Vhalla blinked at her name. Her attention slowly shifted to Daniel, whose expression was icy and guarded. Her heart began to race, and every beat whispered, he knows.
“Fine.” One word unleashed an avalanche of unexplainable guilt upon her shoulders.
Aldrik used the opportunity to start toward the table, turning away when Vhalla looked back to him for some sort of input on the situation.
Elecia gave Vhalla a cool and cautionary assessment from
Aldrik’s side but said nothing. “Miss Yarl, you have not—”
“Let her go, Father,” Aldrik drawled. There was a bitter edge to his voice. “She’s clearly exhausted from her Projections and isn’t thinking straight. She needs rest.”
Vhalla glanced between the prince and the Emperor. Daniel was already halfway to the door, and she was missing her opportunity to flee. Nodding her head in a hasty bow, she made her escape into the night at Daniel’s side.
It felt like a decade when it had only been a day since she had last seen Daniel. It was amazing how much could change in hours. Vhalla struggled to break the silence.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“Thank Jax,” Daniel muttered.
“You played along,” Vhalla pointed out.
“My pants are soaked with ale; I would change with or without you.” Daniel focused forward, avoiding her.
Vhalla didn’t know why she continued to follow him, but she did almost instinctually. “Daniel, what’s wrong?” She hated herself the moment she asked, the moment they entered his shack and he turned on her with pain-filled eyes.
“Really? Must you even ask?” All the nights he’d whispered comfort to her were cut away by the blades hidden between his words. “Don’t bother lowering yourself to trouble with me.”
“What?” Vhalla blinked at the caustic tone. He’d known, hadn’t he known all along, how it was between them?
“I know you’re rather busy attending to the demands of the royal family.” The statement was harmless enough, but the way Daniel said it.
“Don’t do this,” Vhalla snapped. She wasn’t going to let him make her feel guilty for Aldrik. For the bliss they’d shared. “You knew how it was between us.” Vhalla didn’t clarify who she meant by us.
“You misunderstand me,” he mumbled.
“No, I understand you perfectly.” Vhalla grabbed up her small pile of clothes and chainmail from the corner she’d been occupying. “I understand you’re presuming too much from simple comfort.”
“I was just comfort? Well, isn’t that something I could brag about, being the comfort of the first woman the Fire L—”
“Don’t you dare.” Vhalla inhaled sharply, staring down daggers at him.
Daniel blinked at her, as if catching himself. As if logic and reason suddenly snapped back into place, locking down the jealousy he’d been letting get away from him. He moved to touch her.
Vhalla turned quickly and plunged into the night air. Of everyone, thoughtful Daniel was the last person she expected judgment from, and it hurt. She pursed her lips in frustration, and her feet quickened beneath her, carrying her faster and faster from him.
“Vhalla, wait! I’m sorry, I don’t want it to be like this.” The flap of his shack door swayed behind him. “I didn’t—” The words stuck in his throat when Vhalla didn’t stop. “I didn’t mean it, Vhalla!”
She didn’t look back. She didn’t want to let him see the confusion in her eyes.
IT SOUNDED AS though Daniel was going to pursue her, but only for about ten steps. Vhalla kept her eyes forward, her nails digging into the chainmail buried within the bundle of clothing. In frustration, she threw the bundle into the closet military storehouse she could find, all but the chainmail Aldrik had crafted.
Vhalla wiggled into the armor, glaring at the soiled fabric. It wasn’t hers. The clothing had been pulled off the dead bodies of soldiers and given to a communal pile Vhalla had been forced to leech off since arriving in the North. It was a pile she’d weeded through with Daniel.
Nothing was hers anymore. Her name had been taken and given, time and again. Her appearance had been borrowed. Even her magic wasn’t hers to use at will.
She rubbed her eyes with her palm, suddenly feeling exhausted. Vhalla wondered what would happen if she ran. She had already proven she could be faster than anyone else with the wind underneath a horse. If she left, would the Emperor catch her?
Vhalla gazed at the camp palace in the fading light. Her feet had been carrying her toward it on instinct. Even when she was fantasizing over the idea of fleeing, she moved toward to the man who held the chains that ensnared her—just to be near his son.
The Bond she held with Aldrik was stronger than any threats the Emperor could make. Yet despite that resounding truth, the chainmail felt heavy on her shoulders. Aldrik had promised her it would never be easy, but she wasn’t sure how much longer they could keep fighting before something broke. What would the cost be, when all was tallied?
“Can you at least tell me where she is?” A small commotion at the entrance to the camp palace distracted Vhalla.
“We don’t know the whereabouts of the Windwalker.” The guards couldn’t have been less interested in helping the dirty-blonde Southerner seeking entry.