The afternoon sun beat down on the small park at the center of town, the shade trees offering Skuld a respite from the heat as she watched the young man on the bench.
She had been wondering about the hunters since the Yost job but hearing about Verdandi's own run-in with one of them had really made her curious. She wanted to see for herself what these two were like and get her own personal impressions. If they were helping them then, as hunters go, the pair couldn't be all bad.
Her previous night had been spent trying to figure out a way to approach said hunters. Unlike Verdandi and her button pushing ways, she wasn't one to toy with humans. A simple, and very cautious, approach was her idea. In theory a cautious approach meant she wouldn't wind up shot the way Urd had been.
The first part of her idea had involved finding the hunters after she got away from Verdandi for the day. Since Verdandi really wasn't one to care what she did and a '67 Chevy Impala stood out against the town's usual traffic, that part had been surprisingly easy. The second part though, actually following the young man with the longish hair, was a little more difficult. Street to street was one thing but when he went into the library her following him had hit a snag. Following him inside the actual building wasn't the best idea since her last visit to it had involved a possible felony.
She had waited outside the building for him, taking the time to think out just what she'd say when she approached him. She doubted that walking up to him out of the blue and just striking up a conversation would be a proper introduction. Somehow she couldn't see “Hi, I'm Skuld. You shot my sister.” as much of an ice breaker.
After what felt like an eternity of waiting, the young man finally left the library for the park with Skuld close behind. As he occupied a shaded bench, she watched him quietly from a spot across the grass. He looked harmless enough as he sat reading over the papers in his notebook. Common sense told her otherwise though as she more or less worked up the courage to approach him.
Skuld pushed herself up from her seat and dusted off the back of her skirt, glancing around the park. She just looked like one of the other kids out at this time, an innocuous little girl with a comic book in her arms. It was a disarming form and one she hoped wouldn't draw gunfire as she walked across the grass.
The stack of articles and clippings in Sam's lap looked more like a cross section of town than anything. The macabre roll call Urd had supplied had taken up the better part of his morning as he researched each individual name. Aside from a blurb or two here and there he hadn't found too much that stood out. It all just looked like a jumbled mess.
From the first name to the last, nothing stood out besides Kim. There was no indication they really knew each other except maybe in passing or day to day dealings. Even studying each person showed nothing in common between any of them.
Sam took a deep breath as he moved to rub his temple, stuffing the papers in his notebook before setting it down on the bench.
His brow knit at the tiny sounding voice that appeared behind him, turning slightly. He expected to see one of the kids from the playground standing behind him in search of a lost ball or something instead of a pair of big blue eyes peeking over the bench back. It was only when he spotted the white hair on the small head that he realized this was no ordinary child.
The blue eyes examined him as the tiny body used the bench for cover. “You don't look like a hunter.”
“I'll take that as a compliment.” He watched the girl take a couple tentative steps toward the end of the bench before stopping. “You're Future?”
“Skuld,” she corrected.
“Skuld.” Sam settled back against the bench as she finally came into view. “I'm Sam.”
Skuld gave him a nod, holding her comic book to her chest. “Are you the one with the car fetish?”
Sam shook his head and bit back the laugh that threatened to come out at her question. “No, that's Dean.”
The girl hopped up on the bench, her toes barely touching the ground. “Verdandi told me about him. Well...she told me about the car at any rate.”
Sam examined the girl beside him, watching the way she kicked her feet as she sat there.
He has seen Urd in this form before but not in the school uniform. Seeing it up close, how they had appeared in photos from the local paper, was a little unnerving. He knew by now there wasn't anything to worry about with the trio but the schoolgirl uniform was a bit creepy. Subconsciously he couldn't help but look at her and think about “The Shining” twins.
“Urd said you were helping us. Verdandi said the same thing after she met the other guy.” Skuld looked up from her feet and pushed the strands of white hair from her eyes. “I trust my sisters but I wanted to get a personal opinion of you.”
Sam was a little hesitant as he watched her gaze shift to him. “And?”
“So far, it’s good. You're approachable, kinda cute and haven't shot me,” Skuld informed. She sat back against the bench, letting her feet fall back into their random kicking. “The whole not shooting me is a big plus.”
Sam shook his head with a chuckle as his eyes scanned the park. “In all fairness, that happened before we knew what you were.”
“Good to know,” Skuld muttered, letting her fingers play with the corners of her comic.
The sound of the paper fanning beneath her fingers drew his attention back to the bench and made her brow knit. “What's that?”
Skuld straightened and looked down at the slender booklet in her lap with a shrug. “My comic book. They help get my mind off things.”
Sam looked at the brightly drawn pictures with a nod.
The three may have looked identical but the more he found out about them, the more the similarities ended. Urd seemed to be the more level-headed leader of the trio, Verdandi sounded like the roughest of the three by Dean's description and Skuld was looking like the shy one. It was quite a departure from the mythology surrounding them.
Watching Skuld beside him now it was easy to see how different from Urd she was. She was more guarded and quiet, focusing more on her shoes or the comic in her lap than Sam. And so far, unlike Urd, Skuld seemed to need a little more coaxing to talk.
“You three are really hard to figure out,” Sam said calmly. He watched the young girl's face, catching her eyes shift toward him. “We haven't dealt with your kind before.”
Skuld's face lit up as she smiled and a tiny laugh escaped her. “So we're breaking you hunters in? My sisters and I aren't exactly “training wheel” gods, Sam. You just caught us at a bad time.”
His eyes moved automatically to the iron ring at her throat with her comment. “We're trying to find a way to remove those.”
“I'm all for jewelry but this stupid thing is annoying.” Skuld gave the ring a tug before letting it drop with a huff. “I hate it.”
Sam watched a woman walk past as Skuld rubbed at her nose for a second. “We're looking into everything with them. Cutting the ring off isn't an option though.”
“You tried that?” Skuld questioned innocently.
“Broke a pair of bolt cutters on Urd's necklace,” Sam answered evenly.
Skuld grimaced and turned to face the young man. “So what now?”
Sam blinked at the sudden change from shy to curious in the girl. “We keep looking.”
“Oh.” She nodded slowly and glanced at the notebook beside him. A small hand reached out slowly and poked at the spiral wire cautiously. “That what the notebook is for?”
Sam gave a small half nod as Skuld hooked a finger through one of the wire loops. “Kind of.”
The way she scooted the notebook across the seat toward herself was almost comical. The way she pursed her lips and inched the book across the wood was more guilty child than an eternal goddess of fate. The careful flip of the pages and occasional glances toward Sam just made her seem less ageless creature and more kid about to be grounded.
Skuld made her way page by page through Sam's notes on herself and her sister, giving an approving nod here or a disapproving brow knit there. Like Urd, Sam had a feeling Skuld was fact checking herself. The way she read the scribbles coupled with the facial expressions made that option more than likely.
“You're studying us?” Her gaze moved from the pages to Sam then back as the first photographs came into view. “Are we really that fascinating?”
Sam nodded slowly as she looked over the photos in the notebook. “Like I said, we never met your kind before.”
“God wise, I'm sure we won't be the last,” she commented.
Skuld took her time looking through the pictures Sam had collected, a tiny smile on her face. She remembered every moment Sam had come across down to the last detail. Seeing them in a makeshift photo album was a walk down memory lane for her.
She paused at the picture of Marie Antoinette's execution, shaking her head with a sigh. “That was the soap opera of its time. Almost made one feel sorry for her the way her mother acted toward her.”
His eyes moved to the pictures as Skuld continued to leaf through them. “You remember the execution?”
“Hard to forget. The crowd, the sound of the guillotine blade coming down and the catch basket shaking. It's not something you easily forget.” Skuld looked over a couple photos from The Blitz before setting them aside. “When you’re that close to the stage and under the sun mid-day, the smell of the blood gets over-powering.”
Sam pushed back the chill that came over him with those words. Hearing about the blood from a small child was surreal. He had to remind himself that this was no ordinary little girl beside him.
The photos began to pile up as Skuld looked through each one before stopping, her expression growing somber. Her lips pursed and her eyes clouded as she stared at the picture in her hands, a small sigh escaping her. A hint of her former demeanor returned with a clearing of her throat but it was still obvious the photo in her hands had phased her.
“What's wrong?” The concern in Sam's voice was genuine as he watched her.
“We've seen a lot...” Skuld paused, letting a finger tap at the photo. “But there are some things that stay with you more than all the others.”
Sam's eyes moved to the print out in Skuld's hands, recognizing the photograph of the Donner Party survivors. “That's not your usual picture.”
A small chuckle escaped Skuld as she handed the photographs and notebook back to Sam. “It wasn't a good outcome. It wasn't even supposed to be a job.”
He looked at the paper in his hands, focusing on the women in the background.
“Sutter's Fort in California, March of 1847. We had just gotten out of the mountains with the rest of the humans. We were survivors, the lucky few who walked from the mountains alive,” she commented. “Mimicked their appearances and kept our disguises.”
“Urd looks devastated,” Sam murmured.
The girl gave a small nod as her tone turned thoughtful. “She lost someone on the journey and it broke her.”
Sam looked up from the papers and tucked them back into the notebook. “What was their name?”
For a moment she didn't answer, letting her gaze move across the park. She remembered the trip vividly and could easily recount it in detail but looking back on the journey had a tendency to open old wounds. But Sam seemed deserving of an answer.
“His name was Charles; Charles Stanton.” Skuld smiled as she looked at the grass. “He was a human and he loved her. He loved her since the first moment he saw her.”
“Did he know?” Sam watched the blue eyes scan the park before landing on his face. “Did he know what you were?”
Skuld nodded slowly as she folded her hands in her lap. “He knew. He saw us at an accident and, overtime, put two and two together. But he didn't care what we really were. He just wanted her.”
Sam sat forward on the bench, resting his elbows on his knees. “How did you end up in the Donner Party?”
“At the time, California was being hailed as the ultimate land of opportunity. Land for the taking, riches for anyone to claim. Charles wanted a good life with her there so he signed up with a group heading west.” Skuld ran her fingers across the bench seat, pausing as she thought back. “Urd practically begged him not to go west. She was hunting every corner of the globe for a way to keep him with her, to make him immortal like us.”
His brow knit at Skuld's remark. “Is that possible?”
“You'd be surprised what can be done, Sam.” She pushed her hair back behind her ear, feeling a breeze hit her face. “He was stubborn though and intent on going. So he did and we went with him.”
Sam listened quietly as the young girl's voice grew soft and her expression serious.
“In September 1846, Charles and a man named McCutchen were sent ahead to get food for the humans who were running low.” Skuld paused, clearing her throat. “He came back in October with food and a couple guides. We were with those humans a month in disguise.”
“Why didn't you go with him?” Sam questioned.
Skuld gave a shrug. “We had eyes on us twenty-four hours a day. Suddenly vanishing triplets don't go over well with half-starved settlers. It was safer for us to stay with the wagon then risk exposure to already unstable humans.”
Sam nodded in understanding. He could only imagine what would have gone through the minds of the emigrants in the wagon train if they caught the sister's disappearing act. Given the time-frame, he didn't think it would go over very well.
“We stayed close to Charles once he returned. Snow was beginning to make travel impossible and we were worrying about him. Humans need to eat and he was barely eating at all.” The girl let out a huff and shook her head as she thought back. “I still remember the stubborn little arguments they used to have.”
He caught the way her expression changed from serious to thoughtful as she spoke. “Over what?”
Skuld chuckled softly and smiled. “He wanted her to eat and she kept trying to explain that we don't always need to.”
“Sounds like they were equally stubborn,” Sam said gently.
“They were.” Skuld nodded solemnly, her eyes focusing on a spot in the grass. “December came, one of the men died of malnutrition, and the snowshoe party was chosen. Charles was among them and Urd wouldn't leave his side again so the Macbeth sisters joined the snowshoe party.”
“Macbeth?” Sam questioned, his brow knitting in confusion.
For a split second he caught a mischievous gleam in her eyes as she looked toward the playground. “You think Shakespeare came up with the three witches on his own?”
He wasn't about to comment on the question she had posed. After seeing their faces in all those photos and paintings, he knew the possibility that they ran into Shakespeare wasn't all that far-fetched. He found himself wondering who else they crossed paths with through the centuries.
“Macbeth wasn't listed in any records about the snowshoe party,” he finally said.
“The rescuers got two names at the time: Macbeth and Stanton. With records not being the best at the time and the chaos of the survivors recounts, it’s not surprising there are no records to find,” came her gentle reply.
There was a long pause, Skuld staring out across the park. Bird songs and breeze rustled leaves punctuated the silence along with the faint laughter of children behind them. The gravity of their conversation eased for a moment while the girl collected her thoughts.
“Charles was struggling, even with our sister helping him. He was weak, could barely keep up with the group. And he was so cold.” Skuld's voice was barely a whisper as she spoke. “When the party set out from Summit Valley, Charles was too weak to move. The humans left him behind sitting beside the trail under a tree.”
“What about you?”
Skuld took a shaky breath as she thought back. “He tried to get Urd to leave with the others. Verdandi and I offered what we could in a quick passing but he wasn't hearing it. Told us to go on with the party and watch over Urd. He said he'd be right behind us after he rested. We tried to get Urd to come but managed to move her only so far from him before she fought back.”
He could see unshed tears in her eyes, watching the small fingers move to wipe them away. “Verdandi may be the rough one but Urd wasn't going to leave him even under threat. We...Verdandi and I, we weren't going to force her.”
Sam listened quietly, watching the young girl push back more tears that threatened to fall.
“We started after the humans and rejoined them. Verdandi had set her sights on retribution and I wasn't about to argue with that. Our sister's world was falling apart because of the bad choices of men, something needed to be done. We hadn't decided on anything but that changed the moment Charles died.”
“How did you know he died?” Sam asked carefully. “You had to be some distance away with the others when it happened.”
“We heard it. Urd was devastated and that much pain and utter anguish in a god is enough to split the heavens when they cry out. We could have been a thousand miles away and we still would have heard it.” Skuld pushed a hand back through her hair, leveling a sad gaze on him. “The others with us called it thunder but we knew what it was.”
His tone grew kind, his eyes locking on her face. “When did you hear it?”
The girl let out a heavy sigh. “Charles was left behind on the morning of December 21st. We heard her cry out late afternoon on December 22nd. And it broke our hearts to hear it. We set against the group soon after.”
The softly uttered comment made Sam do a double take. He hadn't misheard her, hadn't imagined the ominous words falling from the innocent looking form. The more he played the phrase over in his head the more he caught himself hoping it didn't mean what he thought it did. “What?”
“We had to wait until nightfall before we could get away from the group so we had time to come up with a fitting punishment. Urd may have been broken but Verdandi and I were pissed. The man she loved, the one she was searching for a way to keep with her, was gone. You do not hurt our sister and think retribution won't find you,” Skuld answered evenly. “We sat in that camp for hours waiting for nightfall so we could go back to her. We watched the humans who left him behind, the ones who chose the route that let him die in those mountains, and we thought out punishment.”Sam couldn't hide the shock on his face at her oh so calm answer. They were Fate incarnate, a fact not lost on either Sam or Dean, and things happened in their presence that changed history. But Skuld's admission began to make him wonder about other events. Mythology was full of stories about vengeful gods but this was far from some long ago fable.
“We headed back to her that night, broke our disguises and changed form to fly back. It had snowed but we found them. Urd was sitting beneath that tree with him in her arms; she hadn't moved an inch from the moment we left. Seeing her like that, like a part of her had died, just made us angrier,” she continued solemnly.
He was quiet as she recounted the past. There was still pain in the girl's voice as she spoke, like a wound had been reopened with each word she said. But there was something more in the way she spoke, the way she and Verdandi had reacted all those years ago. They hadn't acted simply for the sake of revenge; they had acted out of love and loyalty to their sister. The more he heard the clearer it became.
Skuld's jaw set as her eyes moved across the park. “We didn't care if the humans found out what we were; we were done blending in. Our sister needed to be avenged and Verdandi and I knew how to do it.”
Sam contemplated his next question carefully. His brow drew together as he studied the small body next to him. This was no ordinary girl but a goddess he was dealing with and no matter how innocent she looked he couldn't forget that fact.
“What did you do?” he asked cautiously.
“Urd wasn't going to leave Charles to the animals so we buried him and promised her we'd come back to him but first we needed her help. We brought her back to the camp and told her we would only need a couple strings pulled. Verdandi and I would deal with the humans so she wouldn't have to.” Her eyes moved to Sam, her voice as calm as it had ever been. “We worked our way through the group; whispering in their ears, planting doubts of survival and, in some cases, sanity. We hardly lifted a finger to send them into a downward spiral.”
“You pushed them into cannibalism and murder?” he questioned.
“They were already on that path, Sam. Starving, snowbound and slowly freezing to death. They were already considering that option as a means to survive,” she informed, giving a small shrug. “A simple whisper of “we don't have enough food” or “no one is coming to save us” was all it took to send them down that dark road.”
He stared at her in disbelief, amazed at what he was hearing. “What about the others in the Donner Party? The ones who stayed behind?”
Skuld gave an almost dismissive little shrug as she watched a squirrel hop across the grass. “Those weren't entirely ours. We did go back to the Truckee Lake camp but it wasn't to punish them. It was mostly women and children there. But there was the mad German Keseburg. He was punishment enough for them.”
“Then why did you go back?”
“To get Charles' belongings,” Skuld answered softly. “We gathered those, took Urd back to reclaim his body, then we joined the few women left to be rescued. That photo was taken of the First Relief and remaining members of the Forelorn Hope.”
Sam pulled the photo from the notebook and took another look at the trio. “What happened to his body?”
There was a hint of a smile on her lips but it wasn't at all malicious as he expected. “Historically, he was found where he was left. Truthfully, he was laid to rest in a crypt that only Urd holds the key to, encased in spells and protective wards that make King Arthur's resting place seem like a shoebox.”
He sat back against the bench, keeping the photo in his hand. Looking at the image Sam couldn't help but think back to Urd's reaction. Hearing what had happened; her reaction didn't seem so strange. “Urd saw this photo and almost broke down.”
The girl let her attention shift to the sepia tinted image. “Not surprising. She's never really gotten over that. Almost 200 years later and she still mourns him as if it happened yesterday.” She let out a heavy sigh, pulling her legs up on the seat. “After the rescue she was hospitalized for months. The doctors said it was traumatic shock. She wouldn't eat or talk, just slept with a piece of his clothing. Sixteen years later during the Civil War, she was still withdrawn.”
Sam stared at the photo for a moment, focusing on the humans in it. “You saw what those people went through, all that death, and your part in it doesn't bother you?”
Skuld studied the man beside her quizzically before slipping off the bench. Her head cocked to the side and her hands rested on her hips as she continued to give him an almost incredulous look.
“Put yourself in our situation. Your older sister's world has fallen apart, a part of her has died, and the ones who let it happen are right in front of you.” She brought a hand up, extending a pinky for Sam to see as her expression grew cold. “You have more power in your pinky alone than anyone knows and you aren't going to do anything? What would you do, Sam?”
His answer was not quick in coming as she watched him expectantly. He couldn't begin to piece together an honest reply no matter how he considered what she had told him. He could understand the loyalty that had driven them even if he really didn't understand the lengths at which they carried everything out. The more he thought though, the more he could see himself doing just as they had for Dean.
His silence was answer enough for Skuld, giving Sam a nod as she folded her arms over her chest. “Not an easy answer, is it?”
“No, it’s not,” Sam murmured.
Skuld's lips pursed for a moment before she rejoined him on the bench. “We've been watching out for one another since the beginning. A little godly retribution here or there becomes expected after a while. Plus that's how myths are born.”
Sam pushed the photo back into the notebook, Skuld kicking her legs slightly. “I've still got a lot to learn about you three.”
“If you're good to us, Sam, we'll tell you everything,” Skuld offered. She grinned at him and picked up her comic book, making a point of tapping the notebook in his hands. “I want my own section though.”
Chapter 18, Part 2