“What if he hates me?” Annalise said, pacing in front of the palace. Tristan was staring grimly ahead and I was sitting on the steps.
“He won’t hate you,” I said, she looked at me. “Lisette, you have to calm down.” She sighed and looked at Tristan. He wouldn’t make eye contact with her.
“He might,” she said and bit her thumbnail. “I’ve been thinking about him my entire life, you know?” I smiled softly at her.
“I’d bet he’s thought of you a few times as well,” Tristan managed, it was like the words choked him. “How could he help it?” She looked at him.
“Tristan, I,” she swallowed, I cleared my throat, reminding them that I was present. “I wasn’t paying attention, I should have Dreamed it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I mumbled, suddenly feeling guilty. Maybe I should have known? I’ve been distracted lately and haven’t even considered communing. “From everything you’ve told me about your conversations with Rana, this kind of surprise seems exactly her style.” She sighed and straightened her gown again. She looked lovely, even more than yesterday, even, with her hair in a braid circling her head and the Crown of The Goddess on her brow. She was somewhere between that simple farm girl we met a few months ago and the great queen and savior she was when crowned.
Marina was exceptionally good at her job. As I spoke the group of them came walking up. Marina looked bouncy and anxious and Aaron had that twinkle in his eye that he gets when he wants to make trouble. The Prince himself was a bit of a surprise. Shorter than I’d expected, and much better looking. My Dorin cousins knew him a little and mostly talked about how he was reserved and uninteresting he was. (I have this sinking feeling it’s more about him not wanting to marry any of them rather than The Prince’s actual personality.)
He and Annalise greeted each other coldly and Tristan managed to be aloof but not rude, something he struggles with even with people he’s indifferent to. As we all disassembled Aaron jogged to catch up to me.
“I’m going to train, are you coming with me?” I said, shocked. He never trains anymore. Says now that the war is won he doesn’t need to.
“You’re going to have trouble,” he grinned. I rolled my eyes. “The Princes’s step brother came here with the expressed purpose to woo you.” I snorted. “I’m serious.”
“And you allowed him to speak like that?” I said and crossed my arms.
“I assumed you would shut him up yourself my love,” he grinned. “Which will be most amusing for me,” he crept close to me and kissed me gently. I giggled.
“And suppose I find Lieutenant Lestoff more attractive than yourself,” I whispered. He laughed.
“I’m afraid that you have given me your word,” he teased. I laughed. “Thena, this is going to be complicated.” I nodded. “There are already people rumbling that if she marries someone not Cammadie, or at the very least Westran the guilds will be unhappy.” I nodded. “I know you hate politics, and I know Tristan hates it even more, but,”
“They’ve spent a whole twenty seconds in one another’s company, Aaron,” I said softly. “Let’s not have their vows written and my grandfather in open rebellion just yet.” He nodded. “I do have to go, I swear if any Phanian officers flirt with me, I will send for you immediately before tossing him on his ass.” He laughed.
“Excellent,” he muttered and kissed me. “I should see to my mother, we’re trying to decide when to go home,” I nodded. “I wish you could come with me.”
“I wish I could too,” I said softly. I’d been longing for Pantona. For the quiet, and the fields and hills. For the excited bustle of market days and even the cool shocking looks from other girls who Aaron had slept with. And for the life that we could maybe already have there, if his father hadn’t died.
“Thena,” he whispered and kissed my forehead. “What has Martin said to you?” I looked at him.
“Excuse me?” I said. He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “About us? He’s not sure I’m making the right decision.”
“No, I know, he’s told me as much,” he sighed, “I mean, about, well, about my mother.” I sighed and shook my head. “I just, she said he’s coming, to Pantona.”
“He hasn’t told me anything,” I grumbled, “I know he’s been spending time with Trey again.” Aaron nodded. “I don’t think it has anything to do with your father.” He swallowed and smiled sadly.
“How do you always know what I’m thinking?” He asked.
“I’m just that good,” I said softly. He smiled. “They weren’t together, Aaron.” He sighed. “I know it, he had,” I shook my head, “after Trey, there were men and a few women, but no one permanent, and never your mother, I would have noticed.”
“And why is that?” He asked. I blushed.
“Because I watched her,” I said softly, “you weren’t here, you couldn’t understand. Your mother was, this brilliant light in the darkness. And the rumors about her, about how she’d been this great beauty and could have been queen but gave it up because she loved your father, it was entrancing.”
“So you were always a romantic under all that sarcasm?” He raised an eyebrow. I shook my head.
“Infuriating boy,” I said and walked away towards the training field. The new recruits were better than I’d expected. So many were eager to serve Annalise.
“Lady Athena,” Prince Harran walked over to me, I smiled at him and dipped lightly, “if I am to understand, I have competition now.”
“You always had competition your highness,” I said. He laughed. “But yes, The Prince of Phania arrived this morning.” He shook his head.
“Typical,” he sighed. I laughed.
“Do you know him?” I asked, tossing him a wooden sparring sword. I like sparring with Harran.
“Prince Eric?” He said. I nodded. “No, my older brother Anders met him at Rastan. I went to Pantona.” I laughed.
“I see,” I nodded and strucked first, he blocked me.
“Lady Athena?” I turned hearing the Prince’s voice. I spun and was face to face with him. “Am I interrupting?” There was a laugh in his voice.
“No,” I said, “of course not, your highness. Do you know Prince Harran, from the Borderlands?’
“No,” he said. “Your Highness,” Harran nodded at him. “I was wondering if you might know, my men, as we came so quickly we didn’t make arrangements, and they could stay on the ship but it’s not comfortable, and,” I laughed and shook my head.
“I’d imagine not, but I’m not the one to ask about such things,” I said.
“You’re head of The Queen’s Household, aren’t you? Or did I misunderstand?” He swallowed.
“Lady Athena is Captain of Her Majesty’s Guard,” Harran grinned, “if you need a bandit caught, she’s your woman.” I poked him and then nodded towards the terrace of the palace, where Aaron was standing talking to Marina.
“It’s my betrothed, Count Aaron or Duchess Marina you want for that sort of thing,” I smiled, “I’m hopeless at logistics.” He nodded. “Is there something else?”
“I feel as though I should apologize, your brother,” he looked down, “I didn’t realize you were estranged from your family in Dorin.”
“Don’t mind Tristan,” I said, “we aren’t, well, I’m not. With Tristan it’s more complicated.” He nodded. “Is there anything else?”
“I suppose not,” he said softly, “my brother would be interested in this.” He gestured to my sword.
“He’s very welcome,” I smiled. Harran snorted. The Prince bowed and turned and walked away. “They’re peculiar.”
“I think they’ll find us confusing,” Harran grinned, “Anders said they’re very formal.” I nodded.
“Yes, but you thought we were formal,” I said and kick his knee knocking him to the ground. He laughed. “You know if you’d have asked her last week she’d have taken you, I think.”
“No she wouldn’t have,” he said. “She wasn’t going to have anyone until he came.” I nodded.