“I’ve been admiring your timepiece,” Erion said quickly. Jax shot him a sideways look. “Not the first time I’ve noticed it about your neck. May I see?”
Vhalla paused, her fingers closing around the watch. She had no reason to say no. A refusal would merit an explanation she wasn’t ready to give. Resigned, Vhalla unclasped it around her neck and passed it over.
Erion ran his fingers over the front thoughtfully. The two Westerners exchanged a look. Jax gave Erion a small nod. “I thought Prince Aldrik had stopped crafting watches.”
Vhalla felt more exposed than she had while she was under the Emperor’s scrutiny. She snatched it back with a defensive glare, quickly putting it around her neck.
“I’m surprised he let you be so bold with it,” Jax whispered, half under his breath.
“It’s unlike our prince,” Erion hummed in agreement. “Quite the statement he’s making with you.”
Vhalla’s fingers rested over the watch through her shirt where it now rested against her chest. “How did you know?”
“I’ve known our prince since he was small,” Erion explained. Vhalla remembered Daniel telling her that Erion had been the original member of the Golden Guard. “He went through a phase as a child where it was all he did. But I see he continued to progress in secret.”
“Why? Why did he continue only in secret?” Vhalla asked.
“Who knows?” Erion shrugged.
She turned to Jax. He had a different expression. Vhalla gave him a probing stare.
“Likely so he could give them to ladies,” the lanky Westerner laughed away her silent inquiry. “Clearly, the prince gets more action than we thought!”
The two men were jesting back and forth, but Vhalla remained focused on Jax. There was madness to him, she’d always known that. But something ran deeper. There was more to this man than met the eye. He knew things.
“You lot are making it hard to sleep,” Daniel grumbled from his doorframe. He blinked in surprise the moment he noticed Vhalla’s presence among the group. “What’re you doing here?”
“Enjoying not fighting?” Vhalla made up a weak excuse. But it seemed to be accepted.
Daniel chuckled and assumed the place next to her.
“Speaking of fighting, I saw your bird,” Jax said eagerly.
“My bird?” Vhalla tilted her head.
“During the battle,” he clarified, which didn’t really make it any clearer in actuality. Jax considered her stumped face and continued, “The giant flame.”
Clarity washed across her, and Vhalla realized he meant when she had brought Aldrik’s flames into the sky. Hands together, fingers open, she could see how it may look like a bird. “I didn’t really plan for it to be a bird.”
“It was brilliant that it was!” Jax grinned. “I knew it must be you; Firebearers can’t sculpt flames like that.”
“I had good flames to work with.” Vhalla glanced away in the direction of the fortress. Surely the last letter had been delivered already.
As if on cue, Vhalla watched as the three royals—in no better spirits—trudged back inside. Vhalla wondered if she should be at Aldrik’s side facing whatever it was he was forced to endure. Her hand rested over her watch once more. No, after the brief encounter in the morning, she doubted that would be helpful.
“What is it?” Daniel didn’t miss her shift in demeanor.
“Oh, nothing.” Vhalla turned back to the group hastily.
Daniel considered her for a long moment.
“Would you like to see Fritz?” Jax asked.
“You know where he is?” Vhalla was surprised.
“Elecia’s with him.” Jax nodded and stood. “I’ll show you.”
“Thanks.” Vhalla stood as well and said her goodbyes to the group.
During their trek across camp, the three royals stormed out of the camp palace once more. Vhalla stopped, watching Aldrik move rigidly with clenched fists. He was in some kind of argument with Baldair that the Emperor was pretending to be oblivious to. Her hand went to her neck, feeling the watch once more. There was something deeply unsettling about the morning. What wasn’t going as planned? The North couldn’t still be trying to fight.
Jax saw her all the way to a cleric’s tent, saying nothing of her silence. Vhalla was relieved to find Fritz awake and doing well. He had a gash on the side of his head that forced Vhalla to push away the memories of a similar wound Aldrik had worn for weeks. Fritz’s injury wasn’t nearly as severe, however.
Elecia relinquished her position at Fritz’s bedside, walking a short distance away and engaging in a hushed discussion with Jax. Vhalla watched them thoughtfully. They had an easy familiarity about them: they always had.
The Western woman wasn’t gone for long. She had a protective nature about Fritz that left Vhalla to wondering when it had developed. They acted like siblings, Elecia putting up with Fritz’s nonsense more than she would for anyone else.
Jax sat with them, and they discussed their plans for after the war. He remained silent as Elecia went on about how relieved she would be to be back in the West. Vhalla wasn’t shocked at how the girl couldn’t wait to get back to all the lavish trappings her status gave her.
What did surprise Vhalla was when Elecia spoke of coming to the capital to study in the Tower. Fritz and Vhalla were in the midst of encouraging her to do so when Major Schnurr entered the large tent.