“Sister,” Mara called her, though their parents were siblings themselves. “I need your help.”

Brhenti laughed in her face. “I am tired of people asking me for things. Go away.” And who could blame her, with Wodanaz always trying to wheedle some weapon out of her and Wehaz trying to talk his way into her skirts?

But Mara saw how her sister-spirit was with her followers, her gentle hand with them in the autumn as she showed them how to make their homes fast against the winter and to preserve the harvest against starvation.

Since Brhenti would not answer to her, she went to those who could hear her and told them, this spirit is my sister, call on her when you smoke your meats, call on her when you put up your grains. They called and made offerings, and Brhenti answered them. Mara turned away knowing they were in good hands.

Winter came, and the Winter Mara ran through the forests, warming herself with the blood of her victims. More than once she saw Wodanaz running bloody as well, with an entourage at his back of howling spirits. She wondered at that, but she kept her distance and he did the same.

In spring, she watched her people thank Brhenti for keeping them from starvation. They ploughed and planted, singing of the balance of metal and earth, and Mara stood beside her sister again.

“If I were feeling uncharitable, I would say you are more clever still than our brothers,” Brhenti said. “And yet I can hardly complain that you spread my name and increase my reputation.”

“I only want what’s best for them,” Mara said, looking at the farmers.

“Then it’s a miracle you haven’t been taken advantage of already.”

“I have more strength than you think,” Mara answered.

She and her sister were often called together as the planting season continued. As the sun grew hotter and the summer came in, however, Brhenti answered fewer calls and left small offerings uncollected. Finally at midsummer, Mara went to see her sister again and saw why.

Despite the heat, forges were white hot and Brhenti’s smith-priests were hard at work. Sweat poured off them as they hammered magic and metal into swords and pikes. Brhenti herself was standing behind a tall, powerfully built young man, whispering into his ear of reputation, of his name, of the spoils of war against Wodanaz’s tribes. He repeated her words to his men, and they cheered.

Then they left, and Brhenti with them. Mara almost left, but she noticed a woman making offerings to an empty shrine.

“I don’t know who might hear or help,” the woman said, “but please do not let my son go into the ground alone in some foreign land.”

Mara went out after the raiding party then, and watched them from afar. Fighting between men is part of nature just as fighting between animals is, and at first she was hesitant to interfere even as Brhenti’s men and Wodanaz’s went into the ground. Several times she saw Vala as sie collected hir dead from the fields, and she watched and waited as others took their due as well.

After several weeks, the remaining soldiers were exhausted, but Brhenti and her chosen were still trying to whip them up again. Mara finally chose to confront her sister. Brhenti drew her own sword on Mara and ordered her sister away, but Mara would have none of it.

“I accepted a charge from his mother, that he would not die alone here,” Mara told her. “His men are exhausted and there is nothing left nearby. Let them return home.” Brhenti swung her sword, and though Mara dodged, she felt the metal cut into her side and draw away her energy.

“He’s mine,” Brhenti argued, looking down on him – just in time to see a small group of his exhausted men turning on him. She held him as he struggled to breathe and then looked at Mara.

“Take him,” she said. “I would not make a liar of you.”

Unhappy, Mara took the bleeding man. It was not trivial to carry him back home in mere moments, and the look on his mother’s face when she presented him to her made her think that perhaps she was not meant to work with humans after all. But she busied herself making her son comfortable, and so far from her home and her own power exhausted from following Brhenti, Mara couldn’t do much.

She noticed, however, that her wound had crusted over with red crystals, bloodstones. She tore the scab away and let the wound bleed freely, dripping to the floor where it crystalized. She picked one of the larger crystals up and handed it to the woman, who had just finished cleaning and dressing her son’s wounds. It glowed at the woman’s touch.

Behind her, Mara felt the energy shift as Brhenti appeared, but her sister spirit didn’t move or intervene. The young man’s breathing became easier as his mother guided the energy from the stone into him, and by the time it crumbled to dust, he was no longer pale as death.

“I was rash,” Brhenti said. “I owed him better than that.” If the woman could hear the goddesses, she gave no sign.

“It’s done,” Mara answered, and there was a moment of quiet between them.

“So about that favor of yours…” Brhenti began.

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