Sometimes, you have to buy your future by mortgaging your past...
by Donna Lamb
Gracie Weathers looked out the window into her backyard frequently, checking on her two youngest. The toddler fence around the patio should keep them out of trouble but you couldn't afford to underestimate the ingenuity of even the very young.
Roddie, her four-year-old in particular, seemed to have a genius for getting into trouble. He reminded her of someone she had once known, perhaps a childhood friend, but Gracie had lost all of her earliest memories at fourteen in the accident that had killed her parents. She didn't really think of that much anymore; she couldn't remember her parents either.
Lots of much better memories filled the more recent fifteen years. High school, a brief career modeling and singing in a girl-band, her one year on the US women's national basketball team before the knee injury that caused her to miss the Olympics. But then, she'd fallen in love with her physical therapist, Dr. Arnold Weathers, gotten married, had three kids; her eldest, Sunnie, had started first grade this year and little red-headed Pennie turned two last week.
Time to start thinking about number four. She giggled to herself, imagining how the evening might go. Arnie's mom would be by to take the kids at six, time enough for her and TallDark (her private name for her husband) to get ready for their weekly night out. Except that this time grandma would be keeping the little ones for the whole weekend and Gracie had hidden all the condoms in the house. Her most female parts tingled in anticipation of her plans for the weekend.
She loved being pregnant and she wanted another boy. As long as her health held out, she intended to keep having babies every two or three years. Sometimes she regretted the childbearing years she had wasted in her brief unmarried career but if she hadn't played basketball she wouldn't have met Arnie. Black-haired, dark-eyed, swarthy, Arnold Gonzalvo Weathers, six inches taller than her own six-feet-one; the very perfect melding of North Sea, Mediterranean and West African stock.
Her other nickname for him, Gomez, related as much to her own fluency in the liquid Breton dialect of French she must have learned from her parents as it did to his Latin middle name and ancestry. She had a talented tongue, he often said, something that made her blush but she picked up languages easily, Italian, modern French, and a smattering of other European tongues from her modeling days. Where she had learned her easy mastery of the sort of Frisian-coast German that caused fistfights among linguistic professors, no one really knew. And she spoke Cymraeg, again with a Breton accent, another mystery.
The doorbell rang. She checked on the kids once more before drying her hands, hanging up her apron and starting for the front of the big house. She pushed her long mahogany hair away from her face and checked her reflection in the hall mirror. Good enough for a housewife and a mother of four on a Friday afternoon. She'd worn her hair short during her athlete days but Arnie had talked her into letting it grow past her waist, like she'd worn it while modeling in Torino.
Her skin still glowed with youth, she seldom wore makeup in the daytime but she really didn't need it. She looked good and she knew it, reveled in it. After her awkward years in high school, and some experimenting with other girls, she had come to enjoy male appreciation of her looks in a sensual, almost exhibitionistic way. Her shorts showed off her long legs and still-tight waist and her top was really a well-designed, pretty version of a sports bra. She couldn't take credit for her genes but she did her best to be a good caretaker of an excellent body.
The detour by the mirror had taken only an instant. Her long strides had already taken her into the living room before she realized that the front doorbell did not really make a deep melodic bong like a bell stolen from some lost temple dedicated to well-forgotten gods.
When she saw who stood waiting for her in the conversation zone of her House Beautiful living room all her memories came back at once. She knew who she was --or had been-- and what the three goddesses facing her had to do with what had happened.
Konar ip Sternje reached for his longsword but encountered only her empty hip. "Thrice damn you to the deepest frozen caves of Niffel," she swore in a language that really was not German, nor Frisian, nor Danish.
They nodded. Beautiful young Gernanda, fat, fearsome Urta and hideous old Skolda, the Sisters of the Wyrding in the old religion no one believed in anymore.
"And damned we are," said Urta in the same tongue. "But so are you." She scowled at him --her-- wrinkling the fat around her gummy mouth in loathsome folds.
"The day is come for us to free you from the bane we put you under," said Gernanda, smiling. She always smiled even when announcing someone's dying hour had come.
"You owe us one last boon for the pleasant life we've granted you for twice seven years and another year and nine days." The hag Skolda kept the books of eternity for the old gods and accounted for every particle of sand and drop of water that flew on wind and wave.
Gracie started. She'd waited for more than a week after her the anniversary of her parents' death before beginning her plans for a fourth child, of course the old witch goddesses knew this. Gracie snarled in the best approximation of Konar's baritone her lighter voice could manage, "I owe you nothing but your deaths."
Moving quickly, she circled back through the dining room to the other side of the wide living room and seized up the black poker in front of the fireplace. "I don't need an edge. Cold iron will slay even such as you," she told them. "I'll kill you once for what happened to my people, once again for what you did to Konar making him forget and once more for what you have done to me, making me remember!" She swished the weapon through the air, testing its weight and balance.
Then she charged.
The old women, for even Gernanda was older than time, gestured and Gracie felt her feet lose touch with the floor. She hung in mid-air, cursing in several vanished tongues.
"We will balance our demand for payment," said Skolda.
"We will give you back this life you love, after you have done what we need," said Urta.
"We'll send you back to the land you left and return you to this very moment, once you have finished our questing."
Gracie thought about it. Konar had been nearly fifty when the witches had watched the destruction of his island home and the death of all his family; his wife, children, children's children and kinsmen by blood, marriage and treaty had all died on the swords of raiders sent by the King of the Nords. He'd sworn to kill Hollof the Bold and the weird women had prevented it from happening by bringing him into the future.
And wiping away his memory and changing him to a teenage orphan girl.
Gracie gnashed her teeth, hating the gods. "If I refuse?" she asked.
"Then we send you back anyway, and you will accomplish our design because you will want to do it," said Urta.
"You want me to kill Hollof!" she screamed. "Now? Why not then?"
"Now, then -- it's all the same," said Gernanda. "Time is nothing to such as we."
"Accept our offer or refuse it, you will do as you are fated," warned Urta.
Hanging in mid-air was not conducive to careful thinking Gracie discovered. "I'll do it for one last boon from you," she decided.
"Which is?" asked Skolda.
"That when I return all is as it was --is-- now or rather ten minutes ago. I want to return to my life I have now as I left it."
The three sisters nodded. "We will do that as far as is possible. But know, you can't step into exactly the same stream twice," said Skolda.
Gracie stared at them. "What real choice do I have. Do the best you can and so shall I."
"So be it," said Urta. "Go back to the time you left and slay Hollof the Bold of Gerdland. If you had gone on this mission when you were Konar, you would have been slain by his guards and kinsmen. But know, you are now perfectly equipped to get close to a Hollof grown old and lascivious. Go." She gestured.
"Go and seize the moment," said Gernanda, gesturing also.
"Go and pay all your debts at once," said Skulda.
Gracie's mouth still hung open over what Urta had said when she disappeared, fireplace poker and all.
Grace Helen Sternborg Weathers looked out the window into her backyard again, checking on her two youngest. She knew the toddler fence around the patio should keep them out of trouble but she didn't intend to underestimate the ingenuity of even the very young.
Her four-year-old had a genius for getting into trouble. He may have reminded her of someone she had once known, but Gracie had lost all of her childhood memories at fourteen in the accident that had killed her parents. That's where she'd gotten the almost invisible scar on her arm, too.
She thought about her husband, Dr. Arnie Weathers, or Gomez as she liked to call him. "Je t'aime," she whispered to him in Parisienne French. He'd be coming home early from the sports medicine clinic where he worked so she and he could have a weekend together while her mother-in-law watched the four kids.
Her favorite female parts tingled as she thought about her plans for starting on number five. She giggled, running her hands through her long hair, the natural color of red honey. It hung down to her thighs now, uncut since her first days in high school when Dr. Weathers, then just Arnie Weathers, captain of the varsity football team had told her to never cut it again.
They'd actually married a month before she graduated. Well, they'd sort of had to but Gracie didn't regret it. She loved being pregnant and couldn't imagine being without Livie, her eldest, just turned eleven.
She would put Toddie and Pennie down for their naps at 1:30, get a shower herself before Livie and Sunnie came home then call Grandma Weathers to come over at four to help with the kids dinner. Then, a night on the town and other delights with her favorite man, she could hardly wait.
And this time it would be another boy. She'd name him Conner, she decided. She liked that name for some reason.
It would be several days before anyone noticed the sword in with the fireplace tools where the poker used to stand. No one ever came up with a good, or even reasonable, explanation for that. Gracie cleaned the odd, blackish brown rust off the blade, oiled it carefully and hung it on pegs, high up in the garage.
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