“How dare you use that against me,” she whispered.
Aldrik pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Vhalla, I am tired. Just go for a while.”
She obliged him with a pointed glare and a huff, departing the room with a not-quite-gentle closing of the door. The Emperor was thankfully absent from the main hall. Majors came and went as they always did, most nodded in acknowledgment, but none bothered her or stopped what they were doing to strike a conversation.
Vhalla sat in the far corner, picking listlessly at some food. The constant Projection and not leaving the camp palace because of Aldrik’s concerns for her wellbeing all combined to make her mood rather foul. She was going to go crazy before the war was over, and wondering what the prince insisted on hiding from her wasn’t helping.
If only she could sleep and dream of the memory he wanted so badly to keep from her.
Elecia sat next to Vhalla, seeming to materialize out of nowhere. She was often in the camp palace; being the cousin of the crown prince and a noble earned her unquestioned entry. But she was always busy with the clerics, and Vhalla hadn’t had much time to talk with her other than in passing. Often, the woman seemed to only appear to slip Vhalla a vial containing a certain awful-tasting potion without a word.
“You’re not eating enough,” Elecia observed.
“I’m fine.” Vhalla rolled her eyes.
“You’ve been eating less and less. Why?”
Vhalla cursed the woman’s clerical attention. “Bugger off.”
“If you’re going to be a lady, you should at least learn some better insults.” Elecia hummed, “It’s likely this food.”
“You should eat something fresh off a campfire—much better.” Elecia stood. “Cleric’s orders.”
Vhalla stared up at the other woman in surprise. She slowly stood, swinging her legs over the bench. Elecia started for the door.
The night air hit Vhalla’s lungs and filled her with life once more. The camp palace was so stale, Vhalla realized. Leaving with her Projected form hadn’t been enough. She needed the wind.
“My cousin can be foolish.” Elecia started in a familiar direction. “He means well—we both know that. But he isn’t graceful when he deals with the things he wants having their own needs and desires.”
Vhalla was forced to sigh in agreement. “You sound like you speak from experience.”
“I am his most favorite cousin,” Elecia declared. “But he’s never quite had the desire or opportunity to consume my attention and time like he can yours.”
Vhalla curled and uncurled her fingers as Elecia spoke, enjoying the wind.
“He doesn’t know he’s smothering you.” Elecia blinked her eyes at Vhalla.
Elecia was checking her Channels, Vhalla realized.
“Your magic already looks better now that you’re outside.” Elecia turned forward again, satisfied. “Now, there’s someone who’s been chewing my ear off to see you.”
Fritz nearly tackled Vhalla the moment he saw her. Vhalla squeezed him as tightly as he did her. It felt surprisingly good to hold someone other than her prince, she realized.
“I was beginning to think that Aldrik really had conjured you from the wind, and you’d just been my imagination before.” Fritz linked arms with Vhalla.
“What?” Vhalla laughed, letting them lead her toward a campfire.
“The soldiers, they’ve every theory under the sun about you two,” Fritz explained.
“They do?” Vhalla blinked with surprise.
“Oh yes, that he conjured you from the air to fight for the Empire Solaris. That you are actually a Wind Demon. That you were gifted by the Mother herself to fight at his side.” Fritz counted his fingers as he listed. “And that you’re his secret lover and your power is magnified with your coupling.”
Vhalla turned the color of Western crimson.
“I think it’s the last one,” the Southerner sang to Elecia. Elecia thumped Fritz on the top of his head with a fist. “That s the very last thing I ever want to think of my cousin doing,” she proclaimed, despite being the one who provided Vhalla with a consistent supply of Elixir of the Moon. Elecia sniffed at Vhalla. “Especially with her.”
“The stories I could tell you.” Vhalla sniggered, watching as Elecia paled in horror.
“It is true then?” Fritz seemed like he was about to explode.
Vhalla’s face was back to burning, and she’d never been more thankful to arrive at a campfire surrounded by soldiers.
As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Elecia had been right: Vhalla needed the wind in her hair again. She also needed the casual company of commoners. She needed laughter. She needed to pretend she was free.
Fritz was also right: the soldiers seemed to have every theory about her, and they asked about them with varying levels of bravery. Vhalla did her best not to discourage their questions. The last thing she wanted was to turn herself into a distant figure. She’d spent her whole life struggling from the other side of nobility; she still struggled with Aldrik, and she vowed to not let it happen to her.
Eventually, unsurprisingly, Jax came looking for her. Vhalla begrudgingly agreed to return, which wasn’t easy when Fritz clung to her arm until she swore to come back soon. The sorcerers asked her to come and train them, and Vhalla vowed to do that as well.