—not the big, heavy ones reserved for gods, but made with dwarf metal strong enough to return any of Heid's attacks. Diana had asked for a favor, too, and Hermod brought two extra shields fitted with long straps to attach to Peta's massive torso.
"To protect your heart," Diana said, fastening them on him. "I want you to survive this, to go home to your family."
The dragon lowered his head in gratitude.
Diana turned her attention back to the witches. She taught them to slant their shields to bounce energy away from them, hopefully returning it toward their attackers.
While she worked with the witches, Tyr and Freya instructed the giants to make spears from tree trunks. They practiced combat moves with them until the giants performed a few basics by rote. When Diana's stomach growled, Tyr glanced at the sun. “Low in sky. Time for supper.”
As they headed toward the dining table, Diana smiled, pleased with the progress they'd made.
"You never got your rest," Tyr reminded her.
She yawned, bone tired. "I'll have Noir watch over Griswold while I sleep. If anything happens, he'll wake me."
"You're sure? Your cat doesn't seem eager to please."
"Noir has a mind of his own, but he's always there when I need him."
Tyr stopped them before they entered the longhouse. He lowered his voice. "This one time, I think it best we keep our plans to ourselves."
Freya frowned. "What are you saying? That we shouldn't tell Jorunda and Inga? They're our friends, our allies."
"Or Jon," Tyr said.
"Both warriors nearly died," Freya argued.
"And Inga's our apprentice." Diana trusted her. She trusted all three of them.
"It's for their good as well as ours. I'm beginning to believe one of the modern sayings, that the walls have ears. It wouldn't be hard to listen into our conversations once we're inside."
Diana thought of the hallways leading off the great room in the longhouse. Doorways lined them, and there were many storage areas. She nodded agreement. So did Freya.
When they reached the dining room, Jorunda, Jon, and Inga were already there. Jon was pale and held his left arm close to his side. Jorunda's face and arms were covered with scrapes and bruises. Inga looked tense. When the gods took their seats, servants carried soup and breads to the table.
Hlif came to stand before them, her eyes downcast, as though she were embarrassed. "I apologize, but Lord Griswold refused to allow us to cook meat for your meal. He said our supplies are low."
Tyr laughed, and Hlif looked up in alarm. "Your master can be petty, but it's nothing to us. We appreciate your offerings."
Face red, Hlif bowed and left.
Inga picked at her meal. "It's so uncomfortable here, not like I remembered it. When I was growing up, my family lived in a longhouse near the back fence. We worked outside the village in Griswold's fields, and our neighbors worked beside us. We all pitched in together."
"You were a child," Freya said. "Everything's simpler when you're young."
"Have you seen your family? Visited them?" Tyr asked.
"A few times. Things are stiff between us. Brittle."
"Aren't they happy your ban's lifted?" Diana assumed they'd be overjoyed, that it would be like raising a loved daughter from her deathbed, like rebirth.
"They're angry with me. They blame me for the way they were treated once I was banished, as though they'd contributed to my sins. Things have been hard for them."
"Maybe they should have helped you when you first came to them." Diana had no patience with a father and mother who thought little of a daughter's rape. Inga was no slave, who could be used as Griswold pleased.
"I think I was happier in my own little clearing," Inga said.
"By yourself?" Jorunda stared. "Don't tell me you miss your hut."
"It was mine," Inga told him. "And I didn't have to answer to anyone. There were no snide remarks, no intrigue. I miss the forest. I miss birdsong and solitude."
He put his hand over hers. "Will you be happy here? I'm a warrior. I'm bound to the village."
"My place is with you. I wouldn't change that."
Jorunda's shoulders relaxed slightly. "It's not usually like this here. Everything's tense now."
Jon nodded agreement. "This battle can't start soon enough for me. The waiting has put everyone on edge."
"Then it's time we had some diversion." Freya smiled cheerfully. "Surely there's someone who makes music, someone who plays an instrument."
Diana had to admire her friend. A diversion was exactly what everyone needed. Before their meal ended, three men entered, one carrying a bone flute, a second a set of pan pipes, and a third a hand harp. Soon, music filled the room. While everyone made merry, Diana made a point of yawning often. Soon, she rose and said, "I need sleep. I'll see you in the morning."
She silently walked down the hallway, Noir at her heels. She snuggled deep into her furs and waited. When no one followed her and the halls were quiet, she rolled two furs into the shape of her body and stuffed them under the others. Then she said her obscuring spell and melted from sight. She curled on top of her blankets and dozed while Noir stood watch.
It was pitch black when Noir nudged her face with his own. She woke instantly. Freya slept peacefully in her own bed. Snores came from the warriors' rooms. Barefoot, Diana tiptoed into the hallway. She heard other, slippered feet hurrying to Griswold's chamber.
Diana strained to see, but it was too dark. Griswold's door opened, and a candle silhouetted Hlif in flickering light. As she stepped over the chieftain's threshold, her body shifted. No longer was she an old woman. She was tall and breathtaking with long, auburn hair that fell to her waist. Her figure could rival Freya's. The door closed, and Diana heard soft murmurs on the other side.
Strong magic. Not many witches could conjure their images into something else. Diana began to wonder. Who was the stronger of the two witches—Heid or Hlif? She didn't intend to stand in the cold hallway and get caught spying. She hurried back to her room. She knew everything she needed to know. Hlif was their traitor.