I rose early the next morning to go training, but couldn’t find Athena. I wondered if she was out already, but made my way out to the stables, Tristan had mentioned wanting to go riding and I decided to join him, when I saw Caleb standing waiting.
“Good Morning,” he said. I smiled softly at him. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said, “is that alright?”
“Perfectly,” he shrugged, “I have something for you,” I smiled, “come.” I walked in with him and saw standing in the middle a horse I’d never seen before. “It’s a bit early, but I thought a birthday present would be alright.” I giggled softly and walked over. “You’ve never had your own, but it wouldn’t do for The Lost Princess to return on a borrowed stable horse from someone else’s stable.”
“Caleb,” I whispered, petting her neck. “What’s her name?” I knew she was a mare immediately. And perfect. Clean white, shining, almost like a star.
“Doesn’t have one yet,” he grinned. “The Dumanis don’t name their animals. Charlotte showed her to me when I met them along the way back.” I smiled. “She’s shrewd that one, just a smile, and ‘I thought you might want to look at a horse, your grace, something suitable for a young woman.'” I remember the half smile on Charlotte’s face when she’d mentioned I was Phanian. I’d wondered what she’d guessed then, know I knew for sure.
“I’ll have to think it over,” I cooed, “thank you Caleb.” He smiled. “Have you seen Athena?”
“She went into town to find someone who could send her letter,” he said. I nodded. “William ran so quickly last night, before I could mention that I think,” I laughed.
“You think I should tell him the truth,” I said. He nodded. “Olivia told me, that he asked for me.” Caleb laughed. “I can only imagine you two scrambling for something to say.”
“It was something we’d anticipated,” he shrugged, “not with William specifically, but well, you’re a reasonably appealing young woman, and certainly not without local position, even if you were simply our ward. We’d assumed a village boy, or a younger merchant son might ask for you at some point.”
A younger merchant son. That gave me a pang. In another world, the world where I was really Lisette, and Tristan was really just a guest of my foster parents, he’d have asked for me. I’d be Lady Dugarry, not Queen Annalise.
“I’ll talk to him today,” I said softly. I pressed me forehead against the horse’s nose, not knowing what to say exactly.
I walked out towards the village and found Athena on her way back, she looked agitated.
“Are you alright?” I said. She frowned.
“I was,” she said, “I’d even calmed down about the General, but then I ran into that awful farmgirl, Katie?”
“Kathy,” I said. She nodded. “Yes, I don’t think she’d like you much.” Athena pressed her lips into her mouth.
“I certainly didn’t ask Aaron to abandon her minutes after she slept with him to chase after me,” she muttered, “it isn’t my fault.” I giggled, realizing this seemed like a familiar problem to her. “Where are you off to, and why isn’t my brother tailing behind you, in case a shadow or spy pops out of the orchard to carry you away to darkness?”
“He’s asleep,” I said, “and it seems unlikely at this juncture. If a spy were watching us, they’d probably wait until we’re all on the move to grab me.”
“Hmm,” she nodded, “I suppose so.” She was grinning now.
“I’m heading into town, but since you just came from that way, I’d assume you don’t want to join me,” she shook her head.
“No,” she said, “I have to talk to Aaron, and you’re likely going to have a rather serious conversation that should be had alone?” I nodded. “Good luck.” I smiled and waved.
Once I reached town, I noticed Kathy at her father’s stand looking very grumpy. I decided not to poke at that. That was a benefit to not being Lisette anymore, not having to deal with fallout of Aaron’s entanglements. I reached the inn and walked in. The maids all nodded at me and one pointed me towards William’s parlor. He smiled when he saw me.
“What a nice surprise,” he said, “Two days in a row at that.” I laughed.
“I wanted to talk to you,” I said, “but I didn’t get a chance last night.” He nodded. “William, I,” I swallowed. “We’re leaving soon.”
“I see,” he said quietly. “Going west?” I nodded. “This has something to do with Sir Tristan?”
“Yes,” I said, “and no.” I folded my hands. “I mean, he’s coming with us, of course, but,” I swallowed. “I’m not Lisette.” He scrunched his face in confusion. “I mean, I am, but she’s not, a real person.” I frowned. “I’m botching this. You see a lot of people come through, you’ve probably heard, rumors, stories,” I swallowed, “sightings.”
“Of?” He asked. “Last week I had a man who swore his horse was actually a unicorn, but I’m not following.”
“Of girls like me,” I said softly, “orphaned half Phanian girls,” I sighed, “who might not be what they seem.” His eyes widened.
“Gods, I’m a fool,” he muttered. I bit my bottom lip and glanced down. “Lisete, I mean, your highness, I guess.” I nodded. “So you’re going west, to go,” I nodded again. “Are you terrified?” I suddenly felt a surge of affection for William and flew across the room and hugged him.
“I’ll miss you,” I said softly, “really, before you came I didn’t have any friends except Aaron, and it’s been wonderful to have someone else.”
“Yes,” he smiled, “and just think what a good story it will be,” he whispered, “I courted the Queen of Cammadan herself, not that she had any idea of course.” I giggled. “I think we’d have made a good match though.”
“I can think of worse,” I said. “You don’t hate me?” He laughed.
“No, Lisette,” he said, “I don’t hate you.” He frowned. “Can I still call you Lisette?” I smiled.
“In private,” I shrugged, “I’ll be Your Highness in public though, until it’s Your Majesty.” He nodded. “Come with us.”
“No,” he said, “maybe, later when things are settled, but I’m not much use in a fight Lisette.” I smiled.
“Fine then,” I said softly.