Eternal Vows

Chapter 3: Adjoining Rooms

Two couples leaning against each other. The couple on the left is two men, one black and one mixed race, in scifi outfits, and the couple on the right is a white man and mixed race woman, again in scifi outfits.

Vale let out a breath as Damien and Eve greeted each other politely. There was tension between them, but they weren’t about to kill each other, even though Damien had just finished saying he was prepared to kill her. The time it had taken for each of them to greet each other had been an enormous drain on Vale’s resources, as he had been prepared to defend his commander at the slightest move on Damien’s part. Mat’s hand had hovered over his dagger and Vale was acutely aware of his lack of weapon, though he would have protected Eve all the same.

After it was clear that there wouldn’t be violence, he could afford to be amused by Damien’s caution when leaving, at Eve’s caution when sitting. Neither of them exposed their backs to each other for an instant, not even Damien when he left through the door into an unknown area. Eve took the spot where Damien had been sitting, though she sat much closer to Mat, their hips brushing, and wrapped her arm around his. She kept her eyes locked on the door for several seconds after it closed as if making sure Damien were gone before she looked at Mat and Vale.

“I hope you three weren’t getting into trouble,” Eve said in a bland voice.

Mat grinned and stroked her cheek. Vale could see how Mat had gotten his reputation as a playboy. If he turned his charm on women besides Eve, he would be extremely popular and by his own admission, he had been free with his affection before meeting her. Rumor had it that Bode had a lover in every system in Kreutzer, and it didn’t seem so far-fetched now that he’d met the man. But he also believed that Mat had cut all ties with those women. There was no denying the way Mat looked at Eve. Even if he hadn’t given up his army, given up his home, given up everything he held dear just to be at Eve’s side, the light in his eyes when he saw Eve and the warmth in his smile would have given him away. There simply wasn’t room in his heart for anyone else.

“We were just talking,” Mat assured her.

“I asked Adrian for a room nearby,” Eve said. “He gave me one.”

Mat looked offended. “You’re staying here. It’s not like we’ll stay in the same bedroom.”

“People don’t know that,” Eve said. “They’ll just know that I’m sleeping in your rooms. You’ve already gotten in trouble about that with Ultia. We can’t make that mistake or my court might hear and our wedding might be affected.”

“Then have a chaperone,” Mat said.

“Adrian already gave me the room,” Eve said. “I’m using it.”

Mat scowled but she smiled sweetly at him and after a moment, his face brightened again. She did act a lot differently around Mat. Was this what Damien had meant by her mask? She was far more personable around Mat. He felt more comfortable with her. He trusted her more. Perhaps Damien’s assessment was right and she would be more successful if she were more sincere with her army.

He was still disturbed by what he had learned about Damien. Treza. It was hard to think of him as Treza even though the man still seemed to view Lohen as his nation and Lohen’s army as his army, both things that Mat was careful not to do with Kreutzer. Mat was trying to separate himself from his nation; Damien, despite his devastating loss and exile, still thought of himself as Lohen’s commander. Damien’s anger and grief came through clearly, but he wasn’t the kind of man Vale expected given everything he had heard from Wendigo rumors.

Damien was not a monster; he didn’t despise Wendigo and want them dead. He saw now why Eve had known, without question, that Treza was incapable of setting off a solar flare. Above all, he was shocked at the relationship between Damien and Eve. He had suspected an alliance from hearing Eve and Mat talk, but nothing like what truly lay between them. Damien had even said it at one point. He loved her. He had done everything in his power to help her, to protect her, to guide her, even after she turned on him and ignored him. Even when Damien said he would never forgive her, when he later said he would kill her, there was a hint of love in his eyes that belied his words. After everything she had done and been responsible for, that love hadn’t vanished.

But while Vale had talked to Mat and Damien openly about her and seen their true feelings about her, he had never talked to Eve about them. Her feelings towards Mat now were clear: she loved him. But there were still moments of hesitation on her side, like now with the separate bedrooms. Damien had said her mask was necessary to rule and perhaps it was just that. Vale hoped so, because he couldn’t read Eve well enough to know if she had actual reservations about Mat or if this were just a precaution as she said. He had never spoken to her about Damien and had no idea if her hatred of him was an act, as Mat had said. He would have to find out.

“Did Adrian even tell you I was coming, Mat?” Eve asked.

“No,” Mat said, glancing to Vale to confirm that he hadn’t gotten a message either.

Eve looked frustrated. “He knew Treza and I didn’t want to see each other. He assured me Treza would be gone by the time I arrived.”

Mat tilted his head at her. “Sabine, I don’t think you and Damien could have seen each other under better circumstances and I’m sure that’s why Adrian did it. I was here to defuse the situation and besides, he was outnumbered and you were off-guard.”

Eve looked at Mat thoughtfully and stroked his shoulder.

“I suppose it was nice to see you two together again. It’s like nothing’s changed between you.”

“Nothing has changed between us,” Mat said.

She stared at him, then shook her head.

“Vale, I need to show you where we’ll be staying. Mat, are you going anywhere? I can be back in about thirty minutes if you wanted to do something.”

Mat grinned and caught her hand in a kiss. “I would love to take you on a date, if you wanted,” he said, and Vale was again impressed by his charm. There was no question about his reputation.

Eve laughed and kissed him on the cheek, then led Vale out. She was in a good mood and he glanced back towards Mat’s rooms.

“Who is he, lady?”

“What do you mean?”

“He has to be royalty with a tattoo like that, and you wouldn’t marry him if he didn’t have some sort of claim,” Vale said.

He had been wondering about Mat’s heritage ever since he showed up. Eve could marry whoever she wanted, of course, but the queen of Wendigo could only marry a select few people. It was possible that Mat, like Eve, was royalty even though he was also in the military, but he didn’t act like royalty in any of their encounters. And the fact that he had a suite of rooms on the third walkway indicated an extremely close relationship with Adrian and the blackmarket. He had never heard of anyone in the military receiving such an honor; normally it was reserved for Adrian’s closest partners and traders who needed immediate access to him. Quick access to the head of the blackmarket was not something a royal should need, yet Mat’s tattoo and Sabine’s acceptance of his proposal indicated that he wasn’t a simple commoner.

“He has a few claims,” Eve said, unlocking a door along the main corridor and gesturing for him to enter a small bedroom. She shut the door before continuing. “He was the rightful heir to Rasdir before the revolution twenty years ago. He’s been living as a commoner since then, but he was recently named the heir of Kreutzer. That cannot leave this room, as he hasn’t been formally announced to the court even though it’s common knowledge in Kreutzer.”

“So this marriage will have quite significant ramifications for Wendigo and Kreutzer,” Vale said, surprised.

Eve had indicated that the relationship between the nations would be changing, but he had assumed it was only because their friendship was being strengthened, not because they were literally being unified through a marriage of their leaders.

“I haven’t negotiated the engagement with King Edmond yet,” she admitted. “We haven’t had time. But I plan on insisting on co-rulership while maintaining separate armies and borders. We’ll be allies, not a single nation.”

Vale nodded. That seemed reasonable and a sensible plan for everyone involved. He doubted either nation would be willing to join forces, so separate armies would be a necessity, but given the friendship that Eve had always maintained between their nations, it would be simple to shift into an alliance. He wondered what Lohen’s reaction would be, since Lohen would be sandwiched between the two allied nations. He also wondered when the increasingly massive nations would splinter. Kreutzer had already nearly swallowed Calib and Wendigo now controlled most of the Unclaimed Quadrant, and with the two nations working in concert and Treza gone, it was very likely that Lohen wouldn’t last long and Mammon not far behind. Would Wendigo and Kreutzer turn on each other then? Or would they collapse?

“I requested an adjoining room for you, and Adrian gave me that as well,” she said, leading him out of the room to the door next door and handing him a key. He entered and saw a room similar to hers. Small, but anything on the third walkway was extremely expensive.

“What did you have to pay to get this?” Vale asked.

She glowered. “A lot. Plus, I had to allow you to meet Treza.”

“You didn’t want me to meet him?” he asked in surprise. “Why not?”

He had assumed that both Eve and Adrian had approved the meeting. He never would have guessed that it was part of the negotiation.

“I’m sure those two talked about me,” she said, tossing her short hair back. “And I’m sure you heard Treza’s side of the story in full. Mat and Adrian never seem to realize that I have a side in this story as well.”

“He’s done a lot for you,” Vale said. “He still loves you, too. He doesn’t want to be your enemy.”

“But he is my enemy,” she said sharply. “If Mat weren’t there, he would have tried to kill me.”

He thought about it. It was undeniable that Damien had looked at Eve, looked at Mat for a moment, then returned his attention to her before greeting her. Mat was a large part of the equation and they all knew it. However, he had noticed that Damien had relaxed slightly even before he looked at Mat. He had already decided not to attack and something about Mat confirmed that choice. He didn’t know how to explain that to Eve, though.

“I don’t think so, lady,” he said humbly. “But I don’t know him as well as you do.”

She sighed. “That’s the other problem. He’s nearly as charismatic as Mat, though in a very different way. The only people who haven’t liked him after meeting him are Helios and his king. I don’t know about Helios, but his king hates him because Treza threatens him politically and militarily. I know he’s won you to his side as easily as Mat did.”

“Yes,” he said honestly. “But neither of them will replace the person who first won my loyalty.”

She looked puzzled and he thought back to Damien’s words on why she hid her true self. It was true that showing her genuine self would win her more loyalty, because that was what had won him over. He also wondered how it was possible that she had been so thoroughly trained to hide her strongest weapon.

“You’re so worried about their charisma stealing your troops,” Vale said. “Don’t you realize you have your own? When you interviewed me on Vega, you were genuine. I saw someone I would be proud to serve, someone who deserved my loyalty. I’ve served in armies before, even as captains, always knowing it would be temporary. I’ve never expected to spend my life in one until now.”

Eve was stunned, he could tell, and moved. She placed her hands on his shoulders and, to his surprise, embraced him. It was the embrace of a commander to her second-in-command, one soldier to another. An embrace of respect and thanks. When they parted, there was something subtly different about her, though he couldn’t see what.