The Maze

It’s been a very long day and even longer evening. Rather than another epic dinner and ball, we all retired to The Princess Tower, for an intimate evening with Dowager Countess Olivia.

She’s still dressed in black though it’s all very fine. In fact she looks lovely, and frankly, she was quite cheerful all night. Or at least acting the part. Papa came too, he was less cheerful.

I think he may never be cheerful again, and he was particularly wary of Prince Eric. When I asked why he was cryptic saying only “we left to get away from the vipers and now they bring one into our nest.” He’s been saying odd things like that for weeks.

After dinner Tristan walked me back to my room and we found ourselves in bed again. It’s becoming almost impossible to not have sex with him.

“You’re leaving,” I whispered as he kissed my neck. He drew back.

“What?” He said. I looked at him.

“You’re going to Dorin,” I said softly. He sighed and took a lock of my hair between his thumb and forefinger. “Athena told me. Your grandfather and uncle are arranging a match for you.” He nodded.

“They might be,” he whispered. “Nothing’s been decided, but I want to have options.” I frowned at him. “I need to be away from her Rina.”

“And me?” I whispered. He sighed.

“I don’t want to be away from you,” he said softly. “Hence my dilemma, because I know you won’t leave her.” We kissed again.

“Tristan,” I said softly. “If you’re going, we can’t continue.”

“Last night, love, you said we couldn’t if I stayed,” he pointed out. “And here I am.” I sighed and stood up. “Marina, I didn’t mean!”

“Didn’t you?” I said. “You know that both of the Prince’s companions have expressed an interest in me, don’t you? That all of the Provenence heirs except for Aaron have proposed.”

“This is supposed to impress me?” He said. I frowned at him. “You think I care about that? About the idiots who see the pretty little duchess of Brightcoast and a spot beside Lisette and a manor in the south?” I frowned. “I want you,” he cupped his hands around my face. “But I can’t stay here.”

“So you don’t want me enough,” I said, “which is what it’s always come down to between us.” He sighed and nodded. “So you’ll go,” I whispered and kissed him. “You’ll go to Dorin, and you’ll marry some pretty merchant girl with a dowry even bigger than mine,” he laughed at that. “You’ll have beautiful blonde children and,” he kissed me again.

“And I will regret you, forever,” he whispered. I nodded.

“Fine,” I said softly and stood up. He looked at me. “I need fresh air.” I walked out into the sitting room and saw Annalise. She was staring at me.

“I knew,” she said softly, “I mean, I thought,” I swallowed. I could bear all of it, really, if it didn’t mean losing her.

“It’s nothing,” I said, “and it’s over.” I walked out quickly, out of the palace and into an old hedge maze. I used to hide here as a child and I started crying. I knew I should have stayed and explained, but I couldn’t take the way she was looking at me, and Tristan needs to be a man and tell her himself that he’s leaving.

“I’m sorry,” I looked up and saw Lieutenant Lestoff. “I was looking for the salt pond and I think I lost my way.” I wiped my eyes.

“I can show you there,” I said, “if you like.”

“I would,” he said, “I’ve been lax since we left the sea, my father would be ashamed.” I smiled softly. We walked in silence after that but it felt comfortable. “Did I disturb you?”

“No,” I said, “no I was running away from a problem, I used to hide here when I was a child, I suppose it’s a habit.”

“Did you like growing up here?” He asked. I stared at him. “I can’t imagine growing up at court, we didn’t, Daniel didn’t like Eric being around, so we weren’t there until well after we were in the navy.”

“It wasn’t much fun,” I admitted, “I imagine any children growing up at court now might enjoy it, but Annalise isn’t, well, terrifying.” He grinned.

“Says you,” he pointed out. “I happen to think she’s very scary.” I laughed. “Lady Marina,” he stopped, “I think I would very much like to kiss you.” I blinked at him.

“I, well,” I swallowed, “I don’t think I’m quite in the mood Lieutenant.” He nodded and kept walking.

“Another time then,” he said. I nodded as we reached the salt pond. “Whatever you were crying about, I hope it gets resolved.”

“Thank you,” I said softly and walked back into the palace. Annalise was sitting waiting for me. “Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” she said. “How long?”

“Just these past few nights,” I said softly, “and we were trying not to.” She nodded. “He’s leaving.”

“I know,” she whispered. “He told me,” I nodded. “I wish that this wasn’t what it was.” I smiled.

“I know,” I said. “Lisette, he loves you, that’s why I couldn’t. It would have been so easy to say when he said he wanted to leave that we should leave together, but I can’t be his escape.” She nodded.

“Eric said that he wants to make a go of things,” she whispered, “that’s how he put it. It’s all so cordial and cool.” She closed her eyes. “When Tristan first told me he loved me, it felt like fire.”

“Fire’s dangerous Lisette,” I said. She nodded. “Did he go?” She nodded again. “Lieutenant Lestoff asked if he could kiss me.”

“Goddess, Marina, two in one night?” She rolled her eyes. I blushed.

“I didn’t, I told him no,” I said, “odd that he would ask, isn’t it?”

“Perhaps it’s a Phanian thing,” she shrugged. “Or perhaps he saw that you were upset and didn’t want to take advantage.” I nodded. “Rina,” she whispered, “are you alright?” I nodded. “I don’t think you are.”

“He doesn’t love me,” I whispered, “he doesn’t, he loves you and he’ll never,” I started crying, “it isn’t fair, Annalise, you said no and he won’t ever ever forgive you, but he’ll never love me either.” She nodded and just held me while I cried.


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