Greta’s Day Off

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Night, May, 1636

A Road near Vesserhausen


She woke up. This was not strange, because Greta slept a lot when she was not dancing. She was in her wooden den, and it was moving. This was also not strange—when her den was moving, it meant she could rest, and would not have to dance for a while. But she could not smell Him, and that was strange. She could not smell Him anywhere, only the faint traces left behind. He was always with her when they were moving, making man-noises at her through the bars when she stirred. Greta was unhappy, and she sniffed deeply at the air. There were men around her den, but she did not know any of their smells. That was not always strange, men would come and look at her in the den when she was not dancing, but He would always be there, too, and there would be other men around whose smells she recognized.

These men were strangers. They smelled of blood and dogs and death. Greta did not mind dogs. Sometimes, He would have her stand very still, and dogs would jump up to stand on her back. The men watching would make lots of noise, and she would get a fish to eat. The horses pulling her den did not smell like the horses she knew, either. Where was He? Shuffling onto all fours, she grunted her distress at the nearest strange man as he stumbled along over the dark ground without a light. Men knew that when she was upset, they could find Him and he would calm her down. But this man jumped instead, making man-noises and waving a long stick at her. He did not go away to find Him, and when she huffed at him again, louder, he put his stick through the bars and poked her in the side of the neck. That was something man cubs would try to do sometimes, before He made loud noises at them and scared them away. But He was not here, this was not a cub, and Greta was afraid.

She backed away to the opposite wall of her den, colliding with the bars on that side and causing the den to rock on its wheels. The horses stopped when their burden shifted, and other men started making noises. She smelled burning, and hot lights appeared in the hands of other men, coming closer to her den. Another man with a long stick poked her, from the other side, and made angry noises. She retreated from him, but the first man still had his stick. Now Greta was getting angry. He was nowhere to be smelled or seen, while these strange men poked at her with sticks. Rushing again to the other side of her den, but now she pushed at it with her shoulder, growling and snapping at the man with the stick on that side. He made scared noises and fell backwards, but this time the den shifted too far with Greta's weight.

Something snapped, broke, and her whole den fell onto its side while horses and men screamed. She fell heavily on her side, and the roof of the den cracked. A hard push, and she was outside her broken den through the hole, in a field of grass in the dark while men made noises and ran in all directions—some at her and some away. The ones who ran away from her marked territory on the ground, which Greta did not understand. She did not understand what was happening. She just wanted Him, and to stop being poked with sticks, and to go back to sleep, and maybe to have a fish. Thunders cracked around her, and she heard stinging bugs. Men were all around her, with their sticks and hot lights, but suddenly Greta spotted a gap in the circle of men, an empty dark spot into the fields, and she charged for safety. A stinging bug bit her ear, and she ran faster, away from the angry men who smelled of dogs. She would find Him, and he would make her safe again. He had to.


Early Morning, May, 1636



He opened his left eye and watched the ceiling. Silently, he counted to thirty, then opened the right eye and closed his left. He counted to thirty again, opened both eyes, and swung his feet to get out of bed. Both of his eyes worked, as they had every morning since he had first started checking. But it was a Rule that he had to be sure, because a day couldn't start properly until he had both eyes open. Peter had a lot of Rules. Some were easy to follow, like checking his eyes every morning when he got out of bed. Others were harder, but he needed them all. The world was a hard place for him sometimes. He wasn't dumb, but he was . . . different . . . than anyone else. Things happened that didn't make sense to Peter, and people did or said things that confused him. Father belting him for saying things that made people mad hadn't worked. Being bathed in holy water at the big church in Suhl hadn't worked either. Instead, Peter had started making his Rules. He didn't need to understand why if a Rule told him that he was or wasn't supposed to do something.

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