How long are you home for? Ardeth asked quietly as she slipped into her nightgown. That simple question had been burning on her tongue since he had walked into their home earlier in the evening, but she still dreaded the answer. Unannounced visits usually meant short stays.
Salome sighed as he sat down on their bed. I leave on the morrow, my love.
Only a night? She tried desperately to hide the disappointment in her voice, but was unsuccessful.
He turned to face her, Yes. I wish it could be longer, but
No need to apologize. I knew that you were a knight when I married you, she teased as she sat next to him. So what did the Council want with you now?
He took her hands. I visited them this time.
You werent summoned? The question carried too much optimism, but she didnt care. Summons always meant another battle, but a voluntary trip generally meant less danger.
No, I went to see them on behalf of Lady Chris.
Ardeth felt the torment in his voice as he tripped across his last sentence, and asked him a question most delicately, in the hopes of abating some of his pain. Whats wrong, my love?
Salome waited a long moment before saying, Percival is dead.
Her breath caught in her throatshe certainly wasnt expecting that, but such news would account for his uncharacteristic silence at dinner and the intense emotional exhaustion she had read on his face the moment he had stepped into the house. Unsure of what to say, and wondering what that had to do with the Council, she wrapped her arms around him. Im sorry. I know he was a good friend to you as well as a very capable soldier.
Returning the embrace, he pulled her closer, Chris doesnt believe it. Shes convinced hes still alive.
Everyone does that. Sometimes its easier to pretend than face reality.
I know, but shes so confident that shes coming back.
Into the army?
And the children?
Theyre here. Theyre staying with Torrie.
Did you try to talk her out of it?
I never could do that very well, he said with a sigh. Besides, she may be right.
Ardeth pulled herself out of his arms and looked him in the eye. Right about Percival still being alive?
He brushed her hair out of her face and drew her back into his chest. Yes. The enemies left weapons, but nothing else.
Thats strange, she said as she nestled back against him, finding long-awaited comfort in listening to his heartbeat.
The Council is taking her back?
Not really. Shes still persona non grata to them, but they will use her.
To do what? Does this mean youre finally giving up your rank?
He gave her a long, delicate kiss on the forehead before he answered, clearly knowing it was not what she wanted to hear. No. They are sending her to find Lilly, and I have been ordered to attack Dubios again.
Ardeth felt her heart sink at the thought of waiting every night for that dreaded messenger, or standing down at the square with the other women, yearning for any word coming from Brass Castle. While she was no stranger to those sick and twisted games, this time, the stakes were highermuch higher. Although she knew she shouldnt have put much hope in him not riding off to fight another battle, hope was something shed always held onto, even in times as desperate as these. Through the tears she tried to choke back, she whispered, There is something I have to tell you then, since youre leaving tomorrow.
He wasnt at all surprised that she was weeping, given the news of the night. Still, she usually was stronger about such things. Perhaps it had just been one too many times but whatever her reasons, he tenderly kissed the trails her tears left on her cheeks, then lifted her chin and said, Tell me, my love.
Meeting his benevolent eyes, and reminding herself that this should be happy news, she found her voice. Were going to have another child.
His thin lips turned up in a smile, as he lay down and pulled her with him. Such wonderful news! Youve been keeping this secret from me?
Im good at keeping secrets, she chuckled, her braced foot nearly kicking him at the sudden movement.
How long now? He asked, his hand reverently sliding down to her belly.
Theres still time then, he said before pressing his lips to hers in a passionate, soul-tickling kiss.
Grinning as he released her she asked, Time for what?
His voice filled with ardor as he gazed into her devoted green eyes. For this war to end so I can come home to youpermanently.