I was distantly aware of voices. Quiet murmuring that seemed lilting and comforting. They were familiar to me as I drifted in and out of consciousness, and thought little of them. I remember wondering if I had managed to die a second time before sleep took me again.
The smell of salt in the air and the distant sound of waves crashing on the beach finally woke me. I stared at the ceiling in some amount of confusion, trying to remember what happened after I saved the boy. As my new environment came into focus, I wondered where – and when – I was. I felt as though I had taken a nap that didn’t quite agree with me. I knew I slept, but it was far from restorative.
The room I found myself in was bathed in warm sunlight, and my mind registered that it was midday. The walls and ceiling looked pale yellow, and as I turned my head I could see a window offering a view of the distant blue-green ocean. Hearing a door open, I tried to sit up. My arms trembled with the effort and I realized just how weak I was. My mind churned sluggishly as I realized I recognized the woman but couldn’t find the name. She had dark hair in ringlets piled loosely atop her head. Her violet eyes searched my face and were hooded with concern. She was short, but I saw that she was a Seren after seeing her delicately pointed ears. The woman was dressed in a loose, flowing dress made of muslin. An armband graced her upper arm and bracelets clinked at her wrists; an anklet was seen but made no sound; a necklace with a solitary stone graced her neck, made of a dark green stone that I didn’t recognize.
“Kieran,” I croaked, finally finding a name.
The worry remained, but she smiled. “You’ve been asleep for some time.” Kieran came into the room and settled a tray with bread, soup, and a drink on a small table in the room. “Rhys was preparing a ritual to see if your soul left for Elysium.” She walked over to the bed and helped me sit up.
“Where am I? When am I?”
Kieran arranged the sheets neatly around me as she spoke. “In L’Aquitaine on L’Main. It is the third day of the month of Mranth of the three hundredth ninety-seventh year.” I must have still looked confused for she clarified. “Four thousand, six hundred twenty-nine years After the Fall.”
After the Fall of the Seven Gods. I stared at her before looking out the window. Before the Aevum left the Realms all together but after the Vilya Feya claimed Tymy as its own; long before Kaer Castle was built. The Realms save for the one belonging to the Gods still overlapped with each other. The Aevum were still journeying across the stars.
“Are you a Blackbird?”
Her question jarred me out of my stunned silence. I didn’t know how to reply to her question. I began to shake my head and said, “I have no way to return home. None that I know of.” I knew that without a doubt. I could no longer recall the spells that I had been taught, as if my meeting with the creature had taken them with it. I could return to Ásgarðr, but would they know what to do with me? Then again, Kára was recognized in each of her previous incarnations.
“Vaera, you stay here as long as you like. You saved us at Kaer, even if the boy was lost to us.” She proceeded to recount the event of that night. Apparently, when the light faded I was found unconscious on the ground. The boy’s family was understandably angry at me, for all they knew my interference could have caused their child’s disappearance. Rhys and Kieran decided that it would be best if they brought me with them to L’Aquitaine.
“We both knew you were a Blackbird – a Valkyrja – when you summoned your weapon. We recognized your armor as well,” she added. “I don’t think anyone else knew. We both knew that the Vanir – or is it the Aesir now? – would not be pleased if one of their messengers were killed. We whisked you away to protect you. You’ve been sleeping since.” She smiled at that, I think to reassure me.
Her comment about the Vanir and Aesir gave me a better idea of when I was and realized I was a bit further back in time than I thought. Question was, how long after the War was it?
I returned her smile. “Thank you both. Does Rhys have an idea of what happened? Why I’m-”
“Weak?” Kieran supplied for me. “He thinks that the event may have drawn more power from you than you were providing. It or you or the spells you were using drew upon your goddess aspect. Our theory is that because so much energy was required that you – for all intents and purposes – are unable to access that divine self.”
“Temporarily. There’s no telling for how long.”
“Then, I will be able to return to Ásgarðr. Right?”
“Our understanding is that only other gods and immortals are able to permanently strip someone of their immortality and/or godhood.” She waited for me to draw my own connections.
“If what I encountered was not immortal or a god, my powers will return. Otherwise, I remain mortal.”
Kieran said nothing at first. “I know it’s a lot of information. You are welcome to stay here as long as you want.” She rose from the edge of the bed and brought the tray of food over. “For now, you need to eat and regain your strength.”
“But- what… I mean, I’m mortal.” I felt useless, as if I were less than I was. Technically, I was; however, I felt that without my status as a Valkyrie I was nothing. There was nothing useful for me to do.
Kieran gave me a warm smile. “As am I. Think of what you can do now. Was it not Aiden who laughed when he was cast from the Realms of the Gods? It was He who realized that as a mortal He could change things. Now, so can you.” She held out the bread for me to eat.
I considered her for a moment, reflecting on her words, before taking the bread from her. Ölrún – and the Norns or the Powers That Be through her – said similar words to me. Perhaps what I thought to be the end of my journey was actually the beginning.
She seemed to sense a change in me, for she said, “There’s a reason why some of us call you blackbirds. To us, you represent transition and transformation. You are the bridge between heaven and earth. Valkyrja were once mortal, but became immortal. The Valkyries aren’t simply ravens and crows.”
For the first time in what seemed to be a very long time, I offered Kieran a genuine smile. “I like that.”
Her smile grew wider. “I do, too. Now.” She settled the tray over my lap after ensuring that I was propped up against pillows and dragged a chair over to sit next to me. “Once you’re feeling better, Rhys and I have many questions. We would love to learn more about Valkyries.”
I laughed and realized that it felt wonderful. The next instant I began to cry. All at once it hit: my emotions were no longer suppressed. I could feel the full range of what any mortal could feel. It wouldn’t be a memory of what was funny, angry, or sad. I wouldn’t be mimicking the emotion from past memories of a strong emotion. I actually new and identified them; actually could feel them. I could make real friends and feel sorrow at their passing, not mere indifference.
“Vaera, what’s wrong?”
“I have forgotten what it means to be mortal.”
Kieran drew me into a gentle embrace, whispering soothings words to me until I calmed down. “Rhys and I will help you. I’m sure much has changed since you were last among mortals. Anything you need, just ask.”
“Thank you,” I whispered. “How can I repay you?”
“Be our friend. Come visit us now and again when you’re better.” She gave me a gentle squeeze. “And being mortal means living each day as best you can. It’s all very droll and mundane.”
I gave a weak laugh at that. “It’s not much better amongst the gods.”
“Ha! I doubt that.” Kieran eased away. In my hysterics, I didn’t see her rescue the food. “I wager that you have a story or two to tell.”
I looked down at the half ruined bread and ate a piece. “Would you like to hear about how I came to be here? Well, at the lake. At Kaer,” I amended.
“Of course.” She settled herself in the chair and watched me intently. I guessed that they had been wanting to know but were too polite to ask.
I leaned back further into the cushions and focused my thoughts. “It started, I think, when Brynhildr requested my presence. You see, Brynhildr felt something. The experience left her troubled and she decided that it needed to be investigated. She gathered her most trusted Valkyries and sent them out…”