“Major Schnurr,” Aldrik nearly purred, taking a half-step closer to Vhalla. His fingertips brushed against the small of her back. “I would be very careful with your next words.”
“There was a Knight of Jadar working with them?” Erion frowned from across the table.
Vhalla nodded solemnly.
“I must send word home to my father,” Erion mumbled.
“Can I tell my uncle that we have the Le’Dans beside us against this menace?” Aldrik asked Erion.
“The Le’Dans are friends of the Windwalker.” Erion nodded at the prince and then at Vhalla.
Vhalla watched as Major Schnurr stilled at the far corner of the table.
“How are they coordinating such an attack?” Raylynn asked.
“Some type of magic.” Vhalla shook her head. “I’ve never seen it before. Something with the trees.”
“You’re sure?” another major asked her.
“I am.” Vhalla nodded.
“But if you don’t know the magic—”
“I am telling you all I know.” Vhalla placed both palms on the table, leaning forward. “There has been communication. There is an attack coming of a magnitude that the Chieftain thinks will overwhelm our army. They are cornered and dying. This is an act of desperation. The head clan plans to use the attack as a means to escape, to keep the North alive.” Vhalla swallowed hard, thankful and surprised her arms hadn’t begun to quiver. “So we can debate if we can trust my word, or we can decide what will actually be done.”
They all stared at her in stunned silence. Vhalla swallowed hard. The grizzled Major Zerian at her right began to laugh. Everyone turned to him slowly.
“It is a sorry day when a girl from a library puts the greatest military minds in their place.” He grinned at her, and she saw a crazy glint to his eye. “Then again, we all know by now you’re not just some library girl. Continue, Lady Yarl.”
Vhalla saw the look of shock the Emperor gave the major at his use of an honorific, and she nodded firmly.
“I think we should rush the palace before the time is up. We have been training, the army is ready, and I am ready to lead.” She swallowed. Had she just said that? “The Western spy had relayed our plans of attack, but we still have the advantage. We can put their leaders to the sword and torch their sacred forest.” Vhalla wanted to feel horrified with herself. But she’d reminded herself that it was what must be done, reminded herself so many times that she now believed it.
“We do not know what their attack will bring, but it will crush their morale if their support forces sees their sacred forest smoldering.” A few majors nodded in affirmation as she continued, “Plus, it will raise the morale of our soldiers, and if we must fight, we will be coming off a victory. Therefore—”
“That is enough.” The Emperor nearly shouted over her, and the entire table jumped in surprise.
Vhalla leaned away from the table. She pursed her lips and swallowed, her emotions swinging between hatred, anger, and fear.
“Have I not made myself perfectly clear? You are not here to speak strategy. You are here to bring me victory—that is why I let you live.”
A few surprised glances were shared at the Emperor’s words. Aldrik shifted to face his father.
“We will not be attacking Soricium prematurely,” the Emperor announced before anyone could get in a word.
“My lord.” Major Zerian was the bravest of them all. Aldrik seemed too shocked, still processing his father’s proclamation. “We have been training for weeks and this is our best chance.”
“We will endure the attack and continue the siege until I say otherwise,” the Emperor decided.
Vhalla stared in dumb horror. He was going against logic for the sake of spiting her? She reeled with loathing. This man cared nothing for his people, for the suffering of others. All he cared about was the perception of his power.
“I agree with Vhalla.” Aldrik had finally recovered.
The Emperor snapped his attention to his eldest son.
“I agree with her as well,” Daniel spoke in her defense also.
Vhalla stared at him in horrified appreciation of his boldness.
“I, too, agree with Lady Yarl,” Erion stood alongside his fellow Golden Guard.
“She is not a lady!” the Emperor seemed to have had enough, and Vhalla’s chest tightened at the man’s tone.
“She is in the West,” Erion said evenly. “Are you saying the West’s traditions do not matter, my lord?” There was a dangerous implication to his words.
“I would never say such a thing.” The Emperor shook his head, not wanting to be caught insulting the people whom he depended on to win his war.
“As I said, the Le’Dans stand with the Windwalker. I am honored to have her be a lady of my home,” Erion practically decreed.
Vhalla saw other nods, even from one or two of the Southerners. This seemed to only worsen the Emperor’s disposition on the matter.
“I think your leaders have spoken, Father.” Aldrik’s voice came from her side. His eyes were nowhere close to seeing her as he challenged his father with an obsidian gaze.
“Do you?” the Emperor said slowly.
The Emperor did not look at her as he next spoke; he was too fixated on trying to stare down his son. “You forget yourself, Aldrik,” the Emperor breathed before continuing louder. “Miss Yarl, thank you for your report. You are excused.”