Mercy Graves hurried quickly through the courtyard in the palace of Dovetail to the hedgemaze and through it to the center, where sitting calmly and serenely was Lady Marina Sanpierre. She was moving her hands over the water of the salt pond and it was rippling and rising up in small waves.
Marina was the closest thing to a friend Mercy had. There weren’t many people their age at the palace who weren’t in the guard. But she was also in awe of The Little Duchess. She was so small, and yet contained so much power. And she was beautiful, with her brown skin, and curled hair and quiet smile that so few people ever got to see.
Mercy knew that Marina would probably be Queen some day. Whether crowned in her own right because Princess Annalise was long dead, or as consort to Lord Brayton. It was good for her to be near her. Their friendship was productive. At least that’s what her father said.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said. Marina looked over at her. “They’ve asked everyone to come to the hall.” Marina sighed.
“Oh, alright,” she said, “do you know why?” Mercy shook her head. Marina slid her arm through Mercy’s and they walked through the hallways. Mercy felt an electricity shoot through her.
“Something’s happened,” Marina said and slid her arm out and she started looking around. “No, they aren’t here.” Mercy swallowed and realized what, who, Marina meant.
The Dugarrys. General Thomas Martin.
“Lady Marina,” a girl from the guard walked over to her. She wasn’t a soldier, though, she was in blue not green. She was a healer. “Sir Tristan went to see his Uncle. He said to tell you that he’d see you at dinner.” She nodded.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “Is he,” she swallowed. “He’s alright?” Mercy rolled her eyes.
“He’s alright,” the healer girl said. “Lady Athena too. The General has been exiled.” Marina nodded.
“I should find my father,” she whispered. “Are you alright?” Mercy nodded.
“Of course,” she said, “always.” Marina squeezed her hands and disappeared into the crowd. The healer looked at her awkwardly. “That was kind of you. She worries about him.”
“He worries about her,” the guard girl smirked. “I don’t think either of them realize why though.” Mercy giggled. “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Elodie.”
“Mercy,” she said and shook her hand. “You’re a healer, so you have magic?”
“Some,” Elodie said and they started walking. “Mostly though it just makes me better at my job. I can perceive things and move medicine through the body.” Mercy nodded. “What about you? You’re always with Lady Marina, do you have,”
“Oh no,” Mercy interrupted her, “no.” Elodie nodded. “We’re just friends, or friendly really.” She was blushing, she realized.
“Alright,” Elodie smiled. Someone called her name, “Duty calls.” Mercy nodded. “It was nice meeting you.”
“You too,” Mercy said as Elodie bounced away. Mercy swallowed, her throat dry. Only Marina had ever given her butterflies like that before. Surely it was because Elodie also had magic.
Elodie looked back over her shoulder at Mercy and smiled. She was pretty, with her red hair and her overly fashionable gown. She glanced around and notice Lady Athena standing with her fiance, Warren Davis. Davis was holding Athena’s face in his hands and she was nodding. Elodie swallowed and walked over to her.
“I’m so sorry my love,” she heard Davis say. “But you understand?”
“Of course,” she said softly and kissed him. “Go, I’m sure you have work to do.” He nodded and walked away. Elodie saw her friend’s face change to one of blind rage.
“Do we know it was him?” Elodie asked. Athena nodded. “I’m sorry, My Lady.”
“I know,” she said softly. “So is Tristan, and Martin. Everyone’s sorry, even Warren.” She sighed. “You may have to go to Camp. Are you ready?”
“I think so,” Elodie nodded. “It’s been a while. I’ve gotten used to things here, but change is always good.” Athena laughed darkly. “Lady Athena, if you need anything, please let me know.”
“I’m alright,” Athena said and walked out quietly. Elodie frowned and sighed walking out to the barracks. She flopped onto her bed and closed her eyes trying to sleep. But sleep didn’t come. She got up and quickly walked outside to the main courtyard.
There was some whispering from the people around but it was mostly silent. The barracks had been breached, Thomas Martin was branded a traitor. Nothing made sense.
Elodie frowned as she saw the moonlight streaming through the trees and saw Mercy sitting. Then she smiled in spite of herself. She’d always kept her distance from Court Ladies. They reminded her of the wealthy merchant daughters who came into her father’s inn when she was little, all softness and beauty disguising sharp edges and sadness.
But Athena wasn’t like that. She often reminded herself. And Athena was both, a noble lady and a wealthy merchant daughter in addition to the fiercest warrior in Cammadan. Still, Elodie made most of her friends in the guard and healer corp.
“We don’t have to choose,” Athena had shrugged, once when Elodie had asked her. “I’m not just one thing. No one needs to be.”
She walked over and Mercy looked at her and smiled shyly.
“Is it alright if I sit?” Elodie said. Mercy nodded and she sat. “It’s been a trying day.”
“I’m sure,” Mercy said softly. “My father says it’s a glorious one, traitors don’t deserve our sympathy.” Her hands were balled in her skirt.
“General Martin would sooner cut off his own head than betray Cammadan,” Elodie said defensively. Mercy looked at her. “I don’t mean to contradict you,” she said, “he’s been very good to me.” Mercy looked at her.
“I think my father is very afraid,” she said softly. “And he thinks Lord Brayton is safe.” Elodie nodded.
“And what do you think?” She asked. Mercy looked at her surprised, as thought no one had asked her that before. “You’re close with Lady Marina, aren’t you? Surely, that’s safer.”
“Marina isn’t,” Mercy stopped. “There aren’t that many other people to talk to. Besides which, she’s going to be Queen. Surely you’ve seen how Lord Brayton looks at her.” Elodie grimaced. They all saw how Brayton looked at The Duchess, like she was a skittish animal for him to tame and conquer. It was unsettling. “She’s lucky.”
“Do you really believe that?” Elodie asked. Mercy swallowed and looked at the healer.
She didn’t. Well, she believed Marina was lucky, because she was beautiful, had a father who loved her, friends like Tristan Dugarry and powerful magic. But not because of the attention Brayton gave her.
“I don’t know,” Mercy admitted softly. Elodie nodded and they locked eyes. “I wish you’d stop looking at me like that.” Mercy said.
“I’m not looking at you any way in particular,” Elodie said softly, and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear but then turned her gaze away. Then both girls laughed. “I like you.” Mercy looked at her. “You don’t have to say anything, but well, it’s not something a person hears everyday, so,” Mercy smiled blushed, turned to her and kissed her gently.
“I like you too.” Mercy said. Elodie smiled and they pulled close. She smelled good, like flowers and something sweet, and she was so soft. Mercy’s hands were tangled in her hair keeping them close, as Elodie slid her hands onto her waist. “I don’t normally do this,” Mercy whispered when they stopped for breath.
“You’re good at it for someone who doesn’t normally do it,” Elodie grinned.
The next few motnhs, Mercy found herself more often than not in Elodie’s small room in the barracks at night. She’d lied to her father, saying that she’d been asked to wait on Lady Marina, which of course thrilled him. She knew he’d never approve of Elodie, who was working class and firmly in the Anti-Brayton camp of officers.
But Mercy thought she was amazing. That night she giggled as they kissed pushing gently against one another.
“I want you,” Elodie said softly. Mercy smiled coyly and rolled onto her back. Elodie laughed and straddled her. “You’re too beautiful,” she mumbled.
“Do you want me or not?” She said and pulled Elodie’s shift over her head. The door opened then they both heard a throat clear and a low laugh.
“Lieutenant,” Lady Athena Dugarry was leaning against the door. “Mistress Graves.”
“Lady Athena,” Mercy said with an eyeroll, pulling her clothes back on.
“Elodie, I need to speak to you.” Athena said. “If you aren’t too busy.”
“Of course not,” Elodie said. “Mercy, I’m sorry.” Mercy held up her hands and kissed Elodie on her way out. “Knocking, a novel concept, My Lady.” Athena snorted.
“I don’t know what you see in her, but I am sorry I interrupted,” Athena sat down.
“I don’t know what you see in half the men you’re with so we’re even there,” Elodie sighed. “What is it?”
“Um, you’re being asked to help escort Lady Marina to Camp,” Athena said, “I chose you for the assignment Elodie, I don’t trust anyone else.” Elodie closed her eyes. A few months ago this would have been the best thing to ever happen to her. But that was before Mercy.
“Why aren’t you doing it?” She asked. Athena sighed.
“Tristan and I are escorting Countess Olivia home,” she mumbled. Elodie bit her bottom lip. Of course. Athena had leaked crucial Resistance details to Warren Davis. She’d be given lower priority missions right now. “Are you up for it?” Elodie nodded.
“What’s the cover story?” Elodie asked softly. Athena sighed.
“She’s going home,” Athena said, “to Brightcoast. To study with the sisters there.”
“You’re going?” Mercy said when they met up in the garden the next day. Elodie nodded. “But why, you’re a healer, not a guard.”
“I’m both,” Elodie said, “and studying with the sisters in Brightcoast is a big opportunity for me.” Mercy swallowed and plopped down on the bench. “I’m sorry, Mercy, it is only for a few months, though, I’ll be back.” Mercy turned her head to look away.
“It’s fine,” she said, “go, it doesn’t matter.” Elodie nodded and sat down with her. She pushed her hair to the side and rested her head on her shoulder. “I love you Elodie.”
“I love you too,” Elodie whispered.
Sitting in Camp after victory hadn’t been what Elodie was expecting. The Twins were with the Pantonas and Princess Annalise. And all she could think about was if Mercy had been evacuated. She took a deep breath and walked into the command tent.
“General,” she said softly, “do you know where the evacuees were taken?” Martin smiled at her. “There’s someone I should find.”
“Of course,” he said. They walked through the celebrating camp. “We can’t know if she left, Captain Willis.” Elodie swallowed, the new title felt awkward.
“I know,” she said, “if I have to find her in the city tomorrow I will, but,” she trailed off. She quickly scanned around the group of tents and the chaos of this area. It wasn’t organized like resistance camp. But she checked each fire until finally seeing Mercy sitting with her father, warming her hands. She made eye contact and smiled and stood up quickly running over to her and throwing her arms around her neck and kissing her.
“I knew it,” Mercy said through tears, “oh I knew you’d be here!” Elodie kept kissing her all over her face and laughing. “Elodie, is it true?”
“What part?” She swallowed and pulled back and looked at her.
“That Princess Annalise is here,” she said. Elodie nodded. “Gods,” Mercy exhaled. “Have you met her?”
“Yes,” Elodie said, “and I got promoted. I’m a Captain now.” Mercy laughed and stroked her face. “And I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you,” she whispered. “It’s crowded here,” she wrinkled her nose. Elodie laughed and took her hand and led her to the main camp.
“Elodie,” Marina walked out of the medical tent, “Mercy! Goddess!” She hugged her tightly. “Oh I’m glad you’re safe!” Mercy laughed and Elodie shrugged. “Oh! How silly of me. You two enjoy yourselves.” She winked and headed off.
“She seems,” Mercy cocked her head to side, “well different, I guess.”
“She’s changed a lot,” Elodie said as they walked into her tent. “You haven’t,” Mercy laughed and they kissed again falling back against the cot.
“You don’t know that,” Mercy giggled and then sighed as Elodie’s lips slipped to her neck. “I could have changed a lot.” Elodie laughed and unbuttoned her guard jacket.
“You still like that though,” Elodie whispered, sliding Mercy’s skirts up around her thighs. Mercy cooed happily. “And this,” she said and kissed her while sliding her hand inside of her.
“Mm,” she whispered, “yes, I do.”
After they’d finished Elodie buried her face in Mercy’s hair. That same smell from that first night in the garden, flowers and something sweet.
“Never go away for that long again,” Mercy whispered. Elodie smiled.
“If I do, you’re coming with me,” she said softly. Mercy smiled.
“That’s something I can definitely do,” she said, “I love you.” Elodie pressed her forehead to Mercy’s.
“I love you.”