I hated waiting. I always have and I suppose I always will. I learned over time how to be patient, but I still hated waiting. Waiting meant inaction. You weren’t actively doing something. Even with planning you were forced to react simply by waiting. I’ve always felt that by waiting one was automatically in the position of reaction instead of being proactive.
In this instance, there was little for us to do. We kept an eye on Dušan and counted down the days to the full moon. Acting against the scholar would have incited an allegation against Caolán. Everyone was aware that the two didn’t get along very well. If I or Constantine had done something ti would be assumed that the prince had put us up to it. Thus, we were forced to wait.
It was agony to watch Kieran and Rhys as they helped Dušan. How could they not see what was going on? How could anyone not see the darkness that clung to the man? I knew that if I tried to convince them of it, I would be asked for proof. I had none, but a feeling and a glimpse of something that I couldn’t quite explain. That kind of proof was hardly anything to go on.
As the full moon approached, we readied supplies and weapons to make the trek out to the forest. The duke wanted to join us, but his advisers convinced him to stay until the threat in the forest was contained. It was probably for the best. We had no idea of where we were going and I was not about to let Rhys and Kieran go off without me. Caolán I knew wasn’t about to let Dušan out of his sight. The one that surprised me was Constantine.
I had hoped that he would come with us but did not expect it. His loyalty was to Nikola first. It came as a surprise when he announce that he would be joining us, and I suspected that the duke ordered him to go with us. When I asked him why, I wasn’t surprised when he said that the duke wanted to be sure that their majesties returned home safely. I’m sure the hope of resume negotiations was also a factor.
When Dušan announced that things were finally ready – and I noticed that something unpleasant settled itself in my stomach at the mention of “things” – we set out just before dawn from the fortress. My companions and I were unaware of where exactly we were going until Dušan decided to announce it to us: the forest shrine. The very one we had attempted to reach the first time.
“Why are we going there?” I asked. “We won’t be able to enter Álfheimr with all of the goblins running amok.”
“I don’t expect you to understand.” I heard a sneer in his voice and I bristled at the insult. “The shrine is a holy place. Combine that with the power of the full moon and there should be enough magic to banish the goblins and open the way to Faerie.” He looked over at Rhys and Kieran. “Everything will be as it should be.”
An uneasy feeling settled over me at those words. I glanced over to my companions in the hopes that they were feeling the same. My unease was mirrored on Constantine’s face. Caolán was unreadable, and I think he kept it that way to maintain control of himself.
We rode on in relative quiet, keeping a wary eye out for any attacks. When we struck camp for the night, I made my way to Kieran’s side. She was happy to seem and we made idle chatter for a little while. When the opportunity presented itself I began to ask her questions.
“Do you think this will work?”
She shrugged, as if to say she wasn’t sure. “It’s worth a try. If the goblins are being driven from their home, I’d rather they not come here.”
“But why make the spell so elaborate?” I watched her face for any indication that she knew more than what she was letting on. “Wards could be placed or simple shielding spells used to keep the creatures out. The goblins don’t appear to be magically strong enough to overcome those.”
“I asked similar questions, but according to Dušan the goblins would overcome wards and shields in time.” Kieran stretched her arms out before her, and she let out a content sigh. “Dušan feels that this is a more permanent solution.”
“We could ask Caolán for a second opinion,” I began, hoping that I could wrest her away from the scholar’s influence.
She was shaking her head as I spoke. “He’s not an expert.”
I arched a brow, surprised that she would use that as a reason for not asking someone else. “He’s a prince of the Alfar-” I stopped and corrected myself “-the fae. He would know of the many differing types of faerie and fae. He’s probably as well versed as Dušan.”
Again, Kieran was shook her head “I trust Dušan. If he says that this spell will work, then it will work.”
I knew then that I would be unable to change her mind. Whether it was Dušan’s influence or she truly believed what he said, there was little I could do about it. Leaving the subject alone, we talked of other things and then retired for the evening.
The next day I decided to try my luck with Rhys. He always struck me as being the logical sort and I attempted to reason with him. I was met with the same resistance that Kieran had shown me. Frustrated, I let it alone and glared at Dušan”s back. It seemed to me that the scholar was rather smug, as if he knew what I was trying to do. For the first time that I could recall, I wanted to punch someone in the face without any physical provocation.
On the third day we arrived at the shrine. It was beautiful even in its decayed state and I could imagine how much more beautiful it had once been before its ruin. It was a vast place of water and light, and the first time that I noticed that it was summer here in the forest instead of autumn. As I explored the now white, broken columns and shallow reflection pools I wondered if the change in season was an effect of this place being connected to Álfheimr. Moss, vines, and plants had taken over much of the shrine ruins, lending it a romantic quality of a lost city deep within the woods. I came across a stone guardian protecting the entrance to the main worship area and rested a hand on it. The magic to activate it from intruders was long gone, and I felt a sadness sweep over me that I couldn’t explain. I entered what I assumed was the main temple and stood before the altar. It was old, but I couldn’t being to guess how many years this place had sat here in this ancient and deep forest.
I guessed that the temple was not made by the Aevum or the Korusco. The architecture was wrong for both of these cultures. The shrine was far from new and thus negated any possibility that it was a recent structure. That left the fae.
Glancing over at Caolán and Dušan, I considered the thought. The álfar were always telling everyone that they were older than the earth yet younger than the dawn. They were old and wise, able to see things in a way that many are unable to. It was very possible. Perhaps not álfar like Caolán, but those of the same realm. The architecture wasn’t one with nature, as I had seen other buildings belonging to the fae. It didn’t feel out of place, either; partly attributed to it’s current condition, I’m sure.
My curiosity and wonder overcame my caution. Leaving the worship room, I tested the shallower pools, stepping out and gazing down at the reflection of the sky. I tried to remember what it was like to soar over the land, but the memory was jumbled. I couldn’t remember a moment of joy while flying. This moment, standing in the reflection of the sky in the heart of the Fae Forest held more wonder and awe for me than any other memory I could recall as a goddess. Did I really want to become a Valkyrie again?
“Dušan says he’s found a spot.”
I jumped, the voice startling me. So engrossed was I in my own thoughts that I hadn’t heard anyone approach. Turning in the direction that I heard the voice coming from, I saw Constantine standing near a column, hand resting o the hilt of his sword. The way he was standing, uneasy and tense, told me that he wasn’t comfortable.
“A spot for the spell?” I made my way to him, not wanting to shout and disturb the quiet of the shrine. “did he explain what he will be doing? Any preparation?” When Constantine shook his head I sighed. No one knew what Dušan’s spell entailed or what it required. No one knew what to expect. I don’t think any of us could have come here if Rhys and Kieran hadn’t been involved.
Constantine offered his hand to me, which I took. Stepping from the pool and climbing up to where he was, I followed the man to where Dušan was setting up his spell. Caolán was glowering openly at the other fae, saying something that if Dušan wanted help, he needed to know what was being planned. Rhys was half listening to Caolán and helping Dušan plan the sacred space out. Kieran was pulling objects out of bags, as well as smaller bags that I guessed were full of other things needed.
“It’s a miracle that we haven’t been attacked yet,” Constantine muttered to me. “They’ve been like this since you had wandered off.” I mumbled my apologies but he hushed me with a wave of his hand. “Searching for you gave me an opportunity to get away.”
I placed a hand on his arm. “You seem uncomfortable,” I murmured “Is something bothering you?”
He watched our companions for a moment. “It’s strange. All of it. No attacks on our way in. Dušan finds the perfect spot for whatever it is he plans to do, and we’re making enough noise to alert anyone in the vicinity. It’s too convenient.”
“Like someone planned it that way.” I turned my attention to the others. “Something like this would have to be arranged by someone very powerful, and he is not powerful enough.” My thoughts turned to Lyrac, but what would he gain by interfering here in this time? It didn’t make any sense. The Aevum weren’t involved because of their rule of noninterference. They observed and recorded, but never outright influenced events. That led me back to my first conclusion: something or someone was using Dušan or he was the actual cause.
“I still say he’s up to something,” Constantine grumbled.
“We have no proof. If his aim is to impress people he’s don a well enough job on his own.”
“And that darkness that clings to him? What of that?”
“He may be using powers that are dark in nature,” I answered. “He hasn’t harmed anyone.”
I watched my friend turn a ring on his right hand about and make a sound that voiced his disagreement. “He harms anyone-”
“Then we take action,” I agreed.
Dropping his hands, he turned away. “There’s nothing for us to do here. Help me set camp?” When I agreed, he nodded. “We’ll explore more when we’re done.”
I began to follow after him, but paused to look back. There was a feeling I couldn’t shake and I prayed to Thor to protect my friends and Woden for wisdom. The last thing I wanted to do was anything rash. If Dušan really had created all of this time press Kieran and Rhys, I would leave it alone. If not, I think it would come down to whoever got to him first.
I turned away from them when I heard Constantine call my name. Whatever happened in the next few days I would deal with it then. Worrying about what might be would only draw my attention from the here and now. I hurried after him and let my worries be.