The couple entered an atrium adjacent to their bedroom, guardian in tow. Inside the vestibule was a large well of water, heated from the floor beneath by fires. The two settled themselves into the water carefully. Devan smiled awkwardly, “I’m so glad you suggested this, I need a bath after that-“ he gestured vaguely but she understood his meaning. He brushed a wild curl out of her face, “How are you feeling? I haven’t really been told… I just knew they snatched you out of there.”
Her forehead creased, “So, you knew I was alive?”
“Yes, I knew. But I haven’t heard anything since that. Just now I was trying to see what the Lesheale sisters knew, if they’d spoken to their brother recently, did they know of his recent escapades (crimes to you and me), etcetera. But if they knew anything they certainly didn’t divulge it.”
A long silence passed, full of the things they couldn’t say. “I’m so happy you’re alive I don’t really know what to ask first,” he ventured.
Bingham felt a sharp sting behind her eyes, “Yes.”
He nodded carefully, his eyes never breaking from her, “Jaeron, can you have the cook send us whatever is available for dinner and a carafe of cold water? I’m sure my wife is hungry.”
“Yes, milord,” and with that Jaeron disappeared into a dark alcove.
Finally, they were alone and Devan truly smiled, “I’m sorry, love. They aren’t used to being sent away.”
“I’m not used to being overheard,” she said.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come for you myself,” Devan said quickly, “I should have, and I know what it means to your people. Even though we have guardians here who do that, it was a mistake.”
“Yes,” she answered slowly, “but it was your first.”
He smiled again and shifted towards her. She rested her head on his shoulder.
“Why didn’t they let me see you when I came home?” Bingham questioned.
“Probably because they were afraid that if you didn’t believe me about the Lesheale girls that you would run back to your mother in tears and we would lose your parent's support,” Devan answered. “Were you able to get any information that might help us?”
She began shaking her head apologetically. “They kept asking me about the Forbidden Land,” she shrugged.
“What did you tell them?” Devan asked.
“I lied,” she smiled, “I said we’d only been married a month. That I didn’t know anything about your customs and culture. But they didn’t believe me,” her brow furrowed.
“Well, I told you I would pull you out after three months. Regardless of the consequences. I keep my word.” With this last solemn note he raised a glass to her.
“It seemed longer than three months…” she trailed off.
“Hey,” he stiffened, “this wasn’t my idea you know. I told you this would be foolish and risky. But still you insisted.”
“I know,” she nodded, “you were right. Maybe I did overhear something and suppressed it. I’ll bet something will trigger a memory later. But it’s not as if I had writing utensils with me.”
Devan gave his own nod in response.
“Why are they here?” Bingham asked after a beat.
“What do you mean? I told you about-“ he began.
“Yes, but- but why do they think they are here?” she rephrased.
“We have a yearly summit. Part of an agreement from years in the past. We haven’t held up our end in recent years because of the war. We get a pass if the kingdom is in a political transition,” he explained. “Not safe enough for delegates.”
“And the Lesheale sisters are here for the summit?” she asked again.
“Yes,” he answered, “it begins in two days.”
Bingham’s eyes stayed with her glass, and doubt began to brew under them.
“Which means I’m regrettably going to be very busy this week. All the major border kingdoms’ leadership and administration come, we have a festival, competitions, and it’s quite an event. I was hoping it might help unify the people, make us all feel one again. Maybe later, when things have calmed and the infrastructure has been restored to the major provinces… it shouldn’t take that long if I can generate the right atmosphere… Maybe we could take a trip?" Devan poured another glass for himself.
Her forehead creased with a realization, “You mean that he is coming here?”
Devan was dazed by her response, “Who?”
“Jupiter, and Lipus. The Antions. They are coming to the summit?”
Devan’s face revealed an ache that was not of the body, “The Antions have been allies to our kingdom for thousands of years before Jupiter kidnapped you. They are stronger than us; they have more resources, greater mobility. The least my people deserve is a verbal confrontation between us. We’ve just lost 350,000 of our kinsmen to our own discord. I don’t plan on running off and beginning another war just yet.”
“They kidnapped me and tortured me for weeks.” She stared at him, incredulous. She felt the tickle of moisture on her cheek.
“We allowed them to do so…” he reminded.
“But they don’t know that.” she said, shaking her head in disgust.
He raised his hands in a defensive gesture. Looking to find the words, his answer came in a pained whisper, “My father and mother just cooled a vicious civil war which cost them their lives. What army would you have me send?”
She only nodded as if stifled.
“Do you think I don’t care about what happened to you?” his blue eyes were broken with concern. “I shudder at the thought of what you’ve just been through. But I didn’t marry you because I needed more territory to defend. I could run into Jupiter’s palace, cut his heart out myself and send it to you. But I would never make it out alive and I would pass to you the burdens I am now faced with. I realize you are frustrated with my behavior but you aren’t in Balian anymore. I don’t have the resources your parents do, and you will not be able to convince them yourself to take sides against Antion. I married you because I saw strength, and that is what I need from you now. Jupiter will have his time, but we need to work together to make that happen. I cannot defeat him alone.”
She nodded, “Then I am with you.”