I slipped into the garden, wrapped in my cloak. The orange trees had begun sprouting light green shoots. Would they bear flowers and fruits this year? Would we see them?
Sparrow song drifted in the air. Summer saw these tiny brown birds hopping about, picking at the heavy seed heads. Now with winter fading, the mated pairs had returned. They were making tiny cup-like nests in the crook of the branches.
A tall robed figure pushed past the low branches. "The trees are here, as I always remember it," he rumbled appreciatively. "We used to pick the oranges for pressing and pickling."
"Vanyel," I said and pulled away from him. He blocked my path. My being thrilled to his touch, his gnarled hand stroking my jaw. He smelled of sword oil and leather. So close, so close, so close.
"When you left," his voice softened, his tone husky. "I realized I was being pig-headed. You are right."
"But you broke your vow," I said, finally gazing into his eyes.
Vanyel shrugged. "I would renew my vow once the war is over. Not now."
I leaned my head against his chest for one blessed moment, before all the madness started. The Dark Hounds would be attacking us in days... hours.
I was right. One hour later, the siege machines started their assault once more. We immediately ushered the children and the older women back into the shelter.
"We need to stop the siege machines," Vanyel rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "The trebuchets are hidden by the forest."
"How?" Lisbet's question was waspish.
"Sabotage," Vanyel lifted an eyebrow at her. "Didn't your father teach you that?"
Lisbet frowned. I stepped in to deflect the rising tension between the two. "We have been busy, but we have considered sabotage. Should I go and pick the men for the task?"
"Morgan," Lisbet growled. I shook my head at her. Not the time to throw a tantrum, my lady! Thankfully, she subsided and followed me out to select two palace guards who were known for their scouting abilities.
And assassins, I thought grimly as the men bowed, well aware that they might not be coming back.
The siege stopped abruptly. Missiles ceased falling. The silence and following peace was deafening. Now we had to wait for Fazalur's retaliation. It would be terrible and final.