Notes: Set pretty soon after my fic "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," with a few references to that story, but you don't really need to read it first. More notes at the end of the fic.
The Raven and the Milkmaid
It's a calm, sun-bright morning in Asgard, and Sigyn is milking the cows. It's a task she enjoys—the warm shifting stillness of the cow's bulk, the soft lowing and the chewing of cud, the repeated motions, long-practiced and soothing.
She likes to milk the cows, and think.
This morning, she is thinking mostly about distant things. Old stories, and her mother's carefully inscrutable webs, and the distant peaks of Jotunheim shining in the sun. They're happy thoughts, for all that they're untouchable.
Her hands continue the remembered motion without thought, and she watches a raven bank steeply just outside the cow shed. It's almost unremarkable, expect that as she watches a bright and shining thing falls from its beak into the dirt. It lies there, glimmering, and for a moment Sigyn merely blinks into the sunlight. But then she spies the raven returning.
Cows are patient, and don't mind an interruption so much, as long as it's not too long. So Sigyn lets her hands complete the motion, last drops of milk falling, plink!, into the half-filled pail, and then she pats the heifer's side.
"I'll be back in a moment," she says to the animal, and moves toward the shining thing in the dirt.
The cow remains supremely uninterested, turning back to her trough as Sigyn steps out of the milking stall, humming under her breath. She quickens her pace as she spies the raven again, its beak glinting in the sun as it circles lazily toward the ground. It's just a raven, of course, but it has an awfully nonchalant look for a bird.
A spark starts in her mind, and quick as a thought she takes a graceless, unplanned (and so hopefully unpredictable) leap forward, catching at the golden thing on the ground.
It's a necklace, though that name hardly seems to do it justice. The necklace, perhaps. It shines like fire in the sunlight, gems glinting in a thousand impossible shades. It should look gaudy, were the workmanship not so fine. As it is, the necklace is breathtaking.
Sigyn recognizes it instantly. There is no other necklace like this in all the nine worlds. It could only be Freyja's.
She stands again swiftly, clutching the precious thing to her chest, and glances at the sky. The raven is floating there, the circles of its flight ever widening. It gives a good impression of complete disinterest, even as its gliding motion reaches its widest point and it veers off, away westward and out of sight.
Sigyn smiles to herself.
She's just putting the necklace in her apron pocket—Freyja will want it back, of course, but the cows are waiting—when she hears the sound of footsteps in the yard, coming from the other side of the cowshed. She makes sure the necklace is hidden, then turns quickly and, because there's not enough time to pretend busyness, adopts the posture of a dreamy girl looking at the clouds. It's familiar enough to her, and so likely to be convincing.
The approaching footsteps are louder now, and Sigyn lets herself startle when she hears a cough behind her. She turns again, ready with honest surprise, and sees the nine cows, lazily chewing their cud in the milking stalls, and just in front of them a woman.
She's simply dressed in plain, drab clothes accustomed to work, and her face looks much the same, a broad, freckled, entirely unremarkable thing. Little curls of dirt brown hair escape her braids to flutter about her face and frame her smile.
Sigyn smiles at her in turn, and says, "Forgive me, I was caught up in the clouds. Who are you, stranger?"
The girl laughs, a bright merry sound that makes her seem instantly more colorful. "My name is Ginna, lady," she says, and makes a somewhat clumsy bow. "I am a traveler in search of work, and when I heard the cows I thought perhaps—" She trails off and looks at Sigyn through her lashes, smiling and shameless, and Sigyn is charmed by the girl's transparency.
"Well," she says with a smile, "I have been dreaming for some time now, and there are still seven cows that want milking, so I would welcome the help. If you will entertain me with stories of your travels, I can offer you hospitality for the night, and food for your journey. Does that suit?"
"Very well, lady," says Ginna, again with that laughing mockery of humility. She allows Sigyn to direct her to one of the cows that still wants milking, and sets to her task with the kind of unthinkingly natural motions that come of familiarity. She's even humming a bit, out of tune and under her breath.
Sigyn smiles to herself, lets the stillness rest for a moment as they settle into a rhythm. The cows grunt occasionally, and the sound of chewing is loud in the stalls.
Sigyn positions herself so that she can continue the milking while peaking easily beyond the half wall dividing the stalls. Remembering that the girl has been traveling, she coughs a bit to catch her attention, then says, "Drink, if you like," and gestures at the half-filled milk pail. "You must be thirsty."
Ginna smiles gratefully, takes a rough wooden ladle from the wall of the shed, dips into the milk, and drinks long and greedily. At last she raises her head from the ladle, and the milk in the bucket is significantly depleted. She smiles unapologetically, and Sigyn can't help but laugh.
"You promised me a story," she says.
"So I did, lady," Ginna says brightly. "And I have many stories." Her hands move swiftly as she talks, small and tanned and as freckled as the rest of her. "I'm a wanderer, you see. I once served a very great lady." She looks up from her work and tosses a sly smile at Sigyn. "Great, that is, in the estimation of that little country. But I've wandered far since then, and seen a greater world than we ever thought of in that land, and anyway, you are a far greater lady yourself. No doubt you've never heard of her."
Sigyn laughs, because the girl is overplaying her tale, and with intent, too, Sigyn guesses. She is not so great, really, for all that she is Odin's daughter. But she won't take away from the image Ginna is creating.
Instead, she says, "But if this lady was so great, or so you thought, how did you come to leave her?"
"Ah!" says Ginna, with a flourish far too dramatic to be authentic. "Now that is a tale. As it happens, I was a maid to this fine lady, charged with the keeping of her greatest treasures: her shoes and jewels and other such trinkets."
Sigyn nods to herself. Her own mother has such a maidservant, though it would be false to say that is Fulla's only role.
"But alas!" Ginna continues with another theatrical flourish. "I am sometimes careless, lady; I don't mean to be, certainly, but it is a fault of mine." Here she again catches Sigyn's eye, her face a parody of deep remorse. Sigyn is almost certain that every word out of this girl's mouth is a clever lie, or at least an exaggeration, but that hardly matters. Ginna goes on to describe a long series of increasingly outrageous mishaps, and Sigyn throws her head back and laughs so hard that it startles the heifer she's milking.
"And she always forgave me my faults, lady," says Ginna, bowing her head piously. "For all she may not have been as great as was thought, still she was a good mistress." She draws in a deep breath, as though preparing for a last great plunge, and Sigyn, who is by now milking the last of the cows, stills her motions and turns fully to face the other woman, smiling in anticipation.
"But in the end," Ginna says mournfully, "I was careless one time too many, and that when I could least afford to be. You see, lady, that lady that I served owned many beautiful things, but most beautiful of all was a great glorious necklace, the kind of thing a girl like me couldn't hardly look at, for all its shining finery. And one day, that lady entrusted me with this necklace, though she really shouldn't have, you'd think, and I was on my way from her hall to a secret place where it could be kept when whoosh! What do you think should happen?"
Sigyn blinks. She stops her hand just before it can reach for her pocket, where Freyja's necklace rests, and instead moves her hands very deliberately back to the task of milking. She tries to hold the laughter and the interest on her face, and not let the newly ignited spark in her mind show through to her features.
Ginna looks the same as she always has. She is solid, drab, freckled, and charmingly audacious, and there is nothing whatsoever changeable about her.
Sigyn laughs aloud. "Why," she says, offering the girl a smile, "I suppose a raven stole it!"
"And so it did, lady!" Ginna laughs, something sly winking in her eyes. "Right from my very hands, calm as you please! I couldn't hardly believe it, but they do say that ravens love shining things."
Sigyn smiles indulgently. "They do say that."
"And then," says Ginna, "for all my mistress was a forgiving one, of course she couldn't let me stay after that. So I went wandering off into the great world, following that raven, lady, because it would taunt me, always flying just ahead, and circling back when I couldn't keep it up."
And then she leans back, around the low partition, and says almost directly into Sigyn's ear, "Do you know, lady, I don't think that bird is really a bird at all?" And she laughs, a low warm sound that makes all of Sigyn's small hairs stand on end and leaves a pleasant tingle in her ear.
Sigyn sucks in a quick breath, casting about quickly and wishing Ginna would move back into her own space. She feels unaccountably warm, even in the closeness of the milking shed.
"No," she breathes, and with that word her voice returns, and she can manage a laugh. "No, I don't suppose it was a bird. It sounds rather like a god I know."
"Oh?" says Ginna, moving back into her own space at last, and looking at Sigyn with a laughing curiosity that is hardly commonly accepted in a serving girl.
Sigyn casts her a sly glance and says, "Well, he's a Jotun really, but he—"
Whatever she might have said is drowned out by a dreadful clatter out in the yard, and this is quite a shame, because she was going to say something very clever indeed.
But the clatter is followed by a sound like the shuffling of mail, and Heimdall's voice crying out, "Greetings, Sigyn Odin's daughter," and she can hardly ignore his summons. Besides, it is rare indeed that Heimdall leaves his post, and certainly not to seek out women at the milking, so she can hardly deny her curiosity.
"Greetings, Watchman," she says, emerging from the milking shed and wiping her hands on her apron before making him a proper bow. "What brings you away from the Bifrost today?"
Heimdall scowls blackly, and Sigyn fights the rather traitorous urge to laugh. So far as she knows, there is only one person in all the nine worlds who can induce such an expression on Heimdall's face.
"I am seeking Loki," he says, confirming her suspicions. "He has stolen a very precious thing from the gods, and I have pursued him most of the day."
Sigyn frowns, a look that might pass for worried, but might equally well mean she is less than satisfied with Heimdall's story. She is aware of the cows shifting restlessly in their stalls behind her, now the milking has finished, and somewhere, too, the still figure of Ginna. No doubt the girl looks every bit the part of a dutiful hired hand, her work complete, silently awaiting her promised payment. Sigyn doesn't turn to look, lest the urge to laugh strike her again.
"I have not seen Loki," she tells Heimdall, and it is true in fact, even if she is beginning to doubt its truth in spirit. "But tell me, what has he stolen?" She hears Ginna shift her feet in the straw behind her, and wonders if it is out of surprise or simply a restlessness not unakin to the cows'.
Heimdall's scowl, if possible, grows blacker, and he glances about him as though expecting Loki to appear at any moment. "He has taken Freyja's necklace, the glorious Brisingamen," he confides somberly, but at Sigyn's startled and horrified gasp, he seems to warm to his tale. "I tracked him, this morning, followed his progress out of Asgard and followed him across many lands, while he taunted me, now in one shape, now in another."
He continues the tale, his hands moving as he talks, illustrating the story, and Sigyn regards him with an impressed kind of sympathy, all the while inwardly imagining a raven, gold glinting in its mouth and taunting its pursuer. At some point in the midst of Heimdall's tale, she realizes she is picturing Heimdall himself dressed in the drab servants' garb of Ginna, and once again has to suppress a laugh.
"And at last I overtook him," Heimdall says, his gestures expansive. "I had followed him all the way to the sea, where I caught him in seal's form, and I took seal's form myself, and we fought. It was a long and hard-fought battle, but I had the better of him in the end." He says this with an evident note of satisfaction that makes Sigyn smile, and she looks up at the watchman with big eyes and begs him to continue. Behind her, she is aware that Ginna has moved closer and is listening to the tale intently herself.
"But he escaped me, in the end," says Heimdall, and now the scowl is back in force. "He flew away in bird's shape and so I have tracked him back to Asgard, but I have lost him." And now he peers at Sigyn closely, and she struggles to hold his gaze. She does not know anyone who can meet the eyes of Asgard's unblinking guardian for long, however, and sooner rather than later she turns away, abashed.
"You have been here since early morning, Sigyn," he says, almost gently. "Have you noticed anything amiss, or seen anyone you did not know?" And here he looks, quite suddenly and pointedly, at Ginna.
Sigyn turns to look at her too. She is standing just inside the milking shed, face downturned and abashed, altogether a proper servant girl's attitude when finding herself in the presence of a god. Sigyn notices that her hands are even trembling, a bit, fisting in the coarse fabric of her apron.
Sigyn turns back to Heimdall, and says, "I'm sorry. It has been only me and Ginna since the early morning." She pauses, then offers him a sunny smile. "And the cows, of course."
Heimdall makes a humming sound of consideration under his breath, and continues to study Ginna with deep suspicion. "And this woman," he says, gesturing with his chin. "She is familiar to you? I have not seen her in Asgard before."
Sigyn smiles easily at him. "I hired her, yester evening. She is a traveler, and as you say unknown here, so I offered her my hospitality."
Heimdall does not look happy, and Sigyn forces herself to breath normally. She's only told one lie, technically, and although she's a little surprised at herself, she knows why she did it. If Heimdall takes Ginna away, Sigyn will never have all her questions answered. And she feels also, although she is uncertain exactly why, that she would lose, lose a game, or a challenge perhaps, if she simply left Ginna to Heimdall's suspicions. Freyja's necklace is heavy in her pocket, and Sigyn resists the temptation to smooth down her apron.
At last, Heimdall nods. "I thank you, Odin's daughter," he says, in a tone that sounds decidedly pointed to Sigyn's ears. "If you have seen nothing, then I must return to my search." And he makes her a bow and turns, with only a swift backward glance at Ginna, and makes for his post at the Bifrost.
There's a silence in the world, while Sigyn watches him move away and wonders how Ginna will react to this now, what stories she will spin. She again resists the urge to reach for her apron pocket, and instead moves wordlessly back to the milking stalls to turn the cows loose and begin gathering the milk.
Ginna moves with her, her hands moving deftly to undo tethers, then easily raising two of the large, brimful milk buckets. "I don't think the great god much trusts me, lady," she says with a subdued humility that is wholly unlike her, her eyes fixed firmly on the straw-covered ground.
Sigyn can't help the laugh that escapes her. Of all the possibilities, she hadn't expected brazen innocence, though now she thinks about it, she probably should have.
Ginna looks up at the sound of Sigyn's laughter, and her eyes are piercing and not in the least ashamed, after all. She looks as though she might start laughing herself at any minute, and her mouth is curved in a faint smirk that looks disconcertingly familiar on an unfamiliar face.
"You lied, lady," she says, and suddenly she is much closer than a moment ago, and Sigyn is terribly aware of the stretch and shape of her own bones and skin. She breathes in sharply, and can't help but feel that she's lost an advantage somewhere. But the steady weight of Freyja's necklace rests heavy in her apron pocket, bumping against her thighs with every movement, so she smiles, the same bright smile that she had favored Heimdall with.
"Only a little," she says, as though it is something she does every day, careless. "It is unseemly, to accuse a guest."
Ginna does laugh now, and it transforms her face, revealing deep dimples and casting her freckles into sharp relief. There is a gap between her two front teeth, and a small mole just above her lip, on the left side of her face. She is still standing very close.
"I think someone ought to warn your Jotun, lady," she breathes, warm and secret as though she fears other ears will overhear. Sigyn swallows, and thinks to correct her designation of Loki, except—except it's Ginna herself who's said it, and Sigyn feels something warm and nameless settle in her breast. "Even a thief might meet his match in such a liar," Ginna whispers, and then laughs again, warm and knowing.
Sigyn has never really thought of herself as much of a liar, and that's only partly because she doesn't often lie. But Ginna makes it sound like a compliment, and Ginna herself is a masterful storyteller, and once, someone with another face had said to Sigyn, You may catch on sooner than most. She feels caught in Ginna's brown eyes and the knowledge of her own lie, until she could stand and just burn, could share a story she's never heard, could do anything.
Ginna hasn't moved. She smells of fresh hay and milking cows, and her eyes are clever and lovely. Sigyn breathes deep, takes her courage by the hilt, and kisses her squarely on the sly tilt of her smile.
For a very brief moment (and oh, Sigyn will treasure that moment), Ginna seems actually surprised, but then she laughs delightedly and returns Sigyn's kiss as though she's only been waiting for an excuse. Sigyn breathes against her mouth, and their noses bump, and she fights against the sudden urge to giggle.
The air between them is a breathless secret as Sigyn pulls back, just a little, and whispers, "I told you I wouldn't be fooled again."
Ginna blinks at her, and Sigyn notices that her eyes aren't brown any more, and there's no mole above her lip. Her smile is supremely pleased as she says, "Very clever, Sigyn." And she leans in, laughing, and steals a second kiss, so light and fast that it might have been a sudden passing breeze.
Before Sigyn can respond, Ginna has moved back, spread her wings, and is swiftly disappearing into the sun. A few glossy black feathers settle slowly on the grass, and the harsh caw of a raven's laughter echoes in the morning air.
Sigyn is left standing alone, her back to the milking shed, black feathers at her feet, a slight tingle at her lips, and the reassuring weight of Freyja's necklace in her apron pocket.
And now she does let herself laugh aloud. The sound echoes faintly, as if in answer to the raven's cry, and she bends to pick up the two long black feathers. She considers them for a moment, twisting them this way and that and watching them glint in the sun like liquid black gold. Then she hums under her breath, tucks them behind her ear, and reaches into her pocket for Freyja's necklace.
It catches the light much the same as the feathers, though the shine is different, and it lies in her hands like a river of gold and glittering gems in colors too beautiful to name. It is breathtaking, but the feathers suit her better, and she has no desire to test its weight against her throat.
The cows are turned loose now, and there is milk aplenty, too much for her to carry alone. She leaves the buckets just inside the shed and sets a simple charm on them to keep them. There will be time enough to come back, with Thrud perhaps, but now she turns her steps toward Sessrumnir.
The way is long enough, although the morning is fresh and cool. Sigyn fingers the feathers behind her ear and rather wishes she could become a bird herself. She has always wondered what it would be like to fly.
The wings of her thoughts take her further than she realizes, and when she takes note of her surroundings again she finds herself in the fields of Folkvang, and there is a familiar form drifting toward her across a sea of grass. Sleipnir is larger than when last she saw him, full-grown now and proud and resplendent, but his gait is that same smooth glide that no other horse can imitate. He moves with such soundless grace and speed that it seems only one moment she has spied him afar off and the next he is there, huge and shining eyed and lipping at her hair. The breath from his great nostrils tickles at her face and Sigyn bursts out laughing, distracted for a moment from thoughts of wings and kisses and shining gold.
"Hello," she says warmly, patting the horse's nose, and Sleipnir gives a snorting shake of his great head and bends to nuzzle at her pockets. He bumps against her insistently, and Sigyn laughs again and takes a step back.
"I'm sorry," she says. "I don't have anything for you. Just a heavy bit of gold, and you can't eat that." She reaches into her pocket and holds out Freyja's necklace as if to prove her point. Sleipnir tosses his head and regards the necklace with deep suspicion and even contempt. It's so exactly like an expression of Loki's, one he uses sometimes with people she suspects he considers too dim to notice. It's a bit strange, seeing that expression mirrored on a horse's face.
"Well, don't blame me," says Sigyn, going for haughty but sounding much more amused. "I might have brought you an apple, you know, but I am on an errand, and it's your mother's fault for making mischief in the first place."
Sleipnir gazes at her with deep liquid eyes, as though searching her words for truth, and then he tosses his head and steps back. She fancies his head is tilted in amusement, and she can almost hear him laughing. Very well, she imagines him saying, you may go about your business. But I will expect two apples at least when you come back. His imagined voice is deep and teasing, and she's not very surprised when he pushes at her again with his head, guiding her toward Sessrumnir.
"All right," she says, though she's reluctant now for reasons she can't name. "And I promise I'll bring you back an apple, too."
Sleipnir doesn't sound convinced, but he lets her go.
Freyja's hall is sprawling and massive and it glitters with gold in the sun. Sigyn has passed this way often enough, but she has never been inside. When she knocks at the great shining doors, she sees gilded things move in the wood, serpents tying themselves in knots and horses with bodies like water and swans on the wing. There is a sigh of wind, and the golden doors whisper aside to reveal a golden hall within.
Freyja smiles at her over the threshold, sunlight catching on her white white teeth and the burnished planes of her armor, flecked in places with a darker color. She is beautiful, and terrible, and she does not seem overly distraught about her missing jewelry.
"Hello, Sigyn," she says warmly, and steps aside in invitation.
"Hello," Sigyn breathes, only a little awkwardly. "I found something of yours, I think." And before she can catch herself too badly in her own words, she reaches into her apron pocket and takes the necklace, thrusting it forward as though she had no real concept of its worth.
Freyja's smile is different in quality now, though Sigyn can't say exactly how. She takes the necklace easily, turning it over and over in her hands, hefting the weight of it. The look she gives Sigyn is both warm and sharp.
"Well," she says. "It is mine, certainly, and I had looked to have it back today, though I did not expect to receive it from you. Will you tell me how you came by it?"
"A raven dropped it on the ground," Sigyn says, and offers a knowing smile of her own. "I was milking the cows when it flew by. I thought it strange, but then again ravens do love shining things."
"They do," says Freyja, with a nod that has very little to do with the scavenging habits of birds. Sigyn wonders, suddenly, if this is how Loki always sees the world: bones and skin beneath feather and sinew, and words and whole conversations hidden beneath mundane talk of weather and the flights of birds.
"I thank you for returning it to me," Freyja says with a smile, reaching around to clasp the necklace at her throat, where it hangs glittering over her armored heart.
Sigyn thinks that will be all, but then Freyja laughs, a bright, crystal-sharp sound, and says, "I would give you a gift, in thanks, if you would name it," and Sigyn is at a loss.
She shifts her feet, smoothes her fingers over the feathers tucked behind her ear. She considers ravens, and dimples, laughter bright freckles and suspicious horses.
"If you don't mind," she says, giving Freyja her warmest smile, "I'd like some apples, I think."
Freyja is less surprised than she ought to be, but Sigyn won't fault her for that. She steps just inside the golden hall and loses herself in gazing at dragon shapes and gilded beams while Freyja departs and returns, a basket of apples looking fresh and strange against the glinting metal of her corselet.
"You have my thanks," says Freyja, passing her the basket and leaning in close to leave a kiss on Sigyn's brow. As she moves back, her fingers brush the two raven's feathers in Sigyn's hair, and she laughs, soft and secretly.
Sigyn offers her a helpless smile. It's not something she'll apologize for, and she's pleased that Freyja won't ask her to. In fact Freyja seems more amused than anything, her full lips curved up indulgently as she bids Sigyn farewell. Sigyn finds she doesn't mind at all.
The basket of apples feels lighter on her arm than the necklace had in her pocket, though Sigyn knows this is more illusion than truth. But she prefers the apples. They are the small sweet mottled kind, marked in patches of green and red, the sort best loved by horses.
Sleipnir particularly likes them; after the third she feeds him, he has clearly forgiven her everything.
"Can you keep a secret?" she asks him. He butts his head against her shoulder. "I think your mother is beautiful," she whispers, and everything feels hushed, as though saying the words has made them more real. She brushes her fingers across her lips, feels the shape of her smile, and again touches the feathers behind her ear, smooth as new lamb's down.
Sleipnir, though, only favors her with a supremely dubious look. She thinks that if he were human, his eyebrow would be arched well into his hairline.
"Oh shut up," she grumbles fondly, patting his nose and feeding him another apple. "I can pretend it's a secret if I like. You might at least be decent enough to pretend with me, since I've brought you all these apples."
Sleipnir contrives to look duly shamed. It's quite an impressive look on a horse.
Sigyn feeds him a few more apples, but not so many that he'll get sick, and he does seem to understand when she says he can't have any more, though he doesn't look happy about it. "These are for your mother," she tells him, and he snorts and tosses his head and kicks his four hind hooves and seems quite amused indeed.
She finds Loki near Gladsheim, in his usual guise and skulking merrily about avoiding the glowering gaze of Heimdall. There seems to be little the watchman can do; Freyja herself is also there, talking animatedly with Sif and Idun, the Brisingamen gleaming like a flame at her throat.
"Hello, Sigyn," Loki says, laughter dancing at the edges of his smile. Sigyn wants to kiss him again, wants to know all the differences this guise would hold.
Instead she laughs and offers him the basket of apples. "These are for you, horse," she says.
Loki throws his head back and snickers loudly and without a care. He makes her an overly gallant bow and takes the basket from her, selecting the most mottled apple of the lot and holding it up, teasing, in front of his face.
"Clever Sigyn," he breathes, and his white teeth flash as he bites into the fruit. For an instant, Sigyn sees brown eyes and the curve of dimples, and thinks that she wants to kiss her again in this guise, too.
Instead, she gives Loki a decisive nod, accepting the compliment (and the concession buried within it), and says, "I do the milking most days, you know. You can help any time you like."
Loki only grins and offers her an apple. She has never been a horse, but she takes one anyway.
"I might do that," says Loki, nodding sagely. "You can learn quite a bit about the world, milking cows."
Notes: Ginna is an attested female name of uncertain meaning, but most likely related to the OW. Norse verb ginna "to deceive, to enchant."
Also, at some point between "Something there is that doesn't love a wall" and this fic, "Horse" has apparently become Sigyn's nickname/pet name for Loki.
I'll leave it entirely to you to decide how much Freyja knows about all this, and when.