I challenged Tristan to a race, knowing how soon we’d be arriving at camp, but he refused.

“I don’t want us to be separated on arrival,” he said. I frowned.

“But that worked out so well last time,” I grinned. Lisette giggled.

“Mm, fewer lemon groves and lost princesses in these parts though,” she teased and wrinkled her nose at him.

“And it’s all the worse for it,” Tristan smiled, “still, I think we’d better stay together.” I rolled my eyes, but nodded in agreement. Lisette is quiet, thoughtful I think.

I’m anxious, but also excited to get back to work. And another anxiety has taken root in my stomach. I don’t know what Martin will say about Aaron, having worked closely with his parents for years, he’ll most likely approve. Or maybe I’m fooling myself.

Riding into camp felt comfortable. And while we were being greeted by Lady Marina I was surprised by the change in her. She was even able to make eye contact with Tristan without blushing.

She and Lisette look extraordinarily alike. Lady Marina is darker, and her features maybe a little more delicate, but it’s eerie. Lisette seemed shy around her as well.

Aaron immediately started flirting, I’d be annoyed except I think it would simply amuse him if I was. He’d been joking about it being a fine match, Pantona and Brightcoast, the whole ride. Seeing him with her now it’s even more of a joke.

“Lady Marina,” I said, she looked over at me. “Where is the General?” She smiled.

“General Martin is in the command tent,” she said, “against my better advice I might add.” Tristan laughed. I looked at him and then at Lisette.

“Thank you,” I said and walked through camp, greeting people as I went, before arriving at the command tent and walking in. “Glad to see you alive.” A few of the guards in the tent tensed, as General Thomas Martin looked up from a map.

“Hello Athena,” he said with a sigh, “please give us a moment.” The guards nodded and left. I crossed my arms and stared at him. “I’d rather you give me a kiss hello before the lecture.”

“At the moment I don’t care what you’d rather, you’re a foolish old man who’s going to get himself killed,” I said. He sighed again. “What were you thinking fighting off a shadow attack?”

“I was thinking that I have been fighting shadows since I was younger than you, that if I didn’t Lady Marina would have been captured and turned over to Brayton, and that I was backed up by the best guard in the regiment,” he answered. I looked away. “And I am, as you can see whole, and was well cared for, so,” I continued to glare. “Athena, you cannot possibly still be angry with me.”

“Lady Marina said you should still be resting,” I countered.

“Lady Marina’s skills as a healer are quite good, but she’s still new to it,” he said, “I am fine, but if it will make you feel better, I will go to sleep as soon as the sun goes down.” I nodded. “Now, can you greet me properly my dear?” I shook my head and laughed and went to hug him.

It felt good to be wrapped in his very large arms. He kissed me on the forehead and turned up my chin.

“I did miss you,” I said. He smiled.

“I missed you too,” he said, “tell about Pantona, and The Princess.” I smiled.

“She’s exceptional, Martin,” I said, “I honestly think you’ll be impressed. She’s a better fighter than I could have imagined, smart, and,” I smiled, “I want to follow her. I’m ready to,” he nodded.

“And Tristan?” He asked.

“Tristan is quite fond of her,” I smirked. He raised his eyebrows.

“Really? Our Tristan?” He laughed. “I can honestly say I’m shocked.” I giggled. “And did you like Pantona? I haven’t been there in years, but I remember it being nice country.”

“It’s very nice,” I nodded, “I wanted to talk to you about something,” I swallowed and began fidgeting with my skirts. “The Viscount,” I swallowed, “well, he and I have gotten very close.”

“That’s good,” he nodded, “you’ll likely be working together quite a bit.” I swallowed. “I’m interested in meeting him. The Count and Countess always worry about him.”

“I don’t think they need to,” I said, “we, well, I, actually,” he met my eyes. “We’re going to get married.”

“I see,” his voice went cold. “He’s proposed?” I swallowed.

“Well, no,” I said. He nodded. “But we’ve discussed it, and, well, once things are settled, with Lisette,” he raised his eyebrows. “Annalise, The Princess, it’s a pet name, it doesn’t matter.”

“I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.” He frowned. I scowled at him.

“This is not like that,” I said, “he’s not like Warren. He wouldn’t,” I looked away. “He’s loyal.”

“I won’t stand in your way,” he said simply, “it isn’t my place to do so, but Athena, don’t make a fool of yourself.” I frowned. “If he’s anything like his father, then a girl from a merchant family, even one as extraordinary as you won’t be sufficient.”

“I’m sorry that’s how you feel,” I said and stood up. “But you’re wrong.” He nodded, I walked out and around camp.

“Lady Athena!” My friend, Elodie Whills walked over to me. I smiled and hugged her.

“Oh Elodie,” I said softly, “I’m glad to see you.” She smiled and smoothed my hair.

“And I, you,” she said. “Is it true that’s she’s here?” I nodded. “Goddess,” she exhaled. “I can hardly believe it.”

“Wait until you see her,” I said. “I swear, you’d follow her into hell.” She laughed. “I think I have to thank you, for helping the General.” She shook her head.

“It was Lady Marina,” she said, “she was with him every second he was unwell. She used magic, as well, I think he might have,” she swallowed. I nodded.

“I’m still glad you were there,” I said softly. I looked over and saw Aaron standing with a few of the guards all laughing. I smiled glad he’d made friends already.

I wasn’t surprised, but I walked over.

“Lady Athena,” one of them said, as all three stood at attention. I nodded and they dispersed.

“Socializing is going to be difficult with you around, isn’t it?” Aaron teased and put his arms around me. “They respect you.” I nodded.

“Yes,” I said softly. “Aaron,” he smiled at me, “I just spoke with General Martin,” he sighed and let go of me.

“Ah,” he said. “He disapproves of me?”

“He has concerns,” I said and we started walking. He nodded. “The promises we made were in Pantona, and here and then in Dovetail, other concerns might come up.” He nodded.

“Other concerns?” He repeated. I nodded. “Such as, ascending duchesses, and the like?” I frowned. “I shouldn’t have teased you about Lady Marina, and I shouldn’t have flirted either.”

“I don’t care about the flirting,” I sighed. “I really don’t, it’s like breathing to you, you can’t help it.” He laughed. “But I’m not,” I looked down. “I don’t think I’m what anyone would expect out of a countess of Pantona, and while I can assure you the Dumanis will be thrilled,” he stopped.

“Athena,” he looked at me, “I love you, I want to be with you. That is the beginning and end of the issue with me.” I nodded. “You are exactly what should be expected in a Countess of Pantona, in that you are the woman I want to marry, and you love my home.” I kissed him. “Does that answer General Martin’s concerns?”

“Yes,” I said softly. “I think it will.”


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