Chapter 1

Being mortal was easy; it was also very difficult. Sometimes I would forget that I could no longer fly, the crushing reality sweeping over me when my feet were still firmly planted to the earth. Other times, I would forget that magic was beyond me, the realization coming upon me whenever I murmured the words to take flight. My frustration almost overwhelmed me, and at times it did. So consumed was I in my grief at the loss of what I loved most – not my godhood, but the abilities that came with it – that I hardly noticed how much time had actually passed. If it weren’t for Rhys and Kieran, I would have despaired.

Feeling strong emotions was another matter entirely. The anger I felt at being mortal was potent and all consuming. Kieran would often be the one to calm me during these episodes. She helped me identify the emotions I was feeling and encouraged me to embrace them. As she pointed out, when I become immortal again, I wouldn’t be able to feel anything quite like this for a very long time.

It was this thought that gave me pause. Should I not enjoy being mortal? I was on a different world. No one knew who I was. There was no one to obey, no orders to carry out, no souls to collect, no mead to serve, and not battles to decide. This was time I could use for myself.

Little by little I began to involve myself in every day affairs. Rhys and Kieran welcomed me warmly, glad to see me wanting to be part of mortal life. The first clear event I remember was Kieran giving sanctuary to a group of fae. They would govern themselves and only Kieran and her family would be protected in their forests, so long as her line ruled L’Aquitaine.

It was about this time that I discovered Kieran was ruler of L’Aquitaine on the world L’Main and Rhys was ruler of Eilol Tari on the world Canoel. They had met when they first made their pilgrimage to Kaer. The two continued their friendship until it developed into a romantic relationship. They were hoping to unite their kingdoms one day, using the caeruleus aether road to establish a link between the two worlds. As it was, they were both working on fortifying their own kingdoms and diffusing the problems present.

“If only we weren’t Realms away,” she told me wistfully. We sat outside in one of her private gardens on a sunny afternoon. It was late summer and already I could tell that the flowers were beginning to wilt and the leaves were about to turn. In the mornings, the air was cool and crisp, a sure sign that autumn was on its way.

“I would imagine that it would complicate things,” I commented. I didn’t know what else to say. I don’t think there was anything that I could say.

“One of us could appoint a regent and live with the other.”

It wasn’t the first time I had heard the suggestion. I had difficulty understanding the sentiment, as I had never been in love. Not in the same way Kieran and Rhys were in love. My experiences in such things were lacking.

“But you wouldn’t be able to do it all the time.” I made it sound more like a question, for in truth I knew very little about ruling a kingdom. For as much freedom that Kieran had, I assumed that hers was small. When she told me the story of how she became queen of L’Aquitaine it wasn’t through conquest. It was a role she found herself elected into and was slowly growing on her. Her goal was to make L’Aquitaine a safe haven for others. When I asked of Rhys, apparently his kingship was inherited.

“No, I wouldn’t. It would not only be irresponsible but selfish.” She frowned and looked down at her feet. “Perhaps it is not meant to be. We are Realms apart and spend a great deal of time governing our own kingdoms.”

I thought of what to say, but could think of no comforting words. I told her a story instead. “There is a Valkyrja named Kára, who was once Sigrún and before that Sváfa. She fell in love with a mortal man named Helgi. They married, but tragedy soon struck and Helgi died in a duel. Sváfa mourned him until her own death. But then they were reborn as Helgi Hundingsbane and Sigrún, and found each other once again. They had many adventures together until they died once more. Yet again they were reborn, but this time as Kára and Helgi Haddingjaskati and they have had many more adventures. In each life they find each other again.”

Kieran was watching me as I spoke, a small frown on her face as she wondered where I was going with my story. I paused, and she waited expectantly. “I don’t think it was an accident you two met. You and Rhys will find a way to be together, just as Sváfa and Helgi have in every lifetime.”

“Thank you, Vaera,” she said, offering me a small smile. Kieran rose to her feet, a determined look on her face. Her mind was made up about something. “No sense in laying about. There’s work to be done.” She turned to me, all wistfulness gone. The woman who stood before me was now a queen determined to lead her people. “Will you be coming along?”

“I’ll help as much as I can.” I rose as well, despite not having any true enthusiasm for helping. I did, however, realize that keeping busy would help. I was still consumed by the fact that I was mortal. Rhys explained to me that it was very likely that my powers would return, but there was no telling when that would be. It could be months, years, or longer.

The rest of the day wasn’t so much me helping Kieran as keeping her company. I think she appreciated a presence from someone who expected nothing from her except room and board. I bore no political aspirations in this fledgling kingdom. She would ask me a question now and again and my answers were often honest, although others would say that I was blunt and tactless. I think Kieran, and on occasion Rhys, were amused by my brusque manner.

Time passed from late summer to autumn. Kieran moved her court closer to the ocean to take advantage of the warmer temperatures. The last time I had seen the ocean had been when Rhys and Kieran had first brought me to L’Aquitaine. It was just as blue as I remembered, but the cool wind that was so welcoming before made me draw my shawl closer about my body and whipped the dark blue and ivory skirt I wore about my legs.

Not far ahead of me was a beige colored fortress with a singular tower. From what I was told, it was built by the golems some time ago. Its design was based on functionality and the serens added intricate architectural features to make it more aesthetically pleasing. The two worked surprisingly well together.

Kieran called for my attention and I left my contemplation of the ocean behind me. With her was a golem, a couple of fae princes, a few hand picked advisers, and others I did not recognize whom I assumed were visitors. Most of the visitors had blonde or red hair, but there were a few that had black or brown hair. All of them had the same olive skin tone and were of similar build: tall and lean. Some had more mass to them than others, but they were all fit for battle. The leader was dressed in trousers and a long tunic, over which was a tabard of red and yellow. On his chest was a phoenix on a shield, and under the tabard was no doubt a breastplate. Those with him were dressed similarly, their tabards the same color but without any heraldry on them. Given the similarity in appearances and the colors they were, I guessed that they were all from the same region.

When I looked over at Kieran, her face looked drawn and the tired smile she gave me made it look more so. Rhys had to return to his own home at the start of our journey and I think his absence weighed heavily upon her. The plum colored dress she wore made her skin look pale, along with her dark curly hair and dark eyes. She looked fragile and small, surrounded as she was by all the tall and imposing men.

“Yes, my lady?” I replied, attempting to tame my dark blonde hair with a free hand as it was whipped up by the wind. The braid that I put it in only did so much to help keep it under control. Several of her advisers frowned at me, but the others betrayed nothing of their thoughts. I raised an eyebrow at those that sought to correct me and moved forward.

“We have guests from Laskanda that have traveled through the caeruleus aether. They will be staying with us for a time at the winter court.” She turned to those present, making sure to catch everyone’s eye. “Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present Lady Vaera, Valkyrie of Ásgarðr.”

I had attempted to correct her before that my title was simply “Valkyrie” but Kieran would have none of it. She argued that it was much more impressive her way. I had pleaded with Rhys to help me but all he had said was that while in L’Aquitaine he was but a consort to Kieran. I think he was secretly amused by it all.

As for the Laskandians, I should have known from their appearance where they were from. I knew that they were descended of phoenixes and probably dragons as well. They were greatly attuned to fire, but were capable of wielding the other elements. They had a knack for technology that I hadn’t seen on many other worlds and I wondered what sort of things they would bring to L’Aquitaine.

I inclined my head only a fraction to those present, the act meant to acknowledge them and nothing else. There were a few whispers, then one of the dark haired Laskandians spoke up.

“Do you mean mean a shieldmaiden?” he asked in the common language of L’Main. It wasn’t spoken in a rude manner. He seemed genuinely curious, perhaps wondering if he had heard correctly or someone had mistranslated or misspoke.

“I assure you,” I said in Laskanda’s common tongue, “she does not. A Valkyrie is what I am.”

A fae princess leaned close to the Laskandian and murmured something to him, who nodded. The fae had been the first to recognize me. I asked once how they knew and the answer I received was that the aether pooling around me was that of a Valkyrja. The reply gave me hope that one day my powers would return; however, even the fae had difficulty telling when my divine self would return.

Kieran gestured for me to walk with her and I joined her side, inclining my head to the fae princess as I passed. We walked further ahead before the seren spoke. “The Laskandians are seeking a trade alliance with L’Aquitaine and several other lands. In return, they’re willing to recognize L’Aquitaine as a kingdom.”

I thought over the information and asked, “How would recognizing L’Aquitaine help?”

“My people have recognized my rule, but for trade between worlds and Realms beyond L’Main, we would need to be recognized as a kingdom.”

“What trade would this bring? Materials? Livestock? A variety of goods?”

“Yes, whatever we needed or wanted. The alliance could grow to allow for supplementary troops in times of war.”

“Be careful with that. It could help or hinder.”

“We are a small kingdom. If war broke out-”

“They would help,” I interjected, “but what of when they are at war? All of your men would be gone. You would need to train your women to fight as well.”

“A trade alliance for now, then,” Kieran said after a moment. “If L’Aquitaine grows, then I will consider a full alliance.”

We walked in silence for a moment. “Why is it that you seek my counsel when you have advisers?” I asked.

“Because you think of things that others do not. I have no military adviser at the moment and you are the only one I know of that has extensive knowledge,” she explained.

“I’m not a tactician,” I pointed out.

“Will you help me find one?”

“I shall help you find several candidates. I would suggest several advisers to give you different ideas and proposals.”

“And this is why I keep you around,” she said, smiling at me. “Don’t forget that there will be a welcoming feast tonight.”

“I shall wear my best.”

“As a Blackbird?”

I gave a half smile, hearing the hopeful tone in her voice. “Not yet, but from what the fae tell me, the mana is pooling around me as it does other Valkyrja. When I feel more of a connection with my divine powers I will be making the attempt to harness it,” I explained.

Kieran was nodding as I spoke. “You will come visit once you regain your godhood, won’t you?”

I couldn’t bear to tell her the truth: that as a Valkyrie I couldn’t do as I wished and had to follow Woden’s orders. Time for oneself was limited. But as I looked out across her kingdom, the ocean, and thought of my time with her and Rhys, I realized that I didn’t care about the rules. “Of course,” I told her. “I will make every effort to visit you and Rhys.”

When I spoke the words I was certain of them. But even as I said them, there was a vague sense of unease that I couldn’t place. Shoving the feeling aside, I tried to enjoy the rest of the day as best I could.

Previous: Chapter 9 of “Destiny, Fate, and Choices” | Next: Chapter 2

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