Earth's End

Page 28

“The Lady Yarl?” Raylynn asked from Baldair’s left. Vhalla realized the whole of the Golden Guard was there, including a wide-eyed Daniel.

Time seemed to hold its breath as she met the other Easterner’s eyes. He was just diagonal to her right, not more than a few arm’s length away, but she felt like he was on the other end of the world. His hazel eyes drifted over to Aldrik at her side, clouding darkly before he averted his stare, making Vhalla’s chest tighten uncomfortably.

The rest of the table seemed oblivious to the silent conversation between the two Easterners. They focused on what Aldrik was saying, “... gave her a Crimson Proclamation.” “A hollow title,” the Emperor scoffed with a shake of his head.

“I respectfully disagree.” Erion had an amused grin playing at the corners of his mouth as his eyes darted about the table like he was watching a spectacular play unfold before him. “As a proud member of one of the oldest families in the West, I would take care to honor the Windwalker as a lady, if the Lord Ci’Dan has so decreed.”

Despite gaining support, Vhalla was surprised to see Aldrik’s mouth tense briefly into a frown. The two Western Lords stared at each other for a long moment. Even Elecia seemed to pause her inspection of Aldrik to squint at Erion with apparent distrust.

“I would agree as well,” another Western man vocalized.

“I welcome the Windwalker into the Western Court.” A woman gave Vhalla a small nod of her head.

The Emperor scowled and opened his mouth to speak. “

Excellent. Now that that is settled, shall we resume?” Aldrik got in the final word and the table awkwardly turned back to the papers at hand, beginning to discuss something about the training schedules for the troops.

Vhalla braved a glance at the Emperor. His jaw was set and his eyes hadn’t left Aldrik. He saw right through what they were doing, Vhalla was certain of it. They weren’t exactly being subtle.

“... the question remains, do we invest in building weapons of siege or training the soldiers?” One of the other majors slid down a piece of paper that had been marked again and again.

“If she opens the doors to Soricium for us,” Erion retorted with a motion to Vhalla, “then siege weapons seem a waste of time. We should begin preparing for battle.”

Vhalla leaned toward Aldrik, peering at the paper he’d been presented. The prince made no sign of discomfort at her proximity, accommodating her interest. Elecia had finished her brief inspection and had run off somewhere.

“If she opens the palace,” stressed the grizzled major to Vhalla’s right.

“I will open it.” Vhalla was so engrossed in understanding the document that she missed all eyes turning to her in surprise at the confidence in her voice. “Here.” She pointed to the far side of the palace on the diagram. “Why aren’t there any siege weapons here?”

“They sealed off the back entrance with rock and rubble in the third year so, they only need to protect one entrance,” Aldrik explained.

“So then we would enter from here.” She placed a hand on the table to lean over the large piece of parchment. Her index finger swept to the opposite end of the palace.

“The girl can deduce we should go through the working door. Why don’t you leave this to the adults, child?” a mustached Western man sneered.

“We need to move something here.” Vhalla tapped at the back gate, pointedly ignoring him.

“What? Why? They closed off that entrance,” Raylynn commented from across the table.

They all looked at Vhalla like she was stupid. She looked back at them much the same.

“They are called Groundbreakers,” she observed. “Do you think some rubble would stop them from making that entrance usable again in a moment?” The sight of the cliff falling out from under Aldrik’s feet was in her mind again.

“Like the battle of Norin.” She boldly brought her eyes to the Emperor. These men and women would never respect her if she didn’t stop hesitating in showing them what she knew, what she’d learned and studied. She needed to turn book knowledge into something practical, something useable for action. “You charged with only a quarter of the host at the main gate. The rest flanked from behind.”

His eyes studied her coldly, and Vhalla swallowed, hoping she did not mix up her facts.

“No one expected you to come from the sea. You had the advantage and swept them from all sides.” She turned her eyes back to the map below.

“This could be the same, but a little reverse. We are weak on that side, unsuspecting. If we rush in with the main host through here, they run out this old entry, close it back up, split, flank us, and surround us. After that they can pin us in and massacre us at their leisure.” Vhalla took a breath and brought up her eyes. Everyone stared at her. Some wore expressions of shock, one or two appeared upset, Jax was wickedly amused. She turned to Aldrik; he stood with his hands folded across his chest, smirking proudly at his father.

“Would this be within the realm of a Groundbreaker’s abilities?” the Emperor finally asked.

“Oh, completely.” Jax laughed. “Don’t we look dumb for not thinking of it sooner?”

“Then if we move these here ...” someone started.

Vhalla’s head was reeling from the rush of her success that she faded out of the conversation for a few minutes as the majors debated how to reorganize their weaponry most effectively. She regained her focus when the argument became heated.

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