The Challenge

I woke up early the next morning ready for my challenge. I had to fight Thomas. I passed by the medical tent and got a polite nod from Marina as I headed out to the field. The guards were standing around, whispering. I glanced at Tristan, who was leaning against a tree. He winked at me and I tried not to giggle.

Athena walked over and handed me my sword, and I noticed Thomas standing, dressed in light boiled leather holding his. Caleb was next to him and he smiled at me and walked over.

“Your boot, Lisette,” he said and knelt down. It wasn’t untied. He made eye contact, and I nodded, grinning. “You didn’t forget?”

“Never,” I said. “General,” I called out. “Shall we begin?”

“As you wish, Your Highness,” he stepped over to me. “Captain,” Athena nodded, stepping out of the way. He struck once and I dodged, rather than block. Speed was my ally. “You’re afraid?”

“No,” I said and struck myself he blocked. “Not afraid, cautious.” He laughed.

“You won’t beat Brayton with caution, Princess,” he said.I dodged him again, but a swing took my legs out. “Cornan rewards a bold fighter.” I tumbled, and slid through his legs and then pulled a small knife out of my boot, I sliced his pant leg, winning the duel.

“But I am the sword of Rana, General,” I grinned up at him and he laughed, “and The Goddess likes her own to be cunning.”

“So she does,” he said and lifted me up. “A nasty trick you taught her Count.” Caleb was laughing from the side and the rest of the guard had begun cheering.

“She doesn’t have size on her side in any fight,” Caleb shrugged, “but surprise is as good an ally as any.”

“True enough,” Thomas said, “still.” I grinned and went to Tristan who took my hands.

“You were good,” he said, “faster than most.” I shrugged and we walked along. “It won’t be long now, will it?”

“No,” I said softly, “not long at all. I feel it, everything around me, I know it has to be soon.” He pulled me close and kissed me. “I’m afraid,” I admitted.

“No one would know it,” he said, “I wouldn’t even, if you didn’t tell me.” I kissed him again. “And if you need to, you can hide, and Thena and I will take care of all of it.” I giggled.

“I don’t know that she would approve of that plan.” He shrugged and kissed my palm. “And I need to be at the front of it, Tristan, I know you want to protect me, but you can’t, not from this.” He frowned.

“I know,” he sighed, “but I still wish.” I nodded and held close to him. He sensed it too, I think, in his way, that we were nearing the end.

“My darling,” I said softly. I heard a throat clear. Elodie Wills, Athena’s friend was standing beside us. “Mistress Elodie, I’m sorry,”

“No, I’m sorry, your highness,” she said, “only well, the Viscount asked me to find you.”  I nodded, she grinned at Tristan who sighed and kissed my forehead.

“Don’t keep him waiting,” he sighed. “He’ll never let us hear the end of it.” I squeezed his hand and followed after Elodie.

“Lady Athena told me some of your story, Mistress,” I said. She nodded. “I mean to keep the guilds in hand.”

“I’d always hoped so, your highness,” she said softly. “Lady Athena doesn’t quite share my view.” I nodded.

“We’re all a bit blind when it comes to our families,” I smiled. I watched Aaron stand with Marina, teasing her, and grabbing at her apron. She giggled. “And now I must see to mine.” Elodie laughed as I skipped over to them. “You summoned me?”

“Requested an audience,” Marina said simply, I laughed, “you outrank us both.”

“Ah, but to ignore the desires of my two most powerful courtiers would be ill advised,” I said, “what is that you both need?”

“I wanted to congratulate you,” Aaron said, “Athena said you did well.”

“Well, if Athena says so,” I grinned. Marina giggled. “I did in fact, I used my knife.”

“Oh, gods,” he sighed dramatically, “that damn knife.” I slid my arm through Marina’s.

“I dreamt last night, you know,” I said simply, “did you?”

“No,” she said. “I haven’t in a while.” I nodded. “What did See?” I sighed. “Prince Eric again?”

“I think so,” I said. Aaron rolled his eyes. “The ship at least. He’s north, I can tell that much, or he was, very recently.” She looked at me. “He knows it’s coming too, I think.”

“Lisette,” Aaron said softly, “does Tristan know?” I looked at him and shook my head. Marina looked away. “You should tell him, it isn’t fair.” I frowned.

“I know,” I sighed, “I know, but he’ll hate me.”

“I don’t think so,” Marina said, “I don’t think he could.” I looked at her. “I should get back to work.” She curtsied to me and Aaron took her hand and kissed it and she scrurried off.

“You shouldn’t flirt with her,” I said, “she’s young and,” he laughed.

“Marina is in no more danger of falling in love with me than you are,” he said, “we get on, that’s all.” I nodded. “She worries about you, you know.”

“Well, she never had visions of me murdering her so I think she’ll be alright.” He snorted. “I don’t think she will, now.”

“No,” he said, “I don’t think so either.” I nodded. “Lisette, I’m going to ask Athena to marry me.”

“Oh, that’s good, then,” I said. “What does Caleb say about it?” He frowned.

“We need your permission,” he explained. I laughed. “I’m serious, Lisette, it’s all part of it. She’s in the guard, she can’t without,” I shook my head,

“As if I wouldn’t give it,” I shook my head, “ask her. Marry her, be happy.” He laughed and picked me up and spun me. Then we heard the shouts, and the sky turned black.

“Shadows!” I heard Thomas calling out. “To arms!” I swallowed and looked at Aaron, he nodded and we ran quickly to the main field.

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