The little old woman shivered with apparent surprise at his embrace. “Oh! I didn’t realize you were the hugging type, Zeff.”
‘He usually isn’t,’ said Ax, sounding perhaps even more surprised.
Zeff released her. “Thank you for everything you have done for my family.”
Octavia gave a low snort. “Fat lot of good it’s accomplished.” She locked arms with him, and they began walking together. “Honestly, darling, I’m surprised you don’t hate me. I assume Axiolis has filled you in on everything?”
“Then you know three of your children were captured under my watch.”
‘While you were here,’ Ax reminded her, ‘trying to rescue Zeff and his son. We can hardly fault you for another House’s betrayal.’
“Even so, you shouldn’t--”
‘I’ll hear no more of that,’ said Ax. ‘Not when you could have turned the Elroys over to the Vanguard whenever you wanted.’
“Ax is right,” said Zeff. “You will accept our appreciation, whether you think it appropriate or not.”
She snorted again. “You are much bossier than I remember.”
It was true that it had been some time since he’d last spoken with this woman. There’d been various Council meetings over the years, sure, but those were purely business, and Zeff recalled multiple occasions where Octavia had attempted to converse with him afterward, only for him to brush her off. And all because of that old resentment he’d felt when she’d tried to forbid him from rejoining the Vanguard in his youth.
What a fool he’d been.
He wanted to apologize to her a dozen times over, but he was too ashamed of himself to broach the subject now. And of course, there were more pressing matters at hand, anyway. “When will you launch your next assault on the Keep?” he asked. “I would like to be a part of it.”
“I know,” she said. “That is longer than you care to wait, right now. But Sanko is supposed to arrive sometime today. Wendy is waiting for her at the airfield right now. So as difficult as it may be, I must ask you to be patient.”
He tried not to scowl. “Patient...”
And when Zeff did not respond, she seemed to become uncomfortable.
“Perhaps you would prefer to depart for Luzo, instead,” Octavia said. “I hear the siege on Marshrock has been proceeding more quickly than expected, thanks to your Sandlord friend.”