It was almost two days before Dušan was satisfied with the placement and preparation. He had created a large sacred space for his workings and no one could go near it without him. I could feel the hum of power that Dušan was channeling. It was so strong that even Constantine, who bore no strong affinity for magic, could feel it.
When I concentrated on the circle, I could feel no ill intention emanating from it, or from Dušan. Kieran and Rhys were anxious, hoping the spell would work. The goblins would be a constant threat if this didn’t work. But form what Caolán could tell, everything was in place. We only needed to wait one more night for the full moon.
Always the full moon. I looked up at the night sky and wondered if Máni was watching us. Would He tell the All father where I was, if He recognized me? My thoughts wandered back to the last time I was in the light of a full moon and I shuddered. That night at Kaer still haunted my dreams and I often wondered what became of the boy. Did I save him or did Lyrac succeed in claiming his body? As much as the question nagged at me, I had no way of knowing. Pulling the cloak tighter about me, I tried to drive out the chill that came over me. I told myself that I was being paranoid. I didn’t like Dušan, but that didn’t mean something bad would happen.
Sleep didn’t come easily to me that night and the following day found me tired. I stared at the ceiling of my cloth tent, trying to muster up the strength to get up for the day. One last day to explore the shrine grounds. Putting up with Dušan’s obnoxious, arrogant attitude was coming to and end. The kingdom would be safe for a while. I would continue life as a mortal for a bit longer.
Hearing others stir about, I sighed quietly and forced myself to sit up. Constantine would at least be willing to explore with my today. Everyone else would be too busy fretting over what was to happen that night. I rinsed and dressed, emerging from my tent only to shield my eyes from the morning light. I listened to the others talk during breakfast, then announced that I was off to explore more.
I was peering around the remains of a wall with a door in it when Constantine caught up to me. “You left so suddenly, I thought you were angry,” he said by way of greeting. He came around the other side of the wall to face me.
I gave him a wane smile. “I didn’t sleep well last night,” I admitted, stepping over the crumbling wall. “I dreamt of Kaer again. It was a full moon and I saved the boy, but that creature I met…” I couldn’t find the words to finish and ended up gesturing vaguely around me. “I’d rather something better happen tonight.”
“And if it doesn’t?” He glanced over at me as we slowly walked over ancient stone paths to a lower section of the grounds. There must have once been a small town in this area for there to be so much to explore. “What will you do then?”
“Come to the realization that trouble seems to follow me.” I gave him a better smile at that, but I could feel the skin tighten around my eyes. Pressing a hand to my forehead, I said, “I’m going to need a nap later.”
“I know the perfect spot.” Constantine turned about and gestured for me to follow. “I found it the other day while you and Kieran were talking. It’s a quiet place and overlooks one of the reflection pools.”
We climbed up a ledge to reach stairs that had been cut off at one point in time. It looked like a tower but probably only led to another floor. Cracks and holes were everywhere, but the building was stable enough for the two of us to walk without fear. The stairs eventually lead to a room with an archway that led back outside.
It was hard to tell if they area we walked into was once a room or if it had been designed as a balcony. The flat area was resting against the side of a hill, which led to plants overgrowing the roof of the room below us. I walked to the edge and saw the reflection pool, just as Constantine had said. It was the same one I had discovered the first day I was here.
Looking about, I saw that the trees that grew nearby offered just the right amount of shade for a nap. Constantine was already sitting down under the shade of one of the trees. After a moment’s hesitation, I joined him. We spent the better part of the day conversing, and I found that in his presence I was no longer tired. But idle chatter eventually turned to the ceremony that would be performed that night.
“I admit that part of my apprehension is because of a previous experience that included a rite involving the full moon.” I drew my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms about my legs.
“The incident at Kaer?” Constantine asked. “With the boy?”
“That doesn’t mean-”
“I know,” I said, cutting him off, “and I will likely feel this way until I know what has become of him and Lyrac.”
“What of the Aevum? Do you think you will meet them again?”
“I have no doubt that I will.” I glanced over at him, then away. I didn’t want to be accused of staring. “It is all but a matter of time.” I snorted at my own reference, noting that Time and the Aevum were often intertwined.
Constantine glanced at the lengthening shadows. “It’s becoming late. We should return.” he rose to his fee and offered his hand to me.
Sighing, I took it and he pulled me to my feet. “I have… enjoyed our time together.” I stole a glance at him, trying to gauge his reaction. “It will be a shame when you leave.”
I felt his hand tighten over mind. “My duty to my lord would keep me away,” he said quietly. “However, with the alliance between Laskanda and L’Aquitaine, I think I would be able to visit now and again.”
“That makes me glad.” I gave him a smile. “I’d like to see you after this.”
WE returned to camp long before dark. Caolán was less irritated than when I left and the others appeared satisfied with how their sacred space was set up.
“Tonight will be the ceremony,” Dušan told us as we neared. “L’Aquitaine and the Fae Forest will be rid of the goblins.”
I started a little, having forgotten about it. Tonight was the full moon. “What spell would you be casting?” I was waved off, Dušan imperiously telling me that I would understand the complexities of such a spell. Anger surged through me, but a squeeze from Constantine kept me from lashing out.
Pulling me away, Constantine and I sat down near the fire pit. “I’ll be glad when this is over,” I muttered. “We’ll be rid of him.”
“Not likely.” Constantine gathered logs and kindling to start a fire for the night. “He may return as an adviser or scholar. Your king and queen seem to really like him.”
I made a sound to voice my displeasure, muttering something in my native tongue.
He laughed. “I don’t understand your words, but your meaning is clear. You will survive him.” The Laskandian inclined his head in Dušan’s direction.
“You sound certain of it.” As the fire came to life, I held my hands out to warm them. If Dušan remained close to Kieran and Rhys, I couldn’t promise controlling my temper around the man.
“Your love for Kieran and Rhys would ensure that you survive him and protect them from his machinations.” He glanced over his shoulder, then back at me.
I followed his gaze and saw vague movement in the shadows. I rose from my seat to walked further into the gathering darkness, allowing my eyes to adjust. “I think they’re preparing. We can watch, but can’t interfere. We could ruin their working if we did.”
“For a warrior you know a lot about magic,” he said, rising to join me.
I think it was something that had long been on his mind, with the way he phrased his statement. “I was a Valkyrie once and I used magic on a daily basis.” As we walked further way from the fire, I was able to pick out details. There were faint traces of man being pulled toward the four workers, lighting the air and ground in a particular way that was almost eerie.
The Circle was already ablaze with magic as they continued, and a faint afterglow followed their movements. I tried to point it out to Constantine but all he could see was the firelight behind us, the candles form the circle, and the shadows about us. He could, however, feel the magic gathering around the area and said as much.
I wish I could have shown him what it was like. Light, iridescent in color, surrounded them and filled in the runes that they had etched into the ground. The light concentrated on the four points and center, the objects begin imbed with power.
Each aster drew upon their own inner power, and it surrounded them in a unique light. Rhys was dark green tinged in pale light. When he moved, the light followed him. I was reminded of the green northern lights of my home. Kieran’s light was blue, like the ocean she was so fond of. Caolán was a mixture of colors, with the pale green of the woods he called home and the rust of a sunset. The light that enveloped and emanated from Dušan was dark gray and red, as if the two were fighting over which would be more powerful.
When they stopped, I knew the circle had been cast. Nothing could enter or leave the sacred space without ruining the built up power until they dispelled the circle. Constantine asked what would happen next and I told him that I wasn’t sure. Our guess was that the purification spell would follow. We heard chanting, first by one, then by them all. I could feel the power of the spell gaining momentum and chills race down my spine.
I tensed when I heard someone stop chanting. It wouldn’t be until later that I would find out that it was Caolán. Outside of the circle and the swirling energies, I couldn’t tell if anything was wrong or planned. Form what I could see, Caolán’s aura had withdrawn from everyone and everything. Rhys and Kieran’s were being drawn toward Dušan.
Something wasn’t quite right, and from how uneasy Constantine was, I knew that he sensed it as well. There was nothing to be done. For all we knew, Caolán could have exhausted himself. But when I heard my name, I knew without a doubt that something was very wrong.
Ordering Constantine to stay where he was, I hurried to the circle and to Caolán’s side. “What’s wrong?” The prince was struggling for control of himself, his face twisted in pain.
“He called them here!” he gasped out.
“What?” I was confused and didn’t understand his meaning.
“The goblins! He summoned them to create a reason to come here.” Caolán nearly doubled over in pain, then began to reach for me.
“Don’t!” I cried. “You’ll break the circle. You could make things worse.”
“He’s hurting them,” the fae said between grit teeth. “He wants to hurt them.”
I looked over at Dušan and wondered at his connection with my friends. Just who was he? I met Caolán’s eyes and saw the determination there. “Draw me a door,” I told him.
With great effort, Caolán touched a finger to the circle and lifted it high enough to pass over my head, then touched the circle again. I walked under the arch he made and waited for him to close the circle. As soon as he did, I felt the full onslaught of the energies swirling about the circle. Caolán leaned heavily upon me and reached for the amulet hanging form my neck. It was silver and shaped to look like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. Realizing what it could do for him, I took it off and placed the amulet about his neck. The relief was immediate on his face and he seemed to breathe easier.
“Dušan has lost control, but it’s not Dušan. It’s something else, like we suspected. It’s ancient,” he explained. “We cannot defeat it as we are now.”
“You’re not making sense,” I told him, shaking my head. I considered the fact that Caolán was in so much pain that his mind was addled. I reached out toward the glyphs, knowing that intent was imbued with every working. Sometimes, emotions and brief glimpses of memories would be present.
As if sensing what I was about to do, Caolán pulled back on my shoulder, preventing me from toughing one of the glyphs. “Don’t!” he cried in a hoarse voice.
“I need to understand what is going on. I can’t do anything-”
“You’re not a Valkyrie.”
The reminder stung and I glared at the fae. “There are some things I can still do. Let me help in what way I can.”
We glared at each other for a moment. Eventually, he said, “I’ll be the anchor.” He knelt down beside me. “Hold my hand.”
I did as he instructed and waited for the flood of magic and emotion was Caolán touched the nearest glyph. Anger and jealousy assailed me. It was so strong that for a moment I identified it as my own, and I gasped. I clutched Caolán’s hand to steady myself. Beneath the anger and jealousy I could feel the despair and pain from Rhys and Kieran.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Caolán led the way through the haze of emotions to show me what he had seen. Dušan was but a vessel. An unwilling host for the creature attached to him. The creature was once a god, twisted and warped over countless centuries b his hatred and jealousy of Rhys’ previous incarnation and his obsessive love of Kieran’s previous incarnation. His goals was to punish them both and keep Kieran to himself – even if she was in no more than a vegetative state. Dušan was half fae and was struggling with all his might to try to stop the Jealous God.
Dušan became aware of my presence and looked over at me. Not a moment later, the Jealous God became aware of me. I could feel his eyes boring into me, as if seeing my soul and all the secrets I had. I cried out, and to this day I’m not sure why. It might have been a cry of surprise and fear, or a cry beseeching Woden for help. The contact was abruptly broke and I pressed a hand to my head. I slowed my breathing, counting inhales and exhales until my heartbeat was no longer racing.
“I’ve endangered you.” Caolán released my hand and slumped forward a little. “He knows you’re here. Once he’s done with Rhys and Kieran, he’ll come after us.”
“What if we closed the vessel?” I didn’t want to consider killing Dušan, but I knew of no other way to stop a possession. I wasn’t a priestess and there were none present that could perform an exorcism.
“I can help.”
Constantine’s voice was strangely clear among the din that was within the circle. Caolán and I turned at the sound, surprised to see him there. His entire demeanor seemed to have changed. There was no uncertainty about him and he was focused. He knew not to cross the circle and waited while I opened a door for him. Caolán and I quickly filled him in on what we knew and what we thought was the best course of action.
“I heard,” he said, cutting me off, then looked over at the fae. “Can you shield us?”
I had the inkling of an idea of what the man was planning. “You can’t go charging in! A god is channeling all of his power into Dušan. Even with Caolán’s help, He’ll kill us before we reach Him.”
“Do you have a better idea?”
Glowering, I admitted that I didn’t.
“Then we charge.”
Turning to Caolán, I waited to see what he would say. When he said that he would shield us as best he could, I felt that we were rushing to our deaths on a desperate gambit. Constantine gave me a short sword as Caolán cast his spell. Something unwound in my stomach as I watched Dušan’s body. This was the only option left to us.
Constantine was already running by the time I noticed. I charged after him, sword at my side. Dušan turned to greet us and I thought for sure that with a wave of His hand the Jealous God would wipe us both out. To my surprise, Constantine skid to a halt, sword raised. The blade was alight with some kind of divine magic, repelling whatever dark force the Jealous God was using. Hope surged through me and I darted around Constantine to attack from the side.
The god was ware of my intent but had the disadvantage of using a mortal body. His reaction was slow and diverted his attention from Constantine. My blade met up against what felt like an immovable wall, and it too lit up with the same divine power that Constantine’s had. I continued to push, willing my sword to move.
I was a goddess, dammit! I fought jǫtunn, demons, and gods. A deranged god should be easy. I roared in frustration, determined to see my blade move. I heard Dušan snarl at me, then turn away when Constantine came in for another attack. Constant was closer at striking down Dušan but his sword did not touch the vessel. The Jealous God was torn between fighting both of us and the mortal body he controlled could only do so much.
I attempted to strike at him again once I was able to move and succeeded in getting a little closer. My sword grew brighter with every spell that the god threw at me, the rest deflected by the shield spell that I summoned to supplement Caolán’s. I could tell that He was getting desperate. We needed to strike Him down quickly before He did anything else.
But it was too late. The Jealous God lashed out at Constantine, sending him tumbling to the ground. I didn’t know if Constantine was stunned by the blow or dead. I couldn’t worry about that, couldn’t afford to. But the knowledge that Constantine was laying there, for all I knew dead, fueled my rage.
I felt my sword move and the wall before me waver. I continued pressing forward with all my strength when suddenly the wall crumbled away. I wasted no time in charging the god, ready to slash. Magic pushed me away and I reflexively held up my free hand to ward off the assault I knew would follow. A spell of protection came unbidden to my lips. I watched in grim satisfaction as the attacking spell wrapped around me but did no harm.
Was I not a Valkyrie, a Chooser of the Slain? I decided the outcome of battles. I decided who lived and died. Not even the gods would rescind my decisions. Tightening my grip, I charged forward. I ignored the blood rushing in my ears, the pounding in my heart quieted. The sound of the spell became a distant roar in my ears. There was no doubt in my mind that I would win. He was but a crazed god, the full might of his power lost.
My sword met His and we traded a succession of blows, but something changed. When I deflected a thrust with a parry and stepped in close to use a spell – one laced with fire and rage – I locked gazes with Dušan. There was a brief instant where the Jealous God was gone and I saw the desperate eyes of the vessel. Pain – that which I only saw when warriors were mortally wounded and begged for their suffering to end. Dušan was hoping for death, and I was in a position to give him peace.
With Dušan momentarily in control of his body, I sent him reeling back with a flick of my wrist, changing the summon to ice and water. He reflexively caught himself and banished the ice collecting on his body. Knowing my time was short, I leapt forward with my sword ready to strike. In quick succession I slashed down, reversed my grip, and slashed up. Not wanting to give the Jealous God a chance to regain control, I adjusted my grip on the sword to pierce. I thrust my sword forward, throwing my full weight behind the move.
There was an immediate reaction when the blade touched flesh. Whatever spells that the metal had been imbued with caused a violent reaction from Dušan. His body convulsed so wildly that I let go of the hilt and stepped back. That darkness I had seen surrounding Dušan all those months ago began to dissipate. And inhuman shriek could be heard on another plane, one that I distantly heard. I waited for the Jealous God’s presence to leave before approaching Dušan.
His face was pale, far paler than normal. He moved feebly, trying to turn his head to look at me. Blood soaked his clothes and was pooling beneath him, turning the ground dark and obscuring the glyphs. “Valkyrja?” Fear mad him coke and he reached out toward me. To ward me off or to beckon me closer, I didn’t know.
I knelt down beside him and took his hand. “I’m here, Dušan,” I said gently. “You’re safe. He can’t hurt you any more.”
“Where will I go?” His voice was thick, blood flecking his lips. He seemed worried what would happen to him, for he said, “I’m not sure that I would accepted in Tír na nÓg.”
“I think that only applies if you were mortal,” I told him, “but you are álfar. I have no say what happens to your soul.”
“Then why are you here?” He began to choke on his blood. I eased him up so that he was leaning against me, moving him as gently as I could.
“To return you home.”
The answer pleased him and he sighed in relief. “I am not condemned.” It was almost a question.
“No, you are not.” I smooth hair from his brow and tried to wipe blood from his face. “It’s time to go home, Dušan.” Gently laying him back down on the ground I stood up and held out my hand to him. With a trembling hand he took it. Collecting his essence, I reclaimed the sword and turned away.
Caolán was kneeling by Kieran and Constantine was slowly pushing himself up from the ground. When I moved I heard the faint sound of metal and the creaking of leather; I felt a tunic brush against my legs. Looking down, I realized that I was wearing the clothes I had chosen as a Valkyrie. My godhood and divine powers had been restored and the fact had registered until then. I stared at my hands, turning them over. As much as I wanted to be a Valkyrie again, I wasn’t prepared for this sudden change. It was familiar yet confusing. Now that I had what I wanted, what did I do now?
“I didn’t believe.” Constantine drew my attention to him. He was on his knees, looking up at me and holding his side.
“This entire time you said that you were a death maiden and I didn’t believe you.” He grimaced as he got his feet under him and stood up. “I didn’t think it was possible. The gods may exist but they don’t keep company with mortals.” He gestured to Dušan’s body. “What did you do to him?”
I glanced over my shoulder, then back. “I don’t understand your question. I have done nothing to Dušan.”
“You took something from him.”
Not it was clear what he was asking. “I have taken his essence for safe keeping until I can return him to Álfheimr.” By his confused look, I thought it best that I explain. “The álfar are not like Man. They do not die in the same manner we do. Dušan is a special case, given the circumstances he was in. My hope is to give him a second chance.”
“I now have a question for you.” I held up the sword he had given me. “How is it that you have weapons like these?” I watched as he shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “Who are you? You are no mere personal guard of Duke Nikola. Who else would you have weapons like these?”
He searched my face, deciding if he should answer me. Beginning slowly, hesitantly, he said, “I am Marquis/Count Constantine von Blair, personal guard of Duke Nikola. I am also a member of the Order of the Blade Dancers. We are charged with maintaining the balance of the worlds. I hadn’t expected to uphold that duty on this trip,” he added with a lopsided smile. It faded when I didn’t return it. “This was only supposed to be diplomatic. If Dušan had succeeded in making the forest safe, I was to reestablish negotiations with the faerie and fae.”
I looked past Constantine to where Kieran and Rhys were. “We will discuss this at length at a later time.” I spared him a small glance as I walked past him and over to where they were, Caolán looking miserable. “I tried to save them,” he said as I approached. “He was going to kill Rhys and keep Kieran to Himself. But I couldn’t stop the spell; all I could do was change it. Now they’re forever tied to their kingdoms. They can never be together and they can never die so long as their kingdoms exist.”
It took several moments for me to fully comprehend what he was telling me. “Rhys is no longer in L’Aquitaine?” Caolán shook his head in confirmation. “There there is still hope since he still lives. I’m sure the spell can be broken in time.” He looked far from reassured. “You will have help.” I pulled Dušan’s essence forward and offered it to him. “I was able to save him. He’s free of the taint and can be reborn. With his help, you two can save Kieran and Rhys from this curse.”
Caolán took the offered essence and cradled it in his hands. “It’s my fault. If I had seen the signs sooner-”
“What’s done is done,” I said, cutting him off. “All that can be done now is to move forward. We cannot dwell on things that cannot be changed.”
The prince was silent for a long moment. At last he said, “Then I will watch over them. I and the other princes shall establish a connection with Rhys’ kingdom and we will work toward uniting Kieran and Rhys. We will protect their kingdoms from harm.” He looked down at Keiran’s slumbering form, whose face was drawn and lined with exhaustion and fear. “It’s the least I can do.”