The door opened and Vhalla turned groggily, not expecting the man who entered.
“Well, I can’t recall the last time I caught a woman in my brother’s bed.” Baldair laughed summer into her frozen world.
She sat quickly, letting the sound wash over her. Vhalla stared in shock at the golden-haired prince. She and Prince Baldair hadn’t had the most stable or conventional of relationships, but he had given her and Aldrik one last night before they entered the North—before they were parted, potentially forever. The younger prince likely had no idea the place he had earned in Vhalla’s heart with that.
“Baldair,” Vhalla breathed, a sigh of relief. The sight of him was warm familiarity. Vhalla never thought she’d say it, or even think it, but Prince Baldair was the most comforting thing she’d seen in weeks.
“I hardly expected to find you here,” he chuckled. “I imagine it’s quite the story.”
Vhalla frowned. He was carrying on as though there was some wild tale to her presence that they would share and laugh at over a hearty drink. Her eyes darted to where Jax hovered in the doorframe. “You didn’t tell him?”
“The second I told him you were here he asked to come see you,” Jax explained.
Vhalla looked back at the younger prince, dread filling her. Why was she to be the one to bear this news? “Baldair,” she started slowly.
“What?” The broad-shouldered man glanced between her and Jax.
“I tried to save him.” The words brought a bundle of emotion with them that Vhalla choked on momentarily. “I tried, and I failed.”
“Mother, woman, you’re scaring me.” Baldair sat heavily on the bed and scooped up her hands in his. Vhalla didn’t know who he was comforting, but it seemed to go both ways. “What are you talking about?”
The words slapped Baldair across the face, and his head jerked toward Jax. “What is she—”
“She’s being dramatic.” Vhalla scowled at Jax’s words. The man raised his eyebrows. “You somehow have more insight than I even though we’ve been side-by-side for days?”
Vhalla opened her mouth and thought better of telling him exactly what and how she knew.
“But,” the Westerner relented with a sigh, “things aren’t good.” He produced some familiar blood-stained papers from the inner breast pocket of the tired military jacket he wore and handed them to Baldair.
Vhalla focused on a corner of the room, unable to bear Jax’s frustrating nature or Baldair’s expressions as he read through the accounts from Major Reale and Elecia. The prince sighed softly and relaxed his grip on the letters. “Vhalla?” Baldair asked. He had a lost and fearful look that matched her heart perfectly. “Did you really do all this?”
“Did what?” She shifted uncomfortably under the weight of Baldair’s stare.
“You jumped from the Pass and ran through the North, alone?”
“Someone had to.” The feat didn’t seem nearly worth all the amazement in Baldair’s eyes—of course she would do those things.
“Has there been any word from the host or riders?” Baldair asked Jax.
The head major shook his head. “None from the riders ... the host marches forward as planned.”
Baldair stood, handing the papers back to Jax. “Aldrik is strong, and I know that he will not let himself die now. Not when he finally has a reason to truly live again. That brother of mine is likely just trying to get out of marching the rest of the way here.” Baldair’s laugh was forced.
“But for the here and now, food and company will do us all some good.” The golden prince extended a calloused hand to her, and Vhalla took it. The prince’s strength was often touted as being physical. But Vhalla was beginning to learn that the man known for breaking hearts seemed to have a rather large one of his own.
Baldair paused at the door. “Ah, it’s Serien still, right?”
“For now. I thought it safer that way,” Jax confirmed. “Best not to let the camp rumors start until we have the Emperor’s input on them.”
“What happened to your Windwalker?” Vhalla asked as they left the room.
“She was killed.” Baldair glanced at her, and Vhalla was surprised to find a protective edge to his manner.
“The Emperor’s was also,” she reported.
“Not as of when I left.” Vhalla shook her head.
“If he was putting on a show, he was likely protecting her as he would have you,” Baldair thought aloud. They rounded the corner for the main room. “Sorry to keep you waiting, friends!” There was laughter and japes at Baldair’s expense for being held up with a mystery woman as he started for a table with his Golden Guard. The room was filled with more majors and soldiers, all seeming to celebrate the return of the favored prince. Jax and Baldair were halfway to a table before they realized she was not walking with them.
Her eyes were affixed upon an Eastern face and a rainbow of emotion burst into color within the dark hollow of Vhalla’s chest. Daniel stood slowly, staring at her in shock. Vhalla remembered the last time she’d seen him, the weeks they’d spent together the last time she had been Serien. It brought the mask of the other woman back to her in a rush and all the conflicted feelings along with it.