Herta sat in the gasthof’s diner, staring at her laptop. She should, she knew, be writing something, but the events of the past few days muddied her thoughts. She had trouble reconciling her differences with the Tiel as a whole and Turan, her soul-mate. The Tiel weren’t to be trusted, or so they’d proven, but Turan had always been honorable and trustworthy. Or so she believed until now. Her meeting last night with the principal players of recent events, Krista, Turan and Priscilla, went reasonably well. At least, there had been no arguments between her and Turan. What would happen to Danarius and Reikert was still up in the air.
Herta looked up to see Krista sitting opposite her at the table. “How long have you been here?” Herta asked, pushing the laptop off to one side.
“How long have you been staring off into space?” Krista responded. “I’ve only been here a few minutes, but you were lost in thought. Care to share them?”
Herta shrugged. “I was just thinking about the Tiel and the Gates and everything that’s happened.”
“Dark thoughts, obviously.”
Herta smiled wanly. “Yeah,” was all she said.
“Well, I have an idea that might cheer you up.”
“I could do with that.”
Krista sighed and shifted her position slightly. “Sitting for long periods of time wears me out. So does standing. And picking up heavy things, like garbage bags, is a major undertaking,” she began. “What I need is a live-in helper. Just until I’m well again,” she added, seeing Herta’s expression. “I wouldn’t ask just anyone, but if you’d come live with me for a while, we could share the rent and groceries and such and both save a bit of money.” The words came out in a rush.
Herta sat back in her chair, surprised. She’d never thought of that. “Would you be working?” Herta stalled.
Krista shook her head and winced. “Not for a few months, anyway. My head needs to heal, among other parts of my body.”
“You’re lucky you weren’t killed,” Herta observed.
“Yeah, I know. But you’ll think about moving in with me? I have a two-bedroom house with enough space that we shouldn’t get on each other’s nerves.”
“I’ll think about it, Krista. I know it would please the estate to know I’m saving money, but I wouldn’t want to impose on your good nature.”
“I’m asking, so it’s no imposition. You’ll need more space than you have in your room here when you get the boxes back from Munich,” Krista added slyly. “And you could stay with me until they rebuild the house. At the earliest, you won’t be able to move in until Christmas or the new year.”
“Let me think on it, Krista. I’ll discuss it with Herr Stude when I email him next. In the meantime, can I buy you a coffee? Have you got time?”
Krista made a face. “I have all the time in the world and it’s driving me crazy. I went into work today and the Chief sent me home before I’d even poured my first coffee.”
Herta laughed. She thought of something. “Krista, do you have Internet at home?”
Krista shook her head. “I’ve never needed it.”
“Okay, here’s a thought. I’ll set up the Internet for your place and pay for it, and until it’s set up, I’ll stay here. That’ll give both of us time to back out of the deal. Okay?”
“How long will it take, do you think?”
Herta laughed, albeit without humor. “I’m Der Reizen. It won’t take long.” A delivery van caught her attention, pulling up to the gasthof front entrance. The driver got out and, opening the side door of the van, pulled out a large box marked “Apple Inc.”
“My computer’s here!” Herta said with glee. “Okay, I’m moving in because there’s no way I can work on a real computer in here.” She and Krista got up and, after laying down some money for her coffee, Herta met the driver at the front desk, Krista following with the almost forgotten laptop in hand.
“You’re Herta Tanner?” he asked, putting the box on the low counter.
“I am. Would you like to see some ID? I could tell you what’s in the box, if you like.”
The driver grinned. “No, I just need your signature, ma’am.” He pulled out a small device on which Herta signed her name. “Where do you want this put? It weighs a lot.”
“Could you bring it up to my room for me? I’d appreciate that no end.”
“Sure thing.” He hoisted the box into his arms and followed Herta upstairs, Krista bringing up the rear.
“How did you know I was here,” Herta wanted to know.
“I drove out to the house. A police officer stopped me on the way down the drive. He told me.”
“Ah. I thought the police weren’t watching the house anymore, Krista.”
“Oh, they’re not,” the driver answered. “I ran into him coming back into town.”
A twenty euro tip later, Herta and Krista were bending over the box, carefully taking out the packing and, finally, the computer. Herta sighed when it was all unpacked and the internal cards checked for security. She knew there was something she’d forgotten. “Krista, would you drive me to the electronics shop? In all my excitement about getting a new computer, I forgot to order a monitor.”
Krista laughed. “Sure. Shall we go now? I want to see what this thing looks like when it’s working.”
The return trip took less than half an hour and the women were upstairs in Herta’s room, plugging the new monitor into the computer’s port. “I’m glad they had an adapter in stock,” Herta said. “Mine went up in smoke. On the plus side, this computer doesn’t need any special hook-ups for the power like my old one did.”
“And the power setting is European, too. Otherwise you’d probably blow it up.”
Herta nodded. “At the very least.” She sat down, hit the power button and waited.
The computer pinged, and the desktop appeared.
Herta nodded. “I have to download the programs I was using before, but that’s not a problem. It must wait until they connect to the Internet, of course. I’ll use the laptop in the meantime.”
“So other than having a toy you can’t play with, what’s next on the agenda?” Krista asked.
Herta leaned back in her chair. “I’m not sure, Krista. If you come with me, maybe we can get the Internet hooked up at your place within the week? Then I’ll know how much time I have to pack all my gear,” she laughed.>
The two women left the room, locking it firmly behind themselves.
Turan met them at the bottom of the stairs. ““There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you, Herta,” he complained.
Herta blew out a breath. “As I didn’t expect to see you today, I went about my business. My new computer has arrived. Now we’re off to see about an Internet connection.”
Turan pursed his lips. “I won’t keep you,” he said formally. “Reikert’s tribunal is coming up. Dekalar would like you and Krista both to attend, and Priscilla, if you can find her.”
“August twenty-second, your time. At nine in the morning.”
The two women shared a look. Krista nodded slightly.
“We’ll be there and we’ll bring Priscilla. Will someone meet us at the Basswood Gate, or is there another way to Tielen?” asked Herta.
“Someone will meet you at the Gate,” Turan said shortly, and, turning on his heel, he stalked off.
Herta sighed. “Now what have I done to upset him?”
Krista shrugged. She had an idea, but kept it to herself. There was no way she was going to get in the middle of her two friends. Yet.
“Basswood Gate,” Krista mused. “That’s going to be one heck of a climb for Priscilla.”
“Not to mention for you,” Herta observed.
Krista lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “I’ll manage. Beats me why they want me there, though.”
“To testify against Reikert?”
“I only know about the sodin as a street drug here. I don’t know who shipped it in from Tielen. I can testify that Herr Brun picked it up from this side.”
“I’m not much better. I can only testify to the existence of a diary I haven’t seen in ages,” Herta said.
The two women walked as they talked, out the door of the gasthof and into the streets. From there, Krista led the way to the phone company’s offices. It was but the work of minutes to get an Internet connection time for Krista’s house. They would have to wait three days, but as Herta pointed out, she could use the time to pack and move.
Herta began packing when she got back to the gasthof. She had little, but the computer and the printer would weigh a few pounds. She wondered if she could convince someone in the gasthof to give her a hand with them? She paused as a knock sounded on the door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s Priscilla. Can we talk for a bit?”
Herta opened the door for her unexpected guest and waved her to the chair while Herta took up space on the bed.
“What can I do for you?” Herta asked, confused.
“How much do you know about gardening?”
Herta shook her head. “Mum was the one who kept the garden. I can weed, but you have to show me what isn’t supposed to come up. Why?”
“I have some hugelkultur gardens and could do with a bit of help with them. My shoulder still won’t take the strain of weeding.”
“What’s a hugelkultur garden?”
Priscilla stared. “Oh, I forgot. You may not know about it. It’s a type of raised bed garden, so you wouldn’t be bending over a lot. I just need a bit of help for a week or so, if you could manage that?”
Herta thought for a bit. “I suppose I could. I’m going to be staying with Krista until she’s ready to go back to work and until my house gets built. There’s not much else I can do until I get the boxes back from Munich.”
“Thank you. I couldn’t pay you much, but….”
Herta shook her head. “Pay me in coffee, if you like. Can we work on the gardens in the morning before it gets too hot?”
“That would be wonderful, Herta. Thank you so much. And when I’m ready to harvest, I’ll put some aside for you and Krista, and some canning.”
Herta laughed. “I haven’t had fresh garden veggies in years. Not since I was a little kid. I’ll take you up on that offer. Would you mind if I brought Krista along?”
Priscilla paused. “I guess so. If she wants to come.”
“She can keep you company while I weed. The two of you can discuss how bad my German is and how lousy a gardener I am.”
“I would never—”
“Oh, I know, Priscilla. I’m only teasing you. When would you like me to start?”
Priscilla took a deep breath. “Would tomorrow morning around eight be too early?”
Herta blinked and then smiled. “Sure. I can get up before breakfast, I suppose.”
“Thank you. When do you move into Krista’s home?”
The two women chatted for a bit before Priscilla got up. “I have overstayed my welcome, I think. I interrupted your work.”
Herta smiled. “It was no great interruption. I hate packing anyway. Oh, and Turan asks that you leave the twenty-second open for the Reikert’s tribunal. Nine a.m. Krista and I are going. Someone’s going to meet us at the Basswood Gate. Are you up to the trip?”
Priscilla thought about it for a few moments and then said, “I’ll be there. Meet at the church at eight so we have time to get there?”
Herta nodded. “I’ll tell Krista.”
“Very well. Until tomorrow.” Priscilla took her leave and Herta went back to packing up her clothes.
Herta was just leaving the diner when Priscilla arrived at the gasthof.
“I’d forgotten that you didn’t know where I lived. It’s easy to find, but if you don’t know the town, it can confuse,” she explained. “You’ve had breakfast?”
“I just finished,” Herta admitted. “I’m all ready to go.”
Priscilla led the way to her house, nestled in a small cul-de-sac in a part of town unfamiliar to Herta. “It’s not the nicest part of town, but it’s not the worst, either,” the former apologized as she unlocked the front door.
“I think it looks cute,” Herta said staunchly. “It’s got character.”
Priscilla laughed. “If that’s what you want to call it, I’ll accept that with thanks.” She led the way into a small kitchen, pocket-sized compared to Herta’s old house. “Would you like a coffee before we get started? We could sit on the patio and I can show you the garden.”
“I’d like that,” Herta said. “Thank you.” Herta stood by as Priscilla poured them both coffees into china mugs.
“Cream and sugar?”
“Yes, please. One of each.”
“Go on out onto the patio. I’ll bring the coffees directly,” Priscilla invited.
“Are you sure you don’t need a hand?” Herta asked, looking at Priscilla’s sling-covered arm.
Priscilla laughed. “I’ll be fine. Go! I’ll be out in a minute.”
Herta went out the back door into the strangest garden she’d ever seen. It looked like the Alps in miniature. The yard itself wasn’t huge, but there were at least six strange mounds, about three feet high, with plants growing on them scattered about the yard.
Priscilla came out with a tray and the two mugs. She noticed the surprise and confusion on Herta’s face. She laughed. “Welcome to hugelkultur, Herta, the art of growing things in hills.”
The two women sat down and Priscilla explained the mounds. “First, we dug shallow holes in the ground where the mounds would be. Then we filled those holes with chunks of hardwood that would be of no value anywhere else. We put in a layer of mulch to fill in the gaps. After that comes a layer of sticks and branches, usually softwood. Another layer of mulch or straw and some compost. On top of the pile goes some good earth, some mulch, and then we plant the seedlings.” She pointed at the mounds. “It is self-composting, but it takes a few years to break down completely. I did these mounds about five years ago. They’re just starting to produce properly.”
Herta stared at the mounds. “What a neat idea!” she exclaimed. “And you can plant all the same crops as in a regular garden?”
“Pretty much, yes. Each year, the mounds get a layer of compost, a layer of earth and another layer of mulch and a fresh crop. This way, the nutrients aren’t sucked dry from one mound and overloaded in another.”
“Wow! I’m used to gardening and thinking in terms of one year at a time. Maybe two. This is amazing.”
Priscilla smiled at Herta’s enthusiasm. “Now you can see why I need help with the weeding. The mulch helps, but it’s not infallible.”
Herta took a sip of her coffee and sighed. “I take it I’m going to have to learn how to do this?”
Priscilla laughed again. “But of course.”
Herta sobered. She’d just thought of something. “Priscilla, can you plant seeds on a…. What did you call it?”
“Hugelgarten. Hill garden. And if you put enough earth on the top layer, then yes, you can plant seeds. Why? What did you have in mind?”
“Well, you know how some Tiel took the places of people destined for Dachau, right?”
Priscilla nodded. “I’d heard a rumor to that effect, yes.”
“According to Hans and Turan, it’s true. Anyway, I thought I’d build a monument of sorts to those Tiel and to those who lost their lives in the war. If I could plant seeds instead of seedlings, I could start a hugelgarten in front of the house where the old house sat.”
Priscilla looked thoughtful. “What would you plant in there?”
“Forget-me-nots and edelweiss, if I can get some.”
Priscilla took so long to answer that Herta thought maybe she’d offended the older woman. Finally, she said, “I think a memorial would be a wonderful idea. Edelweiss won’t grow this far down the mountain, but I’m sure we can find you some other plants that would fit in.”
“Chamomile, maybe? All I know about it is that it’s awfully hard to kill. I need plants like that.”
“Chamomile would work around the edges of a hugelgarten, yes. They prefer low-life soil and grow where other plants might not. But we should get to some weeds before the day goes much further on.”
With that, Priscilla put her mug down and stood up. Herta joined her and they made their way to the farthest mound.
For the next three hours, Herta weeded while Priscilla explained what the plants were and what uses they had aside from food. She was fascinated, but not for the reasons Priscilla had hoped. Herta was thinking in terms of articles on German horticulture for her audience in Canada.
Priscilla finally called a halt to the weeding, and Herta gratefully stood up. Her back and knees were sore, but in a good way, she thought. I’ve done something productive, probably the first productive thing I’ve done since I got here.
Herta washed up at the kitchen sink while Priscilla bustled about getting a cold lunch of potato salad and ham. It was getting very warm out.
After Herta insisted on doing the dishes, what few there were, she and Priscilla again retired to the patio for another coffee.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” Herta asked into the companionable silence.
Priscilla smiled. “I can’t promise you an answer, but yes, ask away.”
“How did you meet Danarius?”
Priscilla sat back in the lawn chair and sighed. She’d been expecting a question like that. “I was an au pair girl in the late sixties, early seventies. I came to Bavaria with a family where I looked after the children and did some light housework. I met Danarius through my employer. When he found out I was seeing Danarius, my employer threw me out of the house and I went to live with Danarius. We were friends at first, but that soon changed. Eventually, I became pregnant and Danarius told me of his true origins. At first I thought he was lying, that he was crazy, but after he took me to his home in Tielen, I believed him. I couldn’t stay very long. Between the constant headaches I was having and the pregnancy, I was unfit for civilization, as Danarius told me. I came back to this side of the Gate, got a job at the gasthof, and I’ve been there ever since. I had to give Reikert up and thought that his father could raise him as Tiel. I honestly tried,” she added defensively. “I did. I just couldn’t manage a baby and a job. I did what I thought was best.”
Herta nodded. “I don’t know what I would have done in that situation. I won’t blame you for what you did. As you say, it was what was best for both of you.”
Priscilla nodded. “I would ask that you don’t tell anyone else of my story. Reikert doesn’t know who his mother is, and I think that might be for the best.”
Herta nodded again. “Not a word.”
Talk turned to other things and after a bit, Herta said her goodbyes and, with directions from Priscilla, she returned to the gasthof alone.