The days that followed were a blur. We returned Kieran to the castle and Duke Nikola sent for his best physicians to tend to the ailing queen. Caolán quietly returned to the Fae Forest, but not without leaving behind a faerie or two to watch over Kieran.
I was loathe to leave and I was determined to see Kieran make a full recovery before I left for Ásgarðr. Constantine kept me company, explaining more about these Blade Dancers that he was a part of. They had been established in ancient times to help preserve the balance of not only the worlds but also the Realms. Special weapons and devices had been crafted over the years to help them. The two swords that Constantine carried were two such weapons entrusted to his keeping. He also explained that Blade Dancers also protected important figures from time to time. Duke Nikola was one such person, and while he was aware of Constantine’s involvement with the Blade Dancers he was unaware of the Order’s true mission.
“Now that the queen is safe, what will you do?” Constantine sat in his chair, leaning forward with his elbows on the table. He looked better after our time in the forest. He was clean shaven and his hair groomed, dressed in the uniform of the personal guard of Nikola: high collared, form fitting and embroidery belied how functional the uniform really was. He was fiddling with one of the decorations on the table, a sphere made of black marble, rolling it back and forth.
“Return to Ásgarðr, I suppose. I don’t know where else to go. I have no way to contact the Aevum but they may find me.” In truth, I wasn’t sure if the Aesir would know what to do with me. I might have to stay and continue living in this time until I “catch up” with myself. Or was I living in an alternate time line because I had gone back in time? Thinking about it only confused me and I left that train of thought alone.
“Would you want to stay here?” He glanced up at me. “With me?” I froze and I think he misinterpreted my hesitation. “I understand if you don’t want to. I did doubt you. And you are a goddess. I understand if being with a mortal is not allowed or beneath you.”
“It’s not beneath me. I would love nothing more than to stay with you in the mortal realm.” I reached across the table and stilled his hands. “You have earned the love of a goddess.” A half truth, but I didn’t want to tell him that. “You should be honored and proud.”
I shook my head. “No ‘buts.’”
“Then you will stay?”
“If the All Father allows it.”
His face fell. “You can’t decide for yourself?”
“All I can do is petition the All Father to allow me to stay. My duty is first and foremost to Him.”
Constantine made a face. “Duty again. It seems to be the one thing keeping us apart.”
“If the All Father-”
“No.” He held up a hand to stop me. “Say no more. I’ll wait. I’ll do what I’ve heard other warriors do and dedicate every battle in your name until we’re together again.”
I stared at our hands and the interlaced fingers. Meeting his gaze, I asked, “And if it’s not in this lifetime?”
“Then I’ll wait for you in the next life,” he said simply.
“I thought you didn’t believe in reincarnation.” My tone was light and teasing, giving him a smile.
“That was before I found out that I had been traveling and fighting alongside a goddess,” came his reply. “Now it seems as if anything is possible.”
“I am but a minor goddess,” I stressed. “I am not nearly as powerful as Freyja or Idunn.”
“No, you just decide the outcome of battle and who is worthy to join you in Valhǫll.”
I waved him off. “Details. Small things that great goddesses shouldn’t be bothered with.” Constantine humored me with a smile, but it was short lived. “You can’t believe all the legends. Rules were put in place for a reason. Because of what happened before, because Valkyrja are just a susceptible to emotions as mortal women, our emotions were suppressed and we must ask permission to live as a mortal for a short time. It’s just the way of things.”
“I know. You’ve already explained as much to me.” He focused his gaze at the table, a frown creasing his brow. “Even if you were mortal, there is no guarantee that we would be permitted to be together. The Blade Dancers are just as strict about these matters.”
The silence dragged out between us. Hesitantly, I began speaking again. “The duke is a good man. With you to protect him, he will be able to accomplish great things.”
“You saw this?” He looked up, searching my face. I think he wanted assurance that we were choosing the best path. We could be selfish, cast off our duty, and find happiness together. Instead we were following our sworn oaths: he to protect Duke Nikola and I to gather warriors for Woden and Freyja.
“At the time of his death, he will be an old man so long as you remain to protect him.”
His gaze turned away from me. “Then this will have to be enough.”
I pulled my hands away, Constantine following the movement with a mixture of hurt and curiosity. Pulling my hair to one said, I undid the leather about my neck, pulling the pendant free. It was made of silver and shaped like a tree, the border engraved with runes of protection. “My mother gave this to me when I chose to become a shieldmaiden.” It was really a replica, but that would have ruined the story. “It’s an engraving of Yggdrasil with runes of protection, meant to protect your soul from wandering the mortal realm for eternity if you die and also to protect you from serious physical harm. With this, you will be able to find your way to Ásgarðr.” I held it out for him to take.
Constantine stared at it for a long moment, finally taking it. Holding it tightly in his hand, he looked back at me. “Thank you.”
I think it was the act – giving him a tie to me and the Realm that I called home – that gave him hope. One day we would see one another again, in this life or the next.
When Kieran awoke from her slumber, the news of what happened was broken to her as gently as possible. She wept for days, but there was a glimmer of hope: there was now an indirect tie from her kingdom to Rhys’ through the Fae Realm. Caolán and several other fae were actively working on a way to reverse the curse and reunite them. Whatever they needed, Kieran promised that the fae would have it.
When I was assured that Kieran was well and she would be taken care of, I thought it was best that I leave. While my announcement was met with protest, I explained that my prolonged presence may cause problems. There were man legends already surrounding battle or death maidens: to capture one was to prevent your own death, wishes could be granted, or you could win every battle you were involved in so long as you possessed a battle maiden. Word undoubtedly was spreading about my presence in L’Aquitaine, and the last thing I wanted to do was cause trouble.
Caolán seemed worried about my return to Ásgarðr, as I would be returning in a time different from the one I left. I argued that I couldn’t ignore Ásgarðr now that I was a Valkyrie again. The gods and my sisters would be aware of my presence in the mortal realm. If anyone could help me, it would be the gods.
Kieran made me promise to visit whenever I could. It was one I fully intended to keep, as well as finding a way around her curse. It wold be too cruel to keep Rhys and Kieran separated for all eternity. I bid farewell to the duke and made a note to keep an eye on him. If the Blade Dancers thought the duke was important, then it was entirely possible that he would be influential in the future.
I said my farewells to Constantine last. The memory of my emotions for him were still fresh and an echo of them stirred within me. My determination to return home and find the truth of the events that occurred could be completely undone by this one man. I dared not tell him that if he asked me I would give up everything and stay with him.
We didn’t say our farewells as I had expected. Instead, he knelt down before me and swore that every battle would be fought in my name, and everyone one of them would be dedicated to me. I held my hand out to him, which he took. Had I the power, I would have stopped the onslaught of time and remained in that moment forever.
My resolution began to waver. If I didn’t leave now I never would. I held his hand as long as I could as I rose heavenward. Constantine stood to his feet, holding my hand until I was too far away. I couldn’t bear to watch. To stay firm, I lifted my face skyward and didn’t look back.