The Fall of the Builder: IV
His bed still smelled of her. He could still feel her soft skin under his fingertips, and he could still feel their union as if she was still there, with him. He had lost the fight—he could no longer pretend like he was strong enough to resist her, to keep away from her. He loved her and he could not deny it, not to himself, or anyone else.
In a way, he was glad the boy had escaped; had he been killed, the girl would never have forgiven him. He knew it. Indeed, the risks were high—he still believed the boy to be vengeful enough to oppose them—but he would be ready for it. With Juniper at his side, he could do anything.
The Vasmenaan would be a problem, of course. She was perceptive, too perceptive. Had he not been foolish enough to discard her proposition to sanction his relationship with the girl, there would be no problem. Naturally, however, fate intervened as it so often did.
The Vasmenaan was not the person to accept anyone going back on their word, and if he would ask her to do just that, he would only appear weak. He knew what potential punishment awaited him if the Vasmenaan ever found out that he had defied her, but whatever he would get, the girl would get tenfold.
He was a vas, a highly skilled warrior, and a key figure in this campaign. At this moment, they wouldn’t punish him more than a public reproach—but the girl could indeed lose her head.
Spending the remainder of the night thinking about possible strategies to keep seeing the girl without the Vasmenaan’s knowledge, the Vasaath had very little sleep. The day after, he had to sit through long crisis summits, deciding what to do about the escaped Arlington boy.
The Vasmenaan paced the room, her brows set low and her lips pursed. “Have you sent men after him?”
The Vasaath sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes. They have searched the riversides, the foot of the mountains, all of the vicinity. Nothing.”
“He can’t have gone far,” the Vasmenaan muttered.
“Perhaps he has friends outside the city walls?” the Vasenon proposed. “He might have gone to a nearby city or a nearby farm?”
“We’ve sent out words of a reward,” muttered the Vasaath. “Five thousand sovereigns and immunity. Mainlanders are greedy and frightened, and as far as we know, the Arlingtons have very few friends as it is.”
The Vasmenaan stopped her pacing. “Are you sure of that?”
“Rumour has it that Richmond Arlington killed the Duke of Westbridge,” said the Vasaath. “As I understand, that is a capital offence. The other cities have denounced him and his name, but we know nothing of the other kingdoms.”
“So the boy might already be dead,” said the Vasenon.
“The question is,” said the Vasmenaan, “whether or not the Nornish people will manage to put their differences aside in the face of our imminent advance. Their grudges against House Arlington might not be as important once they realise the real danger we pose, and if they don’t kill him, they might use his knowledge against us.”
The Vasaath tightened his jaw. He did not think the mainlanders had it in them to band together, but he had been mistaken once before. He would not make the same mistake again. “That is a possibility. They have worked together before, even though their alliance was brief.”
“Do we know of their relationship with Illyria?” asked the Vasmenaan.
“No,” muttered the Vasaath.
“Someone must,” said the Vasenon. “Several of the converted nobles sat in the Duke’s council, did they not? They ought to know.”
“And we have the Duke’s closest advisor,” nodded the Vasmenaan. “Someone must know what threats we face, if the boy makes it all the way to Illyria.”
The Vasaath shook his head. “Illyria will know about our overtaking no matter what. There is no way for us to control if anyone else has escaped the city. The gates are closed and barred, but they could have sent messages. They could have climbed the walls for all we know. Sooner or later, the news of how many we are and the state of the city will reach Illyria. It’s just a matter of time.”
“We could establish a diplomatic relationship with Illyria before they have time to decide anything,” said the Vasenon, and the Vasmenaan nodded.
“Yes,” said she. “We could send ambassadors. And we really should man the walls!”
The Vasaath rose from his chair and poured himself a glass of wine and downed it in one go. He hated meetings like this. It bored him. “Well, I’ll let the two of you decide that. I’ll return to the camp and double the watch on the walls.”
“The Head of Military has to partake in the decision of an ambassador during wartime,” said the Vasenon as he scowled. “It’s imperative.”
The Vasaath sighed and poured himself another glass before he leaned against the desk. “Very well, but be quick about it.”
“We should, of course, send one of the ohkasethens,” said the Vasenon. “They are well-versed with the manners of the Mainland, and they have great knowledge of the nations’ joint history.”
“But we need the ohkasethens with us,” said the Vasmenaan. “Besides, we don’t know if we can trust them yet, and Juniper, for one, is still under investigation for the escape of her brother, and—”
“She didn’t do it,” the Vasaath muttered.
The Vasmenaan glared at him. “Yes, I heard you spoke with her yesterday evening.”
“I did,” said the Vasaath and glared back. “I spoke with her, and I am convinced of her innocence.”
The woman narrowed her eyes. “She could be lying. Mainlanders have no problem lying.”
“I know, but she wouldn’t lie to me.” He fasted his gaze on hers, trying to win the challenge.
“But she has expressed her wish to have her brother spared,” said the Vasenon cautiously.
“She has,” said the Vasaath, “but since when is a wish enough evidence to accuse anyone? Many people were opposing Sebastian Arlington’s execution. You’ve already killed the heads of every noble family opposing us in this city, probably provoking a few more. Should we assume they all had something to do with his escape?”
“They all could for all we know,” said the Vasmenaan. “They aren’t trustworthy. Not yet, at least.”
The Vasaath rolled his eyes and scoffed. “I see you’ve truly taken these people to heart, Vasmenaan.”
“Loyalties don’t change overnight,” muttered the Great Mother. “You should know that.”
The Vasaath was growing impatient. He downed the last of his wine before he started towards the door. “I trust you can find a suitable ambassador without my help. Lady Juniper is not guilty of setting her brother free, and that’s the end of that.” He left the room before the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon could argue against him.
He fumed as he strode through the halls. He still hadn’t quite found his way around the castle yet and had to turn a few more times than he would have liked. Soon enough, he was virtually lost.
The people he met purposefully avoided his gaze and shrunk to nothingness as he passed them. The more turns he had to make, the more he fumed, and before he knew it, he almost clashed into a body as he rounded a corner. He was ready to roar cruel obscenities at whoever it was before he noticed that the one he almost slammed into was none other than his own Juniper.
She seemed quite shocked and stumbled a few steps backwards. “Oh, forgive me, sir! I did not see you!”
The Vasaath scowled and grunted. “Why is it impossible to get out of this infernal maze?”
The girl smiled sweetly and loosened from her shocked stance. “Come,” she said, “I’ll show you.”
She reached for his arm, and he let her gently lead him forwards. The moment her hands touched his skin, his heart jolted and the hair stood at the back of his neck. It didn’t matter that he had been with her the whole night before—the moment their skin touched, he felt the desire surge through him again. It was powerful, unrelenting.
As they walked down one of the long, dark, and empty hallways, he quickly seized the opportunity and pulled her in for a kiss. She was surprised, but not unwilling. On the contrary, she chuckled against him and quickly spied around to make sure they were alone before she kissed him back.
He pulled her closer to him, wrapped his arms around her small frame, and impatiently pried her lips apart with his tongue. There was heat between them that no soul could deny, desire most could only wish for, and he felt his control slip through his fingers as he backed her into the wall and enfolded her with his being. He wanted her—his need was strong—and he knew that she wanted him, too.
The girl was coy and pulled away much too quickly for his liking, but she wisely pointed out that someone could see them and he knew that had to be avoided at any cost. He let her lead him into the courtyard, and there they said their goodbyes.
They lingered for a moment longer than necessary, just looking at one another, before Juniper bowed and returned to the castle halls. The Vasaath glanced longingly after her, savouring her sweet taste that remained in his mouth.
Ohkasethen – foreign teacher