“Soldier, you’re out of line.”
“It’s too early to be causing trouble.” Jax startled her with his proximity. Both soldiers saluted the Head Major of the Black Legion.
“What are you doing here?” she questioned.
“I could ask the same of you.” Jax cocked his head to the side. “Well, let us through,” he ordered the guards.
The soldiers obliged the head major, letting them enter without problem. The long hall was empty, paper and ledgers spread upon tables. She had underestimated how early it really was.
“Well?” Jax folded his arms over his chest. “I need to see Baldair,” Vhalla explained.
“That much I’d figured.” He grinned. “Moving from one man to the next very quickly, aren’t you?”
Vhalla lashed out as fast as the wind, so fast that even Jax stared wide-eyed as she gripped the collar of his shirt. “Don’t you dare,” she snarled.
Surprise retreated from his face. His black eyes grew even darker with an intensity she’d never seen before. It sent his jovial exterior running in terror. A grin spread across Jax’s cheeks slowly, barring his teeth like an animal. “Do you want to do this, here, now?” he asked softly. “I’ve been a very gracious host to you so far and am happy to continue to be.”
Her grip faltered. This man’s moods swung like a pendulum and, in this moment, she had a very clear picture as to how and why he had become Head Major of the Black Legion. Jax raised his hand slowly, placing it on her shoulder. Even with the telegraphed movement, she still jumped.
“Let’s not, shall we?” His other hand rested over her wrists, pushing them easily away.
“It’s not what you think,” she said, still defensive.
“I promise you, you have no idea what I think.” Jax wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Now, let’s go get you your prince.”
Vhalla withheld comment, deciding not to retort that the golden-haired prince was not her prince.
Every step began to add another doubt as to her chosen course of action. What did she plan to achieve? As Jax went to knock on the door, she nearly stopped him. But the opportunity was eliminated as his knocks faded into silence.
“Who?” A sleep-hazy voice called.
“Your blushing princess,” Jax called in a girlish falsetto. “Go away, Jax.”
She could hear shifting from within.
“Alas, darling, it’s not just me.” Jax glanced down at her. “You’ve a certain lady looking for you.”
There was some mumbling and distinctly feminine whispers before a set of heavy footsteps marched over to the door. The latch was lifted from within, and it opened a crack for the prince. “You?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you, my prince. I forgot my armor here.” Her resolve had vanished.
“Why did you seek me out if you just wanted your armor?” The question was gentle when it could’ve been annoyed.
She didn’t have an answer.
“Wait for me in his room.” Baldair nodded his head toward the door across the hall.
Vhalla paced a groove into the floor as she waited. With each step, she oscillated between every mantle that had been thrust upon her over the past year: the library girl, the sorcerer, the soldier, the agent of death. Part of her sang her innocence in it all, including the straw that had broken her back with sudden guilt, Daniel. The other part intoned how she had a hand in crafting it all. She tugged on her fingers in thought.
“Yes, I’ll make it up to you tonight and then some.” She caught Baldair’s melodic chuckle through the thin walls of the camp palace.
When the door opened to Aldrik’s room, a much more properly dressed prince stood in its frame.
“Vhalla?” Baldair closed the door behind him, waiting for her to explain her reason for seeking him out.
“Am I?” she whispered.
Confusion furrowed his brow as the prince frowned.
“What am I?” She shook her head. “Am I Vhalla? Am I owned? Am I free? Am I Serien? Am I strong or weak or ... I don’t know.” She stared at her hands, as if confused as to where they had come from. “I can kill and love with the same heart. I don’t find fear in the things I should and yet can be terrified of the fact. Baldair, I don’t know what I am—who I am—anymore.” The words had been a long time coming, but Vhalla hadn’t even thought them before they crossed her lips. She’d fallen in the Pass and had risen as someone different. She was no longer Vhalla Yarl the library apprentice, and she no longer needed the shell of Serien Leral. She was more than the tool the Emperor saw her as and less than the woman she’d hoped she’d become.
The in-between was threatening to smother her.
“I do,” Baldair said gently and took her hands in his steady ones. “I know who you are.”
She peered up at him. What could he possibly know about her heart that she couldn’t figure out herself ? He was the brother of the man she loved. He was the son of the man who owned her. But, really, until now he had been nothing of particular importance to her. He was about to define himself.
“You are as unrelenting and determined as the wind itself. You are doing what you must to survive. It’s what we’re all doing, leaning on what we must to keep the pieces together.”