Earth's End

Page 52

Vhalla opened her mouth, instantly censoring the truth. She knew enough of her prince to have no doubt that Aldrik’s choice in clothing had been directly influenced by his brother, even if it wasn’t the only catalyst. “You should ask him.”

“Haven’t you been listening? Haven’t you seen it?” Baldair shook his head. “We don’t talk. There isn’t a happy end to this, Vhalla. This isn’t the story where the two estranged family members come back together, apologize, and build a new bond.”

“Why not?” Vhalla asked.

Baldair seemed at a loss for words.

“Why don’t you start writing a new chapter?” She smiled. The instant flash of emotion, of hope, on the younger prince’s face gave him away. “Aldrik’s more trusting than you think.”

“Of you,” Baldair pointed out.

“Then I will help.” It wasn’t her business to do what she was doing. The lives of the princes had been set a decade before Vhalla had even met either of them. But she was too committed to stop. There was an odd sense of absolution in helping them, as if it could shelter a small part of her soul. “If you sincerely want to build a new bridge with him, I’ll help.”

“Why?” The younger prince seemed at a loss for all other words.

“Because I love him.” To Baldair’s credit, he didn’t startle at her words. “Because he’s not as smart as he thinks, not when it comes to this, and you’re too emotional to say it the way you really mean.”

“You wound me,” he scoffed with a laugh.

“Right, right.” Vhalla waved her fork through the air, scooping another bite into her mouth.

The doors on the far end of the hall opened for Aldrik, the Emperor, and a host of majors behind them. Vhalla’s eyes fell instantly on Major Schnurr, and she rose to her feet with muscles taut. The man clearly didn’t like her, given the look he wore upon seeing her. Vhalla regarded him with equal skepticism, remembering that anyone among them could be a spy. If she were a betting woman, her money would be on him.

“I am glad to see you awake, my lady.” Aldrik was a half-step faster than his father and a breath quicker.

“Good morning, my prince.” Vhalla lowered her face respectfully but kept her eyes up, to see what information she could glean from his expression. Aldrik beamed down at Vhalla, genuinely happy to see her.

“The majors have some questions regarding your Projections that I could not answer over breakfast.” Aldrik led them toward the standing table. Vhalla recognized her sloppy sketches of the interior.

“You have informed them of my findings?” Vhalla asked delicately, glancing up at Aldrik from the corners of her eyes.

“The relevant information about the interior of the palace,” he affirmed.

Vhalla translated his words to mean that the majors at large didn’t know that there were traitors among them. It was likely for the better. Sending the majors into a frenzy would only make the person—or people—harder to find if the majors tipped off the spies that they’d been discovered

“From here to here.” Erion pointed from the exterior to interior wall. “How wide is it?”

“About four men, toe to head,” Vhalla replied, ignoring the Emperor settling in at the end of the table. She was thankful for Aldrik positioning himself between her and his father.

“And here to here?” Craig’s golden bracer shone as he pointed to one of the shacks she’d marked as food storage.

“Another ten men, maybe?” Vhalla guessed.

“The trebuchets will reach, then,” Craig assessed.

“They should,” Erion agreed, and both men turned to the Emperor.

“Miss Yarl,” the Emperor ground her name like glass between his teeth. “Are you certain of the locations of the food stores?”

“I am,” she firmly replied. “Their construction?”

“Similar to what we have here. Canvas, hide, leather, wood.” Vhalla gripped the table, knowing what orders were about to be called. She stared at the maps she drew. The ink that had sealed the fate of the Northerners she’d walked among.

“It has been proposed that we launch flaming debris or dead livestock to destroy and or poison their food stores. Prolong the siege and starve them out, instead of risking an all-out attack,” the Emperor stated, affirming her suspicions. “What do you think?”

Vhalla studied the Emperor’s face. What answer would he want her to give? This was a game, it was all a game. Vhalla planted her feet and held her head high.

“It will not work,” Vhalla proclaimed boldly, much to the shock of the table. “We must attack them outright.”

“Excuse me?” The Emperor was too startled by her tenacity to formulate a sufficient counter.

Vhalla reminded herself of what she was. She was death; she was the executioner of the North. Well, if she held their fate in her hands, she would swing the axe as fast and as cleanly as possible.

“What is this treason?” Major Schnurr sneered. “Do you speak against the will of the Emperor?”

“I speak for what will lead us to victory,” Vhalla shot back.

“Victory?” the major scoffed. “What does a little girl know of battle and victory?”

The Western major knew just what to say to make Vhalla’s blood boil. “I know plenty.”

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