“Do we want her in the palace?” Baldair asked, ignoring the tension. “To relay information from within?”
“That is certainly one useful place,” Raylynn thought aloud.
“Where do you want to be?” Major Zerian turned to Vhalla, with everyone else’s eyes following.
“I will be wherever I am most useful.” Vhalla glanced at the Emperor, wondering if there was a right and wrong answer to the question.
“Of course you will be.” Major Zerian had the makings of a weathered smile. “I am asking because the place you will be most useful is the place you want to be.”
“I don’t want to Project. I want to fight.” There was no question in Vhalla’s mind.
“What?” Daniel was surprised, and he wasn’t alone.
“Really?” Baldair asked.
“I was brought here to give insight, or entry, into the palace. I have done the former, and with these current circumstances, the latter does not seem necessary,” Vhalla addressed the confused and curious looks. “I think I will be of more use on the field.”
“I have been itching to see a legendary Windwalker twister,” Jax commented with a smirk.
“We do not know how this battle will end, what will need to happen after. We may still need entry into the palace; it seems foolish to risk the life of the only person who can grant it,” Craig pointed out.
Vhalla frowned. It made sense, but she wasn’t exactly fond of Craig for suggesting it in that moment.
“I think we should let her fight,” the Emperor announced. Everyone was surprised, other than Vhalla and the princes.
He would want her to fight, Vhalla mused darkly. She wouldn’t be surprised if he had some “accident” planned to occur in the chaos of battle.
“If she fights, she fights with me,” Aldrik proclaimed, clearly having a similar thought. There was a small threat in his tone, daring anyone to question him.
Even the Emperor remained silent.
“Then she fights with you,” Major Zerian voiced the final decision.
Vhalla heard Aldrik take a breath and hold it as he leaned over the paper they had been working on. She watched as his hand moved, squeezing the name of his future bride in a small space next to his. The ink dried and, just like that, it was done.
The following days passed easier than expected. Vhalla had never expected to find peace, nevertheless happiness, at the end of the world. But that was the only way she could describe the feelings that had taken root in her chest.
Preparing for war was exhausting work. She spent nearly every day Projecting, and when she wasn’t, she was at Aldrik’s side lending her insights to planning the army. The majors seemed to have accepted her as one of them and listened to her thoughts even when Aldrik wasn’t part of the conversation, even when he was off tending to something else. It was bold, but they displayed few issues in accepting her as the prince’s voice in his absence. Aldrik encouraged it by deferring to whatever she’d decided.
The Emperor did not bother her or Aldrik either. Vhalla was not delusional enough to think that he too had accepted her. It was far more likely that he had been so scorned by Aldrik and the majors’ fondness of her that he was licking his wounds quietly. Or, scheming. Likely both.
Vhalla noticed the majors’ eyes on her watch more than once. But no one asked. The same was not true for Fritz. He babbled and gawked over it every time Vhalla went to visit him.
She decided not to tell the Southerner about Aldrik’s proposal, merely writing off the token as a gift. Fritz didn’t question, and Vhalla felt guilty for taking advantage of his blind trust. Something about it all remained impossibly unreal. It was still a dream, a pretense, a make believe that she would one day marry Aldrik.
At night, the prince would assure her otherwise in every way he knew how, in ways Vhalla hadn’t even conceived were possible.
The closer the final day came, one more thing began to creep up between her every thought. On the eve of the battle, it was all she could think of: the axe. She knew it existed, she could feel it in her bones, and Minister Victor had asked her to retrieve it. If it was as powerful as he claimed, then the last thing Vhalla wanted was for it to fall into the wrong hands.
She hadn’t noticed she’d been staring into space until a palm rested on her lower back. Vhalla jumped in surprise. Aldrik stood at her side.
“Go to bed,” he commanded softly. Aldrik misunderstood her distraction for exhaustion. “This is the last night, and you need all the rest you can get.”
“What about you?” Vhalla asked, glancing to make sure no one was close enough to hear.
“I will be burning the midnight oil.” Aldrik shook his head. “Not sleeping is back to normal for me.”
“Not anymore,” Vhalla was eager to correct him.
“Perhaps you are right. Normal has become actually sleeping through the night.” Aldrik grinned.
“I’m ruining you,” Vhalla jested lightly.
“How dare you make me sleep and take care of myself,” he replied in mock anger.
“Is it really alright if I leave?” she asked, looking at how busy the room still was.
“We all have to sleep eventually. Some of the others have already shut their eyes.”
“When will you?” she asked.
“Soon.” He glanced away.