Return of the Elf Lord
Return of the Elf Lord, features Bernard Marchand, a favorite secondary character in all four of the Night Witches books. His traumatic back story attracts the equally damaged Huldra, Alva, who is the goddess Freyja’s assistant. This is their happily ever after.
Resistance soldier Bernard Marchand would do anything to bring his family back from the dead, but in his desperation to change their fates, he alters history and nearly destroys the world. Faced with the consequences, he’s horrified at what he’s done. It was never supposed to be this way.
As a Huldra, Alva should have stolen her partner’s life energy, drained him to the brink of death. Instead, she went against her natural instincts and helped him win the war against a dreaded enemy. However, when he inadvertently starts the countdown to Ragnarok, Alva will have to ignore the ache in her soul as she fights to save them once again.
And that’s just the beginning…
An unknown enemy lurks just out of reach and interferes in their every effort to restore Earth’s historical timeline. But why? What is he after? Will they be able to focus long enough to save the Nine Realms, or are they doomed to the horrific reality they unwittingly unleashed?
Bernard Marchand lounged alone in Freyja’s sitting area. His gaze roamed the luxurious space, noting the rich jewel-toned woven fabric on the two sofas and two chairs. Nestled between them stood a unique table, its top a gorgeous slab of wood, the two long edges still sporting tree bark. Instead of paint or stain, the thick dark grain meandering through the lighter shades had been protected by a coat of polyurethane.
The room’s silence was deafening. Resting his ankle over one knee, he drummed his fingers on his thigh, stared at the dark-bronze God’s Glass, and wished it would begin playing. In the center of the mirrored surface, a flash of white light blinked on, then off. His fingers slowed to a stop as he waited to see if it would happen again.
The light returned, this time stronger and brighter as it filled the smooth surface. Pastel colors in pinks, yellows, and oranges swirled together. A dark-green dot appeared in the center then, as if a finger glided through the colors first in small swirls, each circle grew larger, overtaking the softer shades until there was nothing but green. He found himself staring into an expansive forest. As if he stood in the middle of the dense trees, he almost smelled the musty scent of decaying leaves and moisture.
The scene changed. He blinked, and the Glass showed him Hitler’s Wehrmacht, as it had been at the beginning of the war on Earth. Thousands of tanks, vehicles, and soldiers marched through never-ending fields, the golden stalks of grain trampled underneath the might of the German army.
His jaw clenched, and he welcomed the pain as his teeth ached under the unrelenting pressure. How he hated the war. He hated the Germans more, though, and everything they had done throughout Europe. Not even South America had escaped the Nazi brutalities. Crossing his arms over his chest, he glared at the line of vehicles. Watching this alone wasn’t such a good idea, and he wished his friends and fighting companions were here with him. At least his best friend would understand where his anger came from. Sworn to secrecy, Mikhail would never break his oath about Bernard’s past, not even to his wife, Natalya.
The massive and senseless loss of life by war’s end fueled his anger, and it grew, morphing into a seething rage, which filled his mind and body. The scene changed once more, showing him the ruins of a town. Churned earth mixed with thick snowdrifts, and pillars of dark smoke drifted over wrecked tanks and mangled bodies. The view panned out, and he caught sight of a familiar statue—six children dancing around a crocodile. His breath hitched in his chest as he recognized Stalingrad. Or what was left of the once-beautiful Russian town.
His gaze moved over the rubble, and he shook his head. “How in the hell did you get out of there—and with children?” he whispered. Already fighting for Freyja, Mikhail and Natalya, along with the two orphans Mikhail had found in Lwów, Poland, escaped the once-great port town, but not before changing events and turning the tide against the Germans. If they had not turned back the German army from Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht just might have overrun the Russian Red Army.
If they had not succeeded…
Shaking his head, he wished the Glass would turn back to the beginning of the war. He stared in surprise as the scene darkened, then showed the massive German army spreading across Europe, Hitler’s long arm reaching out and scooping up country after country. A hopeless feeling filled his chest, which he halfheartedly rubbed with his knuckles, as he watched the ease in which the German Führer overtook most of the continent.
Knowing what he now knew, after experiencing the entirety of the war and witnessing the winners and losers, his thoughts ping-ponged as he tried to think of how he could warn those in charge—Churchill, Roosevelt, even Stalin—and stop Adolf Hitler before it was too late.
A tingling sensation skittered over him, raising the hairs on the back of his neck and along his arms. He recognized the feminine power standing just behind him. Freyja. Keeping his gaze focused on the events playing out in the Glass, he impatiently waited for her to say something, his fingers returning to the constant drumming on his leg.
Finally, as her emotions pounded his back, he twisted his neck, his gaze colliding with hers. “What is it, Freyja? I can sense your displeasure.”
Her elegant brows rose. “You can? How odd. Normally, only Idunn or my twin, Freyr, can feel my emotions.”
“Guess I’m lucky then. It’s probably residue from my death and will disappear in time, so I wouldn’t worry too much.” He turned back to the Glass to see the German army plow through the French Maginot Line as if the thick cement bunkers and line of French soldiers were not even there.
“Do I detect a note of bitterness in your tone?”
“Possibly.” He shrugged and turned in his seat to stare at the beautiful woman. She looked as if she had stepped out of the Middle Ages with her long, purple velvet gown and filigreed, golden amulet pressed to the middle of her smooth forehead. Thin, twisted strands of more gold snaked out from the dark-purple stone in the center of the piece of jewelry, disappearing into her long, strawberry-blond hair, which she wore loose down her back. In the light, the clear quartz stones surrounding the amethyst sparkled, giving her a queenly disposition.
What in the hell was he doing here with these people?
Freyja walked the few steps to the two-seater chaise and sat, her back straight and hands folded in her lap. “You are here, Bernard, because your truest friends couldn’t bear to be parted from you.”
Lifting his hands, he scrubbed his face, then let them fall onto his thighs with a loud sigh. “I know, and I appreciate that, but I feel like a fish out of water in this place. I have no clue what to do with myself, much less my purpose.” He motioned with a wave of his hand toward the Glass, which seemed to have paused during the escape of English and French soldiers at Dunkirk. “That’s where I’m the most comfortable—in the middle of a battle or strategizing our next operation.”
Freyja smiled. “I do understand, Bernard, truly. Believe me or not, but your true purpose has yet to appear. While your friends asked for me to save you, it was me who made the ultimate decision. I saw—and still see—a worthy man, honorable and brave…” her voice trailed off as a frown marred her perfect face. “What do you know about your family?”
His brow rose. “Why?” He didn’t like the way his stomach cramped and churned the moment she asked about his family. He didn’t talk about them much. Not because he didn’t love them or was embarrassed by them, just the opposite. He loved his parents very much and had missed them every day since their deaths. In fact, the war had interrupted his search for what happened to them.
He stuffed the memory away to ponder over later. Instead, he needed to figure out why he felt so restless and not like himself. He wanted to go back to Earth, or Midgard, as everyone here called it. He had to see the destruction for himself and figure out a way to help. Those were the only things he seemed to be good at—fighting and fixing.
“I sense something in you, Bernard, something…special.”
Shrugging again, he slumped down into the comfortable sofa. “I don’t feel very special. I feel irritated.”
“Are your parents still alive? Do you have siblings?”
Giving her a sideways glance, he shook his head. “Persistent, aren’t you? I’m an only child and was raised in a very loving home. I had two guardians, an older couple, who took care of me when my parents weren’t there. Beyond that, I know nothing about them, other than they were kind to me. Their names were as strange as they were—Lukan and Kulirra Hillhead. Both were short, and Lukan, more so than his wife, had a wizened face, as if he were ancient.”
He frowned, staring into the unlit fireplace. “I always thought it odd that they never seemed to age. At least from what I remember. The last time I saw them was the day I left for England. Lukan didn’t like that I signed up to serve as an agent in MI5. That was in ’39. By the end of 1940, my regiment was knee-deep in reports, and I never heard from them during that time. I was sent out on so many missions, I never made it back to the chateau to check on them…”
“You said they were short—and wrinkled?” Freyja asked, her amethyst stare sharp and glittery. “Was there anything else strange or a little off about them?”
“Not that I remember…” Bernard paused in thought, then shook his head. “I didn’t see them all that much and when my parents disappeared, I only saw them in the evenings. I was finishing up secondary school and getting ready to go to university, so I stayed busy.”
“Tell me more about your parents. You said they disappeared?”
He nodded. “They never came home from a New Year’s Eve party. At least that was the story Lukan and Kulirra told me. I remember they wore fancy clothing, sort of like the gowns you wear. I assumed it was another one of their costume parties. They went to them all the time.” He glanced at Freyja, her amethyst gaze steady as she returned his stare. “Why are you so interested in my family?”
“From the moment I saw you, there was something familiar about you, as if I should have known you from somewhere. It bothers me that I can’t figure it out, but I will, though. I always do.”
A flash of light caught his attention, and he turned back to the Glass in time to see a tank explode, the fiery blast incinerating the soldiers inside. Several more tanks exploded, and the soldiers’ dying screams filled his head, bringing back all the pain and loss he had felt during the war. So many men needlessly dead, all because of a megalomaniac and his henchmen.
“Hitler wasn’t the only one behind the devastation, Bernard. You must remember there were many colluding with each other to take the upper hand and remake the world as they wanted it to be.”
“I know,” he said, forcing the words past the blockage in his throat. “I would give anything to be able to go back and change what happened. So many beautiful towns now rubble. An entire race of people all but obliterated because their faith wasn’t Christian, or whatever the Nazi belief was. I can’t imagine a God who would have wanted any of this done in His name.”
“No one will ever understand the tortured and demented mind of those who seek such destruction. Not even the gods. We can only do what we can to minimize the outcome.”
Bernard’s gaze snapped to hers. “Well, then, the gods didn’t do enough. Six million Jews died because of Hitler and his circle. Six million!” He pulled in deep breaths, trying to calm down the inferno of rage that had been building inside of him since he had watched Hitler die in comfort in Paraguay. While the Führer may have been alone, there were still so many who followed his edicts.
“Damn that man! He should have died in excruciating agony like those he had tortured.” After everything Bernard had done to help win the war for the Allies, he felt cheated.
“Have you seen or heard from Alva?”
He met her gaze momentarily before turning back to the Glass. “No, why?”
“No real reason. She hasn’t returned yet from visiting her mother or sent me a message asking for more time. It isn’t like her.” Freyja reached out, laid her hand on his shoulder, and gently squeezed. “Don’t let your frustration best you, Bernard. I know better than most the heartache of losing people, especially those we love. Nothing will make those deaths easier to bear, but they are no longer in pain, nor are they persecuted. Their spirits will be reborn to live happier lives. Mark my words. Changing events only leads to a path further damned.” With each word, her voice grew quieter, until she stood and walked across the room toward the door. “This last part I know all too well, my friend. Leave the past alone.”
The room’s silence grew until he felt smothered. Rising, he crossed to the tall, narrow window on the far wall and stared down at a lush garden. A kaleidoscope of colors swirled from purples, reds, and yellows, to shades of orange, pale pink, and white. The garden’s beauty was broken only by a path of dark green grass meandering through the artistic canvas.
A child’s giggle filtered through the space. The happy yapping of what sounded like a small dog or puppy joined in. He flipped the window’s lock open, holding the wavy glass panes as they swung outward. Pissing off a powerful goddess by breaking her beautiful windows was not something he wanted to do, even if he was mad at her for not changing enough of the abominable events that happened throughout the war.
A movement in the far corner of the garden caught his eye as a bright-yellow object bobbed up and down along the hedgerow. A cringeworthy, high-pitched squeal shattered the peacefulness.
“Julek! Get back here right now!” a girl’s voice hollered, annoyance more than anger in her tone. “I swear, you don’t listen to anyone. Do you want Mikhail or Natalya mad at you again?”
The yellow object stopped, then toppled forward as a furry brown puppy pounced. They both tumbled out of sight. A brown-haired girl appeared behind the tumbling duo as another fit of happy giggles filled the air.
She looked to be about twelve or thirteen years old, but as she glared down at the boy, he recognized the expression on her face. He had seen it enough from his own mother. She had to be Adela, Julek’s older sister. Natalya had mentioned the arrest and subsequent deaths of their parents, and Adela, due to the war, now acted more like his mother rather than his sister.
“I’m tired of always running after you, Julek.”
“Aww, Adela, this garden is safe. Freyja said so.”
Adela leaned forward and pulled up the yellow object, which Bernard now recognized as a rain slicker. She pushed back the hood, revealing a tousle-headed boy with a wide grin on his face.
“Wanna play chase with us?”
Bernard’s eyes narrowed as he studied the girl’s face. Even though he was quite a distance from them, he saw the way she pulled her lips between her teeth, trying not to smile.
Another boy appeared behind the girl. He winked at Julek and laid a hand on Adela’s shoulder. “No harm done. Your brother has more energy than three kids his age. I think running around with a puppy chasing after him was just the thing he needed. Now, though, we must return to the others.”
Julek pulled his yellow slicker’s hood back over his wild hair and once again bobbed up and down along the hedgerow, heading back to wherever they’d come from. “Are we gonna get to do something fun? Oh, I know! We’re gonna eat, aren’t we? A huge feast like we had when we first got here. I wanna eat the yummy breads!”
The boy laughed, walking beside Adela. “I’m sure we’ll eat soon enough. Right now, we’re going to meet up with Mikhail, Natalya, and her sister, Lilyann, to talk about our future.”
“Why, Peter? Why can’t we stay here?” Julek asked, his voice fading away as he skipped on ahead without waiting for an answer. The two teens followed him at a much slower pace, and from the way their heads tilted together, they were probably whispering. He didn’t blame them. Now that the war on Earth was over, kids could be kids once more, pushing boundaries, eating up knowledge, and crushing on a new love.
Absently rubbing his chest, he closed the window, turned back to the sitting area, and sat in the same spot on the sofa. Ignoring the rumbling of his empty stomach, he leaned back to begin watching the God’s Glass again, but it turned black before fading back to its normal bronze color. He dropped his head on the back of the sofa in disgust. Now, he didn’t even have this escape.
“Thought I’d find you in here sulking.”
Raising one brow, he tilted his head back just enough to see Lilyann gracefully walk to the sofa perpendicular to his. She settled down on the velvet cushion and tucked her slippered feet underneath her, resting one arm on the cushioned back.
“Shouldn’t you be at a meeting with your sister and her husband to talk to the children?”
Her elegant blond brows rose. “How in the world do you know that? We only just decided to meet about thirty minutes ago.”
He grinned at her. He loved Lilyann like a sister. She was the younger sibling he’d always wanted and never got. He would do anything to make sure she was safe and happy, and she seemed to be. Her American soldier certainly tried to do his best. Poor man was in for a shock, though, once Lilyann found her water legs, so to speak.
She was hell on wheels when she set her mind to something, and her mind was always turning. He loved her all the more for it. She was a brilliant spy and an excellent soldier. He knew no one braver, especially once he’d caught sight of her biplane. In his opinion, anyone who flew missions against the Germans in such a flimsy contraption had nerves of steel.
“I have my ways,” he hinted, but when her eyes narrowed, giving him a scorching glare, he held up his hands and chuckled. “Okay, okay. I overheard a few of the kids when they were in the garden.” He pointed to the closed window on the other side of the room. “It opens.”
With a rather loud humph, she crossed her arms over her chest. He immediately noticed the ring on her fourth finger, the aquamarine glittering as the large gem caught the room’s light with every move she made.
“You have something to tell me, Lilyann?”
When her brows furrowed and her face scrunched in confusion, he grinned and dropped his gaze to the ring.
Glancing down, she held out her hand in front of her and stared at the handsome gold ring a moment before giving him a wide smile. “Charles and I didn’t want to wait, so we asked Heimdall to marry us.”
Bernard couldn’t hide his disbelief and sat up. “What? You asked Heimdall? For gods’ sake, why? Is it legal?”
Her laughter filled the room and seemed to last forever before finally ending in more of a pained whimper. “Oh my, I definitely needed that, but now my stomach really hurts. Who knew laughing used so many muscles?” She swiped away the tears from her cheeks and leaned back on the sofa. “The answer to your question is ‘yes,’ my marriage is legal. Heimdall is the perfect person to officiate. After all, he has foresight and can tell if our love will stand the test of time.”
She leaned forward with an excited expression. “Would you like to see the ceremony?” Her gaze darted to the bronze God’s Glass, perpetually hanging from its thick black chains over the fireplace. “Of course, we’d need to have Freyja work the Glass thing…” Her voice trailed off. The Glass had come to life again and she stared at the unfolding scene in front of them. “How…?”
“Don’t tell anyone, but I seem to have discovered a few gifts of my own since my rebirth into Freyja’s small army. One of them is being able to control the Glass, although what good that does me, I haven’t figured out yet. Now, let me enjoy seeing you get married.”
Bernard watched as a radiant Lilyann stood beside her American soldier. Charles had proven himself time and again after accepting Freyja and Idunn’s gift, and Bernard would never be able to repay him for holding Lilyann’s soul, so she could be brought back from the afterlife.
A large man dressed in a shimmery robe that subtly changed from bronze to gold stepped into the scene. The sash at his narrow waist emphasized broad shoulders, and plain black boots peeked out from under pants that were a shade or two darker than the robe.
The stranger wore his shiny hair in tiny braids that framed his pale face. They’d been caught up and knotted on the back of his head, creating a thick, white plait which lay over his shoulder.
Throwing Lilyann a quick frown, Bernard returned his gaze to the stranger, standing almost a head taller than Charles, who wasn’t short. “I thought you said Heimdall married you?”
Lilyann smiled. “That is Heimdall.”
His face went slack. Suddenly, the man who looked nothing like the dark-skinned god with swirling gold eyes turned and stared directly at him. Heimdall’s ice-blue gaze cut through time and space, spearing Bernard’s and holding him immovable. In his head, he heard two words.