Crystal Crowned

Page 23

“She’d be cross with you.” Vhalla began kneading the dough she’d been working on before setting it in a bowl to rest, a cloth draped over top. “How’s the well now? The creeks?”

“It has been a more arid year than normal, but they are fine enough for planting,” he responded. “Don’t worry on that.”

“I do worry.” She sighed. “The fields need ploughing—”

“It’s not time just yet.”

“—the barn door is broken—”

“As it has been for years.”

“You’re not taking care of things,” Vhalla finished pointedly.

“I am.” Rex Yarl laughed. “The farm’s fine; I’m fine. I don’t have some herbs. I always enjoyed bland foods.”

“You do not.” Vhalla crossed her arms on her chest stubbornly. “You loved mama’s cooking, and she used them every day.”

“I did because your mother could’ve made anything and I would’ve loved it.”

Dinner passed quietly and peacefully. Fritz’s soup was ready before Vhalla’s bread, but there weren’t enough bowls to go around. So they waited and talked until the small loaves had time to bake.

She’d forgotten where the sweet spot in their oven was and some of the loaves were a little too brown. Thankfully, Jax diligently adjusted the fire as she’d demanded, as best he could after the hearth had heated, so they were all edible.

Vhalla thought herself clever for gouging out the top of the bread and filling it with soup, even though she’d burned her fingers for handling them too quickly after cooking. They’d not eaten a real, hot meal since Fritz’s home, and it was better than just about anything Vhalla could’ve imagined. Perhaps some of it was the semi-starvation they had been enduring, but everyone had seconds gladly, eating until their bellies were rounded.

It wasn’t long after that they all collapsed on the floor. Fritz and Elecia were asleep in moments, Jax not long after. Their cloaks served as blankets; Rex’s clothing was rolled to create makeshift pillows. After spending so many nights in the open, having two nights in a row under a roof was pure bliss.

Rex insisted that Aldrik take his small rope bed, but Aldrik refused, opting for the small palette that would’ve been Vhalla’s. When he realized they couldn’t both fit, he offered it to her, but it was Vhalla’s turn to refuse. Her Emperor had a hard enough time sleeping, and if the thin layer of straw helped, she wasn’t about to take it from him.

Everyone fell asleep quickly. Everyone but Vhalla. She was exhausted, but sleep wouldn’t come.

She watched the red glow of the hearth fade into the darkness. The moon played hide and seek with the clouds, which she viewed through the window by their table. She listened to Fritz’s soft snoring, the shifts as Elecia rolled around, Jax’s boot scrape against the ground as he twitched in his sleep.

Vhalla pulled herself to her feet, glancing to her father’s bed. He was curled in the opposite direction, the rise and fall of his chest slow and even. Like a child, she crept out the door.

The ladder was where it had always been, propped near the chimney. It was worn and old but could bear her weight without trouble. She situated herself near the stones and used the radiant heat they still held from the baking earlier to fend off the night’s chill.

All her worries and assessments were correct. The roof needed to be re-built. But for now, the beams below the thatching were protected enough that they hadn’t rotted and gone soft. Vhalla reclined back on the slope of the roof, looking up at the endless sky.

The ladder creaked and shifted, and then her father’s head popped over the roof.

“I thought I’d find you up here,” he said softly, climbing up the rest of the way. Vhalla shifted closer to the warmth of the hearth and pulled her knees to her chest to make room for him to sit. “You’re still seeking places like this to roost?”

“I suppose so.” Vhalla thought back to her window seat in the library, how it offered her a view of the entire capital. She thought of her Tower room and the small balcony she so loved. She thought to her fearlessness the night Aldrik had brought her to the top of a spire. She’d never connected her love of high vantages before. “You knew what I was, didn’t you?”

“What you were?”

She finally had her father all to herself. She had the opportunity to ask the questions that had been burning for weeks. And now Vhalla was terrified of the answers.

“You and Mama, you knew I was a Windwalker,” Vhalla asked in spite of her fear.

Her father was silent for a long moment, speaking volumes. “We had suspicions.”

“And you never told me?” Vhalla twisted in shock. “You hid it from me?”

“Little bird, what were we to say? That we thought you may wield magic? Neither of us possessed such powers, and we barely knew what they meant. All we knew was what your grandmother had taught your mother.”

Even her father’s pet name for her suddenly had new meaning, even as he revealed new facets to her past. “What grandmother taught?” Vhalla knew her grandparents had worked in the post office of Hastan, but she’d always been told they had fallen out with their daughter when she’d married Vhalla’s father.

“She also possessed the gift of winds.” Her father sighed heavily, visibly pained by Vhalla’s hurt. “When your mother expressed concerns, you were just a toddler. Your grandmother demanded we send you to her so she could teach you how to live hidden.

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