“I see.” Vhalla debated if the girl was to be believed.
“But, well, it was amazing what you did, moving the archer’s wall.” Tim fumbled in her pockets. “My friends started asking me about you; they wanted to know more about your magic, about being you.”
Tim pulled out a dark scrap of cloth from her pocket. Painted upon it with some thick white paste in a rough hand was an attempt at the feather symbol that had been emblazoned upon the original cloak.
Vhalla stared at it in confusion.
“We started making them, my friends and I.” Tim passed it from hand to hand.
Jax and Baldair took a step closer. Even Aldrik leaned in to get a better look.
“I know it’s not very good, it’s just the stuff they use on tents to make them waterproof. There’s no actual paint here.”
“Why?” Vhalla asked, bewildered. “Why are you making these?”
“Well,” Tim mumbled. “We all, we think it’s lucky. You’ve survived so much, the attack on the Capital, the sandstorm, the assassination attempt, getting through the North. And, no offense, but there’s no reason a library girl should have survived all that.” Tim covered her mouth in shock. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, you’re right,” Vhalla laughed.
“Anyways, I guess, we feel like there’s something blessed about the winds of the Windwalker, and that this will protect us in the battles to come.” Tim focused uncertainly on the cloth in her hands.
“I don’t think—”
“You may wear it,” Aldrik announced from Vhalla’s side, cutting her short.
Vhalla’s attention jerked toward the prince in surprise.
“Really?” Tim brought her eyes up to the prince’s.
“It was my design; I should have to give just as much permission,” Aldrik said flatly, looking away.
Vhalla stared up at him in shock that he would openly confess such a thing. “I suppose it is fine, then.” Vhalla smiled, trying to reassure the girl.
“Thank you!” Tim beamed. She glanced at the princes, as if suddenly remembering herself. “I’m sure you have business to attend to. I shouldn’t keep you.”
Vhalla’s smile slipped from her face the moment Tim had vanished. “It won’t protect them,” she whispered to no one in particular.
“Neither will their prayers to the Mother. Will you tell them not to pray?”
Vhalla blinked at Aldrik; it seemed an odd thing for a prince to say about the religion of the Empire. “No, but—”
“Vhalla, soldiers need hope, and there is such precious little to go around,” Baldair explained. “They need courage, motivation, the belief in a greater force—any greater force. They need symbols and beacons for that hope.”
Vhalla nodded, her thoughts a step behind Jax and Baldair. She chewed over the words. Baldair was seeing something she didn’t. He had been for some time.
“I find joy in knowing others turn to you for courage and inspiration,” Aldrik spoke only for her and caught her startled eyes. “I am sorry for how I acted last night. And for, well, you know,” his silver tongue failed him. Aldrik paused, and Vhalla stilled as well. “You were—are correct. And I promise, if you will still have me, I will work to stop turning to it.”
“Of course I will have you.” It was easier to forgive him than it was to be angry. It felt right to be at peace with Aldrik. Fighting, no matter how justified, was an unnatural state for them. It was like her left hand picking a conflict with her right. They were both part of her. “Though, I do expect we will speak on it.”
“Eventually, when you’re ready,” Vhalla conceded with a gentle smile. It would do nothing to push him further for the time being; this was an issue that would benefit from small steps, time, and patience. Trying to take it on at a warfront was not the most ideal of situations.
He gave her a warm and deeply appreciative look, and she barely kept herself from slipping her hand in his, but Vhalla walked closer to the prince than was proper. Her side almost brushed against his with every step. Aldrik wasn’t shy with his smiles, and Vhalla beamed from ear to ear. They were so overcome with relief that they missed the startled looks from soldiers all the way back to the camp palace.
They spent another two days in a relative peace. Mornings were spent with Baldair, Raylynn, Jax, and Elecia. On the second morning, Elecia boldly brought Fritz along into the camp palace, and the Southerner’s tenacious and outgoing personality fit in easily with the odd mix of nobility.
The afternoons she spent Projected in Soricium, but not much had changed. Their preparations for an attack were going ahead as planned, and Vhalla knew they’d strike in a few short weeks’ time. The army was almost honed to fighting perfection.
It was four days later when Vhalla finally found the Chieftain on the woman’s viewing platform, as Vhalla had dubbed it.
“They prepare to ransack Soricium,” the Western man reported.
If only Vhalla could figure out where his information came from. It was becoming almost too easy to accept a spy in their midst.
“The Windwalker is an informant. She could be here right now.”
There was a dark amusement in knowing the man’s words were true.