A gust of wind caressed Natalia’s hair as she stood on the deck of the Vigilant, the sky nearly cloudless on this glorious spring day. As the waters of the Great Northern Sea rose and fell around her, she couldn’t help but imagine their embrace, then a pair of arms encircled her waist from behind.
“I was wondering when you would join me,” she said.
Athgar chuckled. “I woke up and you were gone. I should have expected it, what with the sea around us. You really can feel it, can’t you?”
“Of course. Considering my gift for Water Magic, it's only natural, but it doesn’t compare to your arms around me.”
He went quiet, and she laughed. “You’re blushing.”
“How in the name of the Ancestors could you tell that?”
She twisted to face him, then smiled. “I know my husband.”
He shivered, and she wrapped her arms around him, burying her head into his chest.
“How much farther?” he asked.
“We should see the coast of Carlingen later this afternoon. Captain Grazynia assures me we’ll make landfall well before dark.”
“It’s been too long,” said Athgar. “We shouldn’t have waited.”
“Nonsense. Things don’t fix themselves simply because a battle is won. It takes patience and understanding to ensure a lasting peace, and the Duke of Reinwick needed our help.”
“And the King of Andover; don’t forget him.”
“Yes,” said Natalia, “and because of our efforts, both realms have now banished the family.” She paused, luxuriating in his embrace. “I am looking forward to getting home, though.”
“Me too. Oswyn must be enormous by now. It’s been a year since we saw her.”
“Is that all? It seems longer.
“We left Ebenstadt last spring.”
“We did, yet so much has happened since then. I was beginning to feel like we’d never see her again.”
“I’m sure she’s in fine spirits,” said Athgar. “After all, Kargen and Shaluhk are looking after her.”
“And don't forget Agar,” she added.