Baldair had met his limit now. “Why would I want them to be? So I can spend time with my bastard of a brother?”
“Do not call me that,” Aldrik roared.
“What? We know it to be true, black sheep.”
Aldrik lunged faster than Vhalla had time to react. He was quick, but Baldair was large, and the younger prince only needed to brace himself against his brother’s swings.
“Stop, both of you!” Vhalla clenched her fists. Her wind wasn’t strong enough to pull them apart.
The brawling siblings didn’t hear her.
It dawned on Vhalla what she’d done. She’d backed the man who had just lost the one person he’d loved into a corner. And now, she was crumbling the last lifeline Aldrik had. If he didn’t have Baldair on his side, who would look out for him?
Fire roared and Baldair fell to his knees, hissing.
“You,” the younger prince gasped for air. “You never use your magic on me.”
Aldrik drew back a fist, alight with flame. “Perhaps you should get your sword and we’ll make this a real fight? We’re not boys anymore.”
Baldair roared and lunged for Aldrik, tackling him at the waist. They rolled, a tumbleweed of fists. They couldn’t seem to stop hitting each other long enough to get upright.
“Stop!” Vhalla cried. “Stop it, both of you!”
She was unheard. The men had reverted back to children, unwilling to listen to any reason. Aldrik was the first to his feet, landing a solid hit on his brother.
“Aldrik, stop!” Vhalla jumped into the fray, finally taking action. She put herself between the princes, but only after Aldrik had begun moving his fist for another hit. She watched as his dark eyes widened, how she loved those eyes.
Vhalla took Aldrik’s strike clean to the cheek and was sent reeling by it.
Aldrik stopped, panting. His hands twitched, jerked in her direction to hold her, to comfort her. Vhalla stepped away from him, righting herself.
“Don’t touch me,” she whispered.
“Vhalla, I didn’t mean to hit you.” The prince was instantly pleading. “You-you moved and I-I couldn’t stop—”
“It doesn’t matter.” Vhalla shook her head. “This is the destruction anger reaps.”
Baldair said she had inspired change in Aldrik, but it hadn’t been enough. People didn’t change when asked by others, no matter how important the asker was. True change had to come entirely from within. He wouldn’t change until he saw the full extent of his actions as a liar, a puppet master, as a destructive man to both himself and others. He didn’t know how much his anger, even when it was directed at himself, hurt the world around him. Every moment spent with him was silently condoning it all.
He’d never know unless someone had the strength to stand up and show him.
The mantle had fallen to her. Vhalla prayed he could rise to the challenge, rather than being broken by it.
Aldrik took another jerky step toward her.
“Don’t come near me.” Vhalla stepped away.
“Vhalla, you must understand—”
Aldrik was stopped by a strong palm on his chest.
“Didn’t you hear her?” Baldair stared murderously at Aldrik. “She doesn’t want you near her.”
“You can’t keep me from her!” Aldrik shouted.
Vhalla picked up the parchment detailing her title from the floor.
“Vhalla! Vhalla, wait!”
She ignored him, the last of her heart shriveling.
“I am your prince. I order you to come here.”
“What?” Vhalla spun. He said the one thing that could make her return to him, but certainly not in the way he’d been hoping. “I want you to have one thing perfectly clear, Prince Aldrik Ci’Dan Solaris.” Vhalla refrained from using the words my prince any longer. “You do not own me.”
She held out the paper as proof of her words. The only thing she had left to her name was the name itself.
“What more could you possibly want from me that I have not already given you?” Vhalla panted softly, worked to a frenzy. Her question wasn’t hypothetical, and she waited for his response. The only benefit of doing so was watching the truth dawn on him.
Then again, Vhalla mused, she was not innocent. Vhalla dropped her hand holding the paper with a sigh. She had fed into him, she had ignored his problems and idolized his secret mannerisms that made him shine in her eyes. She’d mentally made him into the man she’d wanted him to be; she hadn’t loved the man he truly was.
“Goodbye, Aldrik,” Vhalla whispered.
His face fell. All emotion collapsed like a house of cards in the wake of world-shattering panic. Aldrik heard the finality Vhalla put in her tone. “Wait!” he cried. “Where are you going?”
Vhalla kept walking for the door, folding the parchment before putting it in her pocket.
“Answer me!” he pleaded, he ordered. “Vhalla, Vhalla, please! Answer me!”
Vhalla plunged herself into the night air beyond, listening to Aldrik’s cries muffled through the doors. The two soldiers stationed on either side gave her extremely curious looks, but Vhalla held her head high. The camp was certain to be ablaze with talk the moment the guard changed.
Vhalla bit her lip so hard she split it on her teeth. She had the one thing she’d been fighting for since leaving the capital: her freedom. But it had cost her nearly everything. Vhalla realized she’d walked out of the camp palace with nothing but the clothes on her back and the decree from the Emperor. She’d left everything in that poorly built, glorified shack. Strewn about the floor of Aldrik’s room were all the things she’d taken to the North: her clothes, her armor, a few meager possessions, and her heart.