Rin woke Ayalah at dawn and watched as Healer Woodbridge changed her bandages. Then she called for a maid and some fresh clothes. She insisted that Ayalah let the servants wash her blood-stained uniform, and it was only when Ayalah began to argue that she realized her breathing was back to normal, no longer coming in labored gasps, though the wound on her back still bled overmuch. The princess, as always, got her way, and Ayalah grudgingly accepted a Bolladian-style robe to wear temporarily in place of her uniform.
She was sitting at her window as the sun rose high in the sky, lost in thought, when Rin’s personal handmaid came rushing in. “Milady Senior Commander,” the girl said between gasps. “There’s been news.”
Ayalah was tempted to run to the throne room to hear it for herself, but she couldn’t, not in this ridiculous dress. “What is it?” she demanded of the girl.
“It seems they’ve spotted ships,” the girl said. “I’m to tell you they’ll be here by morning.”
“Thank you,” Ayalah said. “And what of my uniform?”
The girl shook her head. “I don’t know, Milady Senior Commander. I’ll find out straight away.”
The girl hurried off, and Ayalah was left frustrated and curious. Whose ships? Friend or foe?
She didn’t have to wait long before Rin burst in.
“He’s done it!”
“Greyson, he’s done it, Ayalah, he’s done it!”
Ayalah stared. “Done it?”
“Olekoth! They’re here, he’s convinced them to ally themselves with us! Isn’t it wonderful? I’ve just met with King Davin and Queen Maera, who received a bird from him.”
“Is he… is he coming back?”
“He’ll be here with the first of the ships tomorrow.”
“Greyson,” Ayalah said. It wasn’t a question, really, she was just saying his name aloud to herself. She had last seen him when they parted ways with awkward formality nearly three months ago. Since then she’d had a foolish dalliance with the king of Naraloth and nearly died in combat. She wondered what Greyson had done during that time.
“…still don’t have the kind of force we need,” Rin was saying, “but this might turn the tide, at least; we’re not yet sure how many ships he’s bringing.”
Ayalah nodded. She wondered if Greyson would be pardoned now, or if his king and queen would have no further use for him and would sentence him to die. She wondered what he would look like. She wondered how she would look to him. Mostly she wondered what she would say to him when she saw him.
By the time the first of the Olekian ships reached the Bolladian harbor, Ayalah was garbed in a fresh linen tunic and a clean leather vest and trousers. She paced her room anxiously as she waited for Greyson to finish his report to the king and queen. She wondered for what seemed like the hundredth time what they would say to each other and how he would look. Would they hug? Shake hands? Would he even come to see her?
What if he didn’t?
A knock at her door startled her, and she realized she’d come to a stop in front of her window once more. It overlooked the east garden, with a perfectly framed view of one of the white trees dotting the gardens. The tree had purple fruit hanging from it, round berries of different sizes that looked juicy and ripe.
“Come,” she called, turning to face the door.
Greyson peered around the heavy oak door, a smile breaking across his face as he saw her. He was back in the pants and linen shirt she was used to seeing him in, travel stained and wrinkled. Stubble dotted his cheeks, and his hair was a mess.
She thought he had never looked better.
“Are you hurt?”
“Only a little,” she said, and it wasn’t a complete lie, for she was healing faster than she had any right to. “How are you?”
“Fine. Good, I mean. Better.”
They stood in silence for a few moments.
“I heard that you convinced the Olekian king to join us,” she tried.
He nodded. “It wasn’t that hard to do, actually. King Tazar is still pretty upset about what Mathais did to his sister.”
“Right,” Ayalah said, “of course.”
“How did you get injured?”
“I, er, led a small decoy army against Miltinoth.”
“Really? Does that mean you were promoted again?”
“Um,” Ayalah said. “Well, no. It was sort of deemed a suicide mission.”
He stared at her. “But it obviously wasn’t.”
“Um,” Ayalah said again. “I’m not sure whether anyone else survived. I got a sword through a lung, myself.” She gestured to her abdomen, still thick with bandages. “But we put up a hell of a fight. And then I was promoted afterward for—well, for being at the right place at the right time, truthfully. Bringing King Komma here in time for the healers to save him.”
He continued staring at her. The silence stretched out around them, uninterrupted save for a single bird trilling outside the window.
“You look thin,” he said finally. “Don’t they feed you in that army?”
“We need reinforcements for that. Some allies who were supposed to arrive ages ago,” she teased.
“It wasn’t easy to come up with an army!” he protested. “And I only brought half of them, anyway. The other half have already engaged Mathais’s force near Miltinoth.”
“I assume so,” he said. “That was the plan, anyway.”
“How many men were you able to bring?”
“Fifty thousand. Twenty-five thousand here, twenty-five thousand to Miltinoth, with a reserve of ten thousand waiting in Olekoth should Mathais strike back.”
“Fifty thousand!” Ayalah hadn’t realized Olekoth was so large. They might yet be able to win this war, after all.
He grinned. “And it turns out that—”
A knock on the door interrupted him.
“Come,” Ayalah said.
A servant stepped in and puffed out his chest. “The Bolladian war council requests the immediate presence of Lord—erm, that is—” The servant deflated and looked at Greyson for a long moment. “Lord Greyson,” he said, apparently deciding that it was better to flatter Greyson than to potentially insult him.
Greyson nodded. “I’d better see to it at once. We’ll talk some more this evening, Commander?”
Ayalah nodded and watched him leave, not bothering to correct him.