She managed a few more hours of sleep, better sleep than she’d gotten the whole night. Elecia was surprisingly snuggly when passed out, and Vhalla promptly used this knowledge, confirmed by Fritz, to tease the Westerner viciously. Vhalla had never seen Elecia so flushed with embarrassment and anger.
The morning progressed into the afternoon, and Vhalla braced herself for Jax to come looking for her at the crown prince’s request—but he never did. It made Vhalla wonder if Baldair had gotten word to Aldrik. Then Vhalla felt frustrated for thinking of the man and threw herself into some debate on magical theory with Fritz. It didn’t take long before the cycle repeated.
Elecia left eventually to do something with the clerics, but Fritz continued to lounge with her. He appeared eager to skip training for once.
“She’s been such a slave driver,” Fritz bemoaned the moment Elecia was gone. “All she wants me to do is train.” “Well, we are at war,” Vhalla teased.
“A war you will end.” Fritz smiled brightly at her. “You honestly believe that?” Vhalla rolled her eyes.
“Of course I do!” Fritz seemed shocked she’d think otherwise. “And I’m not the only one. You only got a small taste last night. The soldiers really think you’re something special.”
“I’m not, though.” Vhalla sighed, an odd pressure settling on her chest at that notion. She withheld any bitter comment about how any one of those soldiers could be a spy evading capture.
“You are!” Fritz insisted.
“You sound like my father.” Just mentioning her father made Vhalla ache for the East. But it was an odd sort of nostalgia. Vhalla didn’t think she could go back there for some time. She was too different; she wouldn’t have a place there any longer.
“Then your father is a genius,” Fritz insisted.
“He’d tell you my mother was the smart one.” Vhalla rested her forearm on her forehead.
Fritz rolled onto his stomach, propping him up by his elbows. “You never talk about her.”
“Nothing to say.”
“That can’t be true,” Fritz probed.
“She died when I was young, autumn fever.” Vhalla knew she’d told the Southerner that much before. “But,” Vhalla sighed sweetly. “She could coax a plant from the sandiest soil in the driest of years. She had strong legs that were never afraid to climb up to where I’d roosted in our tree, or on the roof. And she had the loveliest singing voice.”
“Do you sing?” Fritz interjected.
She shook her head. “I inherited my father’s voice, not hers.”
“Sing me a song.”
“No,” Vhalla laughed. “You don’t want to hear it.”
“Please,” Fritz begged.
He insisted until Vhalla finally agreed. The melody was slow and low, the lullaby her mother had sung every night. It told the story of a mother bird keeping her chicks in the nest, of plucking their feathers so they’d never fly. Vhalla didn’t even get to the part where the baby birds began to wear the other animal’s pelts when Fritz burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry,” Fritz wheezed. “You’re right, your voice is awful.” Vhalla rolled her eyes. “I told you so. My mother kept her singing voice, but she gave me her mind. She was the one who taught me how to read.”
“How did she learn?” Fritz asked. It wasn’t common for people of Vhalla’s status to be literate.
“Her parents worked at the post office of Hastan.” “Did you know them?”
Vhalla shook her head. “They didn’t approve of her marrying my father. They’d hoped her literacy would let her marry someone ‘better’ than a farmer.”
Vhalla wondered if her grandparents were even still alive. If they were, she mused over what they’d think of her being involved with the crown prince. The thought brought a pang to her stomach.
As if on cue, the tent flap was thrown open. Jax grinned at the two of them. “Told you she’d be here.”
Vhalla sat and Fritz followed as a bewildered-looking Baldair knelt at the entrance to the tent. His endless cerulean eyes absorbed hers, and Vhalla shifted uncomfortably. There were unspoken volumes within them.
“He’s lost his mind,” Baldair whispered.
“What’s happened?” Vhalla scrambled out of the tent. Even after all her frustrations, she was ready to run to Aldrik’s side.
“I went to his room to check on him and he was gone, bottles smashed.” Baldair placed a palm over his forehead in disbelief.
“Alcohol?” Vhalla whispered.
“He’s helping run drills with the Black Legion now,” Jax contributed.
“Which he hasn’t done in years.” Baldair tilted his head to catch Vhalla’s bewildered eyes.
Her heart was racing in her chest. She had to see it—to see him—to believe it. “Where is he?”
Jax and Baldair led her toward one of the many training rings where the Black Legion worked. Firebearers sent tongues of flame racing toward each other, kicking and punching with blazing hands and feet. Aldrik walked among them, the fire glittering off of his armor.