Life had settled in at camp, Lisette had proved her worth and been made a Lieutenant (officially), and Tristan a Captain to make way for her. I spent most of my days training or working with newere recruits, most of them runaways from Dovetail.
In fact it was a lovely calm morning, discussing when we would move towards Dovetail. The Count and Martin like the symbol of marching in on her birthday. Aaron thinks that’s suicide.
It’s all moot now, but it didn’t make this morning less frighting, when we heard the horns and felt the shill in the air as the shadows descended. I tried to call on my strength, on whatever blessing Cornan could give me and nothing came.
My back pressed against Tristan’s when I heard the hissing voices in my head. I’d never heard them before, just seen them, disguised as men at Brayton’s back.
You are not worthy to be called warrior. One hissed at me. You who are so we you can’t even keep you legs closed. I slashed and dispersed that one.
I would kill you, so called Champion, the next came forward, I swallowed, But my commander has asked for you as a reward.
“Commander?” I asked, and then looked over the hillside and saw him standing there. Warren Davis, clad entirely in the uniform of the black guard, his dirty blond hair slicked back. Tall, strong. I swallowed.
“No, Athena,” Tristan said, as I went towards him. “General,” he called out.
“Tristan you go,” he said. I frowned at them both. “Athena, stay with the Princess.” I frowned, but of course in moments, it didn’t matter because a blinding shock of white light shook the earth and the shadows had dispersed. Lisette ran to the edge of the battlefield and I saw Lady Marina collapsed.
“Are you alright?” Aaron asked. I nodded wordlessly. But I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. How was he so near? How was he commanding shadows? How had I been so blind to what he really was?
“You?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Marina,” he muttered. I nodded. They’d connected, I wasn’t surprised. As I got to know her better, I saw how much they had in common. He ran over to Lisette, and scooped the younger girl up to carry her to camp.
“I want to interrogate him,” I said to Martin, who frowned at me. “Martin!”
“Athena, we need answers from him, we don’t need him dead.” He shook his head. I frowned. “I can feel the anger coming off of you. I don’t blame you, but you wouldn’t be able to control yourself.”
“Fine,” I said and marched away. I got back to my tent and lay down on the bed. I fell to sleep quickly. My dreams were full of memories and images. Warren cautiously sitting beside me one day at dinner. The notes I would find slipped under the door, or with my gear in the training room. His whispers of how we would get away from Dovetail, from Brayton together, his hands on me, his voice gently whispering, “Beloved,” in my ear as he entered me. I woke up then with a start. Aaron was sitting in a chair, tending to and watching a fire. “What are you doing here?”
“Everyone was busy,” he explained, “I didn’t want to be in the way.” I nodded. “Marina is alright. Exhausted, but well.”
“I’m glad,” I said honestly. He nodded. “Is something else wrong”
“Who is Warren Davis?” He asked. I swallowed and sat up.
“It doesn’t matter,” I frowned. He looked at me and shook his head.
“You know what, forget it,” he said and walked out. I stood up and followed him.
“Then you know already?” I said. He turned and looked at me. “Who told you? Tristan? The General?”
“My mother,” he said. “But don’t blame her, because she was just warning me to be gentle with you.” I suddenly swelled with affection for the countess. “But you should have told me. You were planning to marry the man and you never once mentioned,” I swallowed.
“What would you have had me say?” I said back. “That the first time a boy whispered I was pretty, I slid into bed with him faster than I could take a breath? That he made it impossible for me to trust anyone because it turned out he was a spy, and he broke my family apart and every moment I was falling in love with you, I was terrified I’d said something that would bring him back around to you, and to Lisette.” He looked at me.
“You should have told me,” he repeated, “I would have understood, at least, then why you were so,” I swallowed. “You were going to marry him.”
“I don’t need to explain that,” I shook my head. “Just because every woman you ever kissed we would see on market days.” I realized we’d walked to the medical tent.
“I wasn’t ever planning to marry any of them, Athena,” he said. His voice had shaken of it’s calm. “That was just you. I love you.”
“I was never going to marry Warren Davis,” I explained, “not when I knew what he was, but I was hurt, Aaron. I love you too.” He frowned and we turned, seeing Marina standing next to us.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better, Marina,” he said and shook his head walked away. I sighed and flopped down on one of the beds again. After talking with Marina I knew what I needed to do, but I wasn’t happy about it.
I walked over to where they were keeping him. No one tried to stop me, which was a blessing. I walked into the tent and stared at him.
“Hello Beloved,” he said softly, his hazel eyes meeting mine. I stared him down. “I was wondering when I would see you.”
“How could you?” I asked him softly. He swallowed, almost flinched. I knew him so well. Every inch of him.
“It was for us,” he explained. I snorted and crossed my arms. “Athena, what Lord Brayton has planned, what he can do, you have no idea. But I can protect you, he’s promised me. Even now, after he takes the throne, we can go away, like we always said.”
“You’ve lost your mind,” I said, “as if I’d go with you, choose you. I’d die first.” He frowned. “You’ve met her. You’ve seen.” He stared me down.
“It won’t matter,” he said. “When he has,” I cocked my head to the side. “If I tell you, what do I get?” I looked away. “So cold, My Lady. You didn’t used to be.”
“I’m sorry, Warren,” I whispered, “I’m truly sorry you traded your soul for nothing.” I turned around and left. Tristan was standing waiting for me. “Don’t start.”
“Just checking on you,” he said. “He’s insane.”
“I noticed,” I sighed. “He thinks I’m going to run away with him.” Tristan stared at me. “We did talk about it, but it wasn’t the sort of thing,” I frowned. “Aaron’s angry.”
“That, I noticed,” he said. “He’s hurt, Athena, but he’ll get over it.” I bumped him with my shoulder. “I’d kill himself if I thought it would help.” I smiled at my brother.
“I know you would.” I said. He smiled and shrugged.