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Grimhild

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It was at dinner that she was foiled.

As usual she had her lady's taciturn approval to do whatever she saw as necessary.

"So long as it doesn't endanger our cause, my dear, you can save your page." Lady Röselein had sighed into her son's hair, petting the boy in the perfumed bower of her room. She would keep him by her side so long as the danger remained. Her blue eyes were as hard as the ice that had seeped into every crevice of the walls, cast by the snow of the night before. Waltraud had kissed her hand in gratitude. In freedom she had devised her battle plan and rallied her allies.

Only to have all of her intentions thwarted by that one subversive element she had found herself bound to.

The instigator had smiled at her as she had taken her place besides her at the evening meal, as she had every night since the announcement of their engagement, that place of honor she loathed. Between the light of her beaming bride and the king's look of triumph she withered. Somewhere below this scaffold Ernst lay in darkness, crying out for her still. That echo recoiled in every corner of the castle and chased her down every path.

The princess laid a hand on hers and Waltraud shrank from her warmth.

"I can see and understand you are quite distressed my lady." She said as if they were alone, but loud enough for all to hear. Aware all were watching her, and could see her even at a great distance, Waltraud kept her face down; upon the meal she had barely touched. She didn't answer beyond a tensing at the corners of her mouth.

"You must come hunting with me tomorrow morning, and get your mind off such matters." Her hand closed around Waltraud's. The Beast didn't even acknowledge the pressure. To ask for such a thing in a public place where all would hear-! Her eyes glanced at the king, well occupied with his youngest son, but hearing every word. Waltraud didn't dare to look at Lady Röselein only a few seats away. She kept her eyes lowered, not letting her surprise show too much on her face. She quelled the urge to tear the little bitch's throat out.

Traitor! Though the word implied she had ever been able to trust the woman by her side. This harridan who claimed to love her, this wretch who had almost made her believe it! She swallowed to keep her fangs hidden. She had been foolish and now paid the price.

She had intended to stay sequestered in her room until the time of action. It had been easy enough to bribe the men who had paid to watch her for the king, it would have been effortless to slip into the early dawn and lay in wait for the march to the Donar-stone. Of course the Parsi would be in league with the king, the man who had sanctified their iniquitous union. Had she been paid? Or was it enough that in the end she received her prize?

If she offered too much resistance the king would find reason to imprison her as well. She had been asked before all so that words of treason could be pulled from her throat. Even if true grief had isolated her she would have been damned all the same. Had one of the bribed men spoke then? Or had the king known all along what the plan would be?

She had thought he intended to kill her, and she had planned to overcome all his resistance in the way only she could; by brute force alone. The king still had no idea what she was truly capable of, she was certain of it. He would have never challenged Lady Röselein like this if he had. He had no one among his ranks that could truly confront the Beast. And King Ludwig did not reign because he had assailed impossible challenges.

Now she saw however she had underestimated the old warrior. Even if he didn't know what she truly was, he had sensed to not confront the Beast directly, but had instead tried to flow around her strength, and by using someone she was obligated to be intimate with. It should be expected of someone who had not taken his throne in battle but by subtle political maneuvering. Damn the entire House of Anselmssohn!

I will kill you, and every one of your male kin, you old bastard. She promised the king fervently. And if the coward would not confront her in battle, she would hunt them all down like sheep in the field; inglorious deaths, worthy for those of this doomed house. They would never collected by the divine battle maidens and would only know the embrace of the dread goddess.

Waltraud knew she had just been out-maneuvered but she would not give in to panic and fear. She must save Ernst, her sworn-kin, but she must not also endanger Lady Röselein's intentions. Her eyes fell not upon her mistress but dark eyes that had chased after her ever since this net had been cast. The woman who had called herself Dagmar smirked at her from her seat among the family of the former queen, and Waltraud became all the more certain of the noose tightening around neck, and that it was held most tightly by the woman besides her.

"Thank you for your concern. I would be…most happy, to join you, my lady." Waltraud turned her hand upwards and returned that gentle hold. The princess smiled up at her and Waltraud felt a frustrated tightening in her chest. While she knew the woman had bathed her hands and feet in rose oil, that the woman who dyed her hair with henna had dressed her, that Roozbeh had recently placed his hand on her left shoulder, that there were traces of almond paste lingering around her lips hidden by her veil, and that she remembered the salty-sweet taste of her skin, she had no conception of what was lying behind the princess' loving expression. Waltraud wished she could rip her open then and there and devour all of her secrets and fears.

She looked away to passively seethe in her blood lust. Her eyes fell upon Gilbert the Bear, and she knew then even if she unable, her sworn-brother would carry out their plan without her. The thought made her throat clench in guilt, but she knew she could trust him to carry upon his broad shoulders what she could not, as he trusted her to use her fangs where he could not. Her jaw tightened, she could not allow such a thing! She would find a way out of this trap sprung upon her. She was a Beast, and one of opportunity. Like any wolf she seized her chances and didn't wait for them to come to her.

She excused herself from dancing, at least able to indulge her distaste in the form of mourning. The princess chased after her for a short distance but at last gave up her pursuit, perhaps sensing the death that lay at the end of it. Waltraud would correct her mistake, if not tomorrow, then another day.

"My lady! Waltraud!" His voice chased after her and kept her from the embrace of sleep. A wolf does not thrive alone; it is only with her pack that she knows true strength. Waltraud had no true blood-kin; she only had those who would give their blood for her. This was the only source of her love, and never given lightly. Only through shed blood did she know devotion. The blood the princess had shed on that day however had only been splatter, not the shinning life force of ardor.

She would not allow any of her own to be taken from her. She would allow none of them to fall for her. By this alone she lived!

The dawn broke in a violent palate of reds and oranges, drenching the world in a terrible light. Waltraud had wished this day would never have come. As the All-Father feared the split in the night that would bring on the Twilight of the Gods, so had she waited in terror for this reckoning. She had chosen to take Ernst as her page in caprice, but she would save him in the full return for the service he had given her. She would have never seen him used against her; though she had always known even blood can be drowned in.

Never, never would she take another by her side; when these companions left her she would have no more. Gilbert, Ernst, Lady Röselein, these were the few who had come to love the Beast and given her the solidarity she needed to thrive. It was that devotion however that had lead to this disaster, and perhaps had forfeited everything.

She walked down to the courtyard with conviction she would not let the world end here. As the survivors of that last twilight would cling to the branches of the World Tree, she would wrap her arms around the unyielding trunk of Lady Röselein. She must still give life to the wish of the one who held her heart, the source of all her blood, in her hands.

She met her tormentor with her head held high and the Parsi woman bowed down before her.

"I am most grateful you came to meet me, I know this is not an easy day for you." The princess said quietly, between them alone. She let her gesture speak however to the spectators who had come to see if the Beast would prove her innocence or guilt. The princess stepped forward and gently traced her fingers down Waltraud's cheek. Waltraud inhaled that scent of roses and suppressed a snarl.

"Only your kindness could soothe my sorrow." Waltraud smiled and took the horse offered to her. She found herself looking towards the north however, towards the gate Ernst had already exited through on his final journey to the distant oak grove where the Donar-stone laid. They were making him walk to his execution, so that the peasantry could jeer at him, tormenting the criminal to alleviate some of their misery. Their cheers flooded the yard from the still open gate, something not even a co-conspirator could ignore. The princess looked away first while Waltraud took a few more seconds to absorb that terrible noise.

"I have a gift, as well." The princess remained on the ground to offer up a red scarf. Waltraud nodded and knew she could only accept it. She tied it over the lower half of her face.

"Let's go." She grunted to their party, the expected Roozbeh and four of the princess' ladies. They exited through the south gate and soon even the sadistic cacophony sounding from the north left Waltraud's ears.

She contemplated murdering the princess quite ardently. She felt certain she could not only rip the woman's throat out, but also the man's, and then chase down the women before they returned to the castle. Doing so however would force her to flee Berlin and return to the south, leaving Lady Röselein alone and abandoning the plan to murder the king at the wedding. The king however would be in attendance at the execution.

Waltraud had not dared to appear at the entrance of the prisoner into the courtyard at the beginning of his death walk, but she had smelled the king's trail following that of Ernst's when she had walked down to that dirt later. The king had kept silent about his intentions of attending the execution of the traitor, well aware of how politically charged the event was. He may have even followed in disguise. Waltraud however had found the trail he could not hide.

She could annihilate her bride and the false king in one attack. After she had killed the Parsi party she would join her allies waiting in the grove and do what Lady Röselein had always intended. It would not be the first time she had taken her own initiative with Lady Röselein's plans. The murder of Prince Lars had been inevitable, but not planned. So long as she fulfilled that wish, all was justified.

She decided today would be the day to correct all her mistakes and fulfill her destiny of placing Lady Röselein upon the throne. She began to form her plan of leading the princess into a thicket she knew was not far away as they exited the limits of the city. As she spoke up to voice her intent of letting their horses drink at a stream just beyond that thicket however a stag appeared. Waltraud stopped her horse, amazed at the lack of fear in the creature. He was a magnificent animal of great antlers, but had surely not lived this long by approaching mounted riders.

Roozbeh aimed his arrow, apparently doing the hunting for his mistress. He was a very poor shot however in comparison to his lady. His arrow sailed over the stag's shoulder, missing the animal entirely. It startled the stag however to leap into the thicket. Waltraud's heart leapt into her heart as she followed the princess' dash to follow their prey. Roozbeh fired again and caught the stag in his left rear leg. The stag gave a guttural scream of pain and stumbled through the brush of the thicket. The princess kept at the head of the charge as the party leapt over the brush to follow the stag. Waltraud kept her position behind the princess, edging out Roozbeh during that last leap.

The princess dismounted to slit the suffering animal's throat and Waltraud prepared to leap onto her with her jaws open. The approach of another rider from the opposite end of the thicket stopped the attack however. Waltraud pulled up her mount as the princess silenced the stag's screaming. She turned towards Waltraud with bloodied hands and she knew the princess was smirking at her beneath that veil. The rider proved to be another one of her ladies, and Waltraud cursed herself for squandering her chance.

The princess' next words changed everything however.

"Lady Waltraud, please switch clothes with this young lady. She is to ride with me in your absence." The princess explained and Waltraud stared at her, not really believing what she was hearing.

"She's not nearly tall enough," The woman at last pointed out.

"She will be, mounted upon some pillows, and from a distance." The princess assured her as the lady dismounted.

"You are giving me an alibi," Waltraud at last fully realized. The princess nodded, and made an irritated hand motion that indicated this should have been obvious. After all, Waltraud realized, that had surely been no wild deer, but a tame one filched from the king's own pleasure garden.

"Yes. But I think we really need to hurry." The princess replied. Waltraud did as she was instructed; sparing herself no modesty as she quickly stripped and put on the Parsi clothing. It was strange to wear a skirt, especially one that barely reached her knees, and she avoided the veil entirely. The other woman struggled to put on Waltraud's clothes while another filled Waltraud's boots to give the decoy more of an appearance of height. The decoy took the scarf last, tying it over the lower half of her face, letting only her dark hair and eyes be seen. From a distance she may indeed look enough like Waltraud to give that necessary defense.

"You knew my plans." Waltraud said as she tied her girdle. "How?"

"Your ways are easy enough to know." The princess sighed and suspicion grew in Waltraud's heart. This could still be a trap, and she could not allow even the possibility of guile. She grabbed the princess' shoulder and before anyone else could move she laid a dagger against the princess' throat.

"You're going with me." She informed her in a low snarl. She raised her eyes to the stunned spectators. "And if any of you try to interfere- I'll kill her."

"You treacherous bitch!" Roozbeh hissed as his hands found his sword. Waltraud pressed the dagger closer to the princess' skin and the man stopped in horror.

"You idiot! Then we'll be riding with one less rider than we had!" He pointed out.

"I'll take the risk." Waltraud narrowed her eyes. "Take off your clothes princess, and switch with one of your ladies."

The women hesitated and at last the princess spoke.

"Lelah, you are the closest to me in height. Do what she says." The princess ordered. The woman named Lelah stepped forward and stripped down to her underclothes. With slow and controlled motions the princess did the same. Waltraud allowed the handmaiden to gather up the clothes and hand hers to her lady. With tears in her eyes the handmaiden redressed in her lady's clothes. Waltraud could not see the princess' expression but she was sure it was defiant as she carefully slipped on those of her servant.

"Everyone is to do what we planned, without me." The princess ordered as Waltraud moved her over towards the waiting horse.

"Even if you don't hurt her this day, I promise I will never forget this." Roozbeh hissed from his horse.

"I'll take that risk too." Of having a man with as fierce a devotion as her be her enemy. Waltraud mounted behind the princess and with no further words she forced her bride to be involved in her assassination plans, in lieu of violent murder. The woman said nothing as they galloped through the underbrush towards the event horizon in the north.

Waltraud was left to her thoughts; memories of the four of them huddled together in the harshest depth of winters, lost together in the great expanses of engulfing dark forests. The feel of Gilbert's broad back against hers in battle, the shinning of Lady Röselein's blade, and the feel of Ernst's arms around her waist as he wept in gratitude. The smell of the earth as it had been pulled up for her and Gilbert to walk under after the giving of their vow to be sworn-kin. The gentleness of Lady Röselein's hand as it stroked her hair.

And she recalled the smile of her hostage.

And it was all these that propelled her forward.

"What were you hoping to do by offering me an alibi?" She asked the princess as they flew through the last open field before the gaping maw of the sacred grove.

"Save you." The woman answered steadily even with the wind whipping through her veil.

Waltraud grunted and began to slow her horse after they had crashed through the tree line. When they had at last fully stopped she strained her ears to hear. She heard the distant footfall of a large party of men, and the wind shifted to enhance their scent of excitement. That was the death march, and along the outer rims of the glen of the grove her allies shivered in their own furious anticipation.

"Would you have me trust you?" Waltraud asked as she dismounted, keeping a hold of one of her prisoner's wrists.

"Yes," the princess answered readily as she freely followed Waltraud's descent from the horse, and safety.

"Then you shall follow me into this battle." Waltraud informed her as she tied the horse to a tree. The princess said nothing in return and remained silent as her intended pulled her into the very center of the grove.

"My lady." Gilbert breathed in relief as she met the group of five men hidden along a ridge that looked down into the glen. He blinked to see the princess in tow but at the same moment he also saw the tight hold the Beast had upon her.

"Spare us two more wolf skins." Waltraud said as she pushed the princess in front of her and then down. She leaned on the other woman's shoulders as the skins were pried from a bag.

"You are not to show yourself, you are not to remove the skin until allowed to do so." Waltraud hissed into the princess' ear. The other woman nodded and accepted the pelt.

"How many men do they have?" Waltraud asked as she kept one hand on the princess' shoulder and the other upon her wolf skin.

"Fifteen including the executioner and godi." Gilbert answered as he pulled his own skin over his head. His green eyes gleamed at her through the helm hidden within the open jaws of his pelt.

"One of their number is the king." Waltraud informed him. She pulled her own helm over her head. "Kill them all."

The princess inhaled sharply at the order but kept her silence as she pulled on the helm with its skin flowing over her body. Gilbert grinned at the order and appreciatively ran a finger down his drawn blade.

"For the House of Wulfstochter." He laughed.

"For the House of Wulfstochter," Waltraud echoed the cry of her own Lady Röselein. The four other men departed from the two pack leaders, crawling upon their hands and knees to assume their strategic points around the glade. The plan was to form a wide circle to cut off escape as Gilbert and Waltraud scattered the crowd by charging into the middle. Their weapons would not only be their blades but also the claws that lined the front paws of the skins, and for Waltraud her jaws as well.

The wearing of animal skins into battle had been illegal for years in Alemannia, perhaps with the authorities aware what may have appeared to be a shape-shifter had been instead an outlaw in a pelt. There would be no survivors, but there would be terror all the same upon seeing the facsimile wolves in the glen, the eternal enemy of man. Ludwig after all would be well aware of what the rebel tribes of the south still wore into battle.

Today the wolf's pelt however would disguise something even more terrifying than an outlaw tribesman.

The princess fell along side Waltraud in her gray pelt, her wolf's jaws still curled in one last snarl. She glanced at her betrothed through those bared teeth.

"Is this how you fought all those years?" she asked lowly.

"Oh no," Waltraud grinned through the baying jaws of her white wolf. "Not at all."

All fell silent as the execution party at last appeared in the glen. The godi lead the procession as he must, though all the men save Ernst were wearing hoods and thus Waltraud had trouble pinpointing which one was the king. She clenched her jaw and decided to pick the executioner as her first target, surely the man holding the ceremonial axe. She looked upon Ernst's bruised and bloodied countenance to add furor to her battle-rage. Her hands bit into the ground as she tensed her body for that first strike. She felt the princess take position next to her and Waltraud wondered if she truly meant to charge besides her into battle. Waltraud kept her eyes forward, because of the princess' presence she could not indulge the itch that was overtaking her skin, but she could indulge her blood-lust to its full fury.

She waited until Ernst was pushed towards the blood stained stone that stood in the middle of the clearing. The battle god was calling for his due, but destiny would turn upon sacrilege today. Donar may abandon them at this sullying of his scared altar, but the gods rewarded the mighty and righteous. With a snarl Waltraud launched herself from the ridge and down onto the glen below. She charged the men upon all fours. It was as she leapt that she caught the insidious scent.

A woman. A woman is in this crowd. She realized as she vaulted towards the sky. She could only land however with her jaws opened wide. The executioner fell back with teeth embedded in the soft flesh of his throat. He died with his axe uselessly clenched in his hands as his windpipe was crushed beneath Waltraud's fangs. A scream erupted across the air and Waltraud looked up with her mouth still full of warm blood. The princess stood ashen faced at the edge of the grove, her eyes wide and her mouth open.

Waltraud licked her jaws. Are you regretting what you attached yourself to, my lady? She thought with a sneer. The next second however she found herself in the air, sailing away from the man she had just felled. She hit the ground with a few staggering rolls and landed hard against the Donar-stone. As she struggled to breathe she looked up at what had just attacked her.

It was a great white wolf, far larger than any of the ones that prowled the forest and field. The scent of a human woman was gone, replaced by that of a powerful bitch. Waltraud sat up in complete shock as the wolf bared her jaws at her.

There is another, another! She struggled to stand. The wolf lunged again and Waltraud barely missed being crushed between those gaping teeth. As Waltraud crawled back Ernst appeared wielding the executioner's axe. With a scream he swung the weapon at the wolf's shoulder. The bitch fell back and bared her fangs at the intrepid young warrior. Ernst paused in his attack, his massive effort already brining him nearly to his knees. At this interlude the wolf glanced at the struggling Waltraud.

"Sister, why are you still wearing that skin?" It spoke, but did not speak. It was more of an impression formed in Waltraud's mind, one of emotion and visceral feeling. Waltraud at last found her feet and threw her arms around herself to contain the searing that laced across her skin. Never had she felt that itching in such a terrible and powerful way before! It was as if her very skin was to trying to fall away from her muscles and bones!

"Come and dance with me, Grimhild." The wolf narrowed her eyes. "I've come all this way, just for you."

"Grimhild?" Waltraud whispered. This wolf, she didn't know who she was! The animal tilted her head at the question.

"Have you forgotten?" And the bitch let out a long whine. "Impossible!"

Forgotten. Waltraud's eyes widened as something deep inside her screamed. She gasped and felt her knees begin to buckle as a crushing revelation came upon her.

"Waltraud!" The princess cried as she ran across the battlefield.

I am not alone. She swallowed and broke her gaze with that of the wolf. She looked around desperately for an outcropping of reality. Her eyes met those of the stunned king, standing just behind the wolf, his face pale beneath his hood.

"Grimhild! Why will you not reveal yourself to me?" The wolf demanded. Waltraud's eyes moved towards the approaching princess and the wolf followed her eyes. The monster almost seemed to smile with her long jaws. Rested and with his prey distracted Ernst chose that moment to save his mistress and her bride. His axe caught the beast in the shoulder. She screamed and turned upon him with snapping jaws. The princess joined in the battle however and pierced the wolf's side with her sword. Waltraud darted around the three to launch herself at the king's throat, at last recalling her true destiny.

"Grimhild!" the wolf shrieked as the Beast vaulted before the king. The man turned and took the blow upon his shoulder. After they landed against the hard earth Waltraud released his shoulder and aimed for his throat only to be denied again as her blow was misdirected by a hard hit to her temple by a sword hilt. As her head rang she became aware the wolf was charging towards them. Foiled she retreated from her intended kill. The wolf landed between them and allowed herself to be mounted by her wounded king. The wolf turned her head and met Waltraud's eyes again.

"I will see you again soon, my sister." The wolf promised. She ran into the forest, her torn side and shoulder leaving behind a pungent blood trail. Waltraud gasped and glanced back at the clearing.

All of the king's men had been killed and one of her own, the young earl from Ländle. Ernst was gasping at Gilbert's feet, but he had not been caught by the wolf's jaws. Waltraud removed her helm and skin and kneeled next to her page. With a tender hand she stroked the boy's sweat soaked hair back from his face.

"For the House of Wulfstochter," she told him gently.

He smiled and took her wrist in his hand. "For the House of Wulfstochter."

"You must return to Ländle," she told him. She looked up at her sworn-brother. "With Lord Gilbert."

He nodded and swallowed. "Will I ever see you again, my lady?"

"I hope so." She said softly and he dropped his hand from hers.

"If not…thank you for all you did for me. I will not forget it." Ernst said ardently.

"And I shall say the same." She beat her fist against her chest in the old gesture of solidarity. The men all mirrored her gesticulation in a series of enthusiastic thumps as she regained her feet. She avoided the gaze of the still silent woman, aware of how her jaws were painted in blood.

"I will follow the trail of the wolf." She announced as she turned her gaze towards the bright path of blood.

"Waltraud?" The princess at last asked and she turned from her. The smell of blood and wolf was heavy in her nostrils and she knew she must chase after those ephemeral traces. Her blood cried out as the memory of the wolf still burned brightly in her viscera.

"Do whatever you so please." Waltraud told the princess who was struggling to stand besides her. This woman she had now bound to her in blood.

"Waltraud!" The princess howled and her distressed echo shook the very branches of the trees as Waltraud allowed the forest to consume her. She may do whatever she so pleased; but she could not remain by her side, ever. The Beast had given the woman life and she would not rebuke it.

She tore away her skin and pierced the shadows of the forest as a wild beast, chasing after memories of a dream. For the wolf had smelled of nostalgia and felt like reminiscence. It was all the aching in her soul and the pain in her heart.

And in terror she chased after this lost self.

 

 

Fozhan found her upon the riverbank. She was nude, a welcome relief after finding her bloodstained clothes torn along the blood trail. Fozhan carefully approached the other woman from behind after dismounting from her horse. She remained behind Waltraud as she stood shamefully exposed to the sunlight. It was then she saw Waltraud's wrist was also naked, with no trace of wound or scar. She drew in her breath and let the bloodied clothes fall at her feet. She removed her veil to offer her bride something to cover herself with.

Waltraud took the piece of cloth with no words as she wrapped it around the middle of her body. At last able to look into her betrothed's face Fozhan took in her expression. It was a look of agony. The Shah's daughter dropped her gaze to her feet.

"What happened?" Fozhan asked.

"They took a boat down the river." Waltraud narrowed her eyes. "Back towards the castle."

Fozhan huffed because that did not answer her question. Nevertheless she had heard tale of Alemannian warriors stripping naked in battle, Waltraud may have given in to such an urge. She tried to ignore the whole wrist even as her wounded shoulder ached.

"Was that the real Beast of Ländle?" she asked lowly. A wolf trained to attack! It would surely make sense. Waltraud shook her head.

"No." Fozhan glanced up at her. The pain remained in Waltraud's expression but her smile was wistful over bitter or regretful. Fozhan recalled how Waltraud had almost seemed to be communicating with that wolf for a few seconds, but she quickly pushed away the thought. Waltraud had merely been as stunned as she to suddenly have a wolf thrust onto the battlefield. She had even screamed at first to see the creature bare its fangs. If the Beast of Ländle had been a wolf such as the one they had just seen; the terror of the animal was completely justifiable.

"What are you thinking about?" Fozhan's question finally shook Waltraud out of her revere.

"Our marriage," she answered as she stepped away from the bank.

"Do you think I am worthy of your confidence?" Fozhan asked and Waltraud looked back at her. Her smile was genuine yet brittle.

"Yes." She turned away again. Fozhan walked behind her a few steps as they walked back towards the horse that must be returned to her party. The animal almost seemed enchanted by how many times she had carried them to safety, though the journey to meet the rest of the Parsi party would be the most dangerous.

"I am sorry about Sir Ernst, and Lord Gilbert," Fozhan told her softly. Waltraud paused in her step but didn't turn back. Fozhan earnestly took a step forward.

"I know you loved them both. It must be very hard for you to lose them." Waltraud tensed her should but then dropped her head.

"Is that why you helped me?" she asked softly, pleadingly. "Because you knew the pain this caused me?"

"Of course." Fozhan sighed, recalling Waltraud's earlier desperate kidnapping. She could not blame the other woman's actions given the circumstances yet it exasperated her all the same. Her frustration melted away however as Waltraud turned back towards her with a truly grateful expression. The next second she was enveloped in her fair lady's arms and kissed, deeply, with no hesitation or regret. Fozhan felt her body slip away at the feel of Waltraud's lips and all that existed within her love's arms was burning ardor.

"Thank you." The other woman sighed as they parted and Fozhan's body regained presence in her mind. She was so giddy she could even ignore the taste of blood in her mouth. She kept her eyes averted as Waltraud pulled her covering back up.

"We are to meet Roozbeh at a farm some miles from here. For a few gold coins I am sure the farmer has some clothes to spare." Fozhan murmured through the blaze of her blush.

Waltraud laughed and with no shame she climbed into the saddle naked. She lifted Fozhan to sit before her. So with her eyes carefully kept on the ground Fozhan rode off into the sun with her shinning prince.

 

 

The pair arrived in safety of course. The king's men had tried to trap the Beast but Brynhild knew her sister would escape. Mortal men were no match for a wolf's cunning. There had been the discrepancy of one maid’s dress, but none could prove she had not fallen into that mud puddle while hunting.

So the king had had no cause to imprison Lady Röselein's wolf despite his shoulder being mauled by those jaws. The Parsi princess had provided a solid alibi, the pair had been seen traveling all day through-out the kingdom, even taking lunch with a peasant family. Waltraud's old ally Gilbert the Bear was mysteriously missing but none of their men had survived the battle in the glen to provide possible witnesses of the treason and sacrilege.

And the king knew not to endanger his own secret by confronting Waltraud about the whereabouts of her sworn brother. The king had been furious she had spoken to Grimhild, and Brynhild allowed him to believe that Waltraud knew what her human form was. If it would keep the woman free, and allow Brynhild another meeting upon the battlefield.
Ludwig had been reduced to hunting the trail of Gilbert the Bear and the page boy alone, chasing after their fading trail towards the south. Lady Röselein and her beast remained untouchable, and would be for a while more. The Parsi princess was a "two-faced bitch" but her position as heir to the Imitiyazid dynasty would protect her forever. Prince Franz still needed a bride after all, as fickle as his father's choice was.

Brynhild cared not for such petty politics. She was suffering in a most dignified fashion in her own bed, ignoring the footfall of the flurry of courtiers rushing to give their condolences to their wounded monarch down the hall. They called for war with the rebellious south and for the head of Gilbert the Bear. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the pain of wounds that could not be seen. She feigned an intense malady of muscle and stomach to find this small relief of solitude. She turned over again and again in her hand a wolf totem. Carved from ivory it had come with her from the shore of her native Kalaallit Nunaat.

"Grimhild?" She had said the name like it had meant nothing to her. The wolf opened her eyes. Could one of their kind really forget themselves among this crush of humanity? How could she have forgotten her sisters, their mother, even her name?

Brynhild tossed the totem and caught it in her hand. She sighed; well she supposed she could only make Grimhild remember herself. She put a thumb to her lips at a distressing thought. Had Grimhild even forgotten what lay beneath her skin?

Ah sister, this must be why I must meet you now. Before you are lost entirely. Brynhild placed the totem beneath her pillow as she heard the door open.

"Lady Dagmar?" Her man Kjars approached her with a low bow. "The king has asked me to inform you that you will be joining the rest of the late queen's family at the estate in Lietzow."

"Did he say for how long?" she sighed. He raised his eyebrows.

"Until you are healed." Brynhild softly scoffed. She bowed her head however.

"Whatever his majesty wishes." She beamed and dismissed the man from his presence.

I will help you find yourself Grimhild, was her promise in the night. For she loved her sisters, as they loved her. Grimhild may have forgotten that devotion, but Brynhild would reawaken it and see Grimhild fulfill their shared destiny alongside her.

And one day they would all dance alongside one another, as they devoured the sun itself.