Vhalla studied the brotherly smile on Erion’s cheeks. This man had been Baldair’s right hand, and they’d both held Jax in high esteem. Two men, who Vhalla had nothing but respect for, deemed Jax acceptable. Combined with Elecia and Aldrik’s general acceptance . . .
“How can you call yourself his friend?” Vhalla blurted.
“Pardon?” Confusion stilled him.
“You defended him in his trial, even after what he did.” She wanted so badly to understand what everyone else seemed to know. Vhalla was giving Jax the benefit of the doubt based on those around her, but she was tired of being expected to have blind faith.
“He told you, then?”
“He did.” She frowned. “I have barely been able to look him in the eye for weeks. I don’t understand.”
“What did he tell you?” Erion asked slowly.
“The truth of how he came to be in Baldair’s service.”
“The truth? Or Jax’s truth?”
His words stopped her heart. Vhalla hadn’t even thought to question that the man would be lying to her. It had been so horrible. Who lied to make something worse than what it was?
“A murder in cold blood for a lover’s revenge?”
“Something like that,” she admitted, wondering the source of the shift in Erion’s eyes.
“Even after all this time,” Erion muttered then cursed under his breath.
“No. What?” she demanded, refusing to let Erion pull away.
“It’s not my place.”
“He said you spoke for him in court.” Vhalla thought quickly, not wanting to let the conversation die. “You can tell me why. That is your place to say.”
Erion considered her for a long, hard moment. “He told you I spoke for him?”
“And you still believed him?”
“Well . . .”
“I’m hurt, Vhalla.” Erion’s expression echoed the truth of his words. “You think I am the type to rise to defend a man who slays innocent women in their beds?” She had no real answer. “Do you think Baldair would permit a man with a history of violence toward the innocent into his guard?”
That was exactly what she’d been struggling to reconcile. “So, he lied about it? Why would he lie?”
“You know his full name. I’m certain, as Empress, you have access to those records.” Erion stepped away. “If you want to know so badly, go and find out.”
“Should I walk you back?” She glanced at the hall from where they’d come.
“I know the way.”
“Erion, I’m glad you’re all right.” Vhalla gave him one more quick embrace. This time the Westerner was ready, and his arms tentatively wrapped around her shoulders.
“I am glad you are as well, and that one of my brothers still defends you as Baldair would have wanted.” There was a waver in Erion’s voice when he said the late prince’s name. “Fight for us all, Vhalla.”
“Always,” she vowed.
He let her go, and Vhalla was off. She tore a path through the castle unapologetically, a woman on a mission. The library wasn’t prepared for her whirlwind as Vhalla scanned the shelves with purpose. The old records were kept on the highest floor, and Vhalla searched for manuscripts and scrolls similar to what was kept in Hastan.
If the truth was on the shelf, she would find it. Manuscripts littered the floor around her, and the scrolls were mostly unrolled. It was in the fifth book that she had finally found what she suspected was the right year. On the first page, Jax’s name stared back at her in the list of trials and decrees the book contained.
Vhalla flipped eagerly, opening to the page.
A frayed edge of parchment stared back at her. The pages, five or six by the looks of it, had all been ripped from the book. Only the first page, introducing the crimes, and the last page dictating the sentence, remained. Vhalla snapped the book shut and took a deep breath. Were some truths better not to find?
She stood, resolute. She’d long since banned lies in her world. It was time to make sure Jax Wendyl understood that fact.
The day was hot. It already felt like the late days of summer in the South, but spring was barely upon them. Vhalla’s cheeks were flushed by frustration as much as from the weather.
The guards and soldiers parted before her as she stormed through the grounds. The bottoms of her split skirt brushed upon the hard-packed, sandy dirt, wind flying under her toes. Vhalla clenched and unclenched her fingers.
“Major Jax,” she called the moment she spotted his high bun among a group of soldiers performing drills.
Jax paused. Aldrik had trained her well because Vhalla didn’t miss the flash of panic in his eyes. Her expression had instilled the appropriate amount of concern in him. Maybe this time it’d be enough for him to tell her the truth.
“Why, Lady Yarl, been some time. And here I thought you’d forgotten about little ol’ me,” he chuckled.
“Not quite.” She folded her hands at the small of her back. “I require you.”
“That’s what they all say.” Jax gave a lecherous wink to a nearby soldier, who laughed uncomfortably.
“In there.” Vhalla pointed to a castle entry, a gust of wind unlatching and opening a door.