Ooh, this is exciting. Introducing this book’s new POV character: Trystan!
After their first real conversation had gone so well, Trystan was anxious to spend more time with Natalya, working out details for his future. But she made it clear she was done talking, at least for the time being. And while Natalya was polite, she had a patronizing air. Trystan suspected she didn’t take him seriously and it drove him crazy. He’d been accustomed to dismissive older siblings while growing up, but he hadn’t been home in a long time, and was used to folk treating him like a general now.
Traveling through the mountains of Tirovor with spring coming on was just about worse than mid-winter. The mud made the roads slippery and camping was unpleasant in the extreme. As they neared the border with Galladium, Trystan called a small council of his top officers and Natalya.
The day was fine, if a bit breezy, so he gathered everyone around a large, flat stone at the side of the road which served as a table for his map. He pretended not to notice Natalya’s eyes on him. They were amused, and something else. He hoped. Best to act like this was just another briefing with Lennart and his generals.
“Our last messages from Galladium indicate the war with Maladena is still on,” Trystan said. “Now that it’s spring, we can expect Maladena to be active in the foothills at least. If we’re to take the Maxima to Allaux, we have to get through those foothills. I hope we can avoid any Maladene units, but we must be prepared if we run into them.”
“They will probably be looking for me,” Natalya said, looking rather pleased at the idea. No doubt she enjoyed being notorious. It was one of the things Trystan liked about her.
“Probably,” he said. “They’ll know by now that you got away from Vega.”
“They’ll be looking for you too.” Natalya smirked. “I’m sure your duel with Count Vega is famous.” She certainly knew the right thing to say.
Trystan tried not to look too pleased. “You’re too kind. Anyway, I’m sure we can expect the Maladenes to be looking for us. King Gauvain has sent a force to meet us, but they will have to avoid the enemy as well. So from here on, we must act as though we are at war. We travel with the expectation of ambush and double our scouts.” He would never let anyone trap him in a defile again the way Vega had. “If we run into a Maladene force of any size, we stop and engage only if there’s a chance of surprising or outnumbering them.” With barely two hundred soldiers, Trystan had little hope of overpowering a force of any significant size, though he could take on scouting parties well enough.
When they made camp that night, Natalya seemed in the mood to talk, coming to sit next to Trystan by the fire. He preferred to be alone with her, but it was better than nothing.
“I already know you’re brave and skilled,” she murmured softly so no one else sitting around could hear.
Trystan was glad for the darkness hiding his blush. He shrugged, hoping he sounded nonchalant. “Lucky too, I think.”
“Perhaps a combination.” Natalya fixed her beautiful eyes on him until he had to look back. “But I don’t want you putting yourself at any further risk for me. Once we cross into Galladium, just get me to the nearest temple and I can make my way back to Allaux with their help.”
“I’m sorry,” Trystan said, though he really wasn’t. “I just can’t do that. I know the temple will help you, but you’ll still have to travel across a war-torn area. You shouldn’t do it without a military escort.”
“A military escort draws a lot of attention. A priestess on a pilgrimage doesn’t. Maladene soldiers are devout and won’t bother me if they don’t know who I am.”
“I can’t do it.” Trystan shook his head, even as he saw the sense in what she was saying. “I swore to the king I’d return you in person.” That wasn’t exactly what he’d said, but it was what he wanted to do.
“And I can see you’re a man of your word.” Natalya sighed. “As a Maxima, you do realize I can release you from your vow, don’t you?”
“I know, but I don’t want you to.” He gazed back into her eyes, not caring what she saw in his.
She looked at him a long time, and he felt his insides going soft.
“I see.” Her eyes were soft, but also quite serious. “I don’t wish to make you unhappy.”
“Truly?” Trystan reckoned he might as well jump at the chance.
“Not everything is within my power, you know.”
“I don’t know that. You seem able to do whatever you want.”
“Nearly. Though I didn’t manage to escape Count Vega. I needed you to do that. Perhaps I need you to do this as well.” Natalya laid a small, soft hand on Trystan’s arm. “Let me pray on it tonight. Perhaps the gods will guide us. I believe they sent you to me for a reason, so I have no great wish to send you away now.”
“I believe that too,” Trystan said, even though he hadn’t prayed about it at all. Maybe he should start.by