Tyr arrived at the longhouse early in the morning, and Diana greeted him at the door. She silently led him to her and Freya's room. Inga, Jorunda, and Jon were already there.
"Well? Did you learn anything last night?" he asked.
Diana told them about watching Hlif shift to enter Griswold's chamber. She'd just finished when there was a soft knock at their door. Tyr reached for his sword. So did Freya. Diana called, "Enter."
Hlif opened the door a crack and slid into the room. She looked at the six of them. "We need to talk." She shut the door behind her.
Diana stared. "You knew? How?"
"I could feel your magic."
"But you shifted anyway?"
"Griswold was expecting me. Or rather, he was expecting my granddaughter."
Tyr spoke. "We've been searching for a traitor in the village. Is it you?"
From his question, Diana realized he didn't think it was. "Why do you go to Griswold? Why would you send your granddaughter?"
"My granddaughter would have no choice. I can give her one. I can spare her. Griswold has never once suspected he's grunting me."
Freya grimaced. The image of Griswold and Hlif together apparently didn't appeal to her.
"You're not a shifter?" Diana asked.
"No, my skill is conjuring, creating illusions, like my mother before me." Hlif waved a hand across her face, and her old crone visage fell away. The luscious, young, redhead Diana had seen last night, gazed at them.
Jorunda stared. “Which are you? Young or old?”
"Your mother was a witch?" Freya asked.
"A powerful one. Aeons ago, she helped lead Griswold's warriors into battle. That was before we settled in the meadow—before we pledged ourselves to the gods."
Shocked, Diana turned to Tyr. "How long have these people lived here?"
"Their life spans are much longer than usual."
Diana pushed those thoughts aside to concentrate on Hlif's story. "What happened to your mother? Did she choose not to come to the meadow, to stay on earth with mortals?"
"No, she was killed in battle. A spear pierced her heart. She knew she was going to die that day, a premonition. Before she left, she made me promise not to let anyone know that I had magic, that I’d inherited her gift.”
Freya frowned. “Why?”
“Before we settled here, witches began to disappear from our people."
Diana put up a hand. "Disappeared—how? Do you mean they left? They didn’t want to come to the meadow? Or they died?”
“I don’t know. I only know that my mother feared for me.”
“Was there a witches’ war? Did mortals hunt them down?”
Hlif shook her head. “I was very young. We lived in a longhouse far from the village. My mother said that we were no longer safe. That’s all I know.”
“Let me get this straight. This happened before you came to the meadow?"
"Everywhere in Norse lands?"
Hlif gave an apologetic shrug. "I don’t know. Soon after the battle, we settled here, and I know nothing of what other mortals did. But before my mother left for battle, she warned me not to let anyone know of my beauty or my power. She told me to disguise myself, to make my appearance as plain as possible." Hlif smiled. "That, I now understand. My granddaughter looks a great deal like me, but beauty is a curse in our village. If I could shift her looks, like I do mine, I would."
Diana sat silent, too stunned to speak. Freya looked as shocked as she was. Hlif was a beautiful woman who conjured herself into an old maidservant.
Tyr's brows burrowed in a deep frown. "Before now, I thought Gudrun the only mortal with magic here. I wondered at that, but thought it a fluke of the meadow." He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, intent on what Hlif told them. "Do you know who your mother feared?"
"Griswold’s warrior, Asbiorn, but he died in the same battle."
Tyr turned to Diana. “Perhaps Hlif’s loss can benefit us. Your runes won’t name the traitor among us, but they’ve shown us the past before. Would they now?”
“We can ask.” She reached for her pouch, and the others gathered around her. She silently asked her question and tossed her bones onto the wooden floor. They scattered into clumps, all face up, each group telling a story.
“Where do we begin?” Freya asked.
But before they could decide, the bones that fell near Hlif began to sing, and images appeared on the sleeping room’s walls.
A man lovingly ran his hand over his wife’s abdomen. Her familiar purred and wove himself between her ankles. The woman glowed with happiness. Her middle rounded, protruded, and it was time for birthing. The midwife came in the early hours of the morning. She sent the husband outside to wait, and when she was alone with his wife, her visage returned to that of Heid’s as she pressed her hands to the woman’s chest and shot her full of evil magic. The familiar threw himself on Heid, clawing and biting, but Heid tossed him aside. As the woman struggled and died, so did her cat. Heid’s image settled back into the midwife’s form. With tears, she called the husband into the room. She left when he fell to his knees by his wife’s body, his face in his hands, bereft.
A small girl stood next to the stream that flowed through the village. She gazed at her reflection in the water. She sang a witch’s chant, one of the first a new witch learns, and the water danced along with her words. A shadow fell over her, but before the child could look up, a hand wrapped itself in her fine, blond hair and plunged her face under the surface of the stream. The girl opened her mouth to cry out. Bubbles bumped and thrashed about her. Her lungs were small. The struggle was short. Heid stared at her limp form, smiled, and walked away.
A newborn baby slept in her cradle. The mother and father rested on a wooden bed nearby. The door to their longhouse silently opened. Heid entered, held a pillow over the baby’s face, and left.
Havardr, the village chieftain, raised a drinking horn in a toast to his sons. While his warriors cheered, Griswold declared, “To victory!”—but his gaze followed a young maiden who refilled the horns with ale. Her brilliant blue eyes met Griswold’s, and she smiled. Later, Griswold was called to his chieftain’s side. The fever gripped him, and he didn’t last long. His sons soon followed, and Griswold, to protect the village in the midst of war, took his chieftain’s place to defend his people.
A battlefield raged. Swords clanked. Spears flew. A witch rode forward on the enemy’s side and raised her arms. A witch with flowing red hair whirled her horse in front of Griswold’s men to protect them. Their magic met in the middle, but Hlif’s mother’s was stronger. It blasted its way back to the enemy’s witch, hurled her off her horse, and flattened the men on each side of her. Griswold’s men pressed forward, Hlif’s mother in the midst of them. When it looked like certain victory, she raised her arms to call for a ball of energy—to finish the battle—and a spear punctured her back and ripped through her heart. She turned to look behind her and saw her chieftain, always commanding from the rear of his army, grinning at her. A coward’s glory. As her body sagged to the left, Asbiorn caught her, determined she wouldn’t be trampled beneath hooves. He was pulling her onto his mount when his brows furrowed in a deep scowl. The spear in her back had distinct markings, proclaiming it as the chieftain’s own. Asbiorn raised his head to find Griswold, and a sword slashed across his throat. As he fell with Hlif’s mother’s body cradled in his arms, Griswold slid his spear from her back and rode on.
Audunn’s daughter crossed the meadow and entered the village gates, carrying a large bag filled with walnuts from the trees near their farm. She made her way to the market for trading day. Once she’d sold her stock, she went to the village well to drink. As the sun sank, she slipped into the staples, tapped at a back door of Griswold’s longhouse, and the chieftain opened the entrance to his private chambers to summon her inside. As she entered, she dropped her child’s guise to become Heid. Smiling, she walked into Griswold’s embrace.
The last of the runes’ visions faded, and the room was silent.
Finally, Tyr asked, "How could Griswold work with Heid so long without our knowing?"
Freya shook her head. "Until Diana’s wafers, Heid could take on the guise of anyone we know. She'd trade in the market, then shift to slip into Griswold's bed."
"But why?" Inga asked. "Why would she bother with him?"
Tyr’s voice was harsh. “Because she has a spy and a traitor who lives in our meadow.”
Hlif’s knees gave and she sank onto Diana’s bed. "Griswold killed my mother. I’ve hated him for centuries, how he treats his people, how he uses women. If I’d have known…”
Freya placed a hand on Hlif’s shoulder. “I’m guessing Heid placed many protection spells on him.”
“Many times, I've dreamt of killing him to be rid of his foul breath, his clumsy body, but if I tried and failed, I'd die. A risk worth taking, but so would my children and grandchildren. I’d never endanger them."
"Your husband?" Diana asked.
"Trampled by a horse. Soon after that, Griswold claimed our lands, said a woman and her baby son couldn’t manage them. I came to work in his household to ensure my son remained a freeman."
Diana frowned. "But if you and your family are free, why would your granddaughter have to bed Griswold?"
Hlif snorted. "The chieftain cares little for trifles like rules! He'd take her, just like he took Inga and Vigdis. Who do you think set the fire that burned Snorri’s house?"
"Did you try to poison him?" Freya asked.
If she did, Diana couldn't blame her. She knew the chieftain too well. But Hlif shook her head. "With ghoul pox? Where would I get it? And why would I kill people I care for with a plague? If I decided to dispose of my chieftain, he—and only he—would be dead."
"Griswold gave it to himself." Diana was certain of it now. "Then he took the antidote Heid gave him.”
Tyr shook his head. “Why would he want to kill every man, woman, and child in the village? He’d have nothing, no one.”
Diana sighed. “No one outside of Griswold’s longhouse died. He never intended them to. Somehow, Heid contained the pox to his household, so that Griswold could quarantine it, then stagger into the courtyard to survive.”
“But his wife…” Jorunda swallowed hard. “His people loved her.”
“Peta said that she was wise for her years and loved her people. She must have begun to suspect him of treachery. Plus, every warrior would die. The runes said if the village fell, so would the meadow. He'd hand Heid victory without a battle."
Freya nodded. "A clever ploy. It made him look like a victim rather than a villain."
Tyr's lips pressed together in a grim line. "It was Griswold who stumbled against the warrior who wounded Jon. He sent Jorunda out to hunt, knowing Heid's witches waited for him. Let's find our chieftain."
They left the room together and marched to Griswold's chambers, but he wasn't there. They searched the longhouse, asking after him. Servants had caught glimpses of him, but no one knew where he was at the moment.
"When I saw him, he was walking toward the gardens," a milkmaid told them.
"The well!" Tyr hurried past huts and dwellings until he reached the center of the village. He was staring into the clear waters when the others caught up with him.
"Is it safe?" Jorunda asked.
Tyr gave a last sniff. "It seems all right."
A young boy walked toward them, dragging a hoe behind him. "Do you want water? I'll pull the bucket for you."
Freya sent him a warm smile. "We're looking for your chieftain. We thought he was here, but we must have missed him."
"He came early this morning, before I finished my porridge. I watched him walk back toward his longhouse."
"We thank you," Jorunda said. And they returned the way they'd come.
They began asking for Griswold's whereabouts the minute they entered the courtyard until one of the stablemen said, "I saw him saddling his horse. He didn’t call for one of us to help him."
They went to the stables. Griswold's horse was missing, but no one was about. Finally, Tyr called to the guards on the fence, "Have you seen Griswold?"
"He left the village on his war horse. He had us open the gates for him and told us to send reinforcements if he didn't return before high noon."
Tyr grunted. "Another trap. He'll run to Heid, and she'll slaughter the warriors when they rush to his rescue."
Freya turned on her heel and started to the village square. "We need to call a town meeting. I want everyone to know what's happened. We're all in this together. No one else can be deceived."
Tyr nodded agreement and hurried after her. He went to the big, heavy bell outside the stable and rang it until people came running. "Gather everyone. We need to talk."