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Waters wrath air awakens.., p.19
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       Water's Wrath (Air Awakens Series Book 4), p.19

           Elise Kova
 

  Vhalla and Aldrik sat for a while, watching the golden prince rest.

  “How is he?”

  Vhalla turned her attention to the elder prince at his question. He was hunched over, his elbows on his thighs, his hands folded.

  “When . . .” Vhalla took a deep breath, forcing herself to be brave. “When my mother fell ill, it took a week for the blood to set in. He’s not far.” She reached for the cloth, showing Aldrik.

  “After the blood?” He looked from his brother’s red-tinged mucus to her.

  “My mother.” She glanced back to the golden haired prince. “Three days.” She reached out to Baldair, placing her palm on his forehead lightly. “But she did not have clerics like you do here. Her fever was much higher by this point. We didn’t have a lot of good food either. If the clerics can keep the fever low, and he eats to keep his strength, I know he will fight it.”

  Vhalla looked back to Aldrik. He had his face hidden in one hand, the other on his knee. Silent suffering summed him up so woefully perfectly. Her hand hovered in the air a brief moment before Vhalla brushed the skin on the back of the hand on his leg with her fingertips.

  Aldrik’s face snapped up. His gaze was uncertain, but he did not move his hand away. The crown prince’s whole body was still and tense. Vhalla’s fingers slid and curled in a reassuring motion. His hand closed around hers with sudden force, and they did nothing but look at each other.

  “I won’t leave again,” she whispered. “Whatever ill fate awaits us; I’ll wait for it with you.”

  “I want you with me, always.” His other hand caressed the chain on her neck. “Even if you never need me again in the same way, I need you.”

  His fingertips paused, the metal of the watch the only thing separating his hand from her chest. Aldrik took a deep breath. “I want to start over. Before the heartbreak, the anger, before the foolish words that were said, and before you knew the man I used to be.” His dark eyes pleaded with her, his voice breathy beneath his mask. “I want to go back to a time when I could teach you magic. I want the chance to treat you as I always should have.”

  “I don’t think it works that way.” Her own mask hid her tired smile.

  “We can make our own way; we always have.” Aldrik cupped her cheek boldly, and Vhalla didn’t stop him. “What have we to lose?”

  “Everything?”

  “Is that all?” His eyes were alight.

  Vhalla gave into that joy for only a moment. Baldair wheezed in his sleep, reminding her where they were, what was happening. Her expression fell as she considered the ailing prince.

  “Aldrik, promise me one thing.”

  “Anything.”

  “If anything ever happens to me . . .” She remembered Baldair’s words. How if she left Aldrik, and Baldair didn’t pull through, their future Emperor would be truly alone.

  His hands suddenly gripped her shoulders, and the prince was half out of the chair, staring at her with a shocking intensity. “Nothing will happen to you.” Aldrik looked right through her, and Vhalla had no idea what he saw, but it terrified him. “I will not let it happen.”

  “Aldrik . . .” Her brow furrowed in confusion, trying to figure out the source of the man’s panic.

  He took a deep breath and seemed to remember himself once more. “I-I’m sorry.” Aldrik let her go quickly and rubbed his eyes.

  “When was the last time you slept?” Vhalla asked him, standing.

  “I catch some sleep when the clerics are in with him.”

  Vhalla translated the Aldrik-speak to mean that it had been a long time. “Rest,” she demanded. “I’ll sit with Baldair ‘til dawn.”

  She pushed Aldrik lightly toward the other room. Thankfully, he did not give much of a struggle, and he allowed her to herd him toward the couch he used as his makeshift bed during his brother’s illness. Aldrik laid down, pulling off his cloth mask, and dropping it onto the floor. Hooking a finger, she lowered her mask to drop around her neck since she would need it again in a moment. Vhalla situated the blanket over him.

  “My prince,” she dropped to a knee at the side of the couch. Aldrik turned to look at her. Neither seemed to mind her method of addressing him. Vhalla resisted the urge to touch his face. She ignored the desire to run her fingers through his hair. “I don’t wish we could start over. Everything that happened, we made mistakes, but-but we loved, and I don’t regret that.”

  His hand reached up and took hers at the edge of the blanket. His fingers intertwined with hers, and Vhalla’s heart stuck in her throat as she watched them lace together. “Fight at my side again?”

  Vhalla nodded, not finding her voice. She didn’t know in what capacity he meant, but she could guess.

  “I will be better. I will never push you away again,” he whispered.

  “I’ll never let you,” Vhalla laughed softly.

  “I vow to honor my promise to you, Vhalla.”

  Her free hand rose to her watch, a look that affirmed she understood the promise he meant—his promise of a future together. “And I will mine.” Their promises still meant something.

  Vhalla sat with him until his breathing slowed and his body relaxed. Her fingers remained entwined with his, and she watched him sleep. Maybe they would never again be the lovers they were—maybe they’d become something better. They’d both grown apart, and maybe they’d grown into the people they should’ve been all along.

  Love was a simple emotion, Vhalla had learned. Once one experienced it, a person understood it, and there was no doubt when one felt it. If there was no doubt, then nothing would ever serve as a substitute.

  Vhalla knew she understood love. Love was throwing herself into a sandstorm. Love was braving her darkest fears and battling her demons. Love was a blind dash through a Northern jungle. Love was hopeful words shared across a pillow in the darkness. Love was bravery and—perhaps most importantly—forgiveness.

  VHALLA AWOKE BRIEFLY as her body was pulled against Aldrik’s chest. She felt his arm slide around her shoulders, the other slip under her knees. The sensation of weightlessness fluttered across her stomach as he hoisted her easily into the air.

  With her head tucked in the crook of his neck, he carried her from where she had fallen asleep at her post in Baldair’s room into the main sitting area. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she had underestimated her continuing exhaustion from extensive crystal work. At least she was a light sleeper and could have easily woken to action if Baldair had a fit or needed something.

  Aldrik laid her down gently. Vhalla smelled him against the pillow and nuzzled her face into it. A blanket, still warm from his body, was gingerly lifted over her form and tucked around her. Her hand reached upward and found his, in a complete reversal of how they had been earlier.

  He stopped all movement and intertwined his fingers with hers once more. Vhalla wasn’t certain exactly what every touch meant yet, but she knew how they made her feel. She knew all the wrongs in the world that seemed to be bearable by knowing he was near her once more. The unsettled sickness, one that had plagued her stomach so long that it had begun to feel natural, finally quieted.

  Slipping his long fingers into her hair, Aldrik stroked her head gently. Vhalla nuzzled deeper into the warmth and comfort that surrounded her. Eventually his motion ceased, and she felt his hands pull away.

  “Don’t stop,” she murmured in sleep.

  “If it pleases,” his voice was deep and throaty when he whispered, and Vhalla smiled tiredly at the sound as much as the words. His fingers returned to her hair, and she sighed contently, remembering every time on the march she had fallen asleep to the feeling after practicing her Projection.

  Vhalla drifted back into a deep slumber without ever opening her eyes.

  Coughing woke her, and she peered between her eyelashes. The brightness of the room pulled her into wakefulness, jolting her upright in a moment. Looking around, her panic was briefly quelled by the absence of anyone else in the room. It was certainly past s
unrise, but the world was still quiet. She carefully folded the blanket and placed it at the end of the couch, resting the pillow on top.

  More coughing accompanied her steps toward the bedroom. Aldrik sat at the bedside looking rather determined with a spoon in one hand and a bowl in the other. Baldair wore a stubborn glare. She rolled her eyes at the scene before her.

  “I told him he needs to eat.” Aldrik glanced at her. She saw a glint of amusement in his eyes at the familiar sight of her trying to tame her morning hair. “Vhalla, your mask.”

  “Your brother is right, Baldair.” Vhalla yawned and pulled the fabric from around her neck to her nose and mouth. “You told me you’d eat everything.”

  “Vhalla?” Baldair’s shoulders lurched as he continued to cough. “I don’t recall giving you permission to sleep in my room.”

  “She stayed on order of the crown prince,” Aldrik proclaimed with mock haughtiness. “You said it yourself, you have a new cleric.” His dark eyes flicked back to her, and Vhalla shook her head in amusement.

  “Don’t tell me.” Shades of a healthy Baldair returned as he wheezed for breath. “You two did the do on my couch.”

  Aldrik visibly paled, Baldair smirked, and Vhalla’s laughter rang out throughout the room.

  “If by ‘the do,’ you mean slept. Yes, we did.” Baldair blinked at her as she crossed to her place at the edge of his bed. “And before you get any ideas or form any assumptions, it was not at the same time.”

  Vhalla grabbed a roll of bread off the table—Aldrik had continued to make safe choices with food. She tore off a hunk and, as Baldair opened his mouth for some retort, she unceremoniously shoved in the mass of food. Baldair looked at her in shock as he was forced to chew through the soft piece of bread.

  “Now eat, oh golden prince.” She grinned.

  “Don’t—” Baldair chewed. “Don’t think that when I’m well—” He coughed again. “—I won’t get you back for these indiscretions against the crown.”

  “Take it up with the crown prince.” She tore off another piece and forced it into the younger prince’s mouth with a satisfied grin at his frustration. “I hear he has a wicked temper.”

  “Oh, I am certain there could be a fitting punishment administered.” Aldrik crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in the chair, content to let her assume the duty of feeding his brother.

  Vhalla glanced at him from the corners of her eyes, a sly smile hidden by the mask at the coy nature of the crown prince in a good mood.

  “Getting sick will be the death of me,” Baldair cleared his throat.

  “Don’t say that,” she insisted gently.

  “Oh, don’t be so dramatic.” The prince coughed, barely managing to keep the food down. “I only meant it in that my being sick has clearly reunited you both, and that is a fact that may be detrimental to my health for many years to come. And I don’t need to be fed like some invalid.”

  Baldair rolled his eyes and snatched the bowl and spoon from her hands. He coughed and sputtered, spilling some. Vhalla stood to clean it up, and Aldrik did the same. He passed her a cloth rag from the table next to Baldair’s bed for his coughing. Their fingers touched briefly. Vhalla looked up at the dark haired prince, their eyes met, and her heart did a strange beat.

  Saying nothing, she turned and cleaned up the small spill, ignoring the embarrassment of an apologetic Baldair. She smiled tiredly at the younger prince. Nothing could possibly happen to Baldair, she mentally insisted. He was too well cared for and too strong.

  “You should go, Vhalla.”

  “So soon?” Baldair objected like a child. “Can’t we just say I invited her?”

  “Brother, it’s for the best. Her presence would raise too many questions.” Aldrik glanced at her. “I don’t want us to make her life difficult.”

  Vhalla knew it was for the best, but at the same time, she was done hiding what she wanted. She simply had to figure out her next move alongside Aldrik. A similar turmoil was written on the prince’s face, and Vhalla knew there would be words over what their future would hold sooner rather than later.

  “Tonight?” she proposed. “Could I come back after the clerics have left?”

  “That’s—” Baldair digressed into coughing that cut all words short. He was forced to simply nod.

  “Tonight then,” Aldrik agreed.

  “Perhaps we could play carcivi.” She was certain the prince could have a dozen carcivi boards crafted and delivered before the day was out if he didn’t already have one. “Something to stimulate your mind a bit.”

  “It’s better than Aldrik’s suggestions of books.”

  Vhalla laughed. “Well then, carcivi it is. I’ll be back to beat you wickedly, so eat your food, drink your potions, and get rest. I don’t want to let you have the excuse of illness for your loss.”

  “Ha! We will see who beats who!”

  “We should go.” Aldrik’s palm fell on the small of her back. “Before the clerics come.”

  “See you, Baldair.” Vhalla gave him a small wave as Aldrik closed the door behind them. She crossed over to the bar that had been turned into a medical supply stand and removed her mask completely. “He seems better.”

  “He usually is after company,” Aldrik agreed.

  “The Golden Guard?” she guessed and Aldrik affirmed. “You should send for them, then. I think they are quite worried.”

  “I’ll see what I can do,” Aldrik mumbled.

  Vhalla beamed brightly, for in Aldrik language, that meant he was about to throw around the weight of the scary crown prince on his brother’s behalf.

  “Wait a moment.”

  Holding up his hand, he cracked open the door and took a glance down the hallway. Aldrik opened the door halfway, gliding across to his own room. He fit a key into the lock and unlocked it with a soft click. One more glance, and he was motioning for her to join him. Vhalla eased closed Baldair’s door and slipped into the safety of Aldrik’s haven as he shut out the world.

  In the daytime, she could appreciate the stunning nature of his quarters. Vhalla looked up, and she lost all breath. A staircase wound up the far wall to a landing that looped around the circular room. There were more staircases and ladders leading up to additional landings and levels of books. She looked up into the roof area of one of the golden spires she had admired from below so many times, only to discover that it held Aldrik’s personal library.

  “Aldrik,” she breathed, walking into the room. The white marble floor was covered with a large, circular black rug that almost took up the whole space. There were two leather chaises near a couch that was reminiscent of the Crossroads and a desk with chairs to the right side. “This is yours?”

  “It is.” His expression was unreadable.

  “It’s—” she fumbled for words. Vhalla felt dizzy at the notion. Aldrik took a step forward to stand at her shoulder, holding his breath for her review. “Amazing.”

  “Would you like to see the rest of it?” he asked softly.

  “The rest of it?” Vhalla blinked up at him.

  Three doors lead out from his initial sitting room. One he had led her through the night before—his bedroom. The second went into a smaller, cozy office. Vhalla realized the large, dark stained desk in the main room was just for show as she could immediately tell that this office was reserved for his real work. Papers littered the surface in an order only he understood. There was a smaller bookshelf that contained stacks of titles he’d squirreled away for immediate reference.

  Vhalla paused. Tentatively, her fingers reached up to a stack of books that rested to the side of the middle shelf. She took one off the top of the stack. Aldrik said nothing as she opened it. Vhalla looked down at handwriting she knew very well.

  Earthen magic tends to have deep roots.

  The magic can take days or months to remove.

  Remove carefully, please, or shock.

  Please live. Earthen, magic, can,

  create, please live, sensitivi
ty to cold,

  please live - or hot - please live, plaese lvei plselav pl-

  Her writing had started neat and tidy but digressed into scribbles. She placed the book down and grabbed the next one. Her note from long ago, when she was doing research on that fateful rainy night, fell out. Vhalla leaned down and picked it up off the floor. It was much the same, though her writing was even messier. She returned it and grabbed the third book. Her note wasn’t even legible.

  Vhalla looked back at Aldrik, speechless. He had told her what had happened that night. But to see the actual vessels themselves, the ones that carried her magic to him and formed their Bond, brought a whole sense of world-shaking reality that she had not experienced before.

  “I wanted to keep them.” He gently took the book from her hands and returned it with care to the shelf. He considered the stack of books that saved his life. “They are very precious to me.”

  “I still have all your notes,” Vhalla confessed. “They’re in my wardrobe.”

  “I assumed you would have thrown them away.” Vhalla saw through the thin veil of indifference he threw over the words.

  “I thought about it,” she admitted. “But I couldn’t. They, too, are very precious to me.”

  “Yours are in the bottom drawer of my desk.” Aldrik shared a smile. “I look at them from time to time to remind myself of how foolish you were.”

  “Oh?” Vhalla laughed in relaxed amusement. “Perhaps I should look at yours to remind myself of how much of an ass you are.”

  “As if you need a reminder,” he snorted. It sent her into a fit of laughter.

  Vhalla walked around the room, her amusement fading into a bright smile. He did not stop her, and he did not deny her access to anything. The most private man in the world allowed her to lift papers, open drawers, nose through books and more. Vhalla shifted aside the numbers of the Imperial coffers to look at some reports from ministers. He leaned against the bookshelf as she shuffled through them.

 
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