The air quivered under the weight of her open spirit. His own squeezed up in fear; she was liable to wrench the castle from its roots in her rage, and bury them all with her.
Behind him, Hession groaned. “Fuck me,” he hissed. “I forgot.”
Alistair ran his tongue over his dry lips as they neared the main hall. He hadn’t forgotten. He had spent the past seventeen years aching for that spirit, in tenderness or anger, if only to remind himself of what could have been.
She stood in the middle of the room, surrounded at a safe distance by old courtiers still frightened of magic and silent Nallisians too startled to speak. Her clothes were odd, different than he remembered—a long dress of a decidedly elven fashion with a low neck that clearly displayed the feather necklace she once took pains to hide—but otherwise she looked no different than she had two years prior—or even seventeen. Her hair was left long, spread loose and wavy and dark across her back and shoulders, casting her olive skin in shadow. Her green eyes held a glint of their old passion, a look that made his knees weak and his heart do somersaults in his chest—but when she looked at him, the glint vanished, replaced instantly by fury.
Still, the sight of her instantly whipped him back seventeen years in the past, and instead of a crowded castle hall he saw a forest burning and bloodied men in armour, a war started by a misunderstanding that brought two lost people together. A woman with no true past and an uncertain future, and a man whose whole life was abruptly tossed upside down by the misguided actions of his father; despite the war and the pain it caused, it was a time he longed for, one that left him sweating in the night.
A beat of silence passed between them. His breath froze in his throat as his eyes drank her in. She hadn’t changed. At all. The lines around her mouth and brow were the same, faint, and her hair was dark and lustrous as ever.
She was forty-eight, unless his math was horribly mistaken.
He was two years younger than she, and he had lost most of the colour in his hair and beard, found webbing wrinkles around his mouth and nose and eyes, and his bones ached when he sat too long or when it was cold.
Spirits damn the Archon and his blasted unnatural magic.
“Aisling,” he breathed, and the air escaped him in a whoosh.
Her eyes narrowed and the muscles in her jaw jumped. Her lips parted, and just for a moment he was a love-struck boy again.
Then she said the words, and he realized a moment too late that he recognized them, but not as Helmenian.
The breath was wrenched from his lungs as he was yanked into the air by a huge, invisible hand. Courtiers and farmers began to screech and flee in a panic; guards rushed in from their posts and he saw through watery eyes two of his captains try to approach her, shouting that she was harming the king and that was a crime punishable by death. As soon as their gloved fingers grazed her hair, a beat of psychokinetic magic pulsed from her core, knocking them back.
Wheezing, Alistair fumbled through his memory for the right words to free himself. Dangling above his subjects in the grip of a madwoman witch was not a good image for a king.