The Office

I was happily sitting in my office in Brightcoast Manor when Damian walked in and I looked up at him and he smiled.

“May I help you?” I asked. He walked over and kissed me.

“Are you expected at the palace this evening?” He asked. I raised my eyebrows.

“I’m expected at the palace every evening, but I doubt I’ll be missed if I send excuses,” I stood up and he put his arms around my waist. “Why?”

“I want to take you into town,” he said. I bit my lip. “This is your home, Rina, you should know it.” I smiled and nodded.

“Alright,” I said, “but will it be safe?” He laughed and stepped back.

“No one would dare hurt you.” He said. “And if they even tried I’d kill them.” I rolled my eyes. “We’ll have fun, my darling, I promise.”

“I have no doubt,” I said. He smiled and I looked at him. “What?” I mumbled.

“Are you very busy?” He asked and kissed my neck gently. I giggled and shook my head as he back me up against the desk.

“I am quiet important,” I muttered. He nodded and kissed me gently. “Damian,” I muttered as his hands slipped up, moving my skirts to my thighs. Since coming to Brightcoast we’d been less able to have sex. He was living at the palace and me at the manor for one thing. The other was that I was busy. Aaron had warned me that running a Provenance wasn’t a joke, and I don’t know how Papa did it from so far away for so long.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he said and slipped his fingers gently inside of me teasing me open. I whimpered happily. “Oh, that’s nice,” he smiled, “you’re ready for me?” He knew the answer, he knew my body so well at this point but I nodded.

“Don’t stop,” I whimpered, as he lifted me onto the desk and pushed into me. We went quickly, but it didn’t make it less amazing. I’ll be tired of him. We finished, panting his face resting on my chest. “And is that you wanted to show me?” He laughed.

“No,” he said with a gentle chuckle. “But I want to show you the Pharras neighborhood,” I swallowed and bit my lip and nodded. “Love,” he said, “they’re your people, they should know you, and you should know them.” I nodded.

“They likely resent me,” I said, “Papa and I have been gone so long.” He sighed and kissed me gently.

“No one resents you,” he said, “as far as I know, at least. They were all curious about you, why the manor was quiet, why you’re back now,” he kissed my palms. “why no one has seen you unless they work in the palace.”

“Everyone I know is at the palace,” I said defensively, “and a lot of my work.” He laughed. “Not all of us serve discarded second sons who don’t care if we spend our evenings in slum brothels.”

“Oh,” he grinned, “I’m telling Eric you think he’s a discarded second son,” I rolled my eyes. “And I learned a lot in those brothels that you seem to be enjoying.” I blushed.

“Regardless,” I said softly, “I need to check with Athena. If she thinks I need protection.” He laughed.

“I can protect you,” he said and pulled me close. I sighed. “Live a little, Duchess, I promise it won’t hurt.” I nodded. “Good.” I sighed as he started to leave.

“What does one wear, wherever it is we’re going?” I asked. He sighed.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said, “I suppose something you’d wear when you’re healing.” I frowned. I hadn’t thought of the plain blue dresses lately. But I had packed them, and they were clean and simple enough. I didn’t know if I would get much more work done so I slipped out of the office and down to the beach.

Raymond was sitting, focusing and gathering water into a small tide pool. He’d been so settled since we got here, spending a lot of time in the old seminary, channeling his power and reading and studying. I join him when I can. Ever since Athena had her Dream that the gods are in Westran he’s trying to figure out how we’ll bring the sea to the desert.

“Good afternoon,” he said serenely making a small whip of water dance around me. I laughed and pushed it back to him, making it sputter in his face. He stuck out his tongue at me.

I regret so many things taken from us, but I think a lot about the thread of time where my father was able to get us back to Phania, and Raymond, Lisette and I could have been children together.

“Good afternoon,” I said and kicked off my shoes and sat down, rolling my stockings down and off and let the waved lap onto my feet. “It’s good. How is isolating it going?”

“Not so good,” he sighed and joined me. “But unlike Lisette, I’ve never been good with fresh water. I think I need her help.” I raised my eyebrows. “I know, a long shot, but I’ll ask her tonight. You’ll back me up?”

“Mm,” I shook my head, “I’m not going tonight. Damian wants to bring me into town.” He groaned. “What?”

“To meet the Pharras, here?” He asked. I nodded. “How much time have you spent in taverns, Marina?” I swallowed.

“Well, none,” I said, “once when I was nine, I was allowed to go to a fair the Dumanis held, but even then I was flanked by Black Guards.” I hugged my knees. He frowned and put an arm around my shoulder.

“I think we all forget sometimes,” he said softly. I looked at him. “You might have fun, but you should be prepared for the smell.” I laughed and kissed him on the cheek.

A New Hope

Carolina

I sat at my vanity brushing my hair. I was already tired and the season was only just starting. 

“Caro,” my sister Emily bounced into her room. “Alex is downstairs.” I rolled my eyes at my sister. We’d both once harbored hope that the Dumanis heir would propose and while I’d been disappointed, Alex seemed genuinely attached to Emily.

I’m trying to be happy for them, which I think would be easier if everyone’s faces didn’t turn to pity every time I walked in a room.  

“Tell him I’m not seeing people today,” I said. I was too tired, too bored, to sit listening to him crow about his recent trip to Dovetail.

“He’s not alone,” Emily said and bounced on the bed. “His cousin is with him.” I turned in my seat. “He did tell you that Sir Tristan DuGarry was coming, didn’t he?”

“Yes, but Alex says a lot of things,” I stood up. Emily giggled. “What does he look like?” I asked, as Emily stood up and grabbed my hands and spun me in a circle.

“Like all of them,” Emily shrugged, “Tall, fair, though he seems more, well, you’ll see.” Emily giggled and skipped out of the room. I shook my head and looked in the mirror.

I wouldn’t make the best impression, but I’d do. I wasn’t expecting to do anything but maybe read today. I walked downstairs to the parlor. Emily was chattering quickly and I heard Alex’s laugh. I walked in and Emily smiled at her.

“Carolina,” my mother said, standing up and encouragingly placing her hand on my lower back to push me forward. “Master DuCray and Sir Tristan can’t stay but they invited us to the house tonight for dinner.”

“Always an honor, Mr. DuCray,” I said to Alex who smiled at me. It was then that I noticed the other young man in the room, he was standing awkwardly, as if he’d risen from the chair he was beside quickly when I entered.

“Goddess, where’s my manners,” Alex said and stood up, “Miss Carolina DuKarras, this is my cousin, Sir Tristan Dugarry.” I curtsied.

“It’s a pleasure, Miss DuKarras,” he said and walked over, taking my hand. I expected him to look like Alex, and he does a little. He’s tall and blonde, he has the same narrow nose, but his eyes are a striking green color, offset by his guard uniform. He was also more broad than his cousin, and I realized it was likely because the sword on his hip wasn’t worn for fashion like most of the boys I knew.

“That’s kind of your Sir Tristan,” I said softly, “or do you prefer Master Dugarry?”

“If you’re going to be formal,” Alex said teasing, “it’s Captain Dugarry now, isn’t it?”

“Commander, actually,” Tristan grimaced and sat down. “Lis-that is Queen Annalise promoted my sister and I after her coronation but Tristan is fine.” 

“What’s she like?” Emily breathed out. I sighed and tried not to roll my eyes at her. I also realized Mother had slipped out. She was good at that.

“Who? My sister?” Tristan said. “Infuriatingly stubborn, The Queen couldn’t spare her obviously, and her betrothed, the Count of Pantona had an opinion too. This is the first time we’ve lived apart, it’s very odd for me.”

“I think my sister meant Queen Annalise,” I smiled. I liked how nervous he was, he met my eyes. “Although I am disappointed we won’t meet your sister. From what your cousins tell us, she seems very interesting. You both do.”

“Right,” he said, “The Queen is,” he stopped, like he was looking for the right words, everything about him softened, “well she’s not like anyone else. She’s very intelligent and dedicated to her duty and the people she loves.” He stopped. “She’s decided to go South this year instead of come North, which is probably for the best. The Prince of Phania is visiting so Brightcoast is the logical choice.”

“How disappointing for us,” I said and sipped my tea, “I’d hoped to meet her, and it’s always nice to see Prince Eric and Lieutenant Lestoff, they’re quite popular.”

“Are they?” Commander Duggarry’s voice went flat. “They must be very congenial then, they’re well liked in Dovetail too.” I suddenly got the impression that neither man was popular with Commander Dugarry himself.  Alex cleared his throat. 

“Emily,” he said, “perhaps we should take a turn in the gardens.” Emily nodded and followed him outside. I realized then that we were alone. 

“I’m sorry if I said something,” I started and he shook his head. 

“You didn’t,” he sighed, “I’m just, awkward in new spaces.” I nodded. “I don’t know the rules here, and don’t say there aren’t any, there are always rules.” I smiled.

“Well,” I shrugged, “yes, but I think you’re sufficiently grand that no one will take note when you break them.” 

“Exciuse me?” He laughed.

“Well,” I said, “first and foremost, this is Dorin, and you’re a Dumanis. You could slap every man in every room across the face as you entered and then insult their mother’s and they’d thank you and ask after your grandfather.” He laughed. “And you’re a personal,” I cleared my throat, “friend of the Queen’s, that doesn’t mean nothing.” We weren’t so disconnected from the real world that I hadn’t heard the rumors of the extent of Commander Dugarry’s relationship with the queen. 

“I see,” he said. “So asking for your help would be useless?” I smirked at him. He was good. “I don’t like games, Miss DuKarras.” 

“Then I’m afraid you’ve certainly come to the wrong place, Commander,” I said softly. “It’s all a game.”

“Do you intend to win?” He asked.

“I intend to stop playing, however possible,” I said. “I don’t particularly like this game either.”

“I’m glad we agree then,” he stood up. “There’s going to be some sort of ball or party tomorrow night at my grandfather’s. My Aunts are arranging it, but I would be very disappointed  not to see you.” I stood and offered my hand again.

“We’ve only just met,” I said softly, “but I would very much hate to disappoint you.” He took it and kissed it and then left almost silently. I sat back down almost in shock.

Alex hadn’t been lying. He was here to take me away. 

“Well,” Emily rushed back in. “What do you think?”

“I think that,” I looked at her and smiled, “I think that I’m going to be getting out.” 

Not Quite In The Mood

Athena

“What is happening with them?” Aaron’s eyes narrowed on his mother and Martin. I rolled my eyes and pulled him close as the music started.

“Nothing,” I said and kissed him gently. “He’d have told me.” He nodded. “And them?” I nodded to Annalise and Harran.

“I don’t know,” he frowned. “She needs to decide soon.” I looked at him. “Tristan wrote me.” I fiddled with the buttons on my costume.

“He’s been busy,” I said. “He wrote to Marina and me too.” He laughed. “What do the Provenance leaders think about Harran?”

“They’d prefer Emmett,” he pointed to a young man, only barely a young man at that, standing quietly in the corner. “But since he’s never said two words to her, and he’s four years younger I doubt there’s much hope there.” I laughed. “Harran’s better than Eric, who they completely object to.” I frowned. “Frankly, your brother is looking damn near prudent at this point.”

“Maybe she won’t marry,” I said and sipped on my drink. He looked at me. “It would be good for us. Our children would be in the running as heirs.” I gasped. “Trey would throw a parade.” He laughed and kissed me.

“I’m neglecting you, I’m sorry,” he said. I shrugged. “We should have gone home.”

“She needs us here,” I said softly. He frowned. “Aaron,” I whispered, “we’ll be home soon enough.” He pulled me close.

“Thena,” Lisette bounced over holding Prince Eric’s hand. “Eric is taking me sailing in the morning.” I raised my eyebrows.

“She insisted that you be checked with,” The Prince said to me. I nodded.

“The coast has been clear since our arrival,” Aaron noted, “and Brayton is still in his cell in Dovetail.” I looked at him.

“Your security assesment is appreciated love,” I muttered. Lisette giggled and they ran off. “I thought you said,”

“I said the leaders don’t like the match,” he pointed out, “but I like the side he brings out of her.” I sighed and walked outside. Raymond was sitting out on the terrace and I sat with him. He looked at me.

“Are you all going to kill her?” I asked. He laughed.

“No,” he said, “they’d have sent more competent team for assassination, I can assure you.” I laughed. “Aaron has come around and your brother is gone so I suppose someone has to be the paranoid one.”

“I resent that,” I said. He shrugged. “Where is Randolph tonight?” He frowned. “He didn’t want to come?”

“No,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.” I looked at him. “I want a life here, I thought he did too, but,” I nodded, understanding. I also loved someone who seemed to want something so different from me. “You don’t want us to stay, though.”

“That isn’t true,” I said, “I like you, and I think that Lefty is good for Marina,” he smiled. “You are very good at getting people to talk to you.” He smiled. “You could stay even if the others go.”

“I suppose so,” he said softly. “It would seem ungrateful though.” I shook my head. “Why didn’t you go to Dorin?” I frowned.

“I hate it there,” I finally said out loud. “My Mama used to take us when we were little. And the house was like a tomb. And everyone bowing and scraping to my grandfather,” I shook my head. “Besides we can’t both leave her.” He nodded. “You feel the same way?” He nodded.

“If Lefty stays but Eric goes,” he shrugged. I nodded. “You’ll be a Countess then so what do you care.” I laughed.

“Can I tell you a secret?” I said. He raised an eyebrow sardonically at me. “We’re not going back to Dovetail. Aaron and me, we’re staying in Pantona after the wedding.” He looked at me and nodded.

“That’s quite the secret,” he muttered, “she doesn’t know?” I shook my head.

“We want to make sure that she’s settled, or close to it,” I said. “Eventually, we have to work towards the mandate but I want to be Aaron’s wife, I want to be Athena, not Commander DuGarry.”

“I waited my whole life to be Raymond,” he said, “not Her Majesty’s brother, not the freak or outcast. I can understand the impulse.” I looked at him and nodded. “We should both get back to the party.” I nodded and went back to the ballroom.

“I lost tonight,” Harran walked over. I rolled my eyes.

“You’ll lose tomorrow morning,” I said, “training?” He grinned.

“I’ve missed beating you,” he stuck his hands in his pockets. “See you in the morning.” I laughed and went to Aaron.

“Hello my love,” he said, I pulled close.

“Let’s get back to the palace,” I said. He grinned. “I’m tired and I want you.”

“Alright,” he said and kissed me softly. “I have to say goodbye to Lisette and my mother, I’ll meet you out front.”

“And Marina,” I said, “I’ll come with you,” he nodded and took my hand as we circulated. I tried to suss out what he was seeing between his mother and Martin. Something seems settled between them, but I can’t intuit what. I will absolutely be asking him about it.

The last thing I need is him doing his whole love and leave business with The Countess. I don’t need to watch her float stoically past him as he sighs longingly. I really do not.

“I’m glad you came,” Marina said and hugged me tightly. “I know you didn’t want to.” I laughed.

“It was wonderful,” I said softly, “you were born for this.” She sighed and nodded. We quickly moved outside and walked up the beach to the palace, which was lit up in white light. “What did Tristan write to you?” He shook his head and laughed.

“I think it’s going well enough,” he shrugged. “And he misses you but doesn’t want to worry you.” I smiled. “I wrote him that you miss him but don’t want to worry me.”

“I do miss him,” I said, “and I don’t want to worry you.” He ran his hands through my hair.

“You’re welcome to,” he said softly. “I’ll always worry about you, I can’t help it.” I laughed and we made it back to the palace and fell back into bed.

No matter how else I was feeling, being with Aaron always soothes me.

The Pirate Prince

Annalise

I am not adjusting terribly well to life in Brightcoast, or, as I realized to peace in general. It felt easier in Dovetail, but here everything feels foreign and strange.

And it made me realize how much I was relying on Tristan. Aaron is busy, his wedding is approaching sooner than any of us realized, and he had to manage Pantona (though he says William is helping a lot) And Eric is oddly present and yet distant at the same time.

I don’t know if he trusts me, is what I think it comes down to. But tonight I’m trying not to focus on his blowing hot and cold and enjoy myself.

“You look beautiful, Your Majesty,” Mercy said as she fastened my mask for Marina’s ball. I smiled at her. “Did I do alright?”

“You did wonderfully,” I smiled at her. She’s still very skittish. I can’t say I blame her. The little bit of what life under Brayton was like for her and Marina that I understand does not sound pleasant. “Do I have to take a carraige to the manor? I can’t ride in this, but I suppose it’s too far to walk.” She laughed.

“I believe so, Ma’am,” she said. I smiled. She took my hands and squeezed them. “You’ll do fine. A masquerade is easy. Everyone pretends they don’t know who they’re talking to anyway.” I laughed. “Besides which, you have the Princes.”

“Yes,” I sighed, “there’s them.” She giggled. “Run along, I’m sure Elodie is impatient for you.” I walked into the coach and the ride was quick and I quickly walked in. Mercy had been right, for the first time since I’d left Pantona I was allowed to enter a room without it stopping.

I didn’t actually think anyone didn’t recognize me, but they continued their carrying on as if they didn’t. Laughing, and drinking, dancing hadn’t started yet, though I noticed Aaron and Athena in a corner, his hands no where to be seen. Marina was carefully chatting with Lefty with a glass of sparkling wine in her hand, her simple blue gown making her look more beautiful than ever.

I’m so badly hoping not to disappoint her, but I also worry about him. She’s so young, and she’s never been in love like this before.

“Should I fear for my head, Empress,” Harran’s voice whispered next to me. I laughed. “Anessa wasn’t particularly kind to my people.” I giggled and looked at him. He wasn’t costumed, which was very like him.

“If you had stopped burning her cities, perhaps she would have left you in peace,” I poked him in the chest. He laughed.

“Perhaps,” he said. “Nonetheless,” I laughed. “If I’d known this is how you’d be dressed I’d have come as an ancient chief.”

“You ought to have anyway,” I said and glanced at the door and saw Eric. He was dressed in plain black pants, and a flowing white shirt, with a black mask tied over his head, covering his hair and face. I inhaled sharply.

“I’ve lost you,” Harran shook his head. I laughed. “Go, I can’t compete with a pirate.” I kissed him gently on the cheek. I walked over to Eric who smirked at me.

“Your Majesty,” he said softly, taking my hand and kissing it.

“Captain,” I said softly. “Eric, I,” I swallowed. It had been months since we’d told one another that we had feelings but I was always still so tongue tied around him. More so now. I wanted him so badly, and I wished he’d let me closer. “I’m glad you came.”

“I wouldn’t insult Marina,” he said gently. “Or you.” I looked down, blushing. “Come with me a moment,” he said softly. I nodded and let him pull me by the hand out of the ballroom and up several sets of winding stairs. I giggled as he pulled me out onto a landing.

“What are we doing?” I asked breathlessly. He sat down and I joined him. “Eric?”

“Do you see that light?” He whispered, pointing to a golden, distant light across the water. I nodded. “That’s Brinecliff.” I exhaled.

“Oh,” I said softly and rested my head on his shoulder.

“All my life, I would sit in the lighthouse, and look over the water,” he said, “I would see Brightcoast’s lights and I would wonder if maybe you were looking at me too. And then we came to Dovetail and you were there, in front of me, real and so open, to loving me.” he turned up my chin, “I know you’re frustrated with me. But you terrify me, Annalise,” I swallowed. “All of this does.”

“I don’t want to terrify you,” I said. “I just want you to see me.”

“I do,” he whispered, “I promise I do.” He kissed me then. The first one in months. “Annalise,” he mumbled. “You have no idea how much I see you.” I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead to his. “I wanted to give you space to grieve and make room in your heart for me.”

“I thought about you all the time too,” I said softly. He smiled. “I couldn’t literally look across and wonder like you did, but,” I exhaled. “But you were all around me.” I closed my eyes. “When we took the palace, Brayton tried to confuse me, he used illusions and shadows, memories and lies,” I swallowed, “and at the center of it, to pull me out was you.” He swallowed. “You were waiting and you promised that you always would.”

“I thought it was dream,” he admitted. I exhaled. “Or that I was losing my mind.” We kissed gently again. “I was in Rastan, and we hadn’t heard anything and,” he sighed, “Anya,” he mumbled.

“Who?” I asked. He shook his head and laughed.

“It’s a Rastani name, and I,” he swallowed, “it was what I called the version of you in my head.” I giggled. “I don’t know that you’ll ever be Lisette to me.”

“I don’t want to be,” I said, “Lisette belongs to a life you’ll never be a part of.” He kissed behind my ear softly.

“Anya,” he mumbled and nibbled gently on my neck.

There you two are,” Raymond said, “Everyone is drunk and unmasking and you’re supposed to start the dancing. Marina is losing her mind.” I giggled and Eric sighed and sent a glare his way. “I can say I couldn’t find you,” he shrugged.

“No,” I said softly and got to my feet, in concert with Eric’s, “Do that then.” I looked at him and shook my head. We walked away and Eric whacked Raymond playfully in the head. Raymond kicked him back.

“Boys,” I mumbled walking down the steps and pausing at a glass to fix myself. I wasn’t terribly rumpled, which, I realized was even more frustrating. But I could be patient, Eric was right, we’d waited our entire lives for each other, why rush now.

But as the music started and we started dancing I was hit was a pang of wanting. I shivered as his skin touched mine. He winked at me and smiled, pulling me closer by the waist.

“I feel it too, Anya,” he whispered. I pressed my head against his chest. Yes, I could wait. For him I could. Forever.

Brightcoast

Marina

It’s hard to describe how it felt the moment I saw Brightcoast for the first time since I was a small child. My heart nearly burst out of my chest it was so full. The smell of the sea and the sound of the waves crashing onto the cliffs felt so unbearably right to me.

There’s sunshine most mornings and then intense thunderstorms as the heart gathers in the afternoon followed by calm tranquil evenings. My power is growing too, ever since Athena and I made our vow to Annalise, summoning light, moving water, even reading people comes as easily as breathing.

“It’s home soil,” Athena said softly one afternoon as we walked down the beach, “or I suppose, water for you.” I looked at her. “Martin taught me about it, when I was little and having Dreams. A Chosen’s power is connected to home, so,” she shrugged, “you’re home. I didn’t really feel mine until I got to Pantona.” She smiled. I looked at her.

“Pantona,” I said. She shrugged. “I didn’t realize it was home.”

“I didn’t expect it,” Athena admitted. “But Dovetail isn’t home, and certainly not Dorin.” I laughed. “Have you heard from him?”

“Yes,” I admitted, “you?” She nodded. “He seems, unsettled.”

“It’s Tristan,” Athena said, “Unsettled is an improvement.” I laughed, and the bells from the tower at the University began to peel. “We should head back.” She sighed.

“You should,” I pointed out, “who’s dressing her? I have other responsibilities.” Tradition dictated that the summer season officially opened with a masked ball at Brightcoast Manor. We’d all been here for a week or two, but formal court hadn’t been convened yet, after tonight it would be.

I was extremely nervous.

“Mercy,” Athena said. I nodded. “So you approve?”

“A few of the newer girls don’t understand her,” I shrugged. Athena laughed. “Mercy at least understands me, so that’s close enough.” She shook her head. “I put together the costume, she’s supposed to be Anessa.”

“A strong choice,” Athena said, “and you’re going to be?” I sighed.

“One of the Glora,” I said softly. The Hadmaids of Rana. Only in the past few months, my times studying with Raymond had I learned so much about The Goddess, and what could be, when we free her. The first generation of Sisters were taught by The Glora, how to serve and honor Rana and the sea itself properly. They were beings of water and light, faded now, because of Rana’s binding on the wheel. “You?”

“No one specific,” she shook her head, “one of Anessa’s commanders. Aaron is going as a shadow, which means, all black, which is the laziest costume I have ever heard of.” I laughed and hugged her. “Elodie is coming as Mariah, which should scandalize everyone with Annalise as Annessa.”

“And only make Mercy mildly apoplectic,” I grinned. She laughed. It is funny to think about how our two closest friends before everything changed were now a couple.

“I’ll see you later,” she said and headed towards the palace. I walked into the manor and up to my bed chamber and lay down, closing my eyes to get a little sleep before everything exploded in activity.

A brief nap before people arrived would be a blessing. But I don’t know how long I actually slept.

“Hey, beautiful,” his voice whispered. I smiled and kept my eyes shut. “Your guests are arriving Duchess.” He kissed me.

“Damian,” I mumbled, “you greet them.” He laughed as I opened my eyes and looked up at him, I rolled over and straddled him. “Or they can wait.” I whispered and kissed him deeply. He slid his hands to my waist and I giggled as we rolled over again, this time onto my back.

“Darling,” he whispered, “they’ll say I’m a bad influence.” I giggled.

“You are,” I said. “I was so very well behaved and compliant before I met you.” He laughed and kissed me again, standing up. “No,” I whined, “come back.”

“After your little party,” he said, “when we have time to do things properly, I won’t let you out of that bed.” I giggled and blushed a little. Winter in Dovetail and then our ride down here, were full of moments where things were “done properly,” and I’ve become a little addicted it. But I also still find myself dizzy for realizing I’m in love with Damian and that he loves me. “I should change. I suppose you have to dance with somone very grand first.”

“Aaron,” I said, “I think, or possibly Evan Allred. Maybe Harran.” He nodded and sat down. “But then just you.” He smiled. “Damian,” I whispered.

“Marina,” he said softly and took my hand.

“Do you love me?” I whispered.

“I only love you,” he said. I smiled. “I’ll leave you to get changed. I hope you recognize me.”

“I always will,” I said softly. He laughed and kissed my hand and slipped out. I groaned and fell back against the bed, before rousing myself to get up and get changed. A letter was sitting on my dressing table and I smiled softly glancing at it again,

My Dear Marina,

We arrived in Dorin today, and if you can believe it my grandfather might be more of a tyrant here than Brayton was.

I smiled and missed him. IT felt strange that I would walk down into that ballroom and he wouldn’t be there, hovering in a corner, beaming at Annalise, smirking knowingly at me. Tristan’s absence was palpable. I quickly changed into my simple ice blue dress, my hair already in a row of braids. I placed a round crown of pink jewels that looks like coral on my head and then a golden mask. I took a deep breath and walked out of the room, ready for anything.

Interlude: The High Priest

“It’s not unheard of,” Queen Elana of Phania said softly, her husband Daniel frowned, “There have been Chosen boys, your whole bloodline claims the title.” She was watching as her younger brother Raymond was standing on the beach moving waves.

“It’s different,” Daniel said. “Your brother is unsettling, Elana, even The Mothers say so.” She sat down.

“He’ll inherit Tumona,” she said.

“Well, we’re used to Tumona being peculiar,” Daniel smirked. She sighed. “And that doesn’t even address the…other part.”

“If you mean that Raymond likes boys, does it need addressing?” Daniel’s brother Eric was leaning against the door frame. Daniel sighed looking at him.

“Why are you here?” He muttered between clenched teeth.

“Am I supposed to be elsewhere?” Eric asked. “You haven’t sent me anywhere specific, and my mother is here.”

“We’re always happy to see you Eric,” Elana said diplomatically and walked over and kissed him on the cheek.

“Just you?” Daniel said. Eric sighed.

“Lefty opted to stay in the city,” Eric said, “I can’t imagine why, when he always gets such a warm welcome.” He looked down. “I need to talk to him.”

“Raymond?” Daniel said. Eric nodded. “Why?”

“I’ve been having these, feelings,” Eric shrugged, “about her.” Daniel stared at him.

“Who?” Elana said and then paused, “oh, her.” Eric nodded. “Are we sure she’s alive?”

“Reasonably,” Daniel said with a sigh.

“Anyway, I’m going to talk to Raymond about them, and then I will get out of your hair,” he kissed Elana on the cheek wand walked down to the beach. The younger boy looked over at him and smiled. “They’re up there worrying about you.”

“Imagine my shock,” Raymond said, “The Brothers said no again, I’m out of appeals.” Eric nodded.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You could come on The Glory.” Raymond looked at him. “You hate it here, Raymond, I know that.”

“You had another vision,” Raymond said. Eric rolled his eyes. “What this time?”

“I could just be being nice to you,” Eric pointed out. This time Raymond rolled his eyes. “They aren’t visions, exactly, more like, feelings. Like she’s thinking about me, and I can hear her, and I know she’s just,” he sighed, “waiting.” Raymond nodded. “I don’t know what to do about it, I don’t know where she is, no one does.”

“She’s in Cammadan,” Raymond said, “somewhere green, probably The Midlands.” Eric looked at him. “Rana’s not likely to let us forget she’s out there. I know everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I Dream. And sometimes she’s there.” He sighed. “They found me and Randolph.” Eric exhaled. “They weren’t happy.”

“I’d imagine not,” Eric said. “But, a strong sailor like him, and a seer who knows how to actually do all the stupid ambassador stuff that Daniel is always making me do? That seems valuable from where I stand.” Raymond looked at him. “It’s a big world Raymond. You don’t have to spend your life in a place with people who don’t see you.” Eric looked at him. “If I had to guess, it’s Brightcoast and then Rastan next. We’d be glad to have you along.” He turned and walked back to the palace. Raymond sat on the beach and hugged his knees.

Later that night he took a deep breath and worked his way to the villa on the palace ground where Randolph Eres lived with his parents. He knocked on the door and Randolph opened it.

“Ray,” he said and stepped out onto the porch, “you probably shouldn’t be here.” He shut the door behind us.

“I know you’re technically six months from getting a posting,” Raymond said, “but Eric offered to put us on The Prince’s Glory.” Randolph raised his eyebrows. “I know it isn’t perfect, but we could be together and,” he looked down.

“This is real,” Randolph said, Raymond nodded. “Prince Eric wants us on the ship?” Raymond rolled his eyes and they took each other’s hands and started walking towards the beach.

“Eric likes to feel like the Goddess herself put him here to save people,” Raymond shrugged, “but it’s convenient. We’d go to Rastan and probably Cammadan too.” Randolph smiled and kissed him.

“Cammadan,” Randolph said. Raymond nodded. “We could be together there, really together.”

“I know,” Raymond said, “I could learn magic, real magic not just control like they teach here. And you’d be out of the navy proper, really sailing.”

“Under Prince Eric,” Randolph grinned, “And Damian Lestoff, it doesn’t get better than that.” Raymond glared at him. “He’s not my type, Ray.”

“He’s everyone’s type,” he muttered. Randolph kissed him gently. “You’re sure. I don’t think we can turn back from this.”

“No turning back,” Randolph nodded. “And this way I don’t have to tell my parents yet.” Raymond laughed and they kissed again. “What did your sister say?”

“Very little,” Raymond admitted, “I think if they acknowledged it, then they’d have to you know, acknowledge it, and she won’t.”

“I’m sorry, Ray,” Randolph said softly. “I wish we lived in a better world.” Raymond nodded and they kept walking.

A year later he sat on a dock in Rastan, when Lefty bounced over and sat next to him.

“Have you heard the news?” Lefty said and bumped his shoulder, “We’re off to Cammadan. Eric has to fulfill his destiny and woo Queen Annalise.” Raymond nodded. “You can be Mastero Quents! It’s a reason to celebrate.” Raymond laughed.

“And you’ll get to find out about Cammadie warrior women,” Raymond teased back. He wasn’t great about it yet, but he’d almost gotten the hang of taking the air out of Eric and Lefty’s sails. Lefty laughed. “How is he?”

“Worried,” Lefty said, “It isn’t as thought that’s difficult to understand. If I thought the Gods were genuinely counting on me wooing a girl I’d probably need to be locked in a dark room for a very long time.” Raymond smiled and nodded. “How are you doing?”

“Alright,” he said softly, “it isn’t exactly what I expected.” Lefty nodded.

“You know when Eric told me his plan to bring you on,” he said, “I told him there was no way you’d do it.” Raymond looked at him. “I’ve never been happier to be wrong.”

“Why didn’t you think I’d come?” Raymond asked. Lefty ruffled his hair and shrugged.

“Because you’re the little boy with his books and prayers,” Lefty said, “I can’t help that I’ll always see you that way.” Raymond smiled. “It never made sense to me why The Brothers wouldn’t take you.” Raymond snorted.

“I have this feeling that was always more about my sister,” he muttered. “They don’t like being seen as They Royal Family’s dumping ground.”

“Ah, that,” he grinned, “well, I think Brinecliff would have to challenge them for that particular honor. It is our distinction.” Raymond laughed. “Come on, Eric told Raniere that we’re leaving there’s going to be one last hunt.”

“Great,” Raymond said, “something new and different.” Lefty laughed and stood up, offering him a hand to help him up. He’d been more nervous than anything about spending much time in proximity to Damian Lestoff.

The man was impossibly handsome. And kind and charming. And Raymond felt almost no attraction to him. Being with Lefty and Eric was the easiest thing in the world. He grabbed his hand and pulled up.

It was a few weeks at sea and then a whole one of careful sailing down river to Dovetail’s large dug out harbor when they arrived at what had to be these least opportune moment possible. It was before dawn and they’d missed the coronation.

“It’ll be memorable at least,” Randolph had teased him.

“It’s disrespectful,” Raymond mumbled. “We should have left Rastan earlier.” But there they were, standing on the dock, a girl, who was clearly Phanian, and a boy, tall, and lanky, with reddish hair.

“Not quite the grand welcoming comittee,” Lefty muttered. Eric glared at him. “I’m only saying.”

“Is that her?” Eric said to him. Raymond shrugged. “Alright.” It wasn’t. Instead of was Duchess Marina SanPierre, and her smile was one of the most breathtaking things Raymond had ever seen. She was also, he realized, the most powerful person he had her been the presence of, and that included the High Mother of Vacana.

“I am very glad that’s over,” Eric said flopping on a couch in the richly appointed apartment they’d been sent to. Lefty was staring dreamily out the window and Raymond wrinkled his forehead. “You’re worried.”

“No,” he shook his head, “they’re powerful. Did you feel it?” Eric nodded, Raymond was glad of that. Eric wasn’t very gifted, but he had some intuition that pointed towards it. “The Duchess especially, astounding.” Lefty looked over at us.

“She is, isn’t she?” He said and sighed walking back over. “Did you see those eyes?”

“I don’t think Raymond is talking about the same thing, Lefty,” Eric said. “But yes, even I could feel how powerful she is and I don’t have your insights, and she’s very beautiful too.” He stopped. “They both are.”

“You have the queen, leave something for the rest of us,” Lefty said kicking Eric.

“I don’t have her,” Eric mumbled, “but knock yourself out with The Duchess. I have to go see about the crew.” He stood up and walked out.

“What are you going to do?” Lefty said, Raymond sighed.

“I should probably go to the temple,” he said. “We had a safe voyage. She likes to be thanked. Want to come?”

“To the temple?” He said. “And get drowned in my sleep for trouble, no thank you.” He kicked back. Raymond rolled his eyes and stood up. “Raymond,” he said, “is she dangerous?” he swallowed.

“I don’t know,” he said softly. “She’s powerful, but it doesn’t feel dark.” Lefty nodded and he left, asking the guards for directions to The Temple of Rana.

The walk was distracting, he kept noticing things, the kinds of things he’d never see on the street in Vacana. Two women being chased by a little boy shouting, “Mamas!” at them, a merchant boy handing another boy walking into an inn a flower. He entered the temple and was greeted by a Sister.

“You’re a stranger here,” she said with a kind and giving voice. He nodded. “I’m Sister Anya, welcome.”

“Thank you,” he said. At home he was one of only a few men welcome in the Temple at all. To be welcomed as a stranger felt exceedingly odd. “My name is Sir Raymond Quents, I’m a companion to The Prince of Phania, we just arrived I wanted to thank The Goddess for the safe voyage.” Sister Anya’s lips turned up in a smile.

“Of course,” she said, “there are several salt basins available.” She gestured to the alcoves surrounding the circular center of the temple. He nodded, mumbled a thank you and he went to a Salt Basin and gently waved his hands over it before losing consciousness.

“Oh well done!” A dark skinned woman was standing in front of him. “Really, you didn’t waste any time.”

“My Lady,” He nodded sagely. “Thank you for,” she waved her hands dismissively.

“Yes, yes, safe voyage,” The Goddess Rana sighed, “as if I would imperil my Sword’s Future Husband and one my own.” He blinked at her.

“If I’m Chosen then why,” he drifted off.

“Was it what you wanted,” she said softly, “to be a monk, shunted away and alone?” He swallowed. “I brought you home, Raymond. And I ask only that you stand at the side of My Sword.” He nodded.

“I will,” he said softly. She smiled gently at him. A smile that somehow reminded him of his mother and sister, but with more love and less indulgence.

“I haven’t had a High Priest in a while,” she said, “it might be fun.” He then lost consciousness again and came to, still standing at The Salt Basin in the temple. He closed his eyes and exhaled, realizing his life in Cammadan just got very very complicated.

Interlude: The Two Lovers

Mercy Graves hurried quickly through the courtyard in the palace of Dovetail to the hedgemaze and through it to the center, where sitting calmly and serenely was Lady Marina Sanpierre. She was moving her hands over the water of the salt pond and it was rippling and rising up in small waves.

Marina was the closest thing to a friend Mercy had. There weren’t many people their age at the palace who weren’t in the guard. But she was also in awe of The Little Duchess. She was so small, and yet contained so much power. And she was beautiful, with her brown skin, and curled hair and quiet smile that so few people ever got to see.

Mercy knew that Marina would probably be Queen some day. Whether crowned in her own right because Princess Annalise was long dead, or as consort to Lord Brayton. It was good for her to be near her. Their friendship was productive. At least that’s what her father said.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said. Marina looked over at her. “They’ve asked everyone to come to the hall.” Marina sighed.

“Oh, alright,” she said, “do you know why?” Mercy shook her head. Marina slid her arm through Mercy’s and they walked through the hallways. Mercy felt an electricity shoot through her.

“Something’s happened,” Marina said and slid her arm out and she started looking around. “No, they aren’t here.” Mercy swallowed and realized what, who, Marina meant.

The Dugarrys. General Thomas Martin.

“Lady Marina,” a girl from the guard walked over to her. She wasn’t a soldier, though, she was in blue not green. She was a healer. “Sir Tristan went to see his Uncle. He said to tell you that he’d see you at dinner.” She nodded.

“Thank you,” she said softly. “Is he,” she swallowed. “He’s alright?” Mercy rolled her eyes.

“He’s alright,” the healer girl said. “Lady Athena too. The General has been exiled.” Marina nodded.

“I should find my father,” she whispered. “Are you alright?” Mercy nodded.

“Of course,” she said, “always.” Marina squeezed her hands and disappeared into the crowd. The healer looked at her awkwardly. “That was kind of you. She worries about him.”

“He worries about her,” the guard girl smirked. “I don’t think either of them realize why though.” Mercy giggled. “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Elodie.”

“Mercy,” she said and shook her hand. “You’re a healer, so you have magic?”

“Some,” Elodie said and they started walking. “Mostly though it just makes me better at my job. I can perceive things and move medicine through the body.” Mercy nodded. “What about you? You’re always with Lady Marina, do you have,”

“Oh no,” Mercy interrupted her, “no.” Elodie nodded. “We’re just friends, or friendly really.” She was blushing, she realized.

“Alright,” Elodie smiled. Someone called her name, “Duty calls.” Mercy nodded. “It was nice meeting you.”

“You too,” Mercy said as Elodie bounced away. Mercy swallowed, her throat dry. Only Marina had ever given her butterflies like that before. Surely it was because Elodie also had magic.

Elodie looked back over her shoulder at Mercy and smiled. She was pretty, with her red hair and her overly fashionable gown. She glanced around and notice Lady Athena standing with her fiance, Warren Davis. Davis was holding Athena’s face in his hands and she was nodding. Elodie swallowed and walked over to her.

“I’m so sorry my love,” she heard Davis say. “But you understand?”

“Of course,” she said softly and kissed him. “Go, I’m sure you have work to do.” He nodded and walked away. Elodie saw her friend’s face change to one of blind rage.

“Do we know it was him?” Elodie asked. Athena nodded. “I’m sorry, My Lady.”

“I know,” she said softly. “So is Tristan, and Martin. Everyone’s sorry, even Warren.” She sighed. “You may have to go to Camp. Are you ready?”

“I think so,” Elodie nodded. “It’s been a while. I’ve gotten used to things here, but change is always good.” Athena laughed darkly. “Lady Athena, if you need anything, please let me know.”

“I’m alright,” Athena said and walked out quietly. Elodie frowned and sighed walking out to the barracks. She flopped onto her bed and closed her eyes trying to sleep. But sleep didn’t come. She got up and quickly walked outside to the main courtyard.

There was some whispering from the people around but it was mostly silent. The barracks had been breached, Thomas Martin was branded a traitor. Nothing made sense.

Elodie frowned as she saw the moonlight streaming through the trees and saw Mercy sitting. Then she smiled in spite of herself. She’d always kept her distance from Court Ladies. They reminded her of the wealthy merchant daughters who came into her father’s inn when she was little, all softness and beauty disguising sharp edges and sadness.

But Athena wasn’t like that. She often reminded herself. And Athena was both, a noble lady and a wealthy merchant daughter in addition to the fiercest warrior in Cammadan. Still, Elodie made most of her friends in the guard and healer corp.

“We don’t have to choose,” Athena had shrugged, once when Elodie had asked her. “I’m not just one thing. No one needs to be.”

She walked over and Mercy looked at her and smiled shyly.

“Is it alright if I sit?” Elodie said. Mercy nodded and she sat. “It’s been a trying day.”

“I’m sure,” Mercy said softly. “My father says it’s a glorious one, traitors don’t deserve our sympathy.” Her hands were balled in her skirt.

“General Martin would sooner cut off his own head than betray Cammadan,” Elodie said defensively. Mercy looked at her. “I don’t mean to contradict you,” she said, “he’s been very good to me.” Mercy looked at her.

“I think my father is very afraid,” she said softly. “And he thinks Lord Brayton is safe.” Elodie nodded.

“And what do you think?” She asked. Mercy looked at her surprised, as thought no one had asked her that before. “You’re close with Lady Marina, aren’t you? Surely, that’s safer.”

“Marina isn’t,” Mercy stopped. “There aren’t that many other people to talk to. Besides which, she’s going to be Queen. Surely you’ve seen how Lord Brayton looks at her.” Elodie grimaced. They all saw how Brayton looked at The Duchess, like she was a skittish animal for him to tame and conquer. It was unsettling. “She’s lucky.”

“Do you really believe that?” Elodie asked. Mercy swallowed and looked at the healer.

She didn’t. Well, she believed Marina was lucky, because she was beautiful, had a father who loved her, friends like Tristan Dugarry and powerful magic. But not because of the attention Brayton gave her.

“I don’t know,” Mercy admitted softly. Elodie nodded and they locked eyes. “I wish you’d stop looking at me like that.” Mercy said.

“I’m not looking at you any way in particular,” Elodie said softly, and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear but then turned her gaze away. Then both girls laughed. “I like you.” Mercy looked at her. “You don’t have to say anything, but well, it’s not something a person hears everyday, so,” Mercy smiled blushed, turned to her and kissed her gently.

“I like you too.” Mercy said. Elodie smiled and they pulled close. She smelled good, like flowers and something sweet, and she was so soft. Mercy’s hands were tangled in her hair keeping them close, as Elodie slid her hands onto her waist. “I don’t normally do this,” Mercy whispered when they stopped for breath.

“You’re good at it for someone who doesn’t normally do it,” Elodie grinned.

The next few motnhs, Mercy found herself more often than not in Elodie’s small room in the barracks at night. She’d lied to her father, saying that she’d been asked to wait on Lady Marina, which of course thrilled him. She knew he’d never approve of Elodie, who was working class and firmly in the Anti-Brayton camp of officers.

But Mercy thought she was amazing. That night she giggled as they kissed pushing gently against one another.

“I want you,” Elodie said softly. Mercy smiled coyly and rolled onto her back. Elodie laughed and straddled her. “You’re too beautiful,” she mumbled.

“Do you want me or not?” She said and pulled Elodie’s shift over her head. The door opened then they both heard a throat clear and a low laugh.

“Lieutenant,” Lady Athena Dugarry was leaning against the door. “Mistress Graves.”

“Lady Athena,” Mercy said with an eyeroll, pulling her clothes back on.

“Elodie, I need to speak to you.” Athena said. “If you aren’t too busy.”

“Of course not,” Elodie said. “Mercy, I’m sorry.” Mercy held up her hands and kissed Elodie on her way out. “Knocking, a novel concept, My Lady.” Athena snorted.

“I don’t know what you see in her, but I am sorry I interrupted,” Athena sat down.

“I don’t know what you see in half the men you’re with so we’re even there,” Elodie sighed. “What is it?”

“Um, you’re being asked to help escort Lady Marina to Camp,” Athena said, “I chose you for the assignment Elodie, I don’t trust anyone else.” Elodie closed her eyes. A few months ago this would have been the best thing to ever happen to her. But that was before Mercy.

“Why aren’t you doing it?” She asked. Athena sighed.

“Tristan and I are escorting Countess Olivia home,” she mumbled. Elodie bit her bottom lip. Of course. Athena had leaked crucial Resistance details to Warren Davis. She’d be given lower priority missions right now. “Are you up for it?” Elodie nodded.

“What’s the cover story?” Elodie asked softly. Athena sighed.

“She’s going home,” Athena said, “to Brightcoast. To study with the sisters there.”

“You’re going?” Mercy said when they met up in the garden the next day. Elodie nodded. “But why, you’re a healer, not a guard.”

“I’m both,” Elodie said, “and studying with the sisters in Brightcoast is a big opportunity for me.” Mercy swallowed and plopped down on the bench. “I’m sorry, Mercy, it is only for a few months, though, I’ll be back.” Mercy turned her head to look away.

“It’s fine,” she said, “go, it doesn’t matter.” Elodie nodded and sat down with her. She pushed her hair to the side and rested her head on her shoulder. “I love you Elodie.”

“I love you too,” Elodie whispered.

Sitting in Camp after victory hadn’t been what Elodie was expecting. The Twins were with the Pantonas and Princess Annalise. And all she could think about was if Mercy had been evacuated. She took a deep breath and walked into the command tent.

“General,” she said softly, “do you know where the evacuees were taken?” Martin smiled at her. “There’s someone I should find.”

“Of course,” he said. They walked through the celebrating camp. “We can’t know if she left, Captain Willis.” Elodie swallowed, the new title felt awkward.

“I know,” she said, “if I have to find her in the city tomorrow I will, but,” she trailed off. She quickly scanned around the group of tents and the chaos of this area. It wasn’t organized like resistance camp. But she checked each fire until finally seeing Mercy sitting with her father, warming her hands. She made eye contact and smiled and stood up quickly running over to her and throwing her arms around her neck and kissing her.

“I knew it,” Mercy said through tears, “oh I knew you’d be here!” Elodie kept kissing her all over her face and laughing. “Elodie, is it true?”

“What part?” She swallowed and pulled back and looked at her.

“That Princess Annalise is here,” she said. Elodie nodded. “Gods,” Mercy exhaled. “Have you met her?”

“Yes,” Elodie said, “and I got promoted. I’m a Captain now.” Mercy laughed and stroked her face. “And I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you,” she whispered. “It’s crowded here,” she wrinkled her nose. Elodie laughed and took her hand and led her to the main camp.

“Elodie,” Marina walked out of the medical tent, “Mercy! Goddess!” She hugged her tightly. “Oh I’m glad you’re safe!” Mercy laughed and Elodie shrugged. “Oh! How silly of me. You two enjoy yourselves.” She winked and headed off.

“She seems,” Mercy cocked her head to side, “well different, I guess.”

“She’s changed a lot,” Elodie said as they walked into her tent. “You haven’t,” Mercy laughed and they kissed again falling back against the cot.

“You don’t know that,” Mercy giggled and then sighed as Elodie’s lips slipped to her neck. “I could have changed a lot.” Elodie laughed and unbuttoned her guard jacket.

“You still like that though,” Elodie whispered, sliding Mercy’s skirts up around her thighs. Mercy cooed happily. “And this,” she said and kissed her while sliding her hand inside of her.

“Mm,” she whispered, “yes, I do.”

After they’d finished Elodie buried her face in Mercy’s hair. That same smell from that first night in the garden, flowers and something sweet.

“Never go away for that long again,” Mercy whispered. Elodie smiled.

“If I do, you’re coming with me,” she said softly. Mercy smiled.

“That’s something I can definitely do,” she said, “I love you.” Elodie pressed her forehead to Mercy’s.

“I love you.”

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.