“It’s bright,” Vhalla complained. “Make it go away.” She motioned to the curtains. The room darkened, and they both woke with a start.
Vhalla stared at the now drawn window dressings, as they swayed in the remnants of an unseen breeze.
Vhalla stared at her fingertips in dumb shock, her eyes darting between the unassuming digits and the settling curtain. Raising her hand, she took a shaky breath, determined to re-witness the truth that had just revealed itself to her.
Long, warm fingers curled gently around her wrist. “Don’t.” Aldrik shook his head at her. “Don’t push yourself.”
“But what if . . .” Vhalla stared at the window.
“The curtain closed by a draft?” His smile was small, but there was genuine joy in his eyes. Cupping her face in both palms, Aldrik graced her lips with a brief kiss. It felt like the first kiss in forever, and a butterfly emerged from its cocoon in her stomach. “Do not be silly, my sorcerer.”
Aldrik held out his hand, palm up, and a tiny flame appeared in its center. “Blow it out. But only this small test, and then more rest.”
Slowly, hesitantly, Vhalla rose her hand. Aldrik shifted closer, the orange glow of the tiny mote illuminating his bare chest. Her fingers tensed, straightening and relaxing in an instant. The fire was snuffed, the light extinguished to nothing more than the ghost of a blue glow when Vhalla blinked.
“My magic,” she breathed.
The covers flew through the air as Vhalla tossed them aside. Swinging her feet off the side of the bed, she was stopped, mid-lunge, by an arm snatching her around the waist. Aldrik pulled her back to him, racing heart and all.
“I want to see.”
“You just saw.” He held her to him.
“No, no, it’s not enough.”
Aldrik nuzzled her neck, the tenderness stilling her. “You still must rest. You have been through a lot.”
“I know.” Ice surged through her veins at the memories. “I gave up everything for this, so let me go.”
“You did not.” Aldrik’s hair tickled her shoulder as he shook his head. “You gave up a child that you should have never even carried. And one of my many pathetic attempts at silver working.”
Her insides clenched, but not like it had over the past few days. She had witnessed a memory in which he’d presented a gift to the woman who should’ve loved him as her own child, and it was rejected. Vhalla twisted, seeing beyond him back to that young, nervous child.
“It was not pathetic.” She spoke firmly enough that it commanded his attention. “It was the best gift anyone had ever given me, and I would have loved it had it been misshapen and half-finished—because you were the one to give it to me. That’s what was truly important, that’s why I could give it up. Because our love is more than something I can wear. Our time is far greater than what can be counted by two hands and some numbers. Because, even without it, I still have you.”
The edge of a question slipped into her last statement, and Aldrik sighed, an exhausted smile curling his lips.
“You shall always have me.” He pulled her back onto the bed with him holding her as close as possible. “Our love is more than physical trappings. Be it tokens of affections or the bodies our eternal souls inhabit while we are chained to this mortal coil. I would have made a hundred watches if it would have returned your magic to you.”
There was pain in his words, even still. But there was also truth. He shared in the joy of her magic returning. Vhalla sighed softly and pressed closer against him. If she was going to continue to be restricted to bed, then she would make the most of it by filling her hours with him.
When Elecia and Fritz finally deemed Vhalla strong enough, physically and magically, to leave the bedroom, she paid the price of vanishing from the world for a short week. Letters had piled up from both Norin and Hastan. A new timeline also needed to be addressed for the rest of their journey to Norin.
Their break in the crystal gate at the border of East and West had held long enough for Western reinforcements to get through and march to Hastan. Elecia’s father reported that they couldn’t have come a moment too soon, as Hastan had sustained another attack by Victor shortly thereafter. This time, Victor had sent a larger force on foot, marching from the South and laying waste to cities and towns along the way, Leoul included.
That was when Vhalla realized that she was never going home. She had to continue to believe that her father had, indeed, moved ahead of the gate’s construction and she would meet him in Norin. In truth, home had always been where the people she loved were. For years, that had been the farm in Leoul. But now it was where her father, Aldrik, and friends were.
The news cast a somber cloud over her for a different reason as well. Leoul was farther north than Paca, which meant Daniel’s town had been right in the line of Victor’s marching forces. His fragile state lingered in the back of her mind; the sight of Victor’s sorcerers would have caused agony in the man who cast a shadow across her heart. Vhalla wondered if her friend had escaped safely, or if he had met the fate of nearly a third of the East.
If Vhalla had lacked any purpose before hearing this news, she certainly didn’t after. Rather than hardening, her heart became hotter. It burned and pushed hot blood through her veins faster than sandstorm winds. Vhalla racked her brain, considering all the information that had come through the reports sent from Hastan. She stayed up until her eyes crossed and blurred, trying to find the best way to distribute the East’s limited fighting forces.