A Gesture

I fought with Marina. I hate it. She’s not wrong that I’m putting her at risk more than anyone, but I can’t just put Brayton to death. I wish she understood, there’s no one else in the world who I think even could. Tristan has made eye contact with me a few times, which is comforting but not, well, entirely welcome at the moment.

I haven’t told him about what went on with Eric earlier. I haven’t told anyone, because I want it to be mine, at least for a little while.

“What has your attention?” Eric asked sitting next to me. I smiled at him. “Where’s Duchess Marina?” I sighed and looked down.

“She wasn’t feeling well,” I said simply, “and also I did something she wasn’t happy about.” He nodded as the food was placed down, I nodded so everyone could begin. He nodded.

“Did you try apologizing?” He asked. I looked at him. “You’re not so much a queen that you can’t apologize are you? Even my brother, who believe me, condescends to no one, apologizes occasionally.”  I laughed. “Goddess, Annalise, haven’t you ever had an argument with anyone before.”

“Only with Aaron and that was usually his fault,” I said, “so he apologized.” He laughed. “You don’t want to know what it was about?”

“I’m pretty sure I can guess,” he said, glancing towards the doors. I blushed.

“It wasn’t that,” I said, “it was much more serious, but it doesn’t matter.” He nodded. “She’ll probably be hungry.”

“Yes,” he smiled, “she probably will.” I nodded. After everything broke up, I asked for a plate to be put together and we carried it up. Lefty came too, teasing us both, and happily slipping into Marina’s room when I left her. I sat on the couch and Eric plopped down next to me.

“Thank you,” I said softly. He smiled and pushed my hair out of my face.

“Of course.” He said softly. “What were you fighting about?” I sighed.

“We think Lord Brayton has lost the blessing of Amina and Marina wants me to schedule his execution,” I explained, his eyes got large. “But I have this feeling, based on my dreams that I’m not supposed to do that. I don’t know, it’s all very confused.” He kissed me. I pulled myself close. His hand rested on my waist as I pulled myself onto his lap.

“Annalise,” he whispered, pulling away. “We shouldn’t.” I swallowed. “I told you I won’t share.” I nodded.

“I’m sorry,” I said and pulled away. “But you’ll wait for me?” He smiled.

“Of course,” he whispered, “forever.” I got a chill then. I wanted him so badly, and invoking the vision, that vision, only made it harder to not touch him. We heard a giggle from the other side of the door. “Is she,” he sighed, “Lefty isn’t used to, well, nice girls, should we say.”

“I’ll go rescue her,” I smiled. It had the added bonus of separating me from Eric, the air between us felt charged now.

The Plan

As we walked to the temple I couldn’t help smiling at Eric’s company. Tristan asking if I was falling in love with him filled my mind.

Was I? I do like him, so much, and I can’t ignore how easy it feels, which doesn’t feel like love, as I’ve known it with Tristan. I glanced at Marina who was blushing as she talked with Lefty.

“We need to give them time alone,” Eric said. I laughed and shook my head.

“I don’t think she’ll like that,” I said. He raised his eyebrows. “It’s complicated, but last time, with, someone else, she felt rushed.”

“Hmm,” he said, “but surely, a walk back to the palace?” I laughed again.

“Alright,” I said. “Athena,” I called out and she rode up next to us. “Surely your Grandfather would be happy to see you and Tristan, since you’re in town.” She laughed and nodded.

“He would, certainly,” she said and glanced at Tristan. “And as we’ll have some time.” I nodded and she walked away.

“I don’t see how that will help,” Eric frowned.

“If Tristan and Athena go to the Market, you and I will have to stay behind at the temple,” I explained. He nodded. “We’ll have to let Sir Raymond know, but I doubt he’ll object.”

“Object to what?” Raymond said. Eric rolled his eyes and I smiled. “What wouldn’t I object to?”

“Making sure Marina and Lefty can be alone,” I said. He sighed.

“Oh, that,” Raymond said with a sigh. I couldn’t help but laugh, Marina and I discussed how at a base level his aura reminds of Brayton but as I get to know him, I like my young cousin more and more. “Yes of course, I’ll go along with whatever, I think she’s too good for him though.” He marched ahead and I looked at Eric who was laughing.

“He’s so serious,” he sighed, “I know I’ve said I’m doing my best for him, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be enough.” I nodded.

“Marina has an idea,” I said, “I can grant entrance to the University for visiting scholars.” Eric looked at me. “Raymond was denied a chance to study in Phania, right? The Brothers rejected him?”

“Yes?” He said. “That’s why I took him on. Well, and because Elana asked. She worries about him.” I wanted to know more about Queen Elana, about their relationship.

“He could be a Mastero,” I explained, “if he wanted, or just study and gain a degree like my uncle did.”

“I think he’d like that,” Eric said, “I don’t know if Elana would, or the people of Tumona, they might like a Lord again. They’ve been in a lurch since your Grandfather died.” I smiled. He took my hand. “Annalise, I’m glad you asked me to come today.” I smiled.

“I’m glad too,” I said softly. “Have you done it? The ritual?” He shrugged.

“Not really,” he admitted, “when my father died, but I was only three, so my memory was simple, not fully formed. My mother’s though, always stayed with me.” I didn’t ask, it seemed personal. “Will you miss the Dowager Countess, and the Count?” I laughed.

“Very much,” I said, “Aaron more, frankly, Olivia and Caleb were always coming and going our whole lives, but I always had him, even when I only had him.”

“In that way in I’ve been lucky,” Eric said, “I got to bring Lefty with me.” I smiled. I was glad he understood. He always understands. We’d reached the temple. “Shall we?” I nodded and smiled, walking behind him. I noticed Lefty stayed behind. I didn’t comment. I knew they were more conservative about men being in the temple in Phania.

After we shared our memories, and dismissed Marina and Lefty, (Under the pretense that they had to fetch the twins,) I sat happily on the temple steps with Eric. He looked at me and smiled.

“What?” I asked.

“I keep picturing that little girl with a dagger,” he said, “I think I would have been afraid of her.” I smiled.

“I was quite fierce,” I said, “then you aren’t afraid of me now?” He shook his head and I leaned in and kissed him. He placed his hands around the sides of my face and pulled us closer.

“Goddess, I was wondering when we were going to get to that,” he whispered and I giggled. “I hope I wasn’t a disappointment.”

“You weren’t,” I said softly. “Have you,” I swallowed, “is there anyone else?” He smiled.

“There have been girls,” he said, “but nothing permanent,” I nodded. “I hope you don’t insult my intelligence by thinking I don’t,” he sighed, “understand that isn’t the case for you.”

“I try to be as subtle as possible,” I said softly. He nodded. “Do you mind it very much?”

“I don’t like it,” he said, “and I think I’d be within my rights, if things progressed to ask you,” he brushed his thumb under my chin and I smiled, “I don’t want to share my wife, Annalise, and if that’s impossible for you when it comes down to it, I’ll do my best to move on.” I nodded and kissed him again. We broke apart hearing a throat clear.

“I suggest we go back to the Palace,” Athena said with a grin. “If it pleases you both, Your Majesty, Your Highness,” I glared at her. Eric cleared his throat and excused himself. “Well that’s interesting.”

“Shut up,” I said and stood up brushing myself off. “Don’t tell Tristan!”

“Oh don’t you worry, I’ll let you handle this,” she said practically bouncing down the steps. “But just watching the whole situation is going to be a lot of fun for me.”

The Ritual

After Tristan and I made love I leaned against him. I was being selfish but I didn’t care. William had gone, Olivia and Aaron were going, Caleb was dead and it was unlikely that I would see Anselm again for a long time.

I would keep Tristan for as long as I could, or at least as long as either of us could stand it.

“We’ve done what we could to keep security inconspicious for tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t want you to make a spectacle going to the temple.” I nodded. “What will it be like?”

“I’ve never done the mourning ritual before,” I said softly, “Marina has, she taught me. We’re supposed to conjure a memory and project it into the water.” He nodded.

“What memory?” He kissed my head.

“I chose the first time we talked about who I am,” I said. “When he explained my duty.” I swallowed. “When he promised I could always be Lisette to him.”

“Oh, love,” he sighed and held me closer. “I hate this pain for you.” I smiled. “And he’s coming with you?”

“Yes,” I said quietly. “And Raymond. I haven’t spent much time with him, but Marina’s become quite attached.” Tristan nodded. “You could come.”

“I don’t think that’s wise,” he said softly, “we were raised to honor Cornan, you know that. He’s more jealous than his sister.” I laughed. “Are you falling in love with him?”

“No,” I whispered, “I don’t think so. Not like us,” he smiled and kissed me.

“I don’t think either of us should expect something like us again,” he said sadly.

“Olivia and Thomas had it,” I said softly. “With each other, and then her with Caleb and him with your uncle.” Tristan laughed.

“Martin and Uncle Trey may have loved each other but it wasn’t like this,” he said softly. “They hated one another by the end. I don’t think I’ll ever hate you.” I closed my eyes and lay my head on his chest. “Do you want to know my memory?” I laughed and nodded. “When we were inducted into the guard, and the resistance after that, I was shocked how large camp was. But I was even more shocked, that Athena and I were given full uniform, almost no one got them anymore.” I smiled. “But Count Caleb presented them to us, very simply. I never understood why, until I met you.” I smiled.

“You do look very nice in that uniform.” I grinned. He laughed and kissed me. “I miss him.”

“I know that,” he said. I nodded and we fell asleep. I eventually woke up, it wasn’t light out yet and I dressed quickly and ran down into the dungeon. The guards were surprised but didn’t stop me.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting this,” Brayton said, I couldn’t see him, he was slouched in a corner. “To what do I owe the honor this time.”

“I want you to tell me about Amina,” I said. He laughed. “I’m serious, do all who die pass to her?”

“No,” he said, “some linger, but you know this, you’ve felt Marie near you.”

“Yes,” I said, realizing he must have felt her sometimes too. “But if I haven’t felt someone…”

“Caleb of Pantona would never have lingered,” his voice was quiet, almost respectful, for Brayton. “Not practical, he could never have stood to not be of use.” I swallowed. “I liked him, you know, quite a bit. Even when we were young, he was,” he sighed, “friendly, I suppose is the word. I never suspected his treachery, his sheltering of you, he seemed too straightforward for it. I suppose I didn’t respect him enough, he was crafty.” I swallowed. “Amina is not unjust, Annalise. In fact she is infinitely just, which is why she demands a sword of her own.”

“What does that have to do with this?” I realized I was crying, I wiped my eyes.

“Caleb was a good man,” he said softly. “True to his heart and self, and honored his land and ancestors, humbly. Queen Amina would not punish him for this.” I illuminated the cell then and looked at him.

“Your shadows took him from me,” I said. “I don’t need your help.” He sighed.

“So you say, Cousin,” he said, “but my head remains attached nonetheless.” I sighed. “You perform Rana’s rememberence ritual tomorrow?” I nodded. “Is the memory a strong one?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Good then,” he said, “it’s a powerful ritual, I wish you well on it.” I looked at him. “I haven’t performed it since your mother.” I turned around and fled then. I couldn’t look at him anymore.

By the time I was back in the room, Tristan was gone, he’d left a note that he was arranging our escort and he would see me later. I smiled. Maybe this could work. There wasn’t a king in legend who didn’t have secret loves, why should I be held to a different standard?

One More Pledge

I don’t know how long I was crying, or what I was really crying about, even. Being held by Eric wasn’t unpleasant, and I’d initiated the whole thing. And our conversation, about the Dream, and about Rana.

“Lisette,” Tristan walked in, I sat up. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t find Marina or Athena, and it’s near dinner, and Aaron and the Countess leave tomorrow.” I sat up. “What’s wrong love?” He sat down and touched my face.

“Tristan don’t,” I whispered. He nodded and stood up. “I’m sorry, it’s only, I hate not being with you but I don’t see how we can go on.”

“I know,” he sighed, “we were being selfish, I think.” I laughed and reached out my hand, he took it and sat down and kissed me. “I don’t want to leave you.”

“I know,” I said. “I was with Eric today,” I felt him tense. “I’m sorry, I just, you know me so well, and I can’t talk to Aaron about him,” He laughed and took one of my curls around his fingers.

“Of course not, I’ll be a good sport,” he said. “What did you and The Prince talk about?” I looked at him.

“My mandate,” I said softly.

“I see,” he whispered. “I wish I could help,” I rolled onto my stomach and smiled.

“Perhaps one of these days you’ll feel the touch of the God and then you can,” I said. He laughed.

“If either of us are chosen, it’s Athena,” he said, “not me.” We kissed. “Do you like him?”

“I do,” I said softly. “It’s different than us. I expected it to be, but more like,” I sighed. “Well, more like William.” He laughed.

“Well, perhaps if you neglect him enough he’ll move along to Marina as well,” he grinned. I whacked him in the chest. “Can I come to you tonight?” I nodded.

“I want you to,” I said softly. “I know it can’t last but we should be together, while we can.” He nodded and I stood up and looked in the mirror. “Goodness, I’m a mess.” I sighed and reached for a bell. A maid quickly appeared. “If you can’t find Duchess Marina, please get Countess Olivia or Captain Dugarry, I need to change for dinner.” She nodded and left and Tristan left behind her.

I sighed and stood up and looked in the mirror.

“Well, really,” I jumped hearing Rana’s voice as she appeared in the mirror. “I understand his appeal more, but you rely far too much on him.”

“It isn’t up to you,” I said. She frowned. “I apologize, My Lady, I’m,” I sighed. “I don’t know what you want from me.” She smoothed her hands along my shoulders.

“Mm,” she nodded. “I wish I could be more upfront with you, child, but my bindings prevent it.” I sighed and the door opened and the goddess vanished. Olivia walked in.

“Well,” she smiled, “you are rumpled.” I laughed and she pointed to a chair and took a comb. “Marina was on her way but I wanted one last chance.” I turned my head quickly.

“You’ll come back,I  though,” I said, “after!” She sighed.

“I don’t think I will, Lisette,” she said softly. “I’m sorry, Little One, but I want to be home. I was hoping to see you settled first, but alas.” I frowned and she turned my head and continued combing. “How is that going?”

“Settling?” I said. She nodded. “We had a nice talk today. I don’t know otherwise. I’m looking forward to seeing him at dinner.”

“A start, then,” she said, finishing a long braid of my hair and coiling it into a bun. “What about that pretty blue dress that Andrea Dufrey sent at the coronation? I think Alex is going to be at dinner it would be a nice compliment.” I nodded and she pulled the dress out and we got me into it.

“I wish I was going with you,” I said, pressing my forehead to hers. “I miss Pantona, and I want to put Caleb to rest.”

“I know, love,” she said, “you’ll be there soon enough.” I nodded. “Besides I doubt The Goddess would approve.” I laughed. “Have you and Tristan made up?”

“Yes,” I said softly. “He’s still going, and I still hate it, but we’re friends again.”

“I’m glad,” she said, “even if you can’t be together as you wish, you don’t want to be angry with one another.” She looked sad. I knew she didn’t regret her choice but I wonder how long she and Thomas were angry at each other. “Caleb would have been so proud of you my darling.” She cupped my face. We walked out and Aaron escorted me to dinner. He was teasing me when Eric walked up. He kissed me on the cheek.

“I’ll see you soon, Little Sister,” he walked away. Likely to find Athena. Eric sat next to me.

“Do you still want us to join you?” He asked. “At the temple tomorrow?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling a sort of calm.

A Walk

I’ve gotten used to taking long afternoon walks in the palace grounds, sometimes by myself, sometimes Martin or Aaron or Marina come with me. Today I’m alone, because I just sent a letter to Anselm about the drowning dream.

I don’t like the portent that it was Brayton who pulled me out, and I can’t trust him to interpret it, and Marina is still barely speaking to me, so I’m stuck with a letter to Anselm. I almost asked him to come, but I can’t bring myself to, it isn’t fair to him, but when we agreed that he would stay in Pantona I thought I would still have Caleb with me.

“Your Majesty,” I turned seeing Prince Eric running towards me. I smiled in spite of myself. “That is Annalise, I really can’t get used to it.” I laughed.

“Are you more formal at home?” I asked. “Your mother and brother and sister in law, do you call them, Your Majesty?” He smiled.

“With the King, always, Daniel and I have never been close. With Elana, in public, and with the children.” His smile changed then, became more sad.

“Your niece,” I said, “the eldest that is, Karina? Is she,” I exhaled, “will your brother change the inheritance?”

“I don’t know,” he frowned. “If Elana has her way then yes, and well,” he blushed a little and then I swallowed.

“Some of it depends on me, then?” I said.

“It would be easier if the current heir was on another throne it would simplify her claim,” he said. “Not that I want to add any pressure.”

“No,” I said stopping and leaning against a rail. “There’s no pressure here.” We both laughed. “How long do you plan to stay?” I propped myself up. He stepped closer to me.

“As long as you’ll have me,” he said, “do you really plan to go to Brightcoast in the summer?”

“I think so,” I whispered. “We’d ride down, but I suppose you’d want to take the Glory.”

“I can trust Lefty and Raymond to it,” he said, “if you’d rather.”

“It’s months away,” I said drawing back. “Besides, would Lieutenant Lestoff like it?” He laughed.

“He wouldn’t like being away from Duchess Marina, however he misses sailing and complains about it regularly.” He shrugged. “Plus I am his commanding officer so I get to make the decision.” I laughed. “You wouldn’t want to sail?”

“No,” I sighed, “I mean, I would, but the ride is traditional, and the road goes through Pantona so,” I stopped.

“You want to go home,” he smiled.

“I am home,” I said. He laughed.

“Now you sound like me,” he said, “I have to claim Vacana as home, but it’s Brinecliff where my heart is. You lived your whole life in Pantona, it’s where your family is, it’s home.”

“Aaron and Olivia and my uncle are going to bury Caleb soon,” I said, “I’ll probably go to the temple when they leave. Would you come with me?”

“Of course,” he said, “I’ve been going a few days a week, actually. Sister Anna has been assisting me.”

“I like Sister Anna,” I said, “I had no idea you were so devout.”

“I wasn’t,” he admitted. “But being away from the sea has made me nostalgic, and I long for Rana.”

“You’re welcome to her,” I grumbled, kicking the dirt and thinking of my Dreams.

“The Dreams are bad?” He asked.

“There’s been a particularly vexing one,” I shrugged. “I don’t want to bother you with it.”

“Annalise, the first time I heard of a Dream was when I was four and I awoke to my mother screaming bloody murder,” he shrugged. “I tend to take them in stride.”

“I was drowning and then,” I exhaled, “someone, an enemy pulled me out.” He nodded. “I don’t know what it means except I think she’s frustrated with me. I’m not moving fast enough for her.”

“What is your mandate, anyway?” He asked sitting down on a bench. I smiled, “besides you know, all this?”

“Release the gods, they’re bound somewhere at the moment,” she said, “restore balance. All this, as you say, is a big symbolic part of that. I’m product of Rana and Cornan’s chosen lands, Cammadan and Phania.”

“And you have to do it alone?” He smirked. I shook my head.

“I have Marina, and whoever Cornan chooses,” I said, “we’re not clear on who that is.” He nodded and leaned back looking thoughtful. “I’m sorry this must be dull.”

“You said you wanted to try,” Eric shrugged. “This is a part of your life, I want to understand it.” I felt my shoulders fall and then felt myself reaching to hug him. And then he just sort of held me.

And it felt so incredibly right I immediately ran to my room to cry for an hour.

Sparring

I was sparring with Athena that afternoon, normally we bantered and chatted during this time but today I was just frustrated with her. I had a feeling she had more to do with Tristan’s decision than he’d said.

This plan reeked of Aaron and Olivia. It was too practical by half, solved about ten problems at once, gets Tristan out of Eric and any other suitors way, reunifies the crown with the Merchant Guilds, gives Tristan a place if he chooses to leave the guard (or stays, frankly, a woman from Dorin probably wants to stay there and I need a northern commander), solidifies Pantona’s power in the economy, but they wouldn’t have thought of it themselves, just figured out the details. I was so hurt by all of them.

Athena takes advantage of my distraction to knock me off my feet.

“Yield?” She grins. I smile.

“Yield,” I said, she offered her hand and I took it and she pulled me back up. We went and sat down.

“You’re upset about something,” she said. I sighed and threw my head back. “My brother?” I sighed and stood up.

“I don’t think I can talk about this with you,” I said. She sighed.

“Lisette,” she shook her head, “you could have him you know.” I turned around and looked at her. “You could defy everyone’s advice and expectation, forget it all, marry Tristan. They’d get over it, you’re still young and you’re strong and popular.”

“I hear a but coming,” I said.

“No but,” she shrugged. “I’m not Aaron. I see you, and I see Tristan. You love each other, you were both so happy in Pantona before everything else came into it, before people started whispering in your ears that it was wrong. Ignore them, be together, or agree and part, but stop torturing each other. It’s miserable and not just for you two.”

“Was Dorin your plan?” I asked. She laughed.

“No,” she said, “Dorin was a back up from long ago, our Aunts have had us in the mix for arrangement basically since we were born. Our mother disapproved but went along to get along as it were, and when they died Martin deeply disapproved and wanted all plans halted while Uncle Trey wanted the plans to continue, eventually, the disagreement became so deep, that, well,” she shrugged. “I didn’t know they kept planning, but that’s The Dumanis for you.”

“Why now?” I asked. I knew the answer, me, I was why now. So many other things were settled now that I was on the throne, why not settle this too?

“We’re the right age,” she said, “and the season starts in spring, so it wouldn’t disrupt much for him to show up in Dorin.”

“The season?” I asked.

“Aunt Brie calls it the meat market,” she said, “it’s basically a bunch of parties where everyone around the same age meets each other while their families discuss dowries and contracts. It happens here too, when people are presented, though the nobility are less upfront about it than the guild. Probably if we reopen Brightcoast it will happen there.” I nodded.

“So, it wasn’t Aaron’s idea?” I asked. She burst out laughing.

“Gods no!” She said. I nodded.

“And Caleb, what did he,” I drifted off.

“If he had any thoughts on it, Tristan and I didn’t know,” she took my hand. “Why do you doubt them now?” I frowned.

“I guess I’m feeling trapped,” I said and stretched. “And Caleb had so many plans.” I put my face in my hands and rubbed it.

“What does Marina say?” Athena asked softly. I looked at her.

“Marina is completely heartbroken so naturally I can’t talk to her about any of this,” I sighed. “Did you know that they were,” she rolled her eyes. “Naturally, everyone but me then?”

“Not everyone,” she smiled, “I don’t think the countess and Martin knew.” I laughed.

Lost In A Tempest

I slept fitfully after the ride in the valley. We’d had dinner with Olivia, she seems in better spirits, though she kept asking Eric questions about Phania, and his mother. He took them well, but she also seems so tired.

After we ate, I stood quietly on the balcony and Aaron walked out and propped himself up onto the railing. I laughed and looked at him.

“So, Lisette,” he said, “what do we think?”

“You’re the politician,” I said, he laughed. “You tell me.”

“Politically it’s the best match besides myself,” he explained. “But you know that, Father told you that often.” I nodded. “And let’s not forget your mandate. You made need ships, and I would think the Goddess would approve heartily.” That made me role my eyes.

“You don’t believe in my mandate, or the goddess,” I pointed out.

“I don’t not believe in it,” he pushed down, “and you believe which is the important part. Lisette, don’t be foolish.” I nodded. “What does Tristan say?”

“Nothing good,” I sighed leaning forward. “He thinks I’m tying myself to fate. Maybe I am, I don’t know.”

“He’s afraid,” Aaron said, “I am too, you know. You’re different now, you have to be, I understand that, but it’s scary to see you change.” I nodded.

“I think I need to sleep,” I said softly. I went back carefully, through some back passages I found. (Meant, probably for the royal couples to visit one another) I got back to the apartment, and Marina undressed me quickly. She was in another world, and I didn’t ask.

I didn’t want to know.

I climbed into bed and fell asleep. I Dreamed. I was riding down a beach, a wider, whiter beach than I’d ever seen, it was Brightcost, I knew it was Brightcoast. There was a gleaming golden palace in front of me and behind me a smaller manor house. I stopped my horse, and looked over the sea, which was raging. The storm reached us and the horse reared and I fell backwards being pulled out to sea. I screamed, but crushed under the waves, I couldn’t breath.

When I broke through the water I was pulled onto a ship deck.

“You find me in the strangest places, my dear cousin,” I skittered back at the voice. I’d been expecting Eric, or perhaps the Goddess, but it was Brayton, dressed in his black robes.

“How?” I asked.

“Perhaps I’ve been lonely,” he shrugged, “or perhaps Amina and Rana have reached a detante.” I reached for my belt, drawing my sword, “for Goddess sake Annalise, it’s a Dream, you can’t stab me. Always the damn sword with you, like your father.” I frowned.

“Rana wouldn’t have drowned me,” I said.

“No,” he said, “though she’s clearly impatient.” I woke with a start then. I needed to talk to Marina. I scurried out of bed into the sitting room. Her door was closed. I didn’t want to wake her. I sat trying to find my center when the door swung open and my heart caught in my chest.

Marina was flushed, still in her gown from the dinner but rumpled, Tristan was behind her, and I understood.

She stammered something and left. I couldn’t blame her. I couldn’t blame either of them. I wanted to be angry, I wanted to scream.

“Say something,” he said. I blinked at him. “Lisette,” he whispered, “please, say anything.”

“What should I say?” I asked. “That I hate you both? That I don’t understand? I don’t, and I do.” He nodded. “I have no right, when I refused you, I set you free, and it isn’t as though I didn’t know how Marina felt.” He stepped closer and kissed my forehead.

“I promised to stay with you,” he said. I nodded. “But I can’t, it’s agony.” I swallowed.

“What then?” I asked.

“The Dumanis have suggested an arranged match,” he said, “I’d go to Dorin.” I nodded. “Not immediately, but before spring,” I nodded again. “I’ll always love you.”

“I know,” I said softly. We kissed and then he left.