Aldrik led her to a spot in the middle of the table that magically appeared, placing her at his right. Vhalla sat, instantly scanning the spread of food for whatever seemed the most palatable. If she ever returned to the palace, she would never complain about the servants’ and staff ’s meals again. Her eyes glanced over to Aldrik, if she ever ate such meals again.
“If it is any reassurance, I made sure the damn box was buried far and deep.” Jax surprised her with his announcement, a wicked grin overtaking his face at the end of his words that assured her things had returned to normal between them. “And if anyone tries to bring it near you again, I trust you to fight tooth and nail.”
Vhalla laughed at the sudden image of her blowing the Emperor onto his rear.
“When this war is over, you should come to the West, Lady Vhalla,” another Western lady remarked.
Vhalla couldn’t help but notice Major Schnurr was missing as the table voiced mutual agreement.
“Here, here!” Erion raised his glass.
“I think your reception would be glorious. We have libraries on magic alone that are, I am certain, beyond your wildest expectations.” Jax seemed to know exactly how to tempt her.
“When put like that ...” Vhalla mused.
“She has a place in the capital,” Aldrik said firmly.
Vhalla lost the fight with the blush that instantly appeared on her cheeks. A place at the capital by his side, he meant to say. If he spoke like that, everyone would know of their engagement within weeks. Their engagement, her heart still did flips at the thought.
Jax paused, peering at the prince. “It’s been some time, my prince, since you last paid a visit to the home of your forefathers. How long has it been since you visited your mother’s grave? Why don’t you go together?” A sly curl took to the corners of his mouth. “Imagine the reception for both of you, side by side. The Western prince, master sorcerer, returning home with the first Windwalker in over a hundred years—not in chains but as a free woman, a lady perhaps! A decorated soldier and master in academia—”
“I wouldn’t say I’m a master in academia,” Vhalla objected.
Jax didn’t seem to hear Vhalla as he continued, “—a girl who has risen from her servitude to change the world! They will weep in the streets, they will name babes after you both! These are the actions bards sing of and young maids weep over!” Jax clutched his chest. “You two will—”
“Jax, enough.” Aldrik pinched the bridge of his nose with a heavy sigh.
Jax roared with laughter, and Vhalla buried her face in her food to hide her slowly burning face. She would lie if she said his depiction did not wet her appetite for the West. Vhalla noticed the amused—yet approving—looks from the other Westerners at the table. She raised a hand, running her fingers over the small watch.
Vhalla failed to notice that more than one lord and lady at the table took note of the new token around her neck.
“Shades of Jax’s madness,” Aldrik muttered.
“Ah, friend, you know you enjoy it!” Jax raised his flagon in a mock toast.
“You tell me that every time, but I am still uncertain if it is true,” Aldrik said dryly. His tone was just flat enough to be void of bite, and Vhalla knew Aldrik truly did enjoy the man’s company.
The talk quickly turned serious; there was only so much time to spare on levity. From the direct questions and the flow in conversation, Vhalla learned what she had missed throughout the day. It seemed no one was enthused about the idea of waiting for an unknown attack when Soricium was ripe for the taking. But the Emperor had spoken, and they had no choice but to bend to his will. He’d made that fact brutally apparent when he put the chains on Vhalla despite their objections.
The moment the food was finished, they returned to their spots around the standing table. Aldrik needed to be filled in as well, as he’d spent most of the day at her bedside. He had a completely different face when discussing strategy and war than the face he wore when it was just he and Vhalla. But his eyes shared a similar intensity when he was focused on her form as it was under his hands and weight. It made Vhalla shift in place, suddenly hot.
Erion would lead the attack on the western side of camp. He’d split swordsmen with Daniel, who’d be on the east. Baldair would take the swordsmen on the north, with Raylynn leading the archers at his side. The Emperor and Major Zerian would take the south.
Jax announced that he would be fighting with Erion in the west. Which left Aldrik to volunteer himself on the east side to lead the other half of the Black Legion. Vhalla forced herself not to show any emotion as she watched Aldrik’s name be penned into the map for the east side.
This was his duty as their prince, the ultimate leader of the Black Legion and their future Emperor. He would fight and lead on the battlefield. She clutched the watch at her throat tightly. Even knowing he’d been training for moments like this since he was a child didn’t make the knowledge easier.
The other majors explained their positions, dividing their expertise among the different sections of the armies. Vhalla focused on the appointments of this person or that person to this position or that position. Halfway through, the Emperor joined them all once more, settling at the head of the table and casting a heavy cloud over the group.
Aldrik showed the nearly final list to his father.
“Where will the Windwalker go?” the Emperor’s eyes drifted to her, nothing but utter distain held within them.