74 ~ Aro

They came upon Mudflat in mid-afternoon, much to Aro’s relief. Hard riding was not his choice of activities following a sevenday of heavy drinking. Though he was sure it was the last time he’d be doing any drinking in the first place, for which he was grateful, too. More specifically grateful to Ghia, even if the girl was a meddling know-it-all. He smiled at the thought, and glanced over to where the young healer slept in the saddle, leaning against Jules. The CMO looked incredibly uncomfortable, as he had the whole ride, and Aro didn’t blame him one bit. It would be a trial for any red-blooded woman to keep her control, having the object of her affection on her lap for two days straight.

It hadn’t escaped his notice that Jules was besotted with Ghia, and she with him. Just as Yarrow and Caelum had not escaped his notice, despite whatever little tiff they’d been having since Midwinter. They’d get over it eventually. If they didn’t, it wasn’t really his concern. He had other things to worry about.

Like Anala’s safety, which the part-Magi Ghia seemed to be worried about as well. Ghia’s…powers had frightened him, and still did, but Anala had trusted the healer, and that had been enough for him. She’d had closer contact with Ghia, after all, and Anala was not one to base decisions on emotions.

Whatever Ghia had done for his bellica, might it keep her safe, as much as for his own selfish reasons as for Athering’s sake. Anala was the contact for Aeril’s budding rebellious faction, and would be invaluable to whoever led the fight against Zardria and Zanny. Assuming there would be one.

He hoped so. Seeing his hometown of Aeril so dilapidated had awakened some burning passion within him, and now he knew he would give everything to see the Empress and Empreena dead. And Duchess Danika, for all that she was his sister.

He’d not told Anala, nor anyone else, of his past and family ties. He’d been worried about recognition, when they’d visited Aeril, but none remembered the six-year-old he’d been. He’d been sent to Atton for fostering then. There he’d lived till adolescence and his subsequent joining of the military. He’d been a sometime playmate of a young Jules, who had left for the military before he did. Their early friendship had been forgotten in the years of basic training, as they were in different sections from the beginning. The childhood bond they’d forged had not been substantial. Aro was glad he was making the effort to be Jules’ friend now, for he was sure it would be more meaningful now they were adults, though how he could be sure, he couldn’t say.

He shrugged. He was happier being just Major Aro, Anala’s faithful second-in-command. He had no wish to be Duchess Nia’s son, and especially not Duchess Danika’s older brother. Not that being Athering royalty mattered much if you were second or third in line for ascension, and not at all if you were male. It was just the way things were. That was why people like him, and like Yarrow, joined the military. It was something to do that still gave pride.

He wondered how Yarrow would feel about being Empress. Or would she take the title of Queen? Would she be worth the effort he and Anala were willing to put into capturing for her the Sceptre?

Glancing ahead to where the bellica and her major rode, he decided she would. But his decisions were based on his emotions, his hunches, his feelings. not logic. He’d need Anala’s agreement for the decision to be a sound, well-rounded one.

That, he knew, was the reason both he and Athering needed her. She rounded him out, providing that balance that he lacked. Any decisions Aro might make, any conclusions he might come to, were naught without Anala’s cool logic to cut through his delusions and denials. In return, his emotions lent her choices the passion she rarely showed herself.

He was only half, without her. He wondered if she felt the same about him.


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