September 796 U.C., Heinessen
Annerose woke up before her alarm the next morning, unused to the warm comfort of her home bed, and the gentle snores of Ingrid next to her. The sun was just peeking up over the horizon; the sky outside was a chilly pink of early morning.
The cat-- Annerose couldn’t believe she had a cat now-- was curled up near her head, his voluminous tail tickling her ear. Ingrid must have let him get used to sleeping on the bed, but Annerose wasn’t sure if she was thrilled about letting that continue. Still, it was cozy and peaceful, just for a second. Some of Ingrid’s hair had fallen across her face, and out of some indefinable instinct, Annerose propped herself up on her elbow and tucked it back behind Ingrid’s ear.
Ingrid murmured sleepily and rolled towards Annerose, opening her eyes. “Good morning,” she said with a smile.
“Morning,” Annerose said. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s alright,” Ingrid said. She looked over at the clock on the bedside table. “Should get up, make sure Julian eats breakfast before school…”
“I shouldn’t have interrupted his sleep on a school night,” Annerose said.
“He’d have been sad if you didn’t. Probably would have wanted to stay home from school to talk to you.”
Annerose chuckled at that, then lay back on the bed. “I missed you both.”
“I’m glad you’re back,” Ingrid said.
“I hope I don’t have to go out again for a while,” Annerose admitted. “It was exciting, but…” She shook her head. “It’s a different life than this one.”
“I’m happy you’re safe.”
Annerose thought of the chaotic and dangerous last few days on Cahokia. “I was very lucky,” she said.
“No, you were strong,” Ingrid said. “That’s not luck.”
“I think you usually need both.”
“Maybe. But I don’t want to rely on luck for you to come home. I trust you more than I trust chance.”
Annerose rolled towards Ingrid. “Thought you and my mom were praying for me.”
“I did that, too,” Ingrid said. Annerose smiled, and there was a momentary lull in the conversation as they just looked at each other for a second.
“I meant to ask you something,” Annerose said.
“When I was on Cahokia, I met someone who claimed to know you. Did you ever know a man called Hank von Leigh?”
Ingrid’s eyes widened, her face paling. “Leigh?”
“Did he do something to you?” Annerose asked, suddenly angry.
Ingrid grabbed Annerose’s hand in both of hers. “No, no, he-- he… Was a friend of mine. Is he alive?”
“I think so,” Annerose said.
Ingrid relaxed, boneless, onto the pillow. “Good. That’s good. I’m glad.”
“I took him prisoner for a little while,” Annerose said. “But he escaped.”
Ingrid laughed at that. “I can’t even imagine.”
“He asked me about you, and told me to give you his regards,” Annerose said. “From him and Baroness Westpfale.”
Ingrid scrunched up her face. “Oh, Maggie,” she said.
“Who is she?” Annerose asked.
Ingrid shook her head. “Leigh and Maggie saved my life,” she said. “They helped me escape to Earth.”
“Oh,” Annerose said. “I wish I had know. I would have thanked him.”
“It’s okay,” Ingrid said. “Nobody’s supposed to know. If anyone found out…” Ingrid shook her head. “Maggie took the blame for… a lot of things. I hope she’s alright.”
“For killing Ludwig?”
Ingrid shook her head. “No, no.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
Ingrid closed her eyes. “The night I killed him,” she said, “it was at a solstice party, in the palace. I went back to our bedroom, and Ludwig…”
“You don’t have to tell me the story,” Annerose said, hearing the clear unhappiness in Ingrid’s voice, with the remembered pain. “It’s alright. I don’t need to know.”
“No, it’s alright,” Ingrid said. “You deserve to know the story, probably. Or someone does. Ludwig, he threatened me, and I tried to tell him to stop, because of the baby, but he kept-- he was so drunk.”
“I’m so sorry, Ingrid,” Annerose said.
“He had his knife out, and I thought-- I don’t know what I thought. I probably shouldn’t have done it. But when he came for me, he was drunk, and I was sober, and I thought if I let him do what he wanted, I would die, and I just… I got the knife, and…” She made a motion, reaching up into the air, and she pretended to stab her own chest, eyes still closed.
“And I was just there, in the bedroom, with him dead on the floor, and I didn’t know what to do. So I called Maggie-- she was at the party-- and she helped me get rid of my dress, and we left the party through the front door-- everyone saw us leave together; she gave me an alibi… And so we were at her house, and she called Leigh, and Leigh lied to everyone, lied to the Kaiser, told him that it was Braunschweig or Littenheim that did it…”
“And how did Maggie take the blame?”
Ingrid half-laughed, but it was a sad sound. “She told the truth.”
“That you killed Ludwig?” Annerose wasn’t really following the story.
“No,” Ingrid said. “No, she told everyone why I left the palace to go to her house… Why I always was with her-- she told the Kaiser we were sleeping together. That was why I went to her house after the party. I couldn’t have killed Ludwig, because I had some different thing to hide. It was only luck that the assassin didn’t get me and the baby, too. I happened to be out, so they couldn’t kill Erwin before he was even born.”
Annerose was silent for a second, trying to process this information. “Oh.”
Ingrid turned towards her. “She gave up a lot to save me,” Ingrid said. “All her standing.”
“I can imagine,” Annerose said, feeling rather faint. “It was true, though?”
“Yes,” Ingrid said.
“Maggie was the first person I ever loved,” Ingrid said, sad and wistful.
“I thought the Earth Church didn’t like homosexuals,” Annerose said. It was a stupid thing to say, but it was the one thing her brain latched on to.
“No one likes homosexuals,” Ingrid said. “I don’t think that matters.”
Annerose moved to get up. Ingrid caught her wrist. “I should go see Julian off to school,” Annerose said.
“Thank you,” Ingrid said. “For passing on Leigh’s message.”
“Yeah,” Annerose said. She wished she hadn’t. She thought that she would have preferred not to have learned all of this; it sat heavily in her mind, making her unable to deliberately ignore quite a few things that she had been happily and willfully not thinking about. “I probably won’t see him again.”
Ingrid smiled. “Probably not. But… I’m glad to know he’s alright. He really did save me.”
“I owe him a debt, then. For you,” Annerose said. Confused as she was, she couldn’t help but be horrified at the alternatives for Ingrid, had she not been able to escape Odin. Here, in Annerose’s bed, with the morning light streaming in through the window, this felt like a better world for both of them than any other universe. The branching paths of fate had led them here, somehow, and Annerose was happy to have her here, despite herself. Just so long as she didn’t think about it. Just so long as it didn’t mean anything.
This relaxed Ingrid, who let go of her wrist. “Better stop Julian before he makes coffee. I don’t think it’s good for his developing brain,” she said with a yawn. “But he makes it for me before I can stop him, most days.”