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Chapter Eleven

My thoughts had prevented me from going back to sleep, unlike Levi who as soon as he got comfortable under the down duvet and had his head in my lap was fast asleep. He held my hand like a pacifier, shifting ever so slightly in his sleep. When he was going through a rough dream, I would gently rub his back to which he responded by squeezing my hand. Only when the sun began to rise did he wake up.

"Morning." Glancing down at him, I smoothed back his hair and smiled. He sleepily smiled back, rubbing at his eyes and squeezing my hand as he buried his face in the covers. He stretched while my hand was on his side, letting me feel the taut muscles covering his ribs.

"D-did Ebus visit again?" Levi asked, yawning. His voice was husky and deep. He finally let go of my hand as he sat up, causing me to take back my other hand from his side.

"No. I did not give her a chance to." Sighing, I leaned back into the pillows and let the back of my head rest on the cushioned headboard. Levi tilted his head, hand gingerly cupping my jaw. My face instantly began to heat up as he studied me.

"The bags under your eyes are the evidence of your win." He chuckled, smirking as I swatted his hand away. Cursing, I started to get out of the warm bed when he pulled me back. "On a serious note, tell me when you feel tired so I can return the favour for taking care of me while I slept. It's only fair and you look exhausted."

"I have too much to do and worry about before I can just go take a nap. We have a kingdom to look after and a vengeful goddess who wants your sanity."
"All the more for you to challenge it when you are well-rested. You will be stronger and I won't be a mess of nerves worrying over you."

Looking at Levi, I wondered where the cocky, war-enthusiastic man I met on the first day got to and how this caring, complicated man had come from. It was as if every time I glanced his way something new would pop out and show itself. In a way, it was thrilling to see the many sides that made up Levi as a whole, but it was also frightening as I knew our relationship was continually deepening rapidly. Maybe Levi was right to say we were going too fast.

"Harper?" Snapping out of my thoughts, I focused on Levi's face as he watched me curiously. He took my hand, running his thumb over my knuckles. "You are okay, right? You trust me enough to tell me that at least..."

"Yes, I am okay, just lost in thought. The dream from last night was on another level and it's hard to digest." Glancing at our hands, I felt my heart throb painfully. Lying to him was wrong, painfully wrong. "Let's put this aside, for now, we have guests to kick out."

"Naomi especially," He snorted, bringing my hand close to his lips. My face was burning again when he let go and jumped out of the bed, bolting to the bathroom as I threw a pillow at him. It hit the door just as he closed it and I heard the lock. What the hell had gotten into him this morning?

"Thank you for coming and bringing your thanes along. Hopefully, the roads will be easy on the horses and you get home safely," I said while hugging Sage. He kissed my cheek as we separated.

"Thank you for the invite. It was lovely staying over again and getting to enjoy your company, next time hopefully it will be at Themis," Sage responded, flashing me a toothy grin as Klaus hooked his arm into his. They looked a little more comfortable with each other.

Klaus nodded his thanks, pulling Sage towards their awaiting carriage before turning back towards us and speaking. "There is a present from both of us with your Nomad, it should make things a little easier."

Nodding, both Levi and I waved as their carriage and the cloaked thanes rode off. Naomi had left earlier in the morning, throwing a slap in our faces. It did not bother me too much, there was no telling what poison I would have slipped into her breakfast.

"Suppose it's time to tell the others what is about to go down tonight," Levi sighed, rubbing a hand over his face while the other brushed against mine as he turned. Letting our pinkies hook, I walked closely by his side. For some reason I felt like I had to be next to him, touching him. It was confusing and I did not want to give him the wrong impression. But what was the wrong impression? We were married. We had to form some kind of relationship or else we would not be happy in our intertwined future.

When we returned to the banquet hall, we took our seats. Blaze, Yuki and Kit had been talking feverishly with the thanes, catching up on lost time and strangled friendships. The Mirk brothers were the first to pick up on our sombre mood before the whole table went silent.

"What is wrong?" Kit touched my forearm, their brows knitting together in worry. Glancing at Levi, I filled the group in on our shared dream, my encounter with Ebus and her warning of the Dark Army's restlessness as well as her threat to harm Levi. Everyone was tight-lipped, deep in thought.

"Niven and I can escort you to the altar," Bronte stated, breaking the heavy silence. Niven's tail thumped on the ground as he sucked on the remnants of a fish head. He seemed content with it, but it made me feel nauseous when he finally placed the skull onto his plate.

"How are we supposed to calm the Dark Army?" Levi asked, hiding his own disgust behind his hand. Kit hummed while Blaze and Yuki stared down at their plates.

"At Ebus's altar, there should be a small jewelled goblet that you have to fill with blood," Fendrick began, folding his arms over his broad chest. "The blood must be that of the king and queen, right Kit?"

"Yes... However, it has been some time since the last tribute to the Army has been made, there will be a need for something more than royal blood to appease the beasts." Kit rested their slim fingers under their chin. "We may have to slaughter a cow in front of the cave or better yet, get the animal into the cave and sacrifice it in there."

"When must we depart then?" Blaze asked, face slightly ashy after hearing Kit speak of the sacrifice.

"The Deep Forest will take us three hours to enter normally, but with the cow, I would say four. We will have to leave after midday," Bronte said, catching the thanes off guard as well as Kit, Yuki and Blaze. "What, do you think my brother and I would sit still when King Levi and Queen Harper are travelling through Lizard Folk territory?"

"No, not at all. But to leave Mirk unattended for so long is dangerous, Bronte," Fendrick answered, giving off an undertone of concern, contradicting the expression on his face.

"Sister taken post," Niven countered, leaning forward. "Who look over Lorcan, Fendrick?"

"Stop yer bickerin', ye three ne'er see eye ta eye anyway," Mal stated, standing up and glancing over all of us. "The Mirk brothers know the Deep Forest, while ye petty man, cannot even get yer court in order. Don' think ye can sweep that under the rug. So, shut up an' deal with the outcome for now."

"Mal has a point. Fendrick, as the Thane of Lorcan, you have been slacking on your duties and it is beginning to show. You are no longer needed here at our court, head back to your territory and fix the mess you have created," Levi ordered, sitting up straight and bumping his knee against mine. How did he know that Fendrick was falling behind on his duties?

Fendrick fumed as the conversation continued without his input, Mal left the room to send a messenger bird to Alderreach regarding the best cow they had to offer as of then while the Mirk brothers continued to scarf down the fish they had neglected. Levi kept quiet company with Blaze as Yuki worriedly glanced at me.

Up in the royal chambers, I was slipping into a pair of stretchy cotton leggings and pulling one of Levi's silk shirts over my head while he sat on the bed with his back facing me, nibbling at an apple. When I said he could turn around, I was tying my hair up into a high-pony. His eyes travelled over my body, causing me to blush heavily.

"I think you should wear my shirts more often, they suit you," He stated while standing up, leaving the apple core on the bedside table. "You look really beautiful right now."

"T-thanks." Glancing at the ground, I wanted to run as Levi walked closer, until he was standing right in front of me, hooking our pinkies together. Looking up at him, he was staring down at me, eyes glazed. "What?"

"Can I kiss you?"

Blinking slowly, I watched as he slowly leaned down. His free hand came to cup my jaw, thumb gingerly resting on my cheek. Something pushed me forward to close the gap. My eyes fluttered closed as I felt his lips press against mine, slowly moving in sync. He was holding back, that was clear when his hand moved to my neck then disappeared shortly before we separated. He rested his forehead against mine, our noses touching slightly. He cleared his throat while taking my hands into his, rubbing his thumbs over my knuckles.

"Happy?" I asked, still feeling the sensation of our lips meeting.


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