“Well, now that that’s settled.” Elecia cleared her throat uncomfortably. She resonated exasperated disapproval at Vhalla’s hands intertwined with Aldrik’s. “Sit, cousin, and let me see you.”
“I’m quite well—”
“Not yet to my satisfaction.” Elecia rolled her eyes. “Now sit.” Aldrik obliged his cleric, and Elecia was quick with inspecting the crown prince.
“Jax, get us food, would you?” Elecia instructed.
Jax left with a nod.
“What are you wearing?” Aldrik asked, just noticing Vhalla’s attire.
Vhalla adjusted the cloak over her shoulders. She explained the evening with a turn, showing him the slashes down the back. Aldrik’s eyes darkened, and he was immediately back to his determined defense of her.
“Major Schnurr,” Aldrik muttered. “You should stay away from him.”
“But—” Vhalla’s protest was interrupted by Elecia.
The dark-haired woman turned, looking Vhalla up and down. “He’s right,” she corroborated.
That gave Vhalla pause.
“The major is old West,” Elecia explained when Aldrik’s attention had retreated within his own thoughts.
“I’m a lady of the West though,” Vhalla observed.
Elecia snorted. “Look at you, Miss Lady.” A wicked little smirk told Vhalla this was how the Western woman teased.
“He’s the wrong sort of West.” Aldrik had finally returned, whatever he was mentally working through resolved for the moment. “Old West, Vhalla. Not like my uncle.” Her prince regarded her thoughtfully. “Like the sort that still holds the banner of the dead King Jadar and seeks to bring back the days of xenophobia toward the South, the monarchy of the West, enslaving Windwalkers and using them for their own nefarious purposes ...”
Vhalla paused, the cloak suddenly feeling very heavy on her shoulders. The Burning Times, the genocide of the Windwalkers, had been almost one hundred fifty years ago. It was inconceivable to her to think the sentiment still lingered on in anyone.
But Vhalla remembered the Crimson Proclamation that Lord Ophain, Aldrik’s uncle, had given her. He had said it was to heal old wounds and move toward a new future between East and West. Vhalla had thought it a hollow symbolism. She’d never thought it truly had modern day meaning.
Jax returned with food, picked up on the mood in the room, and set his burden silently on the table.
“I’m not afraid,” Vhalla said finally, sitting next to Aldrik. “I’m just one Windwalker, and it’s been a long time.”
Aldrik was about to disagree when Elecia cut him off. “You need to eat more than that.”
“I should think I can decide how much food I can eat.” Aldrik glanced sideways at the young woman.
“Right,” Elecia snorted and grabbed another root vegetable for Aldrik. “Seriously, cousin, why do you bring me if you’re not going to listen?”
“How long have you studied healing arts?” Vhalla asked around the resigned prince.
Elecia paused, thinking.
“All her life.” Jax sat across the table. “
Really?” Vhalla was impressed.
“Natural talent is nothing if you do not hone it.” Elecia never missed an opportunity to brag.
“For her age, Elecia is one of the best healers in the world,” Aldrik boasted.
Vhalla thought Elecia’s face was going to explode from all the pride that lit it up. As annoying as the other woman could be, it was nice to see someone so fond of Aldrik. Considering this, Vhalla began to begrudgingly reevaluate all of Elecia’s actions, viewing them from the place of a protective family member—someone who seemed more like a little sister than a cousin.
“Good morning, all.” Baldair yawned from the entry into the back hall, a disheveled Raylynn at his side.
“You two at it again?” Jax japed. “You must show me sometime how you keep getting the Heartbreaker Prince to invite you to his bed.” Jax leaned away from the table to speak to Raylynn behind Baldair’s back.
To her credit, Raylynn held her composure well. Vhalla was almost envious of how the woman seemed to be able to not care what others thought about her pursuits of pleasure and companionship. “Skills you will never learn.”
“But then how can I get Baldair to invite me to his bed?” Jax whined playfully.
“Mother, Jax, it is too early.” Baldair buried his face in his palms.
Infectious laughter suddenly overwhelmed Vhalla.
“What’s wrong with you?” Raylynn turned up her nose at
Vhalla as she reached for one of the steaming root vegetables. “Oh, my dear prince.” Jax sighed dramatically at Aldrik. “I fear the girl has lost her mind.”
“This is crazy,” Vhalla snorted with laughter.
“The only thing crazy is you.” Elecia rolled her eyes.
“I’m eating breakfast with half the royal family, Golden Guard, and a Western noble, at the siege of Soricium,” Vhalla wheezed. “And it feels perfectly normal.”
Aldrik’s deep chuckle harmonized with hers. “Well, I am glad you could find some ease.”
“The most backwards family you could ever meet.” Baldair grinned.
“But a family nonetheless.” Jax nudged Baldair, and the prince chuckled, giving him a nod. Vhalla remembered Daniel and Craig both praising the Golden Guard as being more like kin than soldiers.