It was dusk by the time the Commander of the King's Army made his return to Valentia's capital. The setting sun cast its light on the mountains turning them a light shade of purple, while the buildings looked orange in the waning light of day. Idris' heart soared to be home at last after a long summer away ensuring their borders were safe. He kicked his horse into a gallop, eager to reach the palace and be reunited with those he loved.
The trumpets sounded to herald the return of the commander and the army, the gates of the palace opening easily before him to welcome him home. Lads rushed to take charge of his horse, bowing respectfully before him as the doors to the palace itself were opened and a familiar, bearded friend charged out to embrace the commander cheerfully. "Idris! You're not dead!"
Idris dismounted quickly, leaving the horse in the care of the boys who would take him to the stables and care for his needs. Both man and beast were weary from the journey and in need of rest and relaxation. The commander's beard had grown longer while he'd been away, his clothing covered in dust, but the crinkles at the corners of his eye gave away the smile hidden behind that beard at the strange welcome he received from his friend.
"No I am not dead," he echoed, with a chuckle. "Should I be?"
Ezra chuckled again, patting his friend on the shoulder as he stepped back. "I do not think this palace would survive the news of your death," he said in amusement. "I am not entirely sure even Osman and Zahra could console your wife if you did not come home."
"Miss me, did she?" Idris asked, teeth gleaming in a grin, despite the tangled beard and grime that covered his face. He knew his appearance made him look worse than he felt, but he'd been too eager for home to bother bathing and grooming before arriving.
"She has had her moments of being hell to live with, I am reliably informed," Ezra informed him cheerfully, drawing his friend into the palace. "The babies helped for a while, but she's been very worried about you. I could be wrong, but I think you may have tamed the wild woman of the harem."
Though Idris did not say so, he had missed his wife, too. Men and horses might be companionable enough, but they were no substitute for the company of a soft, lovely woman. Idris laughed at his friend's remark. "Ha! I will believe that when I see it. Before I left, she was still insisting I best her in combat."
"Nasir gave her permission to spar with the royal bodyguard," Ezra told him with a short laugh. "Their training regimen became quite a bit more strenuous a few days after that started. I do believe your wife beat a couple of them bloody."
Idris arched a brow at his friend's claim. Though he did not doubt Sasha's skill in combat, he did not think any man who called himself a soldier should allow himself to be beaten by a woman, unless it was done on purpose. Still, Sasha was like no woman he had ever met before, and he was only one of few who knew why. "If they have gone soft guarding the palace, they will find I am not such an easy taskmaster."
"I think you have your wife to thank for the fact that any softness they might have had has been trained out of them in the past months," Ezra assured him. It had been very funny to watch the reaction of seasoned soldiers to their defeat by a woman who insisted on wearing a skirt to fight.
"I trust she was not harmed," Idris said, a question implied in his statement, walking along beside his friend as they entered the palace. As much as he thought his men weak for letting a woman defeat them, he would have been even more enraged had she been hurt.
"I have heard nothing of any injury, and you can be certain if she had been hurt, Teres would have ripped my ears off to get me to put some kind of punishment in place for it," was Ezra's reassuring answer. As chancellor, he was in charge of all goings on within the palace, and therefore, in Idris' absence, the guards technically reported to him.
"If she was not a woman, I might make her my second in command," Idris said, though that was unlikely to happen. Women did not train to become soldiers in Valentia the way they did in some of the other nations on the continent.
"Does she know that?" his friend asked with a grin and a raised eyebrow. He had a feeling that Sasha would respond very favourably to knowing that her husband had that much faith in her abilities.
Idris chuckled. "Of course not. If she knew, she would insist on me doing so, and that might very well start a rebellion." There had been a time when he had not thought women capable of fighting as well as men, and though Sasha had changed his mind, he still did not like the idea of women partaking in battle.
"I seem to recall her offering to take your head off with the king's own sword at my wedding," Ezra mused with impish nostalgia. At the time, it had been alarming, but in retrospect, it was one of the most hilarious meetings of an ordained to be wed couple he had ever witnessed.
Idris chuckled and shrugged. "She loves me," he said, as if that excused or caused her behavior. It was in good part Sasha's fire that had drawn him to her. While other men preferred a docile woman, Sasha kept him on his toes.
"That she does," Ezra agreed, steering their steps toward the harem. In the past months since the new queen's coronation, the harem was no longer completely closed to men. Men of a certain rank - married men - were welcome within, provided they behaved in a proper manner, and as such, the women within were beginning to learn and recognize political maneuvering within their own households.
Idris didn't bother to ask if his wife had shown an interest in any other men; the very idea was absurd, not to mention forbidden. She belonged to him now, just as he belonged to her. His smile faded momentarily, wondering if he should have made himself more presentable before coming here, but he was too eager to see her. A bath would just have to wait.
Sasha was not exactly presentable herself. She was drenched, half-sitting in the fountain of the women’s' courtyard with two six-month-old babies, splashing and laughing under the amused eye of the two mothers sat nearby.