Gathering her resolve, she walked as silently as possible around the couch upon which he sat. He had one leg bent, his lower calf resting on the thigh of his left leg. A book was open, but Vhalla could see no sign of ink or quill. He was researching lightly or reading purely for pleasure, judging from his lack of note-taking supplies.
Dark eyes rose slowly and froze upon seeing her. Those eyes that glittered and were wonderfully illuminated by the fire. Across the world and all the time that had passed between them, those eyes could still hold her in place.
“Go ahead,” she encouraged softly.
“Did you have fun in the city?” he finally asked.
“I did.” Vhalla nodded and watched the flames flicker and dance upon the marble hearth. No fuel for their blaze crackled, and the fire felt warmer knowing it was his.
“I’m glad.” Aldrik returned to his book.
Was that all there was? No, she took a step forward. That could not be it. They could not pretend away this impasse. She could not let the day fade away in a manner that widened the gap forming between them since their arrival in Norin.
Vhalla crossed the distance between them and knelt at his feet.
“Vhalla—” he sighed tiredly.
“Listen.” He leaned back in the chair, clearly unamused at being interrupted by her yet again. “Listen, please. If you listen, I will listen to what you need to say, I promise.”
Aldrik motioned for her to continue.
“I need you to know that I trust you.” Vhalla looked at the book in his lap as she spoke, as though the mere sight of it could bring her support. “I know I am not well versed in interacting with the society that our marriage will require I interact with. And I know full well how that can make a mess. The truth is, Aldrik, I don’t care about the ways of nobility.”
He was about to interject but she continued too quickly.
“But I care about you.” For once, Vhalla pierced him with a stare. She felt that exhilarating sensation of looking right into him and seeing his inner mechanisms. “I am the wind, Aldrik, but you are the compass point to which my passions gust. And I will learn to be perfect for you.”
Vhalla shifted, her legs falling asleep beneath her. Aldrik placed both feet on the floor, moving the book. The unspoken invitation was accepted, and Vhalla rested her cheek on his thigh. His long fingers wove through her hair, and Vhalla could not stop the contented sigh that escaped her lips.
“I don’t want perfect,” Aldrik uttered. “I will never be perfect, and I will never deserve perfect.”
“But I can try.”
“Why?” He chuckled deeply. “Vhalla, we will always have our tiffs; even the best couples do. What matters to me is that you come to me and I go to you. That we embrace love more than hate.”
“Everyone around me is so philosophical today.” She shook her head in amusement.
“My Vhalla.” The long pause drew her eyes open. Aldrik waged a mental war with the fire, the flames flashing and dimming a few times. “I moved some troops. The borders will receive further support.”
“How?” Vhalla straightened.
“I forfeited the defense that was remaining here in Norin for our wedding.”
“The city will remain defended,” he inserted the answer before the question could be asked. “But there will be no extra. The more I thought it through, the more I felt you were right. Victor will attack from the south and continue to push his line of influence before trying to jump straight to Norin. He’ll chip away at our strength while we wed. So perhaps we can give him a small surprise with the new placement of force.”
“Aldrik . . .” She struggled to find words.
“We will march shortly after the wedding.” A glint of desperation appeared in his eyes, one she had never noticed before. “I have already sent word to the princess’s mother, beseeching her to have their warriors waiting for us in the Crossroads. We will end this war soon enough.”
“But first.” He took his hands in hers, leaning forward. “My Vhalla, my lady, my love, please marry me properly. Not for the appearance for the nobles or the war. Marry me because—” Aldrik looked away, and Vhalla swore it was only the red of the fire on his cheeks. “Because I want a proper wedding for us.”
It was then she realized what a fool she’d been. Certainly politics was a factor, but Aldrik truly wanted it. More than anything, he wanted a ceremony, and he was clearly doing all he could to appease her enough to earn her consent.
“I’m sorry, Aldrik.”
“Tell me, what else can be done to reassure you? If you want a red dress, then it shall be so, but can we not make it for a better reason than—”
“This isn’t about colors of dresses.” She laughed weakly. “I’m sorry I never realized how much it meant to you.”
Aldrik’s lips parted in surprise, and his brow relaxed. Aldrik looked away, suddenly bashful. With just her fingertips, she guided his attention back to her.
But Vhalla was hungry for more than just his attention. Her lips met his before any more words could be exchanged. A low growl rumbled up his throat, a sound she harmonized with, full of yearning. Vhalla stood slowly, prolonging the kiss as much as possible.