Interlude: The Triangle: Part 2

Content Warning: This story contains references to and descriptions of Domestic Child Abuse. If you are aware of or suffering from Child Abuse, please contact your state CPS, (A list of United States CPS Agencies can be found at childwelfare.gov) or if you are in crisis contact the Crisis Text Line at 741-741

7 Years Before Crowning

Tom was pacing in the parlor, unsure what to do next. Trey was simply staring at him.

“Should we wake them up?” Tom asked. Trey shook his head.

“Let them sleep one more night not knowing,” he whispered. “Gods, my father, he’ll want them in Dorin.”

“They can’t go to Dorin,” Tom said, “Trey, Alexia made me swear, that they wouldn’t be pulled off the guard path. And besides which, they’re as much Dugarry as they are Dumanis. Dugarrys are in The Guard.” Trey frowned. “They can live here, can’t they?”

“Here?” Trey said. “Not the palace?”

“The Palace is no place from children these days,” Tom said, “I can’t even think, I need to,” he swallowed, “if he knew, if they knew, Trey, I have to go to Pantona.”

“I’m sure they have it under control,” Trey stood up. Tom looked at him. “She’ll send word, she always does.” Tom nodded but something felt wrong. John and Alexia were dead and had been for nearly a week and there hadn’t been word from Olivia. “We have to focus on the twins, you’re right about that. Athena is headstrong and stubborn already, and Tristan is sullen and quiet, without their parents, without their mission,” Tom’s heart suddenly broke, seeing his partner’s attempt to be strong. Trey had been close to his sister. He pulled him close.

“I know,” he whispered, “but I still have to,” he sighed. “I’m sorry,” he whispered and left quickly. He rode fast, through the flat land, stopping only to change horses and drink and eat a little, but he arrived at Pantona withing a few days.

“Tom,” Olivia exclaimed as he burst into the hall, she ran down the stairs and into his arms. “Oh I’m so glad to see you, we were so worried, is it true?” He nodded and burst into tears finally. She pressed her face into his chest. “Poor John, and Alexia,” she swallowed, “oh and those children, Tom, are they with you? Do you need,” he shook his head.

“They’re with Trey,” he said softly. She nodded and they walked into another room and sat down. “But you’re safe?” He cupped a hand against her cheek.

“Yes,” she said softly. “As is my son, and,” she stopped as a little girl came running in. “Lisette, please give us a moment.”

“Of course, Countess,” she said and curtsied gently, “sir,” she whispered to him and then pitterred out.

“Gods,” he whispered, “it’s like seeing a ghost.” Olivia smiled softly. “But you haven’t seen anything? No one has come or reached out?”

“No,” she said softly, “we’re safe.” He exhaled. “Your probably passed my husband on the road, he was going to make sure the twins and Lady Marina were safe.” He smiled. He’d never expected to grow fond of Caleb Pantona, but he had over the years. “Trey won’t be happy you came here.”

“Because it’s you?” Tom said. Olivia laughed.

“Partly,” she said, “and partly because she was his sister.” He nodded. “You must be exhausted, I’ll get a room set for you. Do you want to see the children?”

“No,” he said, “I’ll sleep and get back. You’re right, he’ll be furious.” She laughed and he touched her face gently, “I just had to see you, I couldn’t,” he choked on some tears. She nodded.

“I know,” she said softly, “I was frantic too, it’s why Caleb went. I can’t, but well,” he nodded and then kissed her softly. “Tom,” she whispered and pulled back, “no.” He sighed and looked down. “I’m sorry, I thought you understood.”

“No, I do, I shouldn’t have,” he sighed, “it would be easier, sometimes, if I didn’t. Then I could have gone on being angry at you.” She smiled and took his hands. “I wish so badly that I didn’t love you anymore, Livvie.”

“Oh, Tom,” she sighed, “I don’t think you do. I think you loved me when I was seventeen, and you love that idea. I love it too. There are plenty of times when I wonder, if,” she sighed, “we’ll always have a maybe, between us. But you have Trey, and now you have to be there for Tristan and Athena. They’re wonderful children, but this will be so hard on them.” He took her hand again and kissed it gently.

“No,” he whispered, “it’s not the idea of it, but that’s there, I love you, I think I always will.” She nodded.

“Mother,” a boy walked in, he was clearly awkwardly between boyhood and manhood, but tall, a little gangly. Tom hadn’t seen Aaron Pantona since he was a small child. The resemblance to Caleb was obvious, but there was more of Olivia in his face than he’d realized. “Lisette said we had a guest, I thought I should say hello.” Olivia sent him a crooked smile.

“Of course,” she said, “General Thomas Martin, may I present my son, Viscount Aaron Pantona.” The small Viscount bowed and Tom smiled.

“Your Grace,” Tom said standing up and extending his hand. Aaron took it and shook it enthusiastically. “If you’ll both excuse me, I think I ought to go to the inn.”

After arriving back in Dovetail, Tom walked into the house and was immediately blindsided by a tumble of blonde curls tackling his stomach.

“Where were you?” Athena Dugarry looked up at him, her green eyes flashing in anger. “Aunt Brie said we have to go to Dorin and I won’t! They can’t make me. I know that we can’t stay at the palace anymore with Mama and Papa gone, but I won’t go to Dorin!”

“Thena,” he sighed, “you do not have to go to Dorin. Where is your brother?” Tristan was sitting at the dining table and looked up at him. “Come along, and sit,” Athena obeyed, though she looked unhappy about it. The twins identical faces and hair, so like John’s, looked back at him. “I want you both to know first of all that you will always be safe. I won’t let any harm come to you.”

“We know that, Sir,” Trsitan managed, “but we don’t want to leave Dovetail, we told Uncle Trey that and,” he swallowed what was likely a very large sob.

“Good,” he whispered. “And Tristan, Athena,” he took one hand each, “I need you to be brave, I swore to your mother that I would take care of you and I take it very seriously. I’m going to speak to your grandfather and settle things. You are not going to Dorin, not if you don’t want it, and if you do want it, you won’t go without me.” He stood up and Tristan joined him and hugged him tightly. After releasing the boy he saw Trey waiting in the hall.

“How is she?” He asked.

“Coping,” Tom said softly, “thank you, for not just sending them.” Trey shrugged. “I know it’s hard for you to stand against your family Trey, I’m always grateful.” Trey nodded.

“You were right that it wouldn’t be what Alexia and John would want,” Trey said. “Caleb Pantona talked me out of it. He pointed out it would play into Brayton’s hands, and that you’d never forgive me for it.” They both laughed. “I loved my sister Tom, I love you, I couldn’t do something that would cause you so much pain.”

“I know that,” he said, “I shouldn’t have run off, it isn’t fair to you, to them, to whatever it is we’ve had for the past twelve years.” Trey smiled. “But there’s something in me, Trey, I love you, but whenever something goes wrong, in my guts, it’s her.”

“I’ve noticed,” Trey muttered. Tom frowned. “It can’t be like that now. Not with Athena and Tristan with us.” He nodded.

1 Year Before Coronation

“What do you mean she won’t go?” Brie DuCray exclaimed. Trey sighed. “She’s sixteen, she’s a member of this family, she will go to Dorin and be presented.”

“Brie,” Trey said, “if I had any measure of control over Athena don’t you think she’d be in this house rather than in the barracks and I wouldn’t be arguing that she shouldn’t marry that idiotic Davis boy.”

“She’s not marrying him,” Brie said, “Goddess, Father would lose his mind. We can do better.” She sat down. “Alex is cooling on the DuKarras girl.”

“No,” Trey said. “That won’t help anyone.” Brie frowned and the door burst open, Tristan walked in, his face red and flustered. “Tristan this is not a good time.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “Hello Aunt Brie.” She nodded at him. “I just, the Black Guards came to the Barracks.” Trey walked over and took his shoulders. “I’m fine, Athena is fine.” Brie looked at her brother.

“Why were they there?” Trey said. “Tristan?” He swallowed.

“Martin’s been exiled,” he said. Brie closed her eyes and exhaled. “They know he’s leading the Resistance.”

“Living Gods,” Brie whispered. “But you two?” Tristan shook his head. “I have to tell Drea.” Trey nodded and Brie left. Tristan swallowed.

“He got away safely?” Trey whispered. Tristan nodded. “And you and your sister are both alright?”

“Yes,” Tristan said and collapsed. “He told me to come to you, well, us, but Athena,” Trey stopped.

“Davis?” He said. Tristan nodded. “Goddess.” Trey muttered. “I need to see him.”

“He’s gone already,” Tristan said, “he gave me a letter.” He handed it over.

“Where did he go?” Trey asked. Tristan shrugged. “You don’t know?”

“We’re too close to Brayton these days,” Tristan said, “I don’t know where Camp is. But I’m sure it was to Camp.” Trey nodded.

“Why are you so close to Brayton these days?” Trey asked. “Surely there are more useful places for you to be.” And safer. He thought to himself.

“We need to stay close,” Tristan said quietly, “Lady Marina, well.” Trey sighed. He’d seen though never met the “Little Duchess” as she was called. And Tristan talked about the girl enough. “He’s taken an interest in her.”

“I see,” Trey frowned. “It’s a practical move. Brightcoast is large territory. And she’s the heir, after The Princess.” Tristan nodded. “Don’t stay too long, if they’re looking for you, you should be wherever you’re supposed to be.” Tristan nodded and Trey hugged him close. “Stay safe, my boy, please. I couldn’t take it,”

“I know,” Tristan whispered and left swiftly. Trey opened the letter.

Trey,

Know that no matter what comes next for me, I will love you always. Please look after them while I’m gone. I can’t stand the idea of the three of you alone.

Love,

Tom

Coronation Ball

Countess Olivia Pantona smiled sadly looking over the goings on at the large ball. They were so young, and there was so much still to be done.

“Countess,” Trey Dumanis walked over to her holding two glasses of sparkling wine. “If you’ll permit me.” She smiled and took it.

“Thank you, Master Dumanis,” she said softly. “I understand we owe you some thanks. It all would have been more difficult without you.” He smiled and looked down.

“You know better than most,” he said, “how difficult it is to say no.” She smiled. “I am sorry about your husband. Caleb was a good man.” She swallowed and nodded.

“Yes he was,” she said and nodded towards Aaron who was dancing with a laughing Athena. “It seems we’re going to be family soon.”

“Yes,” he said, “my father couldn’t be happier.” She laughed.

“I can imagine,” she said, “he may find Aaron less pliable than he’d like however. Like a good country boy he has a skeptical view of The Guilds. He’s seen a few tenants get fleeced.” Trey smiled.

“Of course,” he said and glanced across at where Tom was standing. “It’s strange, having him back.” Olivia smiled at him coyly.

“Is he back?” She raised her eyebrows. Trey looked at her. “I am in mourning, Tristan, you have nothing to fear from me.”

“Olivia, you were married for thirty years and it didn’t matter to him,” Trey shook his head. She sighed. “I know you never encouraged him, it’s only, I spent most of my life in second place. I can’t keep at it until I die.” She nodded and raised her eyebrow again.

“You didn’t answer the question,” she smiled.

“He was,” he admitted, “just the once.” She giggled happily. “You’re behaving like a child, by the way, not a dignified dowager.”

“With Alexia gone, someone needs to tease you, your other sisters have always been useless at it,” she said. He smiled. “I never wanted to be between you two.”

“I know that,” Trey said softly. “You still are though.” She nodded.

Pantona

The burial had been harder than Tom expected, though he remained in awe of Olivia, she’d barely cried. He thought back to the night in camp, when he’d stopped himself from going to her, despite hearing her wailing. It’s why he’d come today even if it was not the most sound judgement.

Tenants had been coming in and out of the manor all day, and now it was quiet, he, Les and Olivia sat quietly in the parlor. Aaron had gone to the study with William Santino, “getting hideously drunk, most likely,” Livvie had said mischievously.

“You’re sure of that?” Les asked. She sighed and put her feet up on ottoman.

“It is the usual outcome when Aaron and William spend any amount of time together,” she said with a soft smile. Tom looked at her. “Granted it isn’t usually here, it’s at the inn, but still.”

“Why not here?” Tom asked. She sighed.

“Caleb didn’t really approve,” she said, “not of William, he liked him, but of Aaron’s, other activities in the area.”

“Farm girls,” Les laughed, “kitchen maids,” Olivia nodded. “The odd merchant girl if I recall correctly.”

“Precisely,” Olivia sighed. “No man will respect a lord who’s bedded his and half his neighbor’s wives.” Tom snorted. “He was so happy about Athena, Tom, really.”

“I know,” Tom said softly. “We’re happy too, really. But I worry about her, she can be rash.” Les smiled softly.

“She’ll settle,” he said, “all of them have endured so much. I hope peace suits them.” He paused. “I hope it suits us at that.” Olivia reached out and took his hand and squeezed it. “I think I need to sleep. Thank you for this, Livvie. It helped.”

“I’m glad,” she said, “I know I’m not Caleb, but I am here.” He smiled and nodded at Tom before leaving. “He might miss him more than I do.”

“He’s always been sentimental,” Tom said, “and being so isolated these past sixteen years couldn’t have helped.” She nodded and he walked over to her. “Do you miss him?”

“Yes,” she said. “I think I will more now, it’s been so busy.” She stretched. “But he’s at rest, and Aaron will be married and I can rest, and see my grandchildren when they come.” She sighed and looked at him. “You will be here?” She asked. He looked at her.

“If I’m wanted,” he said.

“Athena will want you here,” she said softly. He smiled.

“That isn’t what I meant,” he said, “and you know it.” She sighed and stood up, he took her hand as she passed him. “Livvie,” he whispered.

“Tom,” she sighed. “This isn’t what I thought would happen,” he nodded. “What about Trey?”

“There isn’t anything with Trey,” he said. She frowned. “I thought, maybe we could try again, but there’s too much hurt, too much change.”

“Oh,” she looked away. “And if I’m not ready?” He nodded.

“I understand,” he said, “but are you not ready, or not interested?” She looked at him and sighed and knelt down between his legs and pressed her forehead to his.

“I love you,” she said, “I’ve always loved you. It’s changed and grown so much.” He inhaled. “I can’t lose you too, Tom. It would be too much to bear. Anton and Marie and Anne and Alexia and John and then Caleb. If we try this and it doesn’t work out,” she swallowed. “I can’t lose you.”

“You won’t lose me,” he said softly, “don’t you think you would have be now?” She kissed him and pulled close. He lifted her up by the waist and carried her upstairs to her room.

When they’d finished and lay quietly together Tom gently traced a few scars on her back. They were new, or at least new to him. They hadn’t been there when they were young.

“What are these from?” He asked. She rolled over.

“My father,” she said softly. He stared at her. “It started just hitting me when I was disappointing, but when Anton announced his engagement, I required serious correction,” he exhaled.

“How didn’t I know?” He asked.

“I hid it,” she said, “I was embarrassed. Anton didn’t know either. John did. Caleb guessed, it was how we became close at first.” She exhaled. “It was a long time ago.” He kissed her deeply.

“You didn’t trust me?” He asked.

“No,” she sighed. “It’s hard to explain, I trusted you, but I also didn’t think you would accept my weakness. Of course it wasn’t mine, it was his, but,” she sighed. “When I lost my first baby,” she said, “I was terrified that Caleb would hate me, too, the same way my father did. But he was always so kind, and gentle.” Tom swallowed.

“How may were there?” He asked. “I remember the two others you carried.” She sighed.

“Five,” she said, “three before Aaron, two after. The two who died in their cradles, Mara and Joseph, they were the hardest. The others never even quickened, poor things.” She looked at him. “Do you regret not having children?” She asked. He laughed.

“Sometimes,” he said, “but I have the twins.” She nodded. “But if you mean do I regret spending my life with Trey, I don’t think I ever could, unless of course it meant I got to spend it with you.” She cooed softly and kissed him. “Did you know Annalise asked me if I was in love with Anton?” Olivia burst out in a laugh.

“Really?” She said. He nodded. “Were you? I feel like I would have noticed, I was very jealous. Of both of you.” He grinned.

“No,” he said, “I loved him, and if he’d wanted me I don’t think I could have denied him, but it was never that way.” She nodded. “Besides, I only had eyes for you for quite a while.” She smiled. “What do we do now?”

“Is it alright if we don’t know?” She asked. “I have a wedding to plan, and the gods knows what’s happening with Lisette.” He laughed.

“I sent Tristan into the Lion’s Den,” he muttered, “because the gods knows what’s happening with Lisette.” She laughed. “And I’m in no rush to explain it to Trey.” She smiled and they kissed again before snuggling into one another and falling asleep

Interlude: The Triangle: Part 1

Content Warning: This story contains references to and descriptions of Domestic Child Abuse. If you are aware of or suffering from Child Abuse, please contact your state CPS, (A list of United States CPS Agencies can be found at childwelfare.gov) or if you are in crisis contact the Crisis Text Line at 741-741

30 Years Before Annalise Is Crowned

Dovetail

“What do you think of her?” Olivia Bano said, sitting in the corner of the reception room as Marie SanPierre, the new girl from Phania was standing dear the Royal Family’s dais talking to Prince Anton.

“I think you are much prettier than she is,” John Dugarry said quickly.

“I have you too well trained,” she narrowed her eyes at him. He shrugged. “Look at how Anton is looking at her.” She sighed.

“Your father isn’t here you don’t need to pretend,” John said inspecting his nails. “Run along and make love with Tom in a closet or whatever it is you two have been up to for the past few months, I have to make sure this Phanian girl isn’t carrying poison.” She whacked him in the arm. “Ow!”

“How did you know about Tom and me?” She hissed. He laughed.

“It is the worst kept secret at court, Livvie,” he said. She frowned. “Before you ask of course Anton knows.” She sighed. “You didn’t really want to be Queen?”

“No” she said, and then sighed, “I mean a little, but it’s Anton, every time he touched me I just wanted to giggle and not in the good way.” John snorted.

“I can see that,” he said. “Your father doesn’t know.” She inhaled and looked at him. “But he’ll figure it out soon Livvie.”

“And I will handle it,” she said. He sighed. “I will. I always do.”

“I won’t cover for you this time,” he said. She looked down. “Anton won’t stand for it. Tom won’t.” He swallowed. “I shouldn’t.” He looked down. She stared daggers at him.

“He is my father,” she said. “He loves me and wants what is best for me.”

“What’s best for you is not both you eyes blacked and not being able to sit down for a week,” John said. She frowned. “Come to Dorin with Tom and me. You can enlist in the guard!” She rolled her eyes.

“I am not joining the guard and I am not leaving court to go to Dorin,” she said. “I’ve never understood this obsession of yours.”

“I am marrying according to my family’s cultural traditions,” he said. “And also I like Alexia, from her letters.” Olivia shrugged.

“If you say so,” she said.

“Lady Olivia,” A tall young man with auburn hair almost the same as hers walked past. “Sir John.”

“Viscount,” she blushed and curtsied gently. John bowed and then scowled at her. “Are you very happy that Lord Lestat has returned?”

“I have missed him,” Caleb Pantona nodded. “And his sister is a lovely girl, don’t you think?”

“Oh, I haven’t gotten to speak to her yet,” she giggled. “But I look forward to getting to know her.” The Viscount smiled and moved along.

“What was that?” John asked staring at her.

“Nothing,” she said and pushed her hair behind her ears. “He asked my father for permission to court me. It’s very common out in the country apparently.”

I didn’t mean the Viscount panting at you, trust me I recalll that. ” he said, “I meant you encouraging it.” She rolled her eyes.

“Lady Olivia,” Tom Martin, his dark blonde hair cropped short and his guard uniform crisp. Olivia melted as they met eyes.

“Captain Martin,” she smiled. “John.”

“Trouble,” John muttered and took a big gulp of his drink as they took one another’s hands and slipped away. “Both of you.” Olivia stuck her tongue out at him as they slipped away into an empty room. He pulled her close and kissed her.

“Don’t go to Dorin,” she whispered. He laughed.

“It won’t change anything,” he said softly, “and I gave John my word.” She nodded. “I’m in love with you, Livvie.” She smiled.

“So stay with me,” she said. He kissed her again. “Please.” He sighed and slipped his hand through her hair.

“I promised,” he said softly. “Besides which, you have other commitments too.” She looked down.

“If you mean Anton and me, it isn’t anything,” she said. “I want you, I’ve only ever loved you.” He smiled and kissed her and she drew him back to a couch.

“I only love you too,” he said softly. She swallowed and nodded. She didn’t know if she believed him. Tom’s love felt unsettled. But his touch, and kiss were intoxicating, the feeling of him inside of her too good. And he was Tom.

He was handsome and brave and kind and adored her. Her father wouldn’t be happy, he wanted a grand match for her. But she would figure it out.

Dorin

Tom was trying not to laugh as John paced back and forth in the very large and ornate receiving room of the Dumanis House in Dovetail.

“I think the summer palace is smaller than this room,” Tom said. John glared at him. “Your in laws, are clearly wealthy, congratulations.”

“You’re supposed to be helping me,” John groaned, “this is not helpful.”

“Sorry,” Tom said, “how can I help? I could ask Jeremy to sell a farm so that I can give you a proper gift.” John looked at him and laughed.

“I am in so over my head,” he groaned. “Have you heard from Livvie?” Tom nodded.

“Mm,” he nodded, “Anton is in love with Marie Sanpierre. She is devastated.”

“I’m sure,” John said.

“Drea, what exactly is the big emergency,” a boy about their age bound into the room. Tom stared at him. He let out a laugh from his throat, “you’re not Drea.”

“No,” Tom said and stood up, “I’m Tom Martin this um,”

“John Dugarry,” The boy sighed, “I forgot that you were coming today. I’m Tristan DuManis, Trey, they call me Trey.” John nodded.

“Nice to meet you,” John said, “is your sister coming? Anytime soon?”

“Lexi?” Trey said. “Did you let her know you were coming about six hours ago?” Tom laughed.

“Trey,” a girl walked in, “stop it.” John looked over at her. Tom smiled, “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting, my father, and my sisters,” she exhaled. “I’m Alexia.”

“John,” Tom said, seeing his friend standing slack jawed. She was beautiful. Blonde hair and green eyes, and she was dressed in a green gown that was clearly designed to invoke the guard uniform. A nice touch. “This is the part where you talk.” Trey laughed from the corner and Tom smiled at him.

“I’m John,” he said softly, “and it’s nice to finally meet you.” She smiled.

“And this is the part where we leave,” Trey stood up. “Good luck.” Tom laughed and followed him out. “She hasn’t eaten in a week.”

“He may have caused more damage to his weapons than good with how much he was cleaning them on the ride,” Tom shook his head. “I suppose you’re next?”

“For the marriage market?” Trey asked. Tom shrugged. “No, I’m not,” he shook his head. “I don’t, not with girls, anyway, and the contracts don’t really allow for,” Tom smiled.

“I understand,” he said. “And it’s good to know.” Trey smiled back at him.

“I should let my father know that I’m here,” Trey said pointing in the general direction fo the hall. “Nice meeting you.” He walked away.

“You too,” Tom smiled. Then he exhaled. “What am I doing?” He mumbled.

Dovetail

“So that’s it then?” Tom stared at Olivia, “you’re going to marry him, throw it all away?”

“Throw what away?” She said calmly, her brown eyes full of tears. “Throw away you and Anton glaring at each other over dinner, while everyone pretends not to notice? Except he’s moved on too. Throw away you spending most of your time with Trey Dumanis and acting like I don’t notice the way you look at each other.” He looked away. “Throw away you leaving for six months? I love you, I do,” she whispered, “but you were gone.”

“Your father must be pleased,” he muttered. One last arrow, the only one left. She swallowed.

“He is, actually,” she said softly. “I love you, Tom. I’ve always loved you and I always will, but Caleb loves me. He’s a good man, and he’ll take care of me.”

“I love you,” he whispered. “I’ll take care of you.” He stepped closer and cupped her face. “Livvie,” he said and kissed her.

“You didn’t deny it,” she whispered. He looked at her. “You and Trey.”

“He’s a boy with a crush, Livvie,” he sighed. “It will pass. I’m yours.” She shook her head.

“You’ve never been mine,” she said. “And I’m tired of pretending.” She turned around and left.

Later that night Tom sat quietly on the steps outside of The Barracks, the large building where most of The Royal Guard lived. He’d thought he’d be leaving it soon. Married officers took homes, his brother had offered him a place on his land.

“There you are,” Alexia Dumanis practically skipped over. Tom smiled. He’d become very fond of her. He didn’t have sisters but he imagined if he did he’d care about them how he did Lexi. “You had promised not to abandon us. Instead Trey and I have been stuck at dinner with all those stuffy nobles.”

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “Where’s John, I believe that’s his job really?” She sat beside him.

“John is with Prince Anton,” she said, “planning Lady Marie’s security.” He nodded. “How was your evening?”

“Lady Olivia is getting married.” He said softly. Alexia nodded. “I shouldn’t be surprised, I left for six months.”

“I’m sorry,” Alexia said, “I imagine you love her very much.” He looked at her and nodded. “She’s very beautiful. I can’t say I’m too upset though. I would be very happy to call you brother.” He laughed.

“Am I that blind?” He asked. She smiled slyly.

“Trey is cautious, and Papa thinks you’re a menace, but if you don’t see it then, yes, Tom Martin, you are blind.” She kissed him on the cheek. Tom nodded. He stood up and walked out of the palace and down the market to the large and ornate townhouse that The Dumanis family had recently purchased. He stepped in the front door and turned seeing Trey sitting in the parlor.

“What are you doing here?” Trey asked quietly. “Aren’t you supposed to be with Lady Olivia tonight?” Tom nodded. “So, why aren’t you?”

“I want to try something,” Tom walked over and kissed him gently. Trey lit up and they pulled close. “Alright, good, then, that’s good.”

“Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for that?” The younger boy smiled. Tom grinned back at him.

Author’s Note: OMG, we did it!

Oh, hi, I didn’t see you there. *Giggles Approachably and flips hair casually*

So we finished year 2. I’ve got some plans for what’s coming next, and I’m going to start editing together the past 3 years of content into something resembling a manuscript. I will then have to make decisions, but I’ll think about that when I have that to think about.

For now! We move on.

First of all, see the below embedded Twitter Thread that in a bit of mania last night. I put together the way I see the cast in my head. I hit just about everyone except Anselm and a few of the Dumanis, but that’s because I have trouble getting a hold of Anselm in my head. (Sometimes he’s a very traditional kindly old Wizard type, other times he’s more of a strict but loving grandpa type. He’s slippery.) It was fun!

It’s a lot of people who were on The CW or played Superheroes, I am who I am. Also, Rana is Audra McDonald. I do not apologize for the most powerful deity in my cosmology being played by the most talented person in show business.

So as we move into year three what are we going to look like. Rather than write through each girl’s perspective and loop back to another’s, I’m going to jump around, sometimes seeing Marina’s view, sometimes Lisette’s and sometime’s Athena’s. We’re jumping forward a few months, to the court visiting Brightcoast. And I’m so excited that we ALSO be following a new POV character. (I’m like George RR Martin over here) So that we don’t totally lose track of a few characters I’ve grown very fond of, we’re also going to check in with Carolina DuKarras, the girl who The Dumanis want Tristan to marry. I think you’ll like Carolina. I do.

BUT FIRST. For June, and for Pride (Happy Pride! I’m bisexual, I don’t know if you knew that. But I am!) I’ve decide to do a little investment in my queer characters. Part of the difficulty with this story living in my head for so long is that it’s much more hetero than something that I’d come up with now, but there’s the queer characters in there, and I want to tell their stories.

SO!

First! A two part story that traces key moments in Tom’s relationships with both Olivia and Trey. It’s mostly finished and really lovely.

Then! How did a badass soldier with a tragic backstory and a prissy mean girl realize they were meant for each other? The answer may delight you, it does me. We’re talking about Elodie and Mercy.

And finally! Chosen by a goddess, socially uncomfortable, and just trying to figure it out. It’s time to go deeper into Raymond.

I’m really excited. And thanks everyone for reading, following an indulging me these past few years. I set out to do something and the fact that I’ve done it.

Rest in the peace of The Goddess, y’all.

Goodbye

After the ball Aaron and I went back to my rooms and as I started to get undressed I glanced back as he settled in at the table, two small glasses in front of him.

“What are you doing?” I giggled, tying a robe around my waist.

“Remember when I wrote to you about William?” He asked. I raised my eyebrows and sat down opposite him.

“That he didn’t deflower Marina?” I asked. He laughed. “That you got drunk?”

“Yes,” he said, “with this,” he plopped a bottle in front of us and then poured two shots. It was clear, and as I picked up the glass, ice cold.

“How?” I asked. He grinned.

“Raymond enchanted the bottle,” he said, “when I mentioned I brought it back. He said that the Rastani would never drink it warm.” I laughed and we clinked the glasses and downed the spirit. It didn’t burn like whiskey, but I could feel it going right to my head.

“Oh!” I said. Aaron nodded excitedly. “Oh that is wonderful.” He smiled. “It’s Rastani?”

“Made from potatoes, apparently,” he said, “good with juices too.” I smiled and leaned across the table and grabbed the bottle re-pouring my glass. Aaron laughed and poured his we downed the next shot. A few more and I felt floaty and giggly.

“We should go back to the party,” I said jumping up.

“No,” he said, “first of all the party is over and second of all you’re drunk,” I stuck out my tongue and looked at him. “Come to bed. I’ve missed sleeping with you.” I melted and took his outstretched hand and slid into his lap.

“Tristan is going,” I whispered. He nodded. “I wanted him to go, but now that it’s happening,” I sighed. “I don’t know who I am without him.” He slowly pushed my hair out of my face. “We’ve always been together.”

“You are amazing,” he whispered, “you aren’t one of a set, Thena. I’ll miss him too, but I promise you’ll survive.” He kissed me gently. “I want to be your family.”

“You already are,” I whispered. “But, I just,” I swallowed. Trying to explain being a twin to others is hard. It’s frustrating to be treated as two halves of a whole, but in so many ways we are.

Without Tristan I worry I’m going to be off balance. I kissed Aaron again gently and we went to bed. After sleeping for a bit I got up before dawn and slipped out to go to the stable. Tristan had just finished saddling Elian and he looked at me.

“Athena,” he whispered softly.

“Tristan,” I swallowed.

“I have to meet Alex at the gates,” he mumbled. I nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” I said. “Don’t let them change you. If you come back as some prissy merchant boy who does everything Trey says, I’ll never speak to you again.” He laughed.

“And if I come back to a harderned warrior with a single focus,” he smiled, “I will run away terrified.” I laughed and hugged him tightly. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” I whispered. “I’ll see you soon.” He nodded and wiped the tears out of his eyes. I walked back towards the palace and entered the hall. Marina and Annalise were both standing there, looking at a mossaic of a wave hitting the mountain.

Lisette’s eyes were red from crying, but she smiled when she looked at me.

“I think it’s time for us to get to work,” she said softly.

“Alright,” I answered. Marina swallowed and took a deep breath, she drew her hands together and apart, creating a small ball of light, the same blinding white as the burst of battle magic that day with the shadows. I gasped.

“It’s not me,” she said softly, “it’s the Goddess. That was the answer.” I nodded. “Balance your hands under it,” she said softly. She looks different, sure of herself and steady, holy. I nooded and did as instructed, “Annalise,” Annalise swallowed and placed her hands on the opposite side of the orb. Marina’s hovered above it.

“What now?” I asked.

“We make a vow,” Annalise said, “do you pledge to me, Athena Dugarry, Champion of The God of Land and War, that you will aid me in my mandate to free the gods from their binding to the wheel of time?”

“I so vow,” I whispered. The next words came to me, but I’d never learned them, I just knew them. “Do you, Annalise Dovetail, Sword of The Goddess of Sea and Light, vow to lead me truly? To command with justice and hope for peace in all things?”

“I so vow,” she whispered. The orb changed shape into a beam shooting up through the ceiling to the sky. I felt calm and whole. And she smiled and me.

“It is done,” Marina said with a gravitas I didn’t know she possessed. “You are bound in your service to the gods and one another.” We all made eye contact and giggled.

“Why doesn’t she have to make a vow?” I said nodding to Marina as we walked towards a parlor. Once we got there a maid appeared with a plate of pastries and a pot of coffee on a tray.

“I will,” Marina shrugged, “once I teach Raymond the ritual. I can’t do it for myself, and Mastero Anselm says he doesn’t have enough power.”

“Hmm,” I said. “So how was it?” I leaned forward.

“The ritual?” She said. “Inredible, I’ve never felt so at peace with myself.” Annalise snorted.

“She didn’t mean the ritual.” She sighed and took a long sip of coffee.

“Oh,” Marina blushed. “I don’t want to,” she muttered.

“I imagine he knows what he’s doing,” I grinned. “I asked around The Dumanis and he has quite the reputation.” Marina sighed.

“He certainly knew what he was doing,” she said pouring her own. “Who won?”

“That would be her majesty,” I kicked Annalise who shushed me. “Are you alright?” I said. Annalise sighed softly.

“I’ll miss him” she said softly, closing her eyes. “But it’s for the best.” I nodded and took each of their hands.

“I’m very much looking forward to our quest, my friends,” I said softly.

A Winter’s Ball (Part 2)

I don’t know that I will ever get over how enchanting it is to watch Aaron in a ballroom. He is just so exceptionally good with people. And it is wonderful that every few moments he makes sure to catch my eye and smile at me.

We were in bed all afternoon. I’d missed him so much, it was so easy. But tonight we couldn’t miss. Marina worked so hard to make this winter festival special, and it really is. There have been some wonderful parties since Annalise returned but this one just sparkles. Everything is lit by candles and, with Raymond’s help, a shimmering magical net of stars over the dance floor.

“I didn’t want to interrupt earlier,” Tristan walked over to me, I glanced at him and nodded. “I’m going tomorrow.” I stopped, swallowed the sip of wine I’d just taken. “Thena, don’t.”

“Tomorrow?” I said. He nodded. “I thought you were waiting until court moved.”

“Aaron’s back now, and The Dowager Countess,” he said softly, “And Martin, she doesn’t need me here now.” I scowled and took another sip.

“Well she might not,” I muttered. He laughed. “My contract.”

“I have spoken to Aaron,” he said, “Lisette and I will write to settle it, as we both know what you want.” It was far too sensible a solution.

“Mama’s jewelry?” I said. He nodded.

“If you’ll allow me a few pieces for my own bride,” he said and took a deep sip. I nodded. “Your children will have full access to guild training should they elect for it. Though if they do, I will assume you raised them poorly.” I laughed.

“Yes,” I said, “and my oldest, girl or boy inherits Pantona.”

“That’s law in Cammadan,” Tristan said, “and Lisette of all people is unlikely to challenge it.” I laughed. “If it works, in Dorin, you’ll stand for me? Not Alex?” My eyes filled with tears and I threw my arms around his neck. “Thena,” he muttered.

“If Alex tries to supplant me I’ll stab him,” I whispered in his ear, and he laughed. “Does Lisette know?” He shook his head. “Marina?”

“I’ll tell them tonight.” He said softly. I nodded. “You wanted this, you lunatic!”

“Well, not tonight I didn’t,” I muttered. He laughed. “I’ll miss you is all.” He smiled and kissed me on the cheek.

“I’ll miss you too,” he said. Aaron bounced over to us, as the music was picking up in tempo.

“I believe I have done my duty by every young lady thrust into Dovetail after the ascension,” Aaron said, taking the sparkling wine out of Tristan’s hand and taking it down in one gulp. “But I think a dance with my intended would be preferable. If it’s allowed?”

“As far as I know,” Tristan said, “being not immersed in it yet, I think dancing with your intended is permitted.”

“Thank Cornan,” he winked and took my hand and I laughed as his other hand placed on my waist and pulled me close. “Commander.”

“Your Grace,” I said as he whirled me around in time. “Aaron, are you still sure, after being home?”

“I am even more sure,” he said. I beamed. “I’m serious, Athena, I thought I was going to die of grief and boredom without you.” I kissed him softly. “Are you alright? I know Tristan leaving is a lot for you?”

“I’ll manage,” I said softly. “It will be easier since I’ll be planning our wedding.” He laughed. “Would you like the Mastero to officiate? Or maybe a sister?”

“I thought Marina, actually,” he said. “Thought I suppose The Mastero makes sense.” I nodded. “What do The Guilds do?” I frowned.

“The head of your guild,” I said and shook my head. “If Grandfather dies before we manage it, then I would allow Trey to, but I don’t want him.” He smiled. “Is William really going to marry Kathy?”

“Possibly,” he said. “But I have a feeling that Kathy’s enthusiasm for the match will probably wane.” I looked at him. “She seemed to think,” he shook his head, “well, she seemed under the impression that as William was my manager it would give her convenient access to the manor and well, to me.” I stopped dancing and stared at him, my mouth agape. “I told her that under no circumstances would that happen.”

“I ought to throttle her,” I said. He laughed. “Oh, poor William!” I giggled. He pulled my close and kissed me again. “You didn’t even consider it?”

“No,” he said, “I don’t want anyone else.” I smiled. “We have the rest of our lives ahead of us, that’s all I think about.” I pressed my forehead against his chest.

“I love you,” I said softly. He kissed my hair gently.

Letters

The Following Letters Exchanged Between Aaron, Count Of Pantona and Lady Athena Dugarry, Commader of The Royal Guard, on the occasion of his return to Pantona to lay to rest the remains of his late father.

Dear Athena,

When we rode from Pantona to Dovetail, was the land so infernally flat once we got away from the valley? Did I not notice because I was looking at you? Who can say, but may my ancestors curse me, the scenery is dull. The ride is going well, and Mother is better, I think. I don’t think I’d realized how much she really dislikes Dovetail. Martin caught up with us today, and told me about Brayton’s fall. How is Lisette taking it? I know she won’t tell me the truth, but I trust you to.

I’ll sleep now, and even promised Martin I would train with him in the morning, so I won’t be completely useless to you on my return.

Aaron,

Yes it has always been flat, but pretty in the spring. Too bad it’s autumn and late autumn at that so you won’t even see the colors.

Brayton has largely recovered and Lisette still refuses to order the execution. It’s caused quite a rift between her and Marina. Tristan is back in her bed (Lisette, that is, Lefty has begun courting Marina in earnest, and she’s absolutely a changed person for it.) and I worry it will all end in disaster. I’m glad Mother is better. (Are you proud of me? I’m trying it in writing first!)

Good that you’re training and do not let him go easy on you.

Missing You,

Athena

Beloved Athena,

We arrived in the village today. I have never been happier to see William. I realized when we were having a meal in the Inn that he’s my oldest friend besides Lisette. Quite strange to think about since I never liked him much.

Duke Lestat and Martin have taken to sniping at one another. I thought about how vital my father must have been to keep them on track. I see him everywhere, now that we’re here. In every tenants face, in every field and brick in every building.

I miss you. I see you everywhere too. The lake especially. I want you. All day, all night, it consumes me. I want to kiss you and I want to be in you, and hear you call my name. I want to be so overwhelmed that we can’t help ourselves like that first night by the lake.

But instead you’re so far away. And I will fall asleep dreaming of you. As I will every night until you’re in my arms again.

Your Aaron

Aaron,

Come back soon. That last letter left me so frenzied I nearly followed Harran to his bunk.

Athena

Athena,

You could do worse. Tell me about this courtship of Marina. I can tell you her father disapproves heartily of the Phanians. Seems there’s some bad blood between him and the king.

Cheer me up with some silliness, love, it is dark here.

Your Aaron

Dearest Aaron,

I want to be with you, more than you could know. To cheer you up. Instead I will tell you about Marina and Lefty. She giggles when he walks into the room, and his eyes never leave her. Whenever we spar he tells me how he’s never met another woman like her.

She hums, while she works or studies, I have known her since I was five, Aaron, I can assure you, Marina San Pierre never hummed. It’s a delight. Tristan hates it. He’s still with Lisette but he watches her more. Without you to talk to about the whole mess I feel at a loss. Elodie has organized a pool as to when Marina and Lefty will sleep together. Mercy thinks the deed is done. Do you have thoughts?

Yours In Delight

Athena

For, To, My Darling,

William has come over to comfort me in my grief after we buried my father. It was awful, but he brought a fine Rastani spirit of some kind. I’m really very drunk. He sends his best.

And he assured me, if it helps with your bet that when he left Dovetail the deed was not done. I return to you soon.

Aaron

Aaron,

Please write drunk again. I very much enjoyed it. I’m counting down the moments until you return. We’re very busy here, there’s going to be a winter ball. I hope you’re back in time.

Your Athena

Athena,

See you tonight, I can see the city walls.

Aaron

Reconciled

After training I did my best to find Aaron, but he wasn’t anywhere in the palace. That was when I remembered that he didn’t really have a home in the palace, he’d been staying with me, but he had his townhouse.

I walked swiftly past the market, hoping no one from my family saw me. I didn’t want to lose any time. I arrived at Bano House, which belonged to Olivia’s father, technically, Olivia and Caleb lived here when they were in the city, but they never spent much time there.

I ran in the door to the surprised look of a butler who quickly bowed and directed me to the study. Aaron was sitting quietly on the couch swirling a whiskey in a glass.

“You found me,” he smiled sadly.

“Of course,” I said quietly and sat down. He looked at me. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Me too,” he said and took my hand. “I keep trying to decide if I want to live here.” I nodded.

“If you want to, we can,” I said softly. “Or perhaps your mother,” I drifted off.

“She said no,” he asked. We looked at each other. “I always assumed I would stay in Pantona.”

“I know,” I said quietly. “And if you still want to,” I drifted off. This was the final question between us. I would let him go if he really truly wanted a quiet life in the country. I couldn’t give him that, not ever. It might break me entirely, but I would do it.

“No,” he said softly, “not without you.” I smiled. “I love you, I want you.” I nodded and kissed him. “What brought about this apology?” I sighed and rolled my eyes.

“You might not understand this,” I said and ran my hands over his chest, “but watching someone get his heart broken over and over again from when I was ten on did not provide me with much basis for trust.”

“So I can blame Martin for this outburst?” He grinned. “Good to know.” I rolled my eyes and kissed him. “I’ve promised you that I’m yours, that won’t ever change.”

“I want to believe you, I really do,” I said, “and I am trying.” He kissed me.

“I know love,” he said. “What are you going to do about the Dream?” I frowned.

“I can’t do much until Lisette decides to move,” I sighed. “I understand her need to get settled, but well, won’t that be easier after The Mandate is fulfilled.” He laughed.

“I suppose it would be,” he said, “kiss me again and let’s put the whole thing to bed.” I grinned and kissed him and he pulled me close.

The Dream

I fell into The Dream and looked out over the landscape in front of me. It was flat and barren, the land cracked with sun.

“Westran,” I mumbled.

“So it is,” Cornan appeared beside me, he sounded amused, “hm, I didn’t recognize it before.” I stared at him. “Well, you’ll tell my sister’s girls won’t you?”

“Of course,” I said, “is that where you are?”

“Different from Cammadan,” he said, “that’s all I know. Far from the sea, which she hates.” I nodded. “So much power though.” I looked at him. “The battle will be hard, my champion.”

“I’m ready for it,” I straightened my shoulders. He closed his eyes.

“Yes,” he said, “you’d say so. I am tired now.” I understood and awoke gasping, and Aaron carefully brushing my hair off my face.

“It’s alright darling,” he whispered. I swallowed and pressed my head against his chest. “Was it bad?”

“No,” I said, “just, well, odd. He was distracted, confused.” He nodded. “I think they’re in Westran, Aaron, the gods.” He sighed.

“That’s complicated,” he muttered. “Couldn’t they be in Failor? Clarence is practically begging for Lisette to come and search. OR Rastan? If Lefty and Eric are to be believed they’re so obsessed with protocol they’d still be bowing when she raced of to do what needed to be done.” I laughed. “But Westran, the tribes don’t want us pushing past the border, Harran’s the only one who trusts her.”

“I know,” I said softly. “We knew it was going to be awful.” I muttered. He groaned and rolled onto his back.

“I can’t leave,” he said.

“We can’t go through this again,” I said softly, “you have to. You’ll come back and frankly, the gods have waited nearly a century, they can wait a few months.” He laughed at that. “Besides, I don’t know how helpful you’d be.”

“I’m a good fighter” he said, “and people like me.” I shrugged and kissed him.

“Yes, but you’re not Chosen, love,” I teased. He sighed and shook his head. “When you do come back, we should set the date. Grandfather will be somewhat occupied with Tristan, but not enough that he won’t keep insisting until our vows are said.”

“I would sooner die than antagonize your grandfather,” he smiled. I laughed. He slid a hand behind my head and pulled me close. “Do you need to go see Lisette?”

“It will keep until the morning,” I mumbled and kissed him again. He was leaving in a week, and I wasn’t going to waste a moment when I could be with him.

“Aaron,” I whispered, a few moments after we were done, he looked at me, “when you’re away, I mean, I know, that, well, since we’ve been together we’ve never been apart,” I trailed off.

“Yes,” he said, “though, and I hate saying it, but I imagine it won’t be the last time.”

“Yes,” I smiled, “and, as we’re neither of well, innocent,” he nodded, “I don’t want you to feel,” he pulled back and shook his head. “Aaron,” I whispered.

“Athena, I am not going to be with other women, even when I’m away from you,” he said, I nodded, “I’d appreciate fidelity in return.” I looked at him and pulled him close.

“I didn’t mean that,” I said, “but, well, I mean, Carlton is gone, and Warren is, well, Warren,” he nodded, “and you’re going to Pantona, and Kathy,”

“Athena,” he whispered, “I love you, and yes, I am going to have to deal with Kathy eventually, but I can assure you that it will not end with her in my bed.” I nodded. “My darling, please trust me, I’m begging you.” I sighed.

“I do,” I said softly, “I just, want you to know that should anything happen, I would forgive you. I don’t want to lose you.” He smiled.

“I understand, Thena,” he whispered and drew his hand to my heart, “I just thought we were past it, I thought you’d finally let me in.” He stood up and dressed. I swallowed and leaned back against the pillows as he left. I didn’t want to fight.

As the sun rose I walked to the training field. Martin was standing there, waiting for me.

“Early for you,” I said, as he tossed me a staff.

“Had some trouble sleeping,” he said. I nodded. “Did you Dream?”

“Yes,” I said softly, “did you?” He nodded. “When was the last time, before this?” He sighed and leaned against the staff.

“The day your parents died,” he said softly, “he told me I needed to take you both in hand. He hadn’t decided yet.” I nodded. “I tried communing a few times after that, but he was silent. Cornan’s a stubborn bastard.” I laughed.

“He’s in Westran,” I said softly, “and he’s weak.” He nodded. “What did he say to you?”

“He was pleased actually,” Martin was beaming, “quite convinced you’re up to scratch.” I nodded. “You’re concerned?”

“No,” I said, “not about that, I’ll speak to Marina and Lisette about it, they ought to know, it’s,” I frowned, “was I always hard?”

“Hard?” He asked. “You weren’t a difficult child. Headstrong, I suppose, but your mother handled it well enough, John was too soft with you,” I love the look on his face when he talks about my parents, he can’t keep the mischief out of his eyes.

“I didn’t mean that,” I said, “here,” I said put a fist to my heart. He frowned.

“Do you remember Dorian Forend?” He tried. I cocked my head to the side. “When I ended things with Trey, I took up with him briefly. It didn’t go well, but he did dote on you.”

“There were a lot of them,” I pointed out, “and they all doted on us. At least the ones we met.” He nodded.

“You seem to have reached the point.” He said, “I did my best by you both, but I don’t think I modeled love particularly well.” I smiled softly. “Aaron is a good man, better than me. He won’t hurt you, or leave, or drive you away.”

“He’ll get bored of me,” I said, “he’ll be away from me, we won’t be able to avoid it with our work, and he’ll meet and fall in love with someone else.” Tom cupped my face.

“Athena,” he said, “my darling, you have to let go of this.” I shook my head. “If you can’t trust him, you shouldn’t marry him.” I sighed. “I know it isn’t just him. It’s everyone, but you should trust him.” I sighed.

“And you never trusted any of them?” I asked quietly.

“Trey,” he said, “and Olivia both. I still trust them both, no matter what.” He kissed my forehead and I frowned. “Now do you want to train?” I nodded and we squared off.

Before Dreaming

“May I asked you something?” Prince Eric asked me, walking into the parlor of The Princess Tower after dinner. Lisette was out on the balcony talking with Aaron. I looked at him. “Are you ever concerned about the two of them?” I raised an eyebrow.

“How shockingly direct of you!” I said. “No, Aaron considers The Queen his sister. They’re close but it isn’t like that between them.” He nodded.

“That’s something of a relief,” he said and sat down. I smiled and shook my head. “And your brother?”

“Well, I don’t worry about Annalise and Tristan, but I could see how it might be troublesome for you,” I shrugged and sat next to him. He nodded. I looked around and noticed Tristan was in fact, gone, as was Marina. I sighed, that wouldn’t end well.

“I’m leaving,” Lefty said walking over. “Lady Athena, always a pleasure.”

“You can’t just leave,” Prince Eric said. He shrugged.

“Well, I am,” he sighed. “It’s been three nights in a row, Eric, I’m begging you.” I laughed.

“I don’t think the Countess will mind, really,” I said, “she doesn’t keep a particularly formal household.” Lefty laughed took my hand and kissed it.

“I will never forget it,” he said, “you are an angel of mercy.” I laughed as he left.

“He’d have stayed if Duchess Marina had,” Lord Raymond said. Eric shushed him. “I’m reasonably sure she noticed, Eric, he’s not subtle.”

“As opposed to you,” Eric said, “does Randolph know you’re spending most afternoons with her?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Given that I’m not interested in women, it doesn’t really effect him,” Raymond shrugged. I laughed. “Are you shocked?”

“Not terribly,” I said, “if you meant to shock me, I hate to disappoint. After my parents died I was raised by my Uncle Trey and General Martin, who were merely unmarried because my grandfather disapproved?”

“Disapproved of Trey’s orientation?” Raymond asked. I shrugged.

“Possibly,” I said, “but mostly of Thomas. They butt heads quite a bit. And Trey considers his position in the family very important.” I looked at him. “Where is he? You ought to have brought him.”

“Randolph is with the crew, but we’re not used to being able to be in the open.” He admitted. “We hadn’t realized it was, well, that we could be.”

Aaron and Lisette walked in.

“This feels distinctly more intimate,” Aaron said.

“There are still three more people than most nights of our lives,” Lisette pointed out. Aaron nodded.

“Yes, and as I thought coming to Dovetail would put an end to quiet nights where you and I stared at each other and Mother occasionally saying something witty,” he picked up a drink and sat down, “but alas, here I am.”

“Ennui doesn’t suit you love,” I said. He laughed and kissed me on the cheek.

“I hope you all know what you’re getting into with these Cammadie women, Your Highness,” Aaron said pointedly, “My Lord. They’re the most stubborn breed in the world.”

“Hush,” Lisette said with a glare, “as if growing up with the most impossible boy in the world isn’t what made me stubborn.” The Prince laughed.

“Imagine this but without the charming additional company and you will have some idea of what my past eighteen years have been like,” Countess Olivia swanned in. I am always astounded by her, but in these past few months, even more so. She’s thinner, and paler, and black does not suit her at all, but the light I always saw and was inspired by still shines.

“I can’t imagine they were so terrible, Your Grace,” Prince Eric grinned, “as children it must have been endearing. I find the way my nieces bicker the most charming thing in the world.”

“How old are the Princesses?” I asked. Raymond let out a long sigh.

“Karina is thirteen, Vanessa is nine, and Angelica is six, almost seven” Raymond said quietly, “and my sister is, if you can believe it, at her wits end.”

“I can believe it,” Olivia smiled, “I remember those ages individually and combined.” She bit her lip. “I hadn’t realized there was such a gap between Karina and the others.”

“There wasn’t,” Eric’s face darkened. “Amos died in his cradle.” Olivia nodded.

“How awful for Elana,” she said, her hand going to her own belly reflexively. I’d often wondered why Aaron was an only child. “And how difficult for you.” Eric smiled.

“More difficult for Karina, in the end I think,” he said softly. “Elana is determined that she be named heir.”

“Do you object?” Lisette asked. I knew his answer would mean everything.

“Not for moment,” he said, “I have no great desire to succeed my brother, and Karina is well suited to be Queen. Besides which, it’s something we’re woefully behind in, not allowing osur women to inherit.” I smiled and then rose and stretched.

“I’m afraid I’m finished for the evening,” I said, “Thank you as always, Your Grace.”

“I will have you calling me Mother soon enough,” she teased and kissed me on the cheek when I leaned down.

“I’ll escort you,” Aaron leaped and we walked out. We weren’t even back to the main palace when he pressed me against a wall and kissed, I giggled into it. “That was endless.”

“I like them,” I said. “Your mother did too.” He rolled his eyes.

“They’re too charming,” he said, “But I don’t want to talk about it.” We kissed again. “We’ll only argue and I leave in a week and I don’t want to spend it arguing.” I stopped.

“A week?” I said.

“Yes,” he sighed. “Mother is concerned about moving before the frost.” I sighed and pressed my head against his chest. “I know, love, and I’m sorry.” I nodded and we kept walking. I was so tired of him being sorry, I was tired of worrying about us, or Tristan, or Lisette. I just wanted him so badly.

We reached the apartment and walked in. I kissed him again.

“I just want you,” I said, “remember that night by the lake? I want you like it did then, I just want every doubt to fall away.”

“I promise,” he said softly, “I’ve never doubted, and I don’t want you to. I’ll come back to you as quickly as I can.” I smiled and we walked back into my room. Our sex was urgent but lingering.

No doubts, but then I Dreamed.

A Question Of Conversation

“How long have you been in the guard?” Prince Eric turned to me at dinner. I looked at him and swallowed the piece of fish I was chewing.

“Officially?” I said. He shrugged. “About five years, you can induct as young as twelve. But unofficially, Tristan and I have been in since we were babies.” He laughed. “What’s funny?”

“Nothing,” he said, “it just sounds familiar. It’s my life with the Navy.” I smiled and nodded. “Your parents wanted you in the guard?”

“Yes,” I said, “I mean, I suppose so, we never talked much about it. It mattered to them, they were very proud of their own work.” He nodded. “And your father?”

“I don’t remember my father at all,” he said, “but Simon, that is, Lord Lestoff, he knows the sea, he’s a ferryman, and he had high hopes for Lefty and I.” I nodded and took a sip of my wine. The food and wine are both wonderful, but they always are with Countess Olivia.

“I see,” I nodded. “Do you like the Navy? My cousins are wild about sea life, even if they’re usually stuck in offices after they take a few tours.” He laughed.

“I do like it,” he said, “I was wretched in Vacana, you can ask Lefty.” I laughed.

“I’m looking forward to the sea,” Lisette chimed in, he looked at her. “We’ll go to Brightcoast in the Spring.” Marina looked over at her, her eyes wide with joy.

“Will we?” Aaron said, “Gods, Rina, did you bribe her, or has Anya Norvine been nagging you both too much?”

“Even if you all went North,” Marina answered him sharply, “I have to go back sometime.” She stuck out her tongue at him.

“It’s not about the Duchess,” Annalise said softly, Tristan frowned. He hadn’t spoken much and I couldn’t blame him, though I was grateful he’d agreed to come. Lisette had been waffling for weeks about where the Court’s first official visit should be, but of course, Tristan’s decision to go to Dorin would mean she didn’t want to be there.

“We’ve been to Brightcoast a lot,” Lord Raymond said, “it’s really quite beautiful. Lefty knows more people there than the rest of us.” Lieutenant Lestoff choked on his food and coughed.

“Yes, I well,” he sighed, “did you know Your Grace that you have a good sized population of Pharras in your Provenance?” Marina looked at him and shook her head.

“No,” she said, “I hadn’t realized. It’s shameful, but I don’t actually know a lot about Brightcoast, my education was curtailed in many areas.”

“What a kind way of saying that Brayton tried to keep you stupid and powerful,” Tristan managed. “Do you have a special interest in the Pharras, Lieutenant Lestoff?”

“My mother was Pharras,” he explained, “so I would say so.” The looked that passed between them was icy.

“I’m a little lost,” Aaron said. “I thought that Pharras was Phanian.”

“It’s a subject of some debate,” The Prince said softly. “The Pharras certainly wouldn’t say so.”

“The island has been Phanian for so long,” Raymond explained, “but the people maintain their individual culture should allow them to be separate.”

“It sounds a lot like The Westrans,” Lisette said, “I’m hoping to unite them with us eventually, and I’d rather it not be a conquest, or for them to lose what makes them who they are.”

“A people’s own sovereignty is often a part of who they are,” Lestoff said. “Pharras is a strange case, though, I’ll admit, and I also think it would be to The Westran’s advantage to take your protection and resources.”

“Not so strange,” I shook my head, “my grandfather also often speaks about our culture and need for independence.”

“No offence meant, Lady Athena, but I think my people are at a bit of a different juncture than your grandfather,” he grinned. I laughed.

“A bit,” Tristan smiled. “But then again, imagining the world revolves around him suits him.”

“We really do need to get your Grandfather and my brother in the same room,” Prince Eric smiled. I laughed. “Countess, I apologize, you seem quiet, we’re being terrible guests.”

“It’s alright,” Countess Olivia smiled, “the conversation feels familiar, but comfortably so.” I smiled at her. “And I agree about Carland and King Daniel by the way. Their egos might block out the sun, but it would be amusing.” I smiled at her. “Your Highness, are you enjoying the lamb? I had it sent up from Pantona as it’s Lisette’s favorite.”

“It’s wonderful,” he said. I smiled. He’d done his job with Countess Olivia, she was clearly charmed.