“I’m not going to tell you,” Vhalla said honestly.
No more lies.
“Why?” Hurt shone brightly in Fritz’s eyes.
“Because I don’t want you coming with me. Not with your injuries,” Vhalla explained hastily.
“No, you’re not.” Vhalla shook her head. “You’re in no position to travel at the speed I will want to go. The war is over, Fritz. You survived. Don’t kill yourself now and put that burden on my shoulders.”
He sighed, a small pout overcoming his face. “Tell me anyways; when I’m well I’ll come and find you.”
Vhalla laughed softly. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to Fritz’s forehead, remembering all the times Larel had done the same to her. It was a bittersweet gesture.
“I don’t want to be found just yet,” she reminded him. “I’ll find you. I’ll come back to the Tower.”
“When?” Fritz pressed.
“When I’m ready.” Vhalla straightened. “You take care of yourself. Order Elecia to do so.”
“She’s the one who orders me!” Fritz whined.
“Gotta have a firm hand.” Vhalla smiled tiredly.
“Wait.” Fritz grabbed her wrist as Vhalla went to stand. “Vhalla, I will see you again, right?”
“Mother, yes, Fritz.” Vhalla shifted her arm to take his hand, squeezing it tightly. “You are my dear, dear friend, maybe the only one in this wide world. You will see me again—you’re quite stuck with me.”
“Good.” Fritz squeezed her hand back.
“And when I do return to the Tower, I expect a full report on you and Grahm.” The shade of red Fritz’s face turned, even in the near-darkness of the tent, was touching enough to ease some of the hurt in Vhalla’s own heart. “Until then.”
“Until then.” Fritz nodded.
Vhalla didn’t look back at her friend. She wouldn’t say goodbye, she wouldn’t give it that permanence. This, what she was doing, was a temporary retreat. She couldn’t run forever. But for now, she’d go as fast as the wind could carry her.
There was just one more loose end for her to tie up. Vhalla was surprised to find the Golden Guard’s shacks mostly deserted. She’d expected to find them partying, but the revelries must be occurring somewhere else as no guards were to be found.
It was far easier this way. With a shifty glance, Vhalla slipped into Daniel’s shack. She couldn’t leave the axe behind. Vhalla started with the small pile of his clothes in the corner, fishing through them for a bundle that could hold the crystal weapon.
“Where is it?” she muttered when she reached bare ground at the bottom of the stack.
“Where is what, exactly?” Daniel leaned in the doorframe.
Vhalla was like startled game, frozen and wide-eyed, caught by a hunter. She stood, swallowing the awkwardness. “The axe.”
“Hidden, like you asked.” Daniel regarded her thoughtfully. It was a look that she hadn’t received from him, and Vhalla wasn’t sure if it was a look she should like or not.
“I need it.”
“Why?” He took a step closer to her.
“I don’t need to tell you that,” she said cautiously.
“You don’t.” He could’ve fought her, but he didn’t. After the events of the evening, Vhalla had a whole new appreciation for the fact. “But will you at least tell me that you aren’t planning on hurting yourself or someone else with it?”
“What?” the word was half a gasp. “No. Why would you think that?”
“Many wouldn’t blame you.” Daniel put his palm over her cheek. It wasn’t chance his thumb ran over her bruise. “Not after how he is.”
“It’s not like that.” Vhalla was still defensive from Fritz, but once that immediate reaction wore off, she was stilled by a realization. “Wait, how do you know?”
“Where do you think we all were—are?” Daniel frowned. Vhalla didn’t understand, and that much he picked up on, continuing, “It takes a bit of strength to subdue one of the fiercest warriors and greatest sorcerers in the world.”
“What?” Vhalla whispered in horror.
“Baldair called for help. The guard answered,” Daniel began.
“Aldrik, is Aldrik all right?” Vhalla was asking before she could stop herself.
Daniel sighed; the noise was disappointment incarnate. Vhalla didn’t know if the sound made her feel worse than her own realization of what her immediate reaction had been. It reaffirmed everything for her. She had to go. The longer she stayed, the sooner she’d fall back into Aldrik’s gravity.
“The prince is subdued. He’ll be fine—if Baldair doesn’t decide kill him. He doesn’t take kindly to people who mistreat women.”
Vhalla stared at her feet as if daring them to move. They didn’t. They managed to keep her in one place, resisting running to Aldrik. Not taking a step was the first step.
“They’ll be fine.” She tried to shrug it off, to put it behind her. “The axe.”
Daniel squinted, assessing her actions. “Why do you want it?”
“I just do.”