The senator was waiting with Lord Sevin in his tent.
“Apologies for the delay,” Aldrik said with minimal sincerity. The Emperor could keep people waiting, he had told her. The world waited on them.
“No need to apologize, my lord.” The senator gave a small bow of her head in respect to each of them. “And lady.”
“Sevin, do you have final counts on men and supplies?”
“I do.” The Western Lord produced some papers.
“Excellent.” Aldrik began to read with Vhalla reading over his shoulder.
“Most of the supplies made it through the battle, but we sustained heavier casualties than expected,” the lord summarized.
“We have already requested further support from the West.” Aldrik turned his attention away from the parchment.
“Reinforcements may be slow,” Vhalla mused aloud. “And the East should learn how to defend itself.”
“What are you thinking, Lady Vhalla?” the senator asked.
“We should set up a system to spread the word that we need recruits. Five riders carry a message to the five nearest towns. There, they command five more riders to carry the word outward to five more towns.”
“And create a web across Cyven,” the senator finished Vhalla’s logic. “It’s not a bad suggestion.”
“It would depend on Lord Sevin’s men being capable of training them.” Vhalla looked to the Western lord. “They will be farmers and stable boys, as green as they come.”
“We can train them,” Sevin affirmed with a nod. “So long as they’re willing to be trained.”
“Once trained, they can help defend Hastan and build the army here for mobilization against the South when we are ready to attack.” Vhalla finally turned to Aldrik.
“I would like to see my betrothed’s suggestion made reality,” the Emperor ordered.
Vhalla remained quiet for the second half of the meeting, once more watching Aldrik work and learning everything she could. She fully expected to be questioned on his methods afterward, and she was proved correct.
On the way back to the government building, Aldrik inquired on his approach and offered her both criticism and praise. There were ample areas for improvement that quickly became apparent, but Aldrik was good to sandwich praise around them. Some were as simple as pointing out that she needed to improve her posture. Others had layers of nuances that Vhalla still didn’t completely understand as they entered the main building.
“And, above all other things,” Aldrik continued, “you must remember that you are their Empress.”
“But how can I relate to them if I am distanced?”
“Practice, to a certain extent. But it’s difficult,” he confessed. “It is more important for them to see you as their sovereign rather than their friend. That they know you are above them.”
Vhalla nodded, deep in thought.
“You are unpleased.” He smiled tiredly.
“You could tell?”
“I don’t need the Bond to see it. I know you well enough.”
Vhalla shook her head. There was a time where she worried that their affections were entirely a product of the Bond. How foolish that seemed now.
“Can I be both? Their leader and their friend?”
“To some, yes.” Aldrik nodded. “But not to the masses.”
“I suppose it’s a good thing I like books more than most people,” Vhalla muttered.
“A superb ruler in the making, indeed.” Aldrik gave her a knowing smile, and Vhalla relaxed further.
Vhalla woke two mornings later with a sickness in her stomach.
Aldrik briefly insisted upon fetching Elecia, but Vhalla refused. There wasn’t a clerical solution to nervousness, and she knew of no salves that cured stress. The medicine she needed was bound between leather and delivered with silence. She’d been avoiding asking because their days were so filled with preparations to leave for Norin in another two mornings’ time. When she finally broached the subject with her husband-to-be, he made her feel silly for even being concerned about leaving him to deal with the responsibilities alone.
The city’s records room was dusty and stagnant. It hadn’t been aired out in quite some time, and she went into a coughing fit with the first heavy scroll she pulled from the shelf. It wasn’t her first choice, but Hastan didn’t boast an impressive library, and she knew she’d be alone here. All she wanted was a quiet space and something to read.
Hastan’s governmental logs weren’t exactly thrilling material, but Vhalla had a new appreciation for the eloquence of politics and the importance of maturity in governance that made the reading more engaging than previous experiences.
Two scrolls in, Jax poked his head in and quipped, “Oh, Empress.”
“I’m not the Empress yet.” She adjusted the parchment before her.
“Close enough.” He grinned and let himself in the rest of the way. Jax leaned against the door as he shut it. “Our Emperor has asked me to check on you and see if you need anything.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t send Elecia,” Vhalla mumbled.
“He tried to.” Jax laughed at her correct assumption. “Elecia said if you were not well you were ‘quite capable’ of seeking her out on your own.”