Disclaimer: I don't own AMG
Foreword: Well, you asked for it. I got so many requests and hints about doing a Lind-centric fic that I had no choice but to sit down and do one. This one comes in two parts: "Timidity" and "Resolve."
"Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night,
And wouldn't you love to love her?
She rules her life like a bird in flight,
And who will be her lover?"
Horses whinnied in pain as a volley of Minie balls tore through the trees and into the cavalry unit's flanks. Three of the animals fell, throwing their riders while the rest of the grey-clad riders belted out rebel yells as they charged.
One of the thrown riders kicked from the stirrups as his horse fell and landed hard on his side. Blinking as he tried to clear his head, he stood up and recovered his hat from the mud, watching angrily as the rest of his men rode down the Union infantry unit that ambushed them.
"Yankee sons of bitches," he spat, slapping his hat against his leg in an attempt to knock the mud from it. Approaching his horse, he sighed and drew his sidearm. The animal was lying on its side, its breath coming in rapid gasps as it slowly bled out.
"Sorry, girl," he whispered, placing the barrel at his mount's head and pulling the trigger. He holstered the weapon and turned, suddenly realizing he was alone in the clearing.
And that wasn't good.
"Aw, da-yamn," he drawled. He saw movement in the trees and started to draw, but the Union sharpshooter fired first. He could swear he saw the round from the Sharps rifle actually coming toward his head.
Standing next to him, unseen by all yet always present, the war goddess Lind reached out and smacked the bullet off its trajectory. The Confederate officer, surprised at his continued breathing, finished drawing and fired into the tree until something fell out and hit the ground with a thump.
Lind shook her head in disapproval. "How your people intend to win this war is beyond me," she muttered. The officer didn't hear her, but that didn't bother her. It was typical of this duty. In every major conflict there were warriors on both sides who were "touched," destined to perform great acts of courage in key battles that determined the course of wars... assuming they survived long enough to reach them. As such, war gods were often sent to keep these warriors on track. During peaceful times in Heaven, it was a duty passed on to younger, less experienced gods. This man, she knew, had to survive at least until the final defense of Richmond.
Richmond, of course, was far away, and Sherman's troops were pushing steadily toward Savannah despite the Confederacy's best efforts.
One of the officer's cavalrymen rode up to him, his shotgun over his shoulder. "You a'right, Major?" he asked.
"Shitfire, do I look all right?" he asked in return. "Where're the rest?"
"Up on the ridge," the rider told him. "Yankees, they's getting eager, Suh. Infantry attacking cavalry? What kind a'man gets the brass to try that?"
He sighed. Lind answered for him. "Young Sherman and his men smell victory. You could use that to your advantage," she suggested.
If he heard her, it was only subconsciously, the only way any touched person could hear a war goddess. He growled. Things were not going well. Sherman had left Atlanta in mid-November. Here it was, the first day of December and he was too damn close already.
"All right," he said. "Let's get the boys and head on back."
Lind was the only one to know that Waynesboro, Georgia, was only three days from falling to the advance of Brigadier General J.L. Kilpatrick. She was no seer, but she knew what these forces were up against. She crunched the numbers, compared Kilpatrick with Major General Joseph Wheeler and knew Waynesboro was lost, just as she knew Savannah and Richmond were already lost. She didn't like being assigned to the losing side of any war, but civil wars were the worst. Killing faceless men was easy. When you knew who it was you were killing, it made it much more personal.
Her mind dwelled on this as she followed the cavalry officer into town. Burnt rail cars were still lying on the tracks where Kilpatrick's men had attacked them a week ago.
She was so concerned about mortal attacks that she totally failed to notice a silent figure emerge from behind a signboard above a tavern, raise a bow and fire a lead arrow straight into the officer's heart.
Sniper! her mind screamed as she rushed vainly between the two. The officer showed no sign of having been hurt even though Lind could see the black feathers of the arrow sticking out of his chest.
She growled and turned to the signboard. A demonic attack. It had to be.
Summoning her pole-axe to her hands, she leapt fifty feet into the air and landed on the roof of the tavern. Her eyes searched the roof and found a man standing nearby, a set of opera glasses at his eyes.
She lifted her weapon. "Halt!" she commanded. "Identify yourself!"
"SHHHHH!" the figure replied, not lowering the glasses. "We're going to miss it!"
Sufficiently angry, Lind placed the edge of the pole-axe against the figure's throat.
"I never miss," she growled quietly at him.
This seemed to give the man pause. Lowering his opera glasses, he turned to her, and Lind finally got a good look at him. He had blond hair, short but kept wild, and jade eyes. He wore a simple brown cloak clasped at the neck with a red heart-shaped clasp embedded with crossed arrows.
"I don't know what you think you're doing," he began.
Lind took a step back. "Turn away," she ordered quietly. "Hands out, fingers spread."
The man complied.
"ID," she ordered. He reached for his pocket, but she stopped him. "Slowly," she warned.
He removed a license card from his pocket.
"On the ground between your feet," she ordered. "Now take five steps forward and lie down, face down, arms spread, palms up." She watched as he did this before stepping forward and snatching the card up.
"Anteros," she read.
"That's me," he confessed.
"God second class, commercial license," she continued. "What are you doing here?"
He couldn't see her from his position on the ground and he growled in annoyance. "I am correcting that young mortal and showing him the error of his ways."
"That mortal is touched," she warned him.
"Yes he is," Anteros told her. "Aphrodite has listed him as a love criminal in need of correcting."
"Ares has first dibs," Lind told him. "He has a destiny."
"So he does," Anteros agreed. "And we're missing it."
Lind glared down at him. "Explain."
"Take a look," he said, nodding his head toward the opera glasses. Lind knelt down and took them, bringing them to her eyes and finding the cavalry officer's image in them.
He was across the street, speaking with a young blonde woman outside a mercantile. It was obvious from their body language that it was more than a simple conversation about the weather.
"That young woman has pined for that man since he arrived," Anteros told him. "She has also been chosen to receive Aphrodite's Grace, and as such she is to get the man of her desires."
"This is trouble I didn't need," Lind told him, her voice deadpan. "He has places to be," she continued.
"Yes, in her home, in her bed," Anteros told her. "An altar eventually, I think, but you know love isn't conditional on the trappings of official religious expressions."
"I meant, for the war," she clarified.
"His war is over," Anteros told her. "He has more important things to tend to now."
Lind let out a breath between clenched teeth. That man had to survive until April. He had to remain focused, not constantly thinking about some blonde tart in the backwoods of Georgia.
"Can I get up now?" Anteros asked her.
"No," she replied, continuing to watch the couple through the opera glasses. The officer tipped his hat to her and started away. Lind knew he had to report to Wheeler before he could go off gallivanting. Which meant she had a few hours to get this resolved.
She lowered the glasses and turned on the love god. "What did you shoot him with?"
"I corrected his heart," Anteros told her, sighing from his position on the floor. "An enlightenment arrow opens the eyes of the heart and shows them the love of another unnoticed until now."
"Meaning he just realizes that the young woman cares for him in a sexual way," Lind said dispassionately.
"It means, my heartless valkyrie friend, that he's finally noticed that he is not unloved and that love is there if he wishes to take it."
"So you didn't use a love arrow on him," she went on, ignoring his snarky remarks.
Anteros paused. "Technically... no... I didn't think it was necessary."
Lind found the love god's bow leaning against the chimney nearby and picked it up. "This yours?" she asked.
"And you have regular love arrows?"
"Yes," he replied cautiously.
In one quick move, Lind broke the bow over her knee and tossed it over the side of the building.
"That... was totally unnecessary!" Anteros told her.
She ignored his protest. "Leave this realm," she ordered.
"I will do no such thing until I am certain those two have consummated their love!"
"They can consummate in April," Lind told him, picking up her pole-axe. "Come back then."
"Aphrodite wants them to consummate now," he replied.
"Fine, you consummate with her," Lind recommended.
Anteros rolled his eyes. "That's a little difficult for us," he told her. "Love gods can't phase completely into this realm when the client is female."
"Why not?" Lind asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
He cleared his throat nervously. "Let's just say too many demi-gods were being born to mortal women for Aphrodite's taste. It was starting to reflect badly on her."
"Leave," she said again before hopping down off the roof.
Anteros hopped to his feet and picked up the opera glasses, watching the valkyrie stalk off after the young Confederate.
"That valkyrie is going to be trouble for me," he muttered.
That love god is going to be trouble for me, she thought as she entered Wheeler's command center located in the lobby of the town's largest hotel. She found her mark and settled in to wait. The best part about no one being able to see you was that no one expected her to participate in anything. As long as she could see him... and keep love-struck wenches out of his reach... he was okay.
Two hours later, the meeting with the Confederate general broke up, and Lind followed the officer out of the hotel. The valkyrie sighed in frustration as she realized they were heading straight for the mercantile. Trouble was already starting.
The officer entered the store and removed his hat. Sure enough, the blonde woman was standing behind the counter, working on the books. He stepped forward, the wooden floor squeaking beneath his feet as he walked past bare shelves.
"Pardon me, Ma'am," he began.
The woman looked up and smiled widely. "Major," she said in greeting, her accent giving her words an almost musical quality. "I didn't expect to run into you again so soon."
Lind watched them converse and went over the options. It was possible for her to kill the girl. She had the authority to remove any mortal she deemed a threat to the touched one from play. She reined that thought in. It wasn't the girl's fault: It was that love god's. Killing an innocent was frowned on.
She blinked and turned, searching for the sound.
Lind squinted and found a familiar figure peering between empty shelves at her. She took a breath and squared her shoulders.
"I told you to leave," she reminded him.
Anteros smiled. "Fortunately, Aphrodite doesn't recognize Ares' jurisdiction here," he said. "What are you going to do?" he asked, nodding at the couple at the counter.
"I have not decided yet," she informed him.
"Look, just... Hold on a sec." He paused as he stood up from behind the shelves. "Just leave them be to discover one another," he told her. "They deserve a chance."
"And I have no problem with him doing that," she told him. "Once the war is over."
"What's wrong with now?" he asked.
"She will be nothing but a distraction for him now," Lind explained. "And quite frankly it's hard enough keeping him alive with his mind on his objectives. With his attention split, it will be much more dangerous."
"She is his objective now," he told her. "Can't you see that?"
"What I see is a distraction," she said. "Leave."
"Just look at them," he begged. Sighing, Lind did so. "I mean look at that young woman's eyes," he whispered. "You see how they shine as he speaks to her. It's a beautiful thing."
"Yes, I'm sure it's very nice," she said exasperated. "Now look at him. Can you see his eyes? That look there, just beneath the surface? That's dedication to duty," she told him. "There are objectives he must complete..."
"Life is not a list of objectives to be completed," Anteros told her icily. "War is not the end all of life here on Earth."
"Neither is love," she told him, her voice still calm and unfazed. "Futures revolve around the actions of men like him."
"So what?" Anteros asked. "Does it really make a difference? Are you telling me that Heaven has chosen to side with the Southrons and that it's necessary to interfere with their war?"
Lind paused. No, Heaven hadn't chosen a side. Just as she was guarding this man, there were other valkyries guarding 'tier one personalities' on the Union side as well. Men like Rutherford B. Hayes and George Armstrong Custer were being watched closely. But that was because of the impact on future history those men would have.
"What does that man have to look forward to?" Anteros asked. "A noble death on the field of battle?" he said this in a deep, dignified voice as his back stiffened in parody of the generals he had seen walking the streets of Waynesboro. "Wonderful. You know what's better than that, though?" he asked. "Babies. A life of happiness with someone who loves you. That shine in her eyes? That's love." He grabbed her hands to emphasize his point. "And when your eyes shine like that, you'll unders..."
He didn't get any further. By that point, Lind had whirled him around and shoved him to the floor with a thud, his arm twisted behind his back.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" he informed her. "This isn't love!"
"Shut up," she growled. "You touched me without my permission."
"I'm... sorry?" he tried.
She released him and watched him climb to his feet. He rubbed his arm and shook his head.
"So much hostility," he remarked.
"Are you going to continue to interfere with my mission here?" she asked him point-blank.
"Possibly," he allowed. "Until those two consummate their relationship, I'm honor-bound to remain here."
She sighed. "Then it appears we're going to have to compromise somehow."
"Great!" he agreed. "How about this? You go back to Heaven and leave them alone, and I'll stay and make sure they enter the realm of blissful physical love."
Lind's eyes narrowed. "Let's just go ahead and get one element of this hammered out now," she said. "Whatever compromise we make here, I can guarantee you it will benefit me more than you."
Anteros's face scrunched up in thought. "Well... in theory... I suppose I can agree with that."
"So," she said, "How can we resolve this to my satisfaction while leaving you less than totally dissatisfied?"
He thought for several moments, and she decided to try solving the problem on her own.
"We both have objectives here. Let's put those on the table."
"Sex!" Anteros replied theatrically.
"That's every male's objective," Lind told him dryly.
"Not for me," he clarified, straightening his jacket. "For them. It's kind of Aphrodite's motto. 'Consummate! Consummate! Consummate!'"
"Classy," Lind remarked.
"And yours?" he asked.
"He plays a pivotal role in a future battle," she explained. "I have to make sure he lives long enough to get there."
"Okay," he said. "Now surely there is some way both goals can be reached here. I mean, it's not like he's going to stay here for much longer. I get the feeling guys in grey suits aren't going to be very popular around here in a few days."
"I give it three days," Lind told him.
"Okay!" he said excitedly, clapping his hands. "All we have to do is get consummation within three days, right?!"
"Right," Lind said, her eyebrow arched. "Then he spends the next half year with his mind here and the rest of him in a war. Do you know how difficult it is to keep someone alive when they can't even keep their mind on where they are?"
"Are you kidding?" he asked. "This can help you!"
"Help me?" she asked skeptically. "I fail to see how."
"Of course a valkyrie would," Anteros replied. He turned from her for a moment in thought, turning back to ask her a pointed question. "Why do men make war?"
"Simple," Lind told him. "To attain political or socio-economic objectives that debate and diplomacy have failed to achieve."
He gave her a look as if she were a dim child. "No," he said, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Men make war for girls like that. It gives them a reason to survive, to fight harder."
"You're touching me again," she pointed out quietly.
"Right," he said, quickly pulling his hand away. "The point I'm trying to make is that if he knows a good woman waits for him at home and is dependent on his victory, he'll fight all the harder."
She thought on this. Mates were traditionally either a source of great strength or a weak point. When Hannibal smashed the Roman legions during his invasion of Rome, his soldiers had tauntingly asked the legionaries if they had any messages the troops could pass to their wives.
"Oh, blast!" Anteros cried, looking over her shoulder. "We missed something!"
Lind turned and saw the officer walking out.
"What happened?! What did we miss?!" Anteros asked.
"Relax," Lind told him. "She didn't slap him, so I'm sure your all-important consummation is still on track."
"Okay!" Anteros said quickly. "You follow the Major! I'll follow her! Ready?! Break!"
Anteros rushed out after the woman before Lind could point out that she didn't take orders from him. Sighing, she went after the officer.
Somehow, Lind managed to avoid seeing Anteros for another two hours. When he did manage to find her, it was during one of this assignment's more embarrassing fixtures.
The Major was in the outhouse, and Lind was standing outside the door, trying not to listen too closely.
She sighed and turned, only to find Anteros standing on top of the outhouse.
"What did you find out?" he asked.
"I didn't find out anything," she told him, arms folded over her chest. "I wasn't looking for anything."
He hopped down and smiled. "Well, I guess you're lucky I'm here."
"I suppose it depends on your definition of 'luck,'" she allowed.
Anteros smiled. "As it turns out, she is making him dinner at her home tonight."
"So?" she asked.
"Come on!" he cried incredulously. "This is the South! When a woman cooks for a man it's like showing up naked with a rose in your teeth. This is an awesome turn of events."
"If you say so," she said.
"And I do," he agreed.
There was a disgusting sound from the outhouse, and Anteros sniffed, his face contorting in disgust. Eager to change the subject, he turned back to her. "You know, I never actually got your name," he said.
"Lind," she told him simply.
He waited for more, and not receiving it, he tried to get more out of her. "And how long have you been a valkyrie?"
"A long time," she replied.
He nodded. "So..."
"So I suppose we will be at this young lady's house this evening," she interrupted. "Can I assume you will be there?"
"Yeah," he replied.
She took a deep breath. "That's... acceptable," she allowed.
Anteros smiled. "A lot of girls say that about me."
"I'm sure they do," Lind replied, eager to just get the conversation over with.
"Okay, so, I'll see you there," he told her. "And... try to get him to bring flowers or something, okay?" He turned and started to walk off. "She likes lilacs!" he called back.
"Lilacs!?" she cried after him. "I'm not some love goddess! I'm not going to... Anteros!"
She growled. What an insufferable little god!
Another disgusting smell came wafting out of the outhouse. She sighed and rubbed her temples.
The blonde woman opened the door and smiled excitedly. "Major!" she said in greeting. "Please come in!"
The cavalry officer, dressed in his only good set of greys, handed her a bouquet of lilacs and stepped inside. Lind followed him and caught sight of Anteros nearby.
"Great! You brought the flowers! Awesome!"
"Don't get the wrong idea," she cautioned. "It took only the most minimal of effort. I am not here to help you."
"Of course," he said, some of the air let out of his balloon. "Come on, let's get out of their way."
The blonde woman led the Major into the kitchen, and Anteros and Lind followed at a respectful distance. As the two mortals sat at the table, Lind leaned against the wall and folded her arms across her chest.
Anteros noticed her impatience and leaned against the wall next to her. "You want anything?" he asked. "Water? Tea?"
"No," she replied.
He nodded and turned his attention back to the couple sitting at the table. The woman was serving some kind of stew. Anteros moved his lips, and the Major spoke, saying something that made the blonde smile. He moved his lips again, and again the cavalry officer spoke.
Lind caught this and spoke up. "What are you doing?" she asked.
He gave her a look. "Helping," he answered.
"Helping?" she asked.
"Just... moving things along," he said.
"Given that you seem to believe these two are destined to mate, wouldn't it be more appropriate to allow them to develop their relationship on their own?" she asked pointedly.
He nodded and resumed leaning against the wall. "Okay," he said. "I was just trying to help things along. You seem eager to leave, after all."
"I'm not eager to leave, I'm eager for this to be finished," she corrected. "If it's to be done, it should be done correctly."
"I see," he said. "And how would you do it?"
She blinked. "Excuse me?"
Anteros shrugged. "You seem to know what should and shouldn't be done, so tell me what you would do to ensure a proper romance here."
Lind felt the barest heat come to her cheeks. She turned away from him. "I wouldn't know," she said truthfully. "It's not my area."
"Ah," he said, nodding and turning back to the couple. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. "Would you like to learn?"
"You sure? Might come in handy some day."
"I don't want to learn about love," she said. "I want them to perform sexual intercourse and be done with it."
He arched an eyebrow. "Wow," he said sarcastically. "You're a regular divine representation of feminine love, aren't ya?"
Lind turned angrily. "No, I'm a representation of the Almighty's wrath given form," she reminded him. "And this is still nothing but a distraction to more important objectives."
He ignored the comment and pointed at the woman. "Okay, first lesson," he said as Lind sighed. "Take a look at her. See how she maintains eye contact only to drop it when he says something flattering to her?"
"Tactically dangerous," Lind remarked.
"No, it shows modesty. No man likes a woman who thinks she deserves to be complimented. They like to think they're doing something new."
"Isn't it?!" he laughed. "Okay, here! See how she's touching her throat? That's a cue of attraction..."
"This is all irrelevant," she grumbled.
"Oh, come on," he replied. "Why are you so hostile to this? It's young love! It's one of the most beautiful things you're ever likely to see. Don't you at least want to know what a man in love looks like so that when one looks at you that way you'll recognize it?"
Lind made an incredulous noise, and Anteros gave her a perplexed look.
"What?" Lind asked, noticing the expression.
"That noise," he said. He waved a finger in the air as he tried to figure it out. "You think you're immune, don't you?"
She rolled her eyes.
He smiled. "That's it, isn't it? You either think you can't love... or that no one else could love you."
"I have more important things to do," she told him.
She had braced herself for a debate. What she got was worse. He offered her a sympathetic look. "You're a beautiful goddess, Lind, and Aphrodite turns her back on no woman. She will come for you, my friend."
"I don't want Aphrodite to come for me," Lind said with an annoyed breath.
He took a concerned breath. "You should be careful saying things like that. She doesn't take kindly to women rejecting love... and she has a cruel sense of irony."
Lind took another breath. Why couldn't this just be over with? She had to fight back an urge to yell, "JUST HAVE SEX AND GO, DAMMIT!" at the eating couple.
Instead she found her center and turned back to him. "If... IF... love ever came for me, I wouldn't behave like this," she told him. "Bubbling about how nice a man looks in his uniform. It's embarrassing."
"Nah," he said. "You don't strike me as the kind who'd fall for another warrior, anyway," he announced.
"Oh?" she asked, curiosity finally piqued. "And just what kind of man would I 'fall for?'"
"You're what we call an 'antagonistic force personality,'" he said. "Class two..."
"Big words," she noted. "Do they actually mean anything?"
"You ever hear the phrase, 'opposites attract?' That's you," he said. "When you fall, and believe me you will one day... When you fall, it's going to be for someone totally unlike you. A healer, a muse, a grass spirit. Anyone but a valkyrie or a war god."
Lind considered this. It was true that she spent most of her time in the company of other valkyries and had never considered or desired a relationship with any of them. Perhaps...
"They're doing something," he said suddenly.
"Finally," she breathed, watching the couple leave the kitchen. Her brow furrowed a moment later. "Wait, they're not going to the bedroom."
"So?" he asked.
"So?" she repeated. "You said they were going to consummate."
"You're awfully eager to get to the horizontal portion of tonight's festivities," he said. "Maybe there's a little repressed feeling happening there..."
She took him by the front of his cloak and lifted the stunned god a foot in the air. "Stop wasting my time," she warned him.
"Love isn't the same as sex, you know," he told her. "Maybe they're going to talk for a bit, you think of that? Maybe a walk in the moonlight! Just relax!"
She dropped him and followed the couple into the drawing room where the Major was sitting at an old-looking piano, the blonde standing just behind him.
"It belonged to my mother," the blonde explained. "I never learned to play, but I just couldn't part with it."
"Well, it's been a long time," the Major told her, stretching his fingers.
"Would you play something for me?" she begged.
He smiled. "Let's see," he said, resting his fingers on the keys. His fingers started to move and a jerky melody emerged from the antique.
"Ah," Anteros remarked. "I do love Chopin."
"Are you sure you don't want a drink or something?" Anteros asked her. "You seem really stressed out."
She finally gave up and sat down on the couch. Anteros sat next to her and leaned back, relaxing as Lind sat ramrod straight. He seemed to take pity on her and started to speak again.
"It's not a tactical problem," he explained quietly. "You can't just... call in an airstrike and solve it. It's the heart."
She glared at him. "Let me break this down for you. I've allowed this farce to go on based on your assertion that this would happen in a timely manner..."
"We have two whole days," he defended.
"In two days, Union soldiers will be living in this house," she told him. "And he will be fighting on the outskirts of Savannah. So if you want these two to consummate their relationship, you're going to have to get a move on."
He turned to her. "Do you understand the complexities involved in a successful consummation?" he asked. "I mean, even a successful kiss can take weeks of preparation."
"Why?" he asked. "Why is that preposterous? Why is it preposterous to believe that when it comes to affairs of the heart, people want to be sure, want to be prepared, want it to be done right?"
"Because it's a simple and frivolous act," she said.
"I pity the men you've kissed then," he said. "To give it no consideration at all."
"I've never had to consider it," she said.
"Seriously?" he blinked. "You've never even kissed a guy?"
"Even vestal virgins have kissed guys," he said. "Or each other... It depends, really..."
"I think you're placing a little too much emphasis on the act," she told him quietly.
"Okay, this is a tragedy," he told her. "I'm putting in a work order to the office right now to rectify this..."
"You will do no such thing!" she commanded.
"It's no big deal," he assured her. "I'll make a note to make sure it's a good-looking guy..."
"You send that work order, Anteros," she said dangerously. "And I'll bury you here."
He held his hands up in surrender. "All right," he said gently. "Okay. No kiss. Seems like a shame, though..."
"I mean, there's no reason for it," he continued. "You're obviously a very attractive woman. Surely, a man has wanted to kiss you before."
"Well, I wouldn't know!" she snapped.
"Maybe you should try to not be so unapproachable," he suggested.
"You are still talking," she pointed out. "When you must know by now how dangerous that is..."
"All I'm saying is that you're kissable!" he said defensively. "Guys like to kiss attractive women! You're an attractive woman! It's not brain surgery! So how is it no guy has kissed you before!?" He arched an eyebrow. "You're not... one of Artemis's acolytes, are you?"
She took a deep breath. "And now I have to kill you," she concluded.
"I mean it's perfectly all right if you are," he went on.
"Anteros!" she cried. "Be silent! For just one minute!"
He held his hands up again and went silent. He looked away and muttered something.
"What? What was that?" she asked. "Are you speaking again? Has it been sixty seconds? Because if not, then a minute hasn't gone by!"
He looked up at the ceiling.
"What did you say?" she demanded.
"Nothing," he muttered.
"It's fine," he said.
"I will bury you in this woman's back yard," she promised quietly.
He took a breath. "I just said... That I'd kiss you." He gave her a glance and shrugged. "You know. Whatever."
"Ugh," she said, turning away in disgust.
"In a purely hypothetical situation!" he defended. "I meant what I said before! You're kissable!"
She rubbed her temples. "I have no interest in being 'kissable.'"
"Obviously," he muttered, rolling his eyes.
"At the risk of being driven to the heights of wrath," she said, "What do you mean by that?"
"You're unapproachable," he told her. "You're stiff, cold. I mean do you ever smile? Take a look at her," he said. "When you want someone to know that you like them, you smile. It's simple stuff. And yet you don't smile."
"Maybe because I don't like you," she noted.
He rolled his eyes. "Everyone likes me."
She buried her face in her hands. The valkyrie didn't even notice the music had stopped until Anteros prodded her.
"Hey, they're moving," he said.
"Thank you, Almighty," she breathed.
"They're going outside."
She sighed. "Will this night never end?" she asked quietly.
They followed the couple out the front door where the Major and the blonde were looking up at the stars.
"What are they doing now?" Lind asked.
"They're watching the stars," Anteros told her, pointing up.
"Why?" she asked.
"... Because it's romantic..." he replied.
She turned away from him and the mortal couple. After several minutes, she turned back. "So, they just stand there?"
"Yeah," he told her.
"Great," she grumbled. There were a million other things the Major could be doing. He still had to get a new horse. He hadn't suitably cleaned his weapon. That saber wasn't going to sharpen itself...
"It's a pretty night," Anteros told her.
"The moon's out," she said.
"So it's not tactically ideal," she told him. "Too much light to move around."
"Yeah, but it's pretty," he said.
"Pretty non-tactical," she agreed.
"Can I ask you something?" he asked.
"Can I stop you?" she countered in simmering annoyance.
"Why did you become a valkyrie?"
She blinked, but she was grateful that there was finally a topic she could speak on without embarrassment. Even so...
"That's a personal question," she told him.
"Really?" he asked.
"I just... I mean, I don't know," he told her. "I'm always interested in why gods choose the roles they do. Would you like to hear why I became a love god?"
"If I answer your question," she said, "Do you promise to not tell me that story?"
He shrugged. "Sure."
She took a breath, not sure why she was willing to share details of her life with this man. Then again, if it would shut him up, it was almost worth it.
"I have a disability," she told him.
"I see. Born without a heart," he said in a knowing and sympathetic tone.
She glared at him. "My angel only has one wing."
"Oh," he said, feeling bad about his joke. "I'm sorry."
"They say it's a deficiency in my soul," she went on. "Something wrong with me on a metaphysical level that manifests itself as a single wing." She turned to him. "I don't believe that."
"Then what?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," she said. "I don't feel like I'm any different from any other goddess, but I can't divine what it is. My teacher, Gwydion, thinks it might be a second angel, but I don't have the focus necessary to call her forth. Valkyrie training requires intense discipline, great strength of will and incredible focus. I knew if there was a way to strengthen myself to the point where I could call that angel, the Combat Division could offer it to me." She shrugged. "And if not, it would let me gain enough strength to counter my... deficiency."
Anteros didn't speak for a few moments, unsure of what to say. Lind now regretted telling him. It made him uncomfortable, and while she was thankful for the silence, she was now uncomfortable as well.
"Are you good at it?" he asked finally.
She turned and her lips almost quirked up. "The best you'll ever see," she said.
"Then I don't see how you can be deficient," he said. "But I wish you luck."
Her eyes softened for just a moment. "Thank you."
Their attention was drawn away as the Major turned to the blonde. "Constance, I had a wonderful night."
"As did I, Herbert," she said. "Would you care to come by for dinner tomorrow? I'll make a chicken."
"That would be mighty fine," he told her. He took her hand in his and kissed her knuckles. "Good night, Constance."
"Good night," she returned.
Lind watched, flabbergasted, as the Major started down the road. "That's it?" she asked. "That's it!?"
"Better luck next time, I guess," Anteros told her.
Her hands curled into fists. "An entire evening wasted!" she bit out.
"I don't think so," Anteros told her. "They're getting comfortable with one another. Another day or so at most, I'd say."
"Okay," she said. "Enough." She stormed after the Major.
"Hey!" Anteros called, jogging after her. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to inspire him with a brilliant defense plan that will get him out of this city and back to business!" she snapped back.
"Woah! Hold on!" he said. "I thought we agreed that the best thing to do was get these two together!"
"And it didn't work," she said. "Now I have to look to my own mission."
He grabbed her arm. "Just wait a..."
Anteros once again found himself face down on the floor, Lind only a foot-pound away from breaking his arm.
"...minute," he finished.
"We've discussed this," she said calmly.
"Look," he said, breathing into the dirt. "It was the first date. You can't have sex on the first date. It would have tragic social consequences."
"Tough," she said.
"Wait! Wait!" he said again. "Look... These guys are going to pull out soon, right?"
"Right," she affirmed.
"Okay, so if Herbert there knew they were pulling out, he'd want to properly say goodbye to her, right? Okay, so all we have to do is wait for him to figure out he's leaving and we'll be in consummation cornucopia!"
Lind thought on this.
"Come on, Lind," he cried, blowing dirt away from his mouth. "Have a heart, huh?"
She grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him up. "Fine," she relented as Anteros dusted himself off. "We'll give it another day."
"Thank you," he said.
"Tomorrow night," she warned him.
"Okay," he said. "But I might need some help."
"What kind of help?" she asked.
"Yeah," he told her, looking a little nervous. "You have to understand that the people in this culture have to overcome a societal hump... before they can get to the physical hump..."
"So... I might need you to be an inspirator for her."
Lind blinked. "Why for her?" she asked. "She's your mark, not mine."
He gave her the 'dim child' look. "Um... Maybe because you're the woman?" he asked.
"So?" she asked.
"So a god can't be a sexual inspirator for a woman... It gets weird..."
She sighed and shook her head.
"So you'll inspire her, and I'll inspire good old Herbert."
"This is stupid," she said.
"No!" he said, holding a finger up. "It's awesome."
She snagged his finger in her hand, causing him to wince. "If they don't have sex tomorrow night..."
"I know," he said. "And I won't blame you for doing what you've got to do," he said. "But these two deserve their shot."
She released his finger. "Fine," she growled, walking off after the Major.
"See you tomorrow night!" he called after her.
Lind spent the next day following the love-struck cavalryman around, but her thoughts were on herself.
To say that she was nervous would be an understatement. She had known nervousness before, before battles with demonic forces she would feel that familiar clenching in her stomach, but she had long ago learned to live with it and even welcome the feeling as familiar. This, however, was totally outside her experience.
She could act as an inspirator, of course. She had done it many times before, giving commanders brilliant strokes of genius in pitched battles that could just as easily ended in defeat had she not intervened. That was her role, after all. But how was she in any way supposed to relate that to inspiring passion in a woman?
The valkyrie thought heavily on this, following the officer around in a daze. She had to be honest with herself. Was it that the situation was unfamiliar or that in this situation Anteros knew more than she did? That in order to succeed, she would have to trust the eccentric love god?
He wasn't a bad god, she knew. Anteros had his mission just as she had hers. It just so happened that he had somehow manipulated the situation so that it was in her best interest, theoretically, to assist him.
She sighed. There was nothing for it. The situation was what it was and could not be any other way. The fastest way out was through.
Which mean she still had to figure out how to inspire a young mortal to offer herself to an older man. Perhaps Anteros would know.
This was, after all, his area.
Anteros once again greeted her as Lind followed the Major into Constance's house.
"Hey," he said with a smile. "Glad you made it."
She blinked. "Was I not supposed to?"
"Well, to be honest," he began. "I half expected you to make good on your threat and just take old Herbert here out of town."
Her face pinched at the implication toward her integrity. "I told you I would assist," she said. "And I will."
"Sorry," he said quickly. "I didn't mean to imply that..."
"That I would walk out on a deal?" she finished.
"Hmm," she said. She watched Herbert and Constance walk into the kitchen and turned back to him. "Look," she began. "I'm going to need some help with this."
He blinked. "Okay, sure. Sit down." The love god directed her to the couch in the drawing room. Lind sat and folded her hands in her lap.
"I don't inspire in these kind of situations," she told him. "I'm not sure what to do. If you needed me to inspire her to snap his neck and evade capture, I could do that easily..."
"Yeah, let's not do that," he suggested.
"But this is outside my expertise," she concluded. "So I need to know exactly what you need from me."
"Okay!" he said, clapping his hands rubbing them together in thought. "This is going to be easy for you. In this society, the woman is submissive almost to the point of passivity."
She offered him a stern look. "I'm not very big on submission," she said.
"Look," he said, "It's easy. She already knows what she wants to do. What we're fighting against here is a societal norm that encourages her to not do it. What she needs from you is strength and resolve to not flee while Herbert moves on her."
"So keep her still until he's finished," Lind concluded.
He blinked. "Yeah, that's not inspiration. That's rape."
She sighed in frustration.
"Think of it like this," he said. "I mean... you've had to inspire courage in soldiers, right? Keep them from running away or something. Same thing."
Couched in those terms it was easy for the valkyrie to understand. "Hold her fear at bay."
He snapped his fingers and pointed at her. "Precisely! Herbert and I will do the rest."
They looked up as the squeaking of floorboards alerted them to the mortals' approach. Lind stood up and got out of the way as the two mortals entered and sat down on the couch where she was sitting.
She watched the Southrons sit down and begin to chit chat.
"Okay," Anteros announced. "Game time. Ready?"
Lind took a breath. "I'm ready."
Anteros knelt on the floor next to the major and cleared his throat, reaching out to touch the man's hand with his finger. Hesitantly, Lind mirrored the action a moment later, kneeling next to Constance and putting her hand on her knee.
As one, their eyes opened. Lind concentrated on the other woman's feelings, using her own wells of confidence and resolve to shore up hers. She could sense the fear in the woman's spirit, but something else, something she hadn't seen before. The feelings leeched into the valkyrie, warming her like a thick quilt.
She shook her head, trying to shake the feeling away, and looked up as she heard Anteros speaking.
"I've deeply enjoyed our time together," he whispered, the words mimicked by the cavalry officer half a second later.
"As have I," Constance responded, and Lind felt her heart flutter as the mortal's feelings impacted her own. "Herbert, please don't take this as too forward, but I want to tell you that you've brought me a great deal of happiness in the short time I've known you."
Anteros's eyes locked on Lind's. "I don't want it to be a short time," he said. Again, Herbert echoed him. Lind felt her chest constrict. Why was he looking at her? Shouldn't he look at the mortal girl?
Her sudden doubt reflected in Constance's soul. "Why... Herbert, wha... What are you saying?" The valkyrie quickly lent the woman her confidence, pouring as much resolve as she could into the girl. If she could give this woman one gift, it would be that she not be "passive," during this exchange.
"What I'm saying," Anteros continued, his eyes still locked on Lind's, "...is that I don't want to just say goodbye." He reached up, and the Major mirrored his actions. Lind flinched slightly as the love god's fingers brushed her chin, and Constance unconsciously did the same.
Anteros swallowed and took a breath as he caressed the valkyrie's face. "When this awful thing is over with... I'd like to return to you..."
Lind's breath caught in her throat as the woman's emotions wrestled with her own for dominance. "I'd like that," she whispered, Constance echoing her a moment later.
"Truly?" the god asked, and for a moment, Lind wasn't sure if he was asking her or inspiring Herbert.
This time, Lind had enough wherewithal to say nothing, even as Constance replied.
"Very much," the mortal said.
Her heart was thudding in her chest harder than it ever had during battle as Anteros leaned in. Next to them, the Major was doing the same. Then, as if suddenly finding the resolve Lind had been pouring into her, Constance leaned forward to catch Herbert's lips with her own...
And Lind went with her.
Anteros's eyes went wide as they kissed even as Lind's closed. Reaching up, he took her head in both hands, breaking his connection with Herbert. Lind's hand fell from Constance's knee at the same moment, and suddenly both couples were on their own.
Lind wasn't quite sure what was happening. She just assumed her connection with Constance was allowing her to experience her kiss with Herbert. It wasn't until her eyes opened several moments later that she saw it was the love god's lips she felt on hers.
Again, her breath caught in her throat, this time in shock. Next to them, Herbert and Constance stood up and quietly left the room, leaving the two deities kissing on the floor.
She breathed deeply as their lips parted.
Anteros looked rather stunned, himself. He leaned back and blinked, clearing his throat. "Lind, I..."
Before he could finish, he was face down on the floor again, Lind's hand on the back of his neck.
"You didn't mention that," she hissed.
"I didn't know... I swear!" he said quickly. "It just kind of happened!"
"Why?" she asked, her voice calm for a woman with massively confused emotions.
He swallowed nervously. "I... I don't know," he confessed truthfully.
She paused, looking up at the door through which the couple had left. "Where are they now?"
"I don't know," he said. "I hope upstairs."
Lind lifted him bodily off the ground and pushed him toward the door. "Go check."
He coughed nervously. "I'm just going to... go... Yeah," he said, starting through the door.
Once he was out of his sight, Lind touched her lips with her fingers, unable to believe what just happened.
Get tactical, valkyrie! she heard her old teacher's voice in her mind. Take stock of your situation and status, then proceed from there.
She took a breath. Mission first. All signs indicated that consummation was happening right now, and if not she was going to get very angry...
Okay, so that was going well. Personal status next. She checked herself over. Everything seemed good to go.
She touched her lips again. Something had happened, something had gone wrong during that exchange. She had been emotionally compromised. So what happened? Had Anteros taken advantage of the situation? Perhaps. Then again, he would have had to know how monumentally suicidal that would be...
Accidental? Most likely. Constance's emotions had been overwhelming and unfamiliar. With no basis of comparison, it was possible that Lind simply had no way to counter them and had gotten swept up in them.
To kill him or not to kill him? That was a very good question...
He had seemed as stunned as she was by it. Maybe it surprised him too...
But what did this mean?
She touched her lips once again, genuinely confused. Her emotions or Constance's? If they had belonged to the mortal, then there was no problem. It was simply an accident.
But what if they were hers?
"What?!" she demanded, whirling around on the god in the doorway.
Anteros flinched as if punched. "Just wanted to say... They're... you know..." He chucked a thumb in the direction of the bedroom.
"Good," she said, her voice all business.
"Look," he said, "About before..."
"An unfortunate misstep," she said simply. "That's all."
He regarded her for a moment. "Oh," he said. He reached into his pocket. "I... I feel responsible," he said. "I know... you weren't prepared... I... I wasn't prepared..."
"It's nothing," she said. "Don't concern yourself."
He pulled a card from his pocket and offered it to her. "Here," he said. "It's the number of a love goddess I know. She specializes in... well... confusion..."
Lind glared at him. "I am not confused," she lied.
Anteros looked away guiltily. "I took your first kiss," he said quietly. "And I had no right to."
"You didn't take anything," she said. "I saw an opportunity to advance the situation, and I took it."
She snatched the card from his hand. "It was a simple and frivolous act," she told him bitterly.
He cleared his throat. "Okay," he said. It was obvious that the love god was a little confused himself and unsure what he should do now. "Well," he began again. "They should be... They should be okay until morning," he said.
"If you would like to stay, I... I can go," he told her.
Lind opened her mouth to reply but suddenly realized she didn't know what answer she wanted to give. He paused for a moment, then nodded.
"Okay," he said. "I'll check in tomorrow."
She sat on the couch as he walked out and put her face in her hands.
"Wonderful," she breathed. She shut her eyes and tried to find her center, to bring her spirit and mind into focus, but it was a futile exercise. Her mind and spirit were going north and south, and it was impossible to synchronize the two with the feeling of Anteros's lips still tingling on hers.
This was unacceptable. Her one fear in this whole thing was that the Major would lose his focus and make dangerous errors she couldn't protect him from. Now the shoe was on the other foot, and she couldn't focus. And if she couldn't focus on her mission, the cavalryman was as good as dead.
She needed to work through this quickly. Perhaps she could talk to someone, someone who could relate. She raised her comm bracelet and wondered who to call.
Perhaps Gwydion? Her old teacher might know...
Lind arched an eyebrow and tried to imagine the old avenging angel in a similar situation, unexpectedly finding himself attracted to a love goddess and not sure what to feel...
The idea was so ludicrous that she gave up on calling him immediately.
Her eyes fell to the card still clutched in her fingers. Closing her eyes, she growled and raised the card into view. She dialed in the proper number and waited.
Here goes nothing...
"Hi hi!" a bubbly voice came over the receiver. "You've reached Peorth's Crash and Burn Line! Tell me a sad story!"
Lind rubbed her temples. "I need advice," she said simply.
"Of course you do, cheri! That's what I'm here for," Peorth replied happily. "So, tell me what's wrong."
She took a deep breath. "During the course of an operation, another god and I were acting as inspirators for two mortals we were attempting to prompt into consummation of a romantic relationship..."
"During the course of this inspirational operation, we... inadvertently engaged in romantic physical contact..."
"As I'm sure you can imagine, the act has left us both... considerably off-balance..."
"Oui! Oui! Oui!"
"And at this time, I am not sure what to think, feel or do."
"So, let me sum up," Peorth began. "You two were trying to inspire love-love feelings in two mortals..."
"And when things started getting hot and heavy between them, things got hot and heavy between the two of you..."
Lind took a breath. "That is an accurate enough statement, yes."
"And this was unexpected in the sense that you weren't planning on moving on him at this time?"
"No, I didn't intend to move on him at all," Lind corrected.
"So he took advantage of you?"
"Yes...No!" she corrected. "I... sort of... aggressed..."
"C'est vrai?" Peorth asked. "So you took advantage of him?"
"No! No one took advantage of anyone!"
"So it was mutual?"
"I..." Lind broke off. To be one hundred percent factual, she had to answer in the affirmative. "Yes," she said.
"Is he married?"
"Not that I know of," she said.
"Then what is the problem, cheri?" Peorth asked. "Is he hideous?"
"Is he short?" Peorth continued. "With bushy eyebrows and a forgettable face?"
"No," Lind said. "In purely aesthetic terms, he's quite pleasing to look at." She took a breath. "It's that... I have never..."
"Mon dieu!" Peorth cried. "You poor thing! I hope at least this young man did an acceptable job!"
"I... I don't know..." Lind told her.
"Well, how did it feel?" Peorth asked.
Lind thought on the question, giving a good amount of consideration to simply hanging up and figuring this out on her own. "It felt..."
"Did your blood run hot?" Peorth asked.
She paused. "Yes," she admitted.
"And you needed the buttons in your shirt loosened?" Peorth continued eagerly.
"Yes," Lind grumbled.
"And towards the end, even when you knew it had to, did you wish for it to continue just one second more?"
Lind frowned even as color flooded her cheeks. "Yes," she said quietly.
"Quite acceptable I would say, then!" Peorth cried.
"What do I do?" Lind asked her point blank.
"Why must you do anything?" Peorth asked. "Sometimes a kiss is just a kiss. So many first kisses are horrible for the woman. Count yourself lucky that yours seemed to be done by someone accomplished at the art."
Lind said nothing.
"Unless... it wasn't just a kiss from your perspective..." Peorth said.
Lind growled to herself. "I will admit," she said cautiously, "That this assignment has thrown into stark contrast the things in life I have not considered as possibilities."
"Such as love?"
"I am not in love," Lind snapped defensively.
"Non, and if you said you were I'd call you mistaken," Peorth told her to Lind's surprise. "What you are is attracted to a young god..."
"Preposterous," Lind remarked.
"Non," Peorth disagreed. "You admitted he was handsome..."
"I..." Lind shut her mouth. She had said something close to that...
"And that his kiss was nice..."
"If you want my advice, here it is," Peorth said. "Lighten up."
"That's your sage advice?" Lind asked. "'Lighten up?'"
"My dear, just listening to the way you speak I can tell you're wound too tight," Peorth told her. "Let me guess... career valkyrie?"
Lind felt her blood run cold.
"I bet you've never even considered touching a man before," Peorth went on. "And now, suddenly thrust into a romantic situation unprepared, you're reeling, unsure of what to do next because it doesn't fit into any kind of tactical or strategic situation they may brief in war college, oui?"
"Yes," Lind growled, admitting she was out of her depth.
"So now let's look at your options, of which you may have more than you think."
"All right," Lind said, waiting.
"First, you can go your separate ways and forget you ever met him," Peorth said. "I would encourage you to not do this. Your first kiss is special, and you should remember it as fondly as possible."
"Second?" Lind prompted.
"You can lighten up just a smidgen and enjoy a purely physical relationship with emotional overtones that will allow you to look back fondly on this time and sigh wistfully."
"And third?" Lind asked.
"You can consider the benefits of a romantic relationship," Peorth told her. "Of which there are many and varied."
"I haven't the time," Lind retorted.
"A common complaint," Peorth countered. "With almost no basis in reality. Love conquers all... even schedules."
"I can't focus on a relationship at this time," Lind said, regaining some of her confidence.
"If that's the case, then that's the case," Peorth told her. "Don't fall into the trap of believing that you must do something because you kissed this man."
"So... I can do nothing?" Lind asked.
"Oui," Peorth told her. "You may be inclined to take the feelings of the man into account, but I honestly wouldn't. It complicates things."
"To be honest," Lind said sheepishly, "I hadn't even considered his feelings..."
"See?! You're getting the hang of love already!"
Lind sighed. "For the last time, I'm not in love."
"Whatever lets you sleep at night, cheri," Peorth told her. "Look, here's my suggested course of action. You need time to figure out how you feel. Take it. As long as you need. Don't rush in, but don't rush out either."
"Thank you," Lind said. "That actually helps."
"Je vous en prie!" Peorth told her. "Pleasant dreams."
Lind hung up the receiver and took a breath. "Don't rush in," she whispered. "But don't rush out either."
She laid back on the couch and waited, knowing there was little for her to do until morning but think.
Herbert mounted his horse and turned back to the blonde woman below him. "I don't know how long it'll be," he said to her. "But I'll be back."
"I'll be here," she promised, taking his hand. "Please be safe, Herbert. I don't know what I'd do if something should happen to you out there!"
Nearby, a similar set of goodbyes were being traded.
"Look, Lind, thanks for your help," Anteros told her. "I couldn't have done this without you. I mean that."
"No, I suspect not," she allowed.
"And... well... about last night," he said.
"Last night was... memorable," she told him.
He gave her a friendly but suspicious look. "Yeah?" he asked.
She nodded, her lips almost quirking up into a half smile. "Yes. I shall remember it... and not in an ill light either."
He smiled. "I'm glad," he told her. His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "I was right, you know. You are rather kissable."
Her eyes narrowed. "I can still bury you in this yard."
Anteros took a breath. "Yeah, you can," he said sadly. He held his hand out. "Thank you, Lind. It was a pleasure to work with you."
She shook his hand, and this time did offer a smile. "Agreed."
Turning, she floated a foot off the ground to better follow the mortal soldier. Almost as if coordinated, both she and Herbert looked back at the same moment.
Anteros waved to her, even as she turned away and refocused on the mission at hand.
Lind was actually exhausted, a rare thing for a valkyrie who really didn't have to fight. The Union Army was moving closer and closer to Savannah, and the desperate Confederates were fighting all the harder, trying to create a miracle out of a shattered army and a little faith.
She watched as the Major fell into the tent he shared with five other men and winced as he started to take off his boots.
The valkyrie sat next to him and offered him a sympathetic look he couldn't see. His spirits had been high the first two days after the retreat from Waynesboro. After that, his morale started to flag, particularly when news reached him that the town was occupied territory.
She had caught him several times while on patrol, looking at a signpost pointing to Waynesboro and hesitating. The war goddess knew what he was thinking, and it took every ounce of will she could direct into him to keep from doing it. She understood. Sherman's army was not known for its restraint, and just as she had predicted, thoughts of Constance were beginning to fog his mind.
The Major laid down on the cold ground and tried to sleep as Lind watched over him. Once she was certain he was asleep, she leaned against the side of the tent and closed her eyes.
Her eyes shot open.
No, she thought. No, it isn't possible...
She turned and found someone pressing their face against the fabric of the tent from the outside.
"Anteros!?" she whispered.
"Lind!" he whispered back. "Praise Aphrodite I've found you! I need your help!"
She sighed in frustration and shook her head. "No, Anteros. No more. I have real work to do..."
"Constance is in jail!" he cried.
His face nodded, but there was no one to see it. Lind was racing out of the tent and circling back around. She found the love god pressing his face against the tent wall. She tapped his shoulder, and he looked up.
"Oh," he said, standing.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Sherman's guys occupied the town," he told her. "Some of them went into the mercantile for 'acquisitions.'" He made scare quotes with his fingers. "She called them thieves and slapped one so they tossed her in jail with some of the other people they thought would make trouble."
She sighed. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yeah, me too," he said. "So what do we do?"
"We don't do anything," she said, turning and starting for the tent's entrance again.
"Nothing?" he cried. "Wait a sec!" He reached out and grabbed Lind's arm, but pulled back as if stung. This time, however, Lind let him remain standing. She merely turned to him.
"That's right," she repeated. "We do nothing."
"Look, Lind, these aren't the nicest guys in the north's army, you know," he said. "We can't just leave her there."
"Why not?" Lind asked.
He looked stunned that she would even ask. "Look," he began seriously. "I'm no war god, okay? I'm a love god. And as such I've had to deal with the aftermath of some of the uglier aspects of wars, aspects that involved acts reserved for lovers, you understand?"
Lind bit the inside of her cheek. She had seen such acts in war as well. And she knew love gods like Anteros were responsible for helping the female victims of those acts heal afterward. For the first time since the conversation began, she truly understood his fear.
"There's nothing we can do," she said, turning away again.
She didn't turn back to him. "In order to save her we'd have to intervene directly, which would expose us, or get someone else to do it through inspiration," she told him.
He nodded. "Yeah, we can get word to Herbert! He could do something!"
"Like what?" she asked, finally turning to him. "Abandon his post? Take on a thousand Union soldiers by himself?" She fixed her glare on him. "If the yankees didn't kill him, the rebels would hang him for desertion."
"You could rescue her!" he argued. "You could... You could take Herbert's form! Inspire him to go after her! We'll knock him out just short of town and you could go in as him and save her!"
She turned away again.
He reached out and took her arm again. "Stop!"
The valkyrie went still.
"Lind! I can't do this by myself!" he cried. "I'm not a warrior! The best I could do is inspire the guards to start necking!" he cried.
"You're touching me again," she warned.
"Yes, I am!" he hissed. "Beat me up if you want, but you're going to listen to me while you do it."
She turned her eyes toward him as he spoke.
"This isn't about you and me," he said quietly. "You've seen the love they have for one another. You've seen that it's a pure and good love, that it deserves a chance to grow. They could rape her. They could hang her. If there's one thing this war's been good for it's been shoving the darkest sides of humanity into the light of day, so don't tell me it won't happen."
He blinked back tears and bit his lip. "Help me, Lind," he begged. "For the Almighty's sake! Help yourself! You've seen her soul! You've seen it, and you know what will happen to it if she stays in that place, if they do what we both fear they will! Only the most heartless god would shrug that off, and I know in my soul that you have a heart! I've seen it! I've felt it! And if you don't help, you'll regret it for the rest of your life, and you know it!"
Her gaze started to crack, just a bit. She had seen that young woman's spirit, so unlike her own, so filled with optimism, joy and love. If that were tainted, it would be tainted and gone forever.
Then, the only person who would have ever known the love in Constance's heart would have been her.
"Help me!" he begged again. "Help me!"
She weighed the risks. It was a foolhardy plan. It would take her off-mission. It could expose them both.
The valkyrie reached up and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Very well," she whispered. "We'll save her."
"Over there," Lind pointed as she floated next to the Major.
Floating next to her, Anteros looked at the grove of trees and nodded. "Looks good to me."
The war goddess reached out and touched Herbert's shoulder, inspiring thirst in him and prompting him to move toward the grove. Inspiring the soldier to "get lost" during his patrol and go after Constance had been easy. Now all they had to do was find a quiet place to stash him while they went in after the mortal girl.
They watched Herbert dismount in the cluster of trees and search his saddle bag for a canteen.
"So, how do you want to do this?" Anteros asked. "Sleep spell? Potion?"
Lind replied by phasing into the physical realm, picking up a thick oak branch and smashing it into the back of Herbert's head. The cavalryman slumped to the ground unconscious.
"You have no subtlety at all, do you?" Anteros asked her.
She turned to him and closed her eyes. "Apate, lend me this warrior's visage so that I might deceive his enemies..."
Anteros blinked as a blue light descended over Lind, blinding him. When it finally dispersed, the Major was standing before him.
Lind, in Herbert's form, knelt down and took the officer's sword and sidearm.
"So what's the plan?" Anteros asked her as she mounted the Major's horse.
"Go to Waynesboro," she said deadpan. "Kill everyone. Get Constance back."
"You gotta kill... everyone?" he asked squeamishly.
Herbert's face, but Lind's eyes, looked down at him from atop the horse. The Union soldiers were only a few miles away, and Herbert was unconscious. That made them threats to him. Which, under the very wide latitude Ares had given her, meant that she could kill every man in a blue suit for ten miles if she so chose.
"I'll try to keep collateral damage to a minimum," she promised.
He clapped. "Awesome! What do you want me to do? I can't phase into the physical plane like you can, but there must be something..."
"Go to Constance," she said. "Make sure she's safe and be ready to direct me to her."
"If anything goes wrong, get back here," she told him.
He nodded. She turned the horse.
She paused and turned back.
"Why are you helping me?" he asked.
"The fact that I am isn't enough?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I just want to know."
Lind gave the question honest thought. "That woman gave me something," she finally said. "Something I never thought to want before. I owe her." With that, she turned and rode off.
Anteros snorted and smirked. "Definitely one of Artemis's girls..."
Lind was only three miles from Waynesboro, traveling cross-country to avoid any Union sentinels on the roads. She had the Major's saber, six-shot revolver and a double-barrel shotgun that was popular among the cavalrymen of the south. While she was certain the entire Union army wasn't waiting for her at Waynesboro, there was at least enough to hold the town.
Their weapons couldn't harm her, but Constance could be gunned down just as easily as any other mortal. Secrecy would be key to accomplishing her objectives.
She could see the lights of the town up ahead. When she felt she had gotten nearly too close, she dismounted and tied the horse to a fallen tree. She found a pair of field glasses in the Major's kit and peered through them into the town.
Luck, it seemed, was on her side. Sherman's troops had already advanced from the town, leaving a small contingent to hold it. She could see some blue uniforms and no civilians in sight. A curfew must be in effect.
Replacing the field glasses, Lind made her way stealthily toward the town.
Anteros appeared in the cell and found Constance sitting with her back to the wall, a miserable and fearful look on her face.
"Don't worry," Anteros assured her, even knowing she couldn't hear him. "Help's coming."
The blonde looked down at her lap, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks.
"Hey," he said, putting on a smile. "Don't cry. Lind's coming." He sat down next to her and put an arm around her, trying to inspire comfort in the girl. "She's the best valkyrie I've ever known," he told her. True, she was the only valkyrie he'd ever known, but there was no reason to go into details...
Their heads turned as one as the door opened and a Union soldier stepped inside, taking a long, hard look at the blonde.
Anteros stood up. As a love god, he recognized the look of lust in the soldier's gaze.
"You lay a hand on her," he growled quietly. "And I'll kill you." He paused. "I'm... not sure how... but I will..."
Lind fell into step behind a pair of Union soldiers as they walked up the main road toward the town square. Her footfalls were so light, neither soldier detected her. As a trio they walked down the street, Lind's hand under the Major's coat, holding the shotgun.
She walked so nonchalantly behind the two soldiers that the few other troops they passed assumed she was with them and raised no alarm. It wasn't until they approached a guard outside the jail that one of them raised a flag.
The guard nodded in greeting. "Who's the prisoner?" he asked.
One of the soldiers blinked and started to turn. "Prisoner?"
Lind raised the shotgun and fired, taking the man's head off with it. Shifting her aim slightly, she killed the guard with the other shell before dropping the weapon and pulling the saber with her left hand, slashing through the third soldier with one quick underhand movement.
She had seconds, if that, to move. Rushing up the steps, she drew the revolver with her other hand and waited.
A moment later, the door opened and an unfortunate yankee sergeant was cut down before she rushed inside. The alarm was already going up throughout the town.
She moved from room to room, checking each before moving forward toward the back where the cells would be.
As she rushed down the hallway, Anteros suddenly appeared before her. "Behind you! Behind you!" he waved.
She turned and flinched as a revolver round struck her left breast, knocking her back a foot. She raised her weapon and fired, putting a round of her own through the offending soldier.
"She's down here! This way!" Anteros told her. "Come on!"
Lind moved quickly but deliberately in the direction Anteros was leading her, stopping at a heavy oak door.
"There's one in there with her," Anteros told her. "Be careful."
Sheathing her saber, she cocked the hammer back on the revolver. Then, taking the doorknob in her hand, she pulled the door off its hinges, plaster hanging to the brass, and trudged forward.
A load of buckshot hit the other side of the door. Lind dropped it and raised her pistol, firing twice. The soldier doubled over and fell to the floor without a sound.
"Herbert!" Constance sang out.
"We have to get you out of here," Lind told her, taking the bars of the cell door and ripping it out of the wall as if it were made of balsa wood. "Are you hurt?"
Constance just watched in total shock as her Herbert tossed the iron door aside as if it were no more than a sack of potatoes.
"Are you shot?" Lind asked again.
"Herbert," she whispered. "Why do you sound different?"
Lind blinked, realizing that she hadn't been using the Major's Tennessee dialect.
"I mean to say," she began again. "Did they hurt ya thar, darl'n?"
Anteros smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. "Worst... Impression... EVER!"
"No," Constance said, rushing out of the cell and throwing herself into Lind's arms.
"That's good," Lind began. Before she could finish, Constance was kissing her.
Anteros blinked. "Um... Wow..."
Lind blinked as Constance finally broke the kiss. She gave him a questioning look. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?" she asked.
The goddess blinked again. "Yes," she said simply.
They turned as they heard commotion coming from the front of the building. Lind went to the back window and reached up, ripping the iron bars out of the wall one by one.
"My horse is on the other side of the creek on the north side of town," she told Constance. "Just past the big red watermill."
"I know it," Constance said.
Lind grabbed her and pushed her up through the window. "I'll meet you there," she said.
"What about you?" Constance asked fearfully.
"I'll take care of the soldiers," she replied, turning to the doorway.
"Right!" Constance said, hopping down to the ground outside. She stopped and blinked a moment later. "He'll take care of the soldiers?! God Almighty!"
Once Constance was out of the building, Anteros turned to Lind. "Okay!" he said, clapping his hands. "She's out! Let's go!"
"We have to draw the soldiers here so that they will not search for her," Lind told him.
"How are we going to do that?" he asked.
Lind replied by picking up the fallen soldier's shotgun and reloading it.
He sighed. "No subtlety whatsoever," he muttered.
She closed the shotgun and waited as the sounds of heavy bootsteps came closer.
"You know, I've never asked before," Anteros said. "But... how invincible are you, exactly?"
"Just enough," she told him.
"You know..." Anteros began. "Discretion is the better part of valor..."
She looked at him.
"I'm just saying that there's a dead guy there... and you know the enchantment to change forms..."
Lind thought on this. "Perhaps not killing you was a good idea after all," she allowed.
Captain Steele, the rearguard commander, rushed into the cell area with his saber drawn in time to see two of his men helping his guard up.
"What happened, Corporal Shaw?!" he demanded.
Shaw coughed. "There was four of them, Suh," he said. "Busted in, took the girl and went out through the window. They clocked me good..."
"One of them said they had to meet up with some others to the south," Shaw added helpfully, coughing again.
"All right," Steele said. "Get him to the surgeon. Sergeant Major! I want you to gather up some riders and go after those reb sons'a'bitches!"
While the Sergeant Major went to gather a posse, two soldiers helped the ailing Shaw out to the surgeon.
"It's okay, boys," he said. "I can walk. You go on with the Sergeant Major."
They nodded and left him to walk the rest of the way alone. Once they were out of sight, Shaw made a sharp left and walked to the edge of town. Ducking into the watermill, there was a flash of light, and Lind, once again in the Major's body, stepped out and rushed into the woods.
She found Constance and Anteros waiting for her where she left the horse. Constance rushed up and tried to kiss her again, but Lind managed to hold her at bay, much to the love god's amusement. Instead, she helped the mortal girl onto the horse before climbing up behind her and kicking her heels into the creature's flanks.
Lind gently placed the sleeping Constance next to the still unconscious Major and stepped back, phasing out of their plane again and resuming her normal form.
"I can't help but notice that you used a sleep spell on her, but you bashed the Major with a log," Anteros noted. "Is that because she kissed you?" He grinned.
She didn't bother to reply to the question.
He nodded down at them. "Think they'll be okay?"
"The posse is heading south," Lind told him. "We're far enough off the main road. They'll be all right for now." She gazed down at them.
"I can't thank you enough for this," Anteros told her. "What will you do now?"
Lind turned to him. "I'll inspire a suitable story for him to tell his commander about getting lost on patrol and finding a young woman in need of assistance," she said. "He won't remember his heroic exploits due to the bump on the head his fall from his horse gave him. It should be enough."
"What about you?" Lind asked.
His lips quirked up in a smile. "My job's done," he said quietly. He raised his fist and grinned. "Consummate! Consummate! Consummate!" he recited. "I think they'll be okay now."
"That job was over long ago," Lind pointed out. "Why didn't you leave then?"
He shrugged. "Love's a tricky thing," he said. "Sometimes you have to stick around to make sure it takes root." He hesitated a moment. "And... I had a feeling we'd see each other again. But, now that their love is firmly entrenched and they're both safe... I'm calling this mission accomplished."
"So... You're leaving then?" Lind asked.
He smiled. "Aphrodite's been promising me a long vacation," he said. "It's time to collect." The love god gave her a hopeful look. "I wouldn't mind some company," he told her softly.
She glanced at him. "Company?"
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "Valkyries take vacations, don't they? Lie on a beach somewhere? Relax? Maybe learn to smile from time to time?"
She couldn't help it this time. The edges of her mouth moved up half a millimeter.
"There! I saw that!" Anteros said, pointing at her. "Maybe even... I don't know," he said. "Spend a little time with a god of unrequited love who, I can honestly say, gives awesome back rubs..."
"I can't," she said, looking up at the sky.
"Can't?" he asked.
"I still have to find my other angel," she explained. "Until then, I can't even begin to think of something else."
"I see," he said in obvious disappointment.
"However," she began again. "The offer is... tempting."
"Tempting?" he asked.
She looked at him and offered him a more genuine smile. "Perhaps... one day..."
He reached out and took her hand, lifting it to his lips and kissing her knuckles the way Herbert had kissed Constance's at the end of that first night.
"Until then, I guess," he said.
"Until then," she agreed.
He took a few steps back and smiled wanly as he began to fade away. "I'll miss you," he confessed quietly.
She closed her eyes as he disappeared from sight and put the knuckles to her lips.
"I never miss," she whispered.