The Ritual

After Tristan and I made love I leaned against him. I was being selfish but I didn’t care. William had gone, Olivia and Aaron were going, Caleb was dead and it was unlikely that I would see Anselm again for a long time.

I would keep Tristan for as long as I could, or at least as long as either of us could stand it.

“We’ve done what we could to keep security inconspicious for tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t want you to make a spectacle going to the temple.” I nodded. “What will it be like?”

“I’ve never done the mourning ritual before,” I said softly, “Marina has, she taught me. We’re supposed to conjure a memory and project it into the water.” He nodded.

“What memory?” He kissed my head.

“I chose the first time we talked about who I am,” I said. “When he explained my duty.” I swallowed. “When he promised I could always be Lisette to him.”

“Oh, love,” he sighed and held me closer. “I hate this pain for you.” I smiled. “And he’s coming with you?”

“Yes,” I said quietly. “And Raymond. I haven’t spent much time with him, but Marina’s become quite attached.” Tristan nodded. “You could come.”

“I don’t think that’s wise,” he said softly, “we were raised to honor Cornan, you know that. He’s more jealous than his sister.” I laughed. “Are you falling in love with him?”

“No,” I whispered, “I don’t think so. Not like us,” he smiled and kissed me.

“I don’t think either of us should expect something like us again,” he said sadly.

“Olivia and Thomas had it,” I said softly. “With each other, and then her with Caleb and him with your uncle.” Tristan laughed.

“Martin and Uncle Trey may have loved each other but it wasn’t like this,” he said softly. “They hated one another by the end. I don’t think I’ll ever hate you.” I closed my eyes and lay my head on his chest. “Do you want to know my memory?” I laughed and nodded. “When we were inducted into the guard, and the resistance after that, I was shocked how large camp was. But I was even more shocked, that Athena and I were given full uniform, almost no one got them anymore.” I smiled. “But Count Caleb presented them to us, very simply. I never understood why, until I met you.” I smiled.

“You do look very nice in that uniform.” I grinned. He laughed and kissed me. “I miss him.”

“I know that,” he said. I nodded and we fell asleep. I eventually woke up, it wasn’t light out yet and I dressed quickly and ran down into the dungeon. The guards were surprised but didn’t stop me.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting this,” Brayton said, I couldn’t see him, he was slouched in a corner. “To what do I owe the honor this time.”

“I want you to tell me about Amina,” I said. He laughed. “I’m serious, do all who die pass to her?”

“No,” he said, “some linger, but you know this, you’ve felt Marie near you.”

“Yes,” I said, realizing he must have felt her sometimes too. “But if I haven’t felt someone…”

“Caleb of Pantona would never have lingered,” his voice was quiet, almost respectful, for Brayton. “Not practical, he could never have stood to not be of use.” I swallowed. “I liked him, you know, quite a bit. Even when we were young, he was,” he sighed, “friendly, I suppose is the word. I never suspected his treachery, his sheltering of you, he seemed too straightforward for it. I suppose I didn’t respect him enough, he was crafty.” I swallowed. “Amina is not unjust, Annalise. In fact she is infinitely just, which is why she demands a sword of her own.”

“What does that have to do with this?” I realized I was crying, I wiped my eyes.

“Caleb was a good man,” he said softly. “True to his heart and self, and honored his land and ancestors, humbly. Queen Amina would not punish him for this.” I illuminated the cell then and looked at him.

“Your shadows took him from me,” I said. “I don’t need your help.” He sighed.

“So you say, Cousin,” he said, “but my head remains attached nonetheless.” I sighed. “You perform Rana’s rememberence ritual tomorrow?” I nodded. “Is the memory a strong one?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Good then,” he said, “it’s a powerful ritual, I wish you well on it.” I looked at him. “I haven’t performed it since your mother.” I turned around and fled then. I couldn’t look at him anymore.

By the time I was back in the room, Tristan was gone, he’d left a note that he was arranging our escort and he would see me later. I smiled. Maybe this could work. There wasn’t a king in legend who didn’t have secret loves, why should I be held to a different standard?

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