“I’ll tell the Lord Sevin to overlook that, if you do as we ask.” Elecia raised her head with a triumphant grin. “Now, take me to my father.”
Elecia was recognized not more than a few steps off the road. That was all it took. The soldiers leading them were suddenly wanting to make sure they accommodated every little thing the travelers asked for—now that they realized they were in the presence of the Emperor.
A messenger reached the Lord Sevin before they did. He was already running as they approached the heart of the camp, the tent flaps fluttering behind him. Elecia dismounted, crossing to where her father was skidding to a stop.
“My girl,” he uttered in awe.
Vhalla immediately noticed two things about Sevin Ci’Dan. The first was that he didn’t seem much older than Aldrik. The second was that the two could almost be brothers by appearances alone. Aldrik’s mother, Fiera Ci’Dan, Western Princess, was the sister of Lord Ophain Ci’Dan, Sevin’s father. That would make Aldrik and him cousins, so the family resemblance made sense, Vhalla reasoned.
“Fiarum evantes,” Elecia spoke the Western greeting strong and proud.
“Kotun un knox,” her father replied.
They clasped forearms, and the man lowered his forehead to his daughter’s briefly. It was a restrained greeting and, compared to the Eastern embraces Vhalla was used to, she would expect it to seem cold. But there was true admiration in their movements, still waters ran deep here. It was different than what she knew, but the love remained.
“My Emperor.” The lord dropped to a knee.
“Sevin,” Aldrik spoke, dismounting. “No need for that. It is good to see you well.”
“I cannot say enough of the same.” The two men clasped forearms as well, an easy reunion between family members. “We heard you were dead.”
“My lady has a habit of cheating death.” Aldrik motioned to Vhalla. “She shared a bit of her luck this time.”
“Your . . . lady?” The man followed Aldrik’s hand to Vhalla.
“Vhalla Yarl,” she announced and dismounted.
“There is much to tell.” Sevin’s eyes looked across their group before turning to his men. “Take their horses, see them rubbed down and the dust off their coats. Bring dried dates, cohi, bread, and whatever perishables are freshest.”
They were ushered into the lord’s tent. It was large enough for a table, cot, and a number of personal affects. However, it was unlike Aldrik’s tent on the march. This had been set up with the intention of not being moved for some time.
“Are you in contact with your father?” Aldrik asked, sitting on one of the large pillows atop the hide that surrounded the low table.
“Regularly.” Sevin sat next to his daughter. “I will send word to him immediately.”
“I would like to include a personal letter.” Aldrik motioned for Vhalla to sit at his right hand, and she did so without hesitation. Fritz and Jax filled in the rest of their small circle. “He may think you’ve gone mad if it’s not in my hand.”
“Of course.” The lord paused as soldiers brought the requested foods. “Going mad is something that he may have suspected already, given the East’s nature.”
Vhalla cleared her throat, unappreciative of the tone of the last statement. “Why are you here?”
Sevin looked to Aldrik, confirming that she did, indeed, have the authority to ask outright. Aldrik stared expectantly.
“When the first messengers were received in Norin, they spoke of the fall of Solaris and demanded Father bend his knee and the West recognize King Victor’s rule.” He snorted, amused at the notion even recounting it. “Naturally, we killed the abominations and have begun to aggressively oppose the madman.
“But the East was unresponsive to our letters. We feared that they had already fallen or aligned with King Victor.”
“So he prepared to subdue the Eastern front as well,” Aldrik concluded.
Sevin nodded. “But we came to discover that the delay was only a result of one senator waiting to see if the other three had made it from the South alive.” He mumbled under his breath, “The fool.”
“What is the hesitation now, then?” Aldrik asked.
“You know the East; they don’t want to fight even if war is at their doorstep. They’re stalling to see if they can side with the winner and then belly up like they did with the Empire.”
“Doing so saved countless lives.” Vhalla frowned slightly. “The East knew they were beat, rather than fighting a ten-year war.”
The lord didn’t seem to appreciate her mention of Mhashan’s longer, but inevitable, fall to the Empire.
Vhalla sighed softly; divisions would get them nowhere. “But this is different,” she conceded. “This is not a force that can be reasoned with. This is a man beyond sense and logic. He will kill us all just because it would suit him to do so.”
“You have seen him.” The lord heard something in her tone that made his words a statement, rather than a question.
“I was the one to give him this corrupt strength.” Vhalla met his eyes, and the lord leaned backward involuntarily. “And I will be the one to take it away. I will be the one to kill him and end the blight of crystals once and for all.”
“What have you seen?”