I was sparring with Athena that afternoon, normally we bantered and chatted during this time but today I was just frustrated with her. I had a feeling she had more to do with Tristan’s decision than he’d said.

This plan reeked of Aaron and Olivia. It was too practical by half, solved about ten problems at once, gets Tristan out of Eric and any other suitors way, reunifies the crown with the Merchant Guilds, gives Tristan a place if he chooses to leave the guard (or stays, frankly, a woman from Dorin probably wants to stay there and I need a northern commander), solidifies Pantona’s power in the economy, but they wouldn’t have thought of it themselves, just figured out the details. I was so hurt by all of them.

Athena takes advantage of my distraction to knock me off my feet.

“Yield?” She grins. I smile.

“Yield,” I said, she offered her hand and I took it and she pulled me back up. We went and sat down.

“You’re upset about something,” she said. I sighed and threw my head back. “My brother?” I sighed and stood up.

“I don’t think I can talk about this with you,” I said. She sighed.

“Lisette,” she shook her head, “you could have him you know.” I turned around and looked at her. “You could defy everyone’s advice and expectation, forget it all, marry Tristan. They’d get over it, you’re still young and you’re strong and popular.”

“I hear a but coming,” I said.

“No but,” she shrugged. “I’m not Aaron. I see you, and I see Tristan. You love each other, you were both so happy in Pantona before everything else came into it, before people started whispering in your ears that it was wrong. Ignore them, be together, or agree and part, but stop torturing each other. It’s miserable and not just for you two.”

“Was Dorin your plan?” I asked. She laughed.

“No,” she said, “Dorin was a back up from long ago, our Aunts have had us in the mix for arrangement basically since we were born. Our mother disapproved but went along to get along as it were, and when they died Martin deeply disapproved and wanted all plans halted while Uncle Trey wanted the plans to continue, eventually, the disagreement became so deep, that, well,” she shrugged. “I didn’t know they kept planning, but that’s The Dumanis for you.”

“Why now?” I asked. I knew the answer, me, I was why now. So many other things were settled now that I was on the throne, why not settle this too?

“We’re the right age,” she said, “and the season starts in spring, so it wouldn’t disrupt much for him to show up in Dorin.”

“The season?” I asked.

“Aunt Brie calls it the meat market,” she said, “it’s basically a bunch of parties where everyone around the same age meets each other while their families discuss dowries and contracts. It happens here too, when people are presented, though the nobility are less upfront about it than the guild. Probably if we reopen Brightcoast it will happen there.” I nodded.

“So, it wasn’t Aaron’s idea?” I asked. She burst out laughing.

“Gods no!” She said. I nodded.

“And Caleb, what did he,” I drifted off.

“If he had any thoughts on it, Tristan and I didn’t know,” she took my hand. “Why do you doubt them now?” I frowned.

“I guess I’m feeling trapped,” I said and stretched. “And Caleb had so many plans.” I put my face in my hands and rubbed it.

“What does Marina say?” Athena asked softly. I looked at her.

“Marina is completely heartbroken so naturally I can’t talk to her about any of this,” I sighed. “Did you know that they were,” she rolled her eyes. “Naturally, everyone but me then?”

“Not everyone,” she smiled, “I don’t think the countess and Martin knew.” I laughed.


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